It’s Bassmaster Classic week! This 50th Classic is my fifth Classic, which is almost hard to believe. I’ll be the first one to tell you that fishing this tournament is everything it is cracked up to be, and then some. As Bassmaster Elite Series anglers, the main goal every year is basically to qualify for the Classic. Sure we want to win tournaments, and Angler of the Year is always on our mind, but you can’t win the Classic if you aren’t there, and that is constantly in the back of our minds.
One of us in the 53-man field will hold that trophy on Sunday, and that person’s life will change. That $300,000 is a lot of money, but the title of 2020 Bassmaster Classic champ will always remain and can never be taken away. It’s going to be an epic week.
The playing field this week is the infamous Lake Guntersville. I still remember the very first bass I ever caught out of Lake Guntersville back in February of 2006. I was a senior in high school, and my old team tournament partner, Robby Crosslin, and I were practicing for an upcoming club tournament. If you had told me back then that I would be fishing the 50th Bassmaster Classic on that very lake, I would’ve said you were living in a fantasy world, but here I am. Pretty darn cool, and humbling to say the least.
With all that being said, yes, I’ve spent a good deal of time on Guntersville over the years, but I don’t necessarily consider myself a local. I don’t want that target on my back, and I’m sure there are a few guys in the field that have spent more time here than me. In all honesty, during the prespawn like it is right now, I’m not so sure there’s any such thing as local advantage anyway.
Let’s talk about how this tournament is setting up.
First of all, the Tennessee Valley has received near-record rainfall this winter, and the lake has been high and muddy for several weeks leading up to this tournament. As I am writing this, I’ve already spent three days of practice on the lake this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and water conditions are looking drastically better. The water is clearing up nicely and is back down to pretty much normal pool during practice, but of course, Mother Nature is throwing us more rain this week.
I don’t think this rain event is going to be another flood situation, but it will probably change some things out there. It will be the same playing field for everybody, though, and I can’t control the weather, so I’m not really worried about that. If I have to adjust during the tournament, I will; it’s as simple as that.
One thing that amazes me about Guntersville is how different it looks from year to year. I haven’t spent much time to speak of over here this time of year in a couple of years, and I couldn’t believe how much different the grass looked. The lake looks really healthy, but eelgrass has changed the whole dynamic of the lake, and you pretty much have to embrace it to be successful anymore.
Back in the day, we looked for green, young milfoil and hydrilla. That was where the fish were going to be, but that has all changed now. I love that about our sport though, it’s ever-changing, and I’ve had a blast trying to relearn the nuances of the lake so far this week. Official practice was more of a struggle than I expected, but it should be getting better every day, and this is going to be a great tournament.
Look for typical early spring Tennessee River patterns to play this week. I fully expect this Classic to be won in water 7 to 8 feet deep or less. There will be fish caught on rock, trees, docks, bridges, grass and everything else for a bass to get on in the lake. I suspect every guy in the field will have a lipless crankbait of some sort, and a bladed jig tied on come Friday morning. I know I’ll have a couple of each, and have an X Zone trailer on that bladed jig.
I use pretty much the same setup for both the lipless and the bladed jig, a 7-foot, 3-inch medium-heavy moderate rod. I throw them on 17-pound Vicious Pro Elite fluorocarbon. If you’re having trouble losing fish on your lipless crankbait setup, get you some Mustad KVD Elite triple grip trebles. Your landing ratio will go up substantially, I’d bet on it.
At the end of the day, it’s an honor to get to compete in this tournament. It’s something I’ll never take for granted, and I cherish every chance I get to walk across that Classic stage. I want to catch them here bad, real bad, but all I can do is all I can do. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.
One thing I can promise you; we won’t be shakey heading and looking for five keepers in this one. That won’t win this tournament, and second doesn’t matter.
Y’all stay tuned and watch it unfold.