A look at Smith Lake

After a week off to rest up from the Alabama heat at Wheeler Lake, the Elites reconvene in Cullman, Ala., for the TNT Fireworks Bassmaster Elite at Smith Lake, June 27-30.
Smith Lake is a 21,200-acre fishery just 20 miles northwest of Birmingham. This impoundment of the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River was completed in 1961. The state’s deepest lake, with a maximum depth of 264 feet, offers 500 miles of shoreline, much of it developed with homes and docks.
This will be the first visit to Smith by the Elite Series. Bassmaster has visited Smith Lake 11 times, beginning with the second-ever tournament, the 1967 Dixie Invitational. Smith Lake Park in the northeast corner will be tournament central this week.
The huge park at 403 Co. Rd. 386 in Cullman will host takeoffs each morning at 7 a.m. ET. Weigh-ins are set for 3 p.m. ET. The free family-friendly expo opens at 11 a.m. ET Saturday and Sunday, with music, food and more. Click here for all the activities.
Virginia’s Jacob Powroznik won the most recent Bassmaster event on Smith, the St. Croix Open in October 2021. His fifth B.A.S.S. victory gave him a berth to the Classic and helped him requalify for the Elites.
Targeting spotted bass feeding on blueback herring in deep timber, Powroznik rallied with 14 pounds, 5 ounces on the final day to win with 37-9.
Opens pro David Gilgore of Alabama, who won the 2014 Open on Smith averaging almost 18 pounds a day, was asked to preview what to expect from the Elites this week. “No one knows really. It’s a mystery,” he said, adding the big spotted bass like Powroznik caught are fewer and farther in between.
“This tournament is pretty late in the season and there have already been a lot of tournaments in there this year,” Kilgore said. “I won two up there with 15.8 and 17 pounds a month ago. But the 15- and 16-inch spotted bass the place was filled with three or four years ago, those 3 1/2- and 4-pounders, they’ve been much harder to find.”
Kilgore said he expects a lot of 9- to 11-pound bags, which should come from anglers finding herring off lake points or using forward-facing sonar offshore. “I think 15 pounds a day wins it, unless someone finds the mother lode of big spots out there,” he said. “But if I had 15 pounds a day, I’d be thrilled.”
Starting in the 1980s, the land surrounding the lake witnessed rapid development. Smith is a recreation mecca for people in  nearby in Birmingham and Huntsville, so Elite anglers should expect heavy traffic on the weekends, especially since the event leads up to the Fourth of July holiday.
“Thursday and Friday fishing should be OK, but by Saturday, boats are going to be everywhere on the water,” said Kilgore, who said ski boats and jet skis zipping around will throw some off balance. “It’ll be interesting to see how the LiveScopers handle that, trying to hold a spot on a fish when they’re bouncing around out there.”
Kilgore also said the scalding Alabama summer should play a role. Smith Lake is in the current heat dome, but storms leading up to competition days could cool things off a bit before rebuilding through competition days.
The anglers with an early bite should have the best chance, Kilgore said, because the action could slow once the sun gets overhead. “If there’s some chop out there, they could be OK,” he said. “But if it’s slick, it could be a long day for a lot of guys.”
Here’s what Kilgore would do. “I’d fish super-shallow early, looking for a largemouth bite on a bluff. You might get a couple hours out of that,” he said. “Then I’d fish every point I know, LiveScoping with a topwater bait like a Strike King Sexy Dawg. I might try a Fluke-style bait if I need to be under the water a little bit.”
Trey McKinney’s incredible first season on the Elites continues. He enters the Smith Lake tournament with the AOY lead, which he’s held since becoming the youngest Elite winner at 19 years, 1 week at Lake Fork in March. McKinney held a 30-point lead over Jordan Lee going into Wheeler and left 59 points ahead of Classic champ Justin Hamner. Lee had an uncharacteristic poor finish at Wheeler but has pointed to Smith as the event to make up ground, were McKinney to stumble. Hamner is also looking forward to Smith, as well as the swing north.
Follow the action live on Bassmaster.com. Bassmaster LIVE will be streaming on Bassmaster.com all four days, and coverage will also be available on FS1 on Saturday at 8-11 a.m. ET and Sunday at 8 a.m.-1 p.m.