Alabama River shows its spots

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — This Alabama River showboated itself as the premier spotted bass fishery in the country on Day One of this four-day event. Greg Vinson of nearby Wetumpka, Ala., was afraid that might happen.

"My worst fear was that the river would be high and rolling," said Vinson, who is in 38th place with 13 pounds, 15 ounces. "That opened up so much stuff."

Years of Alabama River experience, particularly those accumulated when the current was slow and the bass tough to locate, were made meaningless Thursday in the Alabama River Challenge presented by Star brite.

The high water created a memorable weigh-in, even if it wasn't as incredible as experienced by some of these anglers during the preceding three days of practice.

Aaron Martens, who is in 20th place with 15-15, sounded as if he'd zeroed compared to his practice time.

"That's not a very good day," Martens said. "Monday and Tuesday showed me what this river is all about. It's an incredible fishery."

Martens, coming off a second-place finish last Sunday at West Point Lake, said he must have caught "ten 4- or 5-pounders" one day in practice.

"You couldn't shake them off," he said. "Now they're spitting it out.

"It's getting tougher out there."

There were 10 five-bass limits of 17 pounds or better weighed-in Thursday. John Murray of Phoenix, Ariz., leads with 18-9.

"Ten years ago, when it was flooded like this, I caught almost 20 pounds of spots," Murray recalled. "I had a wonderful day (today)."

Just don't expect the next three days to be so wonderful. The combination of the Alabama River "fishing small," and the water level receding could make Friday significantly different than Thursday.

"These spotted bass like to move," said Matt Herren of Trussville, Ala., who is 36th with 14-2. "Some guys may think they can catch them every day, but I promise you they can't."
Herren noted that spotted bass, especially, change their locations daily based on shifting current and the movement of baitfish.

"You've got to stay on top of 'em," Herren said.

Mark Davis, for one, was on top of 'em during practice, but couldn't find them Thursday.

"I found a bunch of fish offshore, and they left," said Davis, the former Bassmaster Classic champion and Angler of the Year. "I had the potential to catch 20 pounds."

Instead, Davis weighed 11-8, which left him in 61st place.

"I wish I'd never found those," he said. "It's gotten a little harder each day."

There will still be 100 Elite Series anglers on the water Friday, after which the field will be cut in half to the Top 50. That situation will create some drama, in other words, "boat-bumping."

"The current slowed down a little bit, and they definitely changed," said Kevin VanDam, who is 53rd place with 12-7. "It's fishing real small right now with 100 guys out there."

Those who targeted spotted bass in the current had the most success Thursday. But the Alabama River also has a significant largemouth bass population that can be caught flipping the flooded bushes.

"This is one of the few fisheries I know of where you can catch a 5-pound spot and a 5-pound largemouth on the same day," said Vinson.

The five-pound spotted bass were just easier to catch Thursday. And they left quite an impression on some anglers not easily impressed.

"I've never really fished any place that had big spots," said Keith Combs of Huntington, Texas, who is 29th with 15-1. "We've got some big fish in Texas, but we don't have any spots. They're awesome. I think I've broken my personal record every day."

Alton Jones is in a 14th place tie with 16-6. You can read between the lines of what Jones said Thursday and figure it's going to get cutthroat on the Alabama River Friday.

"There is going to be a lot of strategy that comes into place," Jones said. "The good spots are getting fished hard."

But Thursday was all about the "good spots," as in big spotted bass, in the Alabama River.

"I love this river," said Paul Elias, who is second with 18-4. "After the first day of practice, I thought it was going to be a slugfest.

"It looks like it's going to be a slugfest."

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