FLORENCE, Ala. — The 126 anglers taking part in the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors arrived in Northwest Alabama this week.
As luck would have it, so did fall — and winter could make an appearance before the week is done.
Competition days will be Thursday through Saturday with daily takeoffs 6 a.m. CT from McFarland Park and weigh-ins back at the park each day at 2 p.m.
Daytime temperatures that were pushing into the mid-70s earlier in the week could dip as low as 29 by Friday night.
The weather has had an effect on the fish — and the fishermen.
“I just finally stopped looking at the forecast because it keeps changing so much,” said Luke Johns, a California angler who qualified for the Championship as a nonboater. “Things are changing so much so fast that you’re just gonna have to take it as it comes.”
The bass on the 43,000-acre Tennessee River fishery were already scattered for their annual fall transition from deep water to the shallows. That sometimes makes for tough fishing by itself, and the changing weather isn’t helping.
The good news is a few quality bass can still be found.
“I haven’t had a lot of bites,” Johns said. “But the ones I’ve caught have been good ones. It’s hard to know what that means in practice because when you catch a good one, you pick up and move on.
“Were there more big fish in those places? You won’t know until the tournament starts.”
Caleb Sumrall, a Louisiana angler who won last year’s B.A.S.S. Nation Championship on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell, said the weather hasn’t affected him as much as the rapidly changing water conditions.
The lake is higher than normal, heavily stained in some areas and still rising.
“The fish are already in that funky fall transition mode, which makes it tough,” Sumrall said. “When you add rising water to that equation, it’s destined to be a tough tournament.”
Sumrall said the temperatures dropping rapidly the next two nights might actually be a wake-up call for the fish — and right now, he believes they’re in desperate need of one.
“I think the cooler temperatures can ignite fish in the fall,” he said. “But it’s so tough right now. I was planning to catch a few smallmouth. But since the water dirtied up so much, I don’t know if that’s going to happen.
The lake is known for sporting healthy populations of both largemouth and smallmouth. But Sumrall doesn’t plan on being too particular.
“On Thursday, I’d just like to have five of any description,” he said. “Anything can happen. Somebody could always get on them. But right now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see somebody win it with an average of about 13 pounds a day.”
The Top 3 finishers from the Championship will earn a spot in the 2019 Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, which is set for March 15-17 in Knoxville, Tenn. They will also receive the “Nation’s Best” package, which includes paid entry fees into the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens division of their choice in 2019 and the use of a fully rigged Phoenix boat for the year.
The overall winner of the Championship will receive an invitation to fish the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series.
Sumrall earned those invitations last year, finishing 49th in the 2018 Classic and earning a check in four the eight Elite Series events he fished.