The Bassmaster Elite Series season has been over for a couple of months. I still haven’t gotten over the sting of missing the upcoming Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. When my friends and colleagues launch on Guntersville in early March, it’s going to produce a deep pain down in my stomach.
A Classic berth has slipped through my fingers a couple of times, but this miss stings particularly hard. Not only is it the sport’s biggest event, but it’s also in my home state, on a lake where I have some history and I’d have a chance to compete against just 52 other anglers.
Also, despite the countless hours I’ve logged there, I know exactly how I’d pre-practice to make the most of my tournament chances.
It’s a tournament where winning is the only thing that really matters. You’re not just looking for keeper fish to fill out limits. You want to find the populations of the biggest, baddest bass on the lake to develop a road map to where they’ll be when you return.
The value of a lot of the competitors’ early scouting will depend on how cold this winter turns out to be, but it’s going to be a prespawn event and that means the fish will be up shallow. I’ve caught fish there in February in 2 feet of water with the trolling motor kicking up mud, so there’s no reason to believe that won’t be the case in early March. In fact, it’s more likely.
If I were going now, before the lake goes off-limits, I’d idle every hard grass line in the lake, the places where it goes from thick grass to no grass in an instant. Depending on how cold it gets, some of that grass might not be there when they go back, but when it dies off the bass tend to hold closely to those old lines, especially the ones close to deep water.
If it gets really cold, I’d look for the lower end to excel, which would suit me fine because I love to throw a jerkbait. The mid-lake section might give up some big bags to someone fishing a swimbait. By the time the tournament rolls around, the qualifiers will have to carefully figure out what has been happening in terms of weather and precipitation, because water temperature will determine whether it’s won down by the dam, up the river or somewhere in between.
While I expect Alabama anglers like Matt Herren to do well, it won’t be because it’s a waypoint deal. Unlike when Randy Howell caught his big bag on Day 3 to win in 2014, I don’t believe this tournament will be won on one or two spots. It’ll be a pattern, or a combination of patterns, that earns the trophy. It could be bridges or riprap or blowdowns, but you’re going to have to cover some water to win. I expect that it will take 23 pounds a day to come out on top, and the angler that dials in the right pattern should have no trouble being consistent.
The most important thing they can do right now, other than rigging their boats and preparing their tackle, is to learn where the vegetation resides. I know that there are places I catch fish in February around lily pad stems that you can’t get within 400 yards of them in June. So many of the anglers who were there for the first time in 2019 haven’t see those areas up close.
They need to look now, look carefully, and then apply what they learn in advance when they arrive for the tournament.