ABT may reveal winning patterns for Classic

How much can Bassmaster Classic anglers profit from the patterns that hauled some tremendous bags out of Lake Guntersville in Saturday's inaugural Alabama Bass Trail tournament?

Maybe about $300,000 worth.

Or maybe nothing at all.

It all depends on the weather.

Most of the top 10 angler teams reported finding their fish in 4 to 8 feet of water over areas where some leftover hydrilla and milfoil are showing green. Note this was on a day when the water temperature was 36 degrees at take-off and never rose above 40, despite bright sunshine all day. Many of the smaller bays were completely covered with ice--something that very rarely happens on this North Alabama lake.

Three lures were mentioned repeatedly by anglers who weighed in 20 pounds or more -- rattlebaits, jerkbaits and swimbaits.

One exception was the team of Scott Giddens and Paul Watson, who put more than 24 pounds on the dock at Guntersville State Park.

"We threw a Strike King 2.5 squarebill crankbait pretty much all day," Watson said. "We sat in 12 feet and threw into 6 feet and cranked it as slow as we could reel and still make the bait dive."

Another team which broke the mold was Lee Pitts and Keith Vann, who finished fourth with 26.59 pounds.

"We fished black-and-blue jigs with Larew soft craw trailers, mostly around scattered weeds on channel turns," said Pitts, a well-known guide on Weiss and Neely Henry lakes.

For the most part, though, the top anglers reported throwing Rat-L-Traps or X-Calibur Rattlebaits, most with a bit of "Guntersville red" or crawfish coloration. The River2Sea Rig Walker, a shad-like molded soft plastic swimbait, was also mentioned several times by top anglers. A variety of hard jerkbaits -- Lucky Strike and Strike King, also shad imitations -- were also effective, fished with long hesitations between twitches.

The shad imitation was no surprise to anyone watching the holding tanks where bass waited to be weighed in -- many were burping up 4-inch shad.

The joker in the deck is whatever tactic produced the winning weight, a remarkable 32.02 pounds, better than 6 pounds per fish, for Brandon Staggs and Jerry Wright. The anglers were tight-lipped about what did the job for them because Staggs is fishing another tournament on the lake this weekend.

But it may be significant that the fish they caught were not the short, stubby "Guntersville pigs" anglers at the big lake are so familiar with. The majority of the fish were long and fairly slender, perhaps indicating they were not hanging on big schools of shad as most adult bass do much of the year in TVA lakes. Maybe moving into some main-lake coves in a pre-spawn pattern? Hard to believe given the water temperature, but the fish also respond to photo-period, that is the lengthening days as we turn towards spring.

In any case, the weather forecast for the next 10 days is much more "seasonal" than the Arctic winter we've had so far, with highs in the 40s and 50s, lows in the 30s and 40s, with a few freezing nights thrown in. Plenty of rain is expected, also. 

If this holds -- or if it we go back to the deep freeze - -it's reasonable to expect the patterns that worked in the ABT to hold through Feb. 23, the final day of the Bassmaster Classic.

On the other hand, if we get a rapid warm-up the week before the event -- the forecast for that period is not yet available -- then a lot of the fish that were at 4 to 8 feet may move back into the coves and begin scouting out the shallows where they'll bed.

This story originally ran on AL.com.