Daily Limit: What does Ray know?

Ray Hanselman Jr. waits to launch for Wednesday's final practice.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — One has to wonder what exactly Ray Hanselman Jr. has seen. For the Guess the winning weight gallery, Hanselman went high, the highest weight by far.

Many of the competitors’ opinions of what it will take to win the Academy Sport + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk ranged throughout the 60-pound range, with four topping 70.

The top four weights at the 2014 Lake Guntersville Classic rank in the top five all-time, just behind the five-fish limit record of 69-11. Randy Howell’s winning weight that year was 67-8, and Paul Mueller was a pound back in second.

Chad Pipkens thinks the record will be eclipsed, what with his guess of 69-15. Caleb Sumrall said it would take 71-3 while Brock Mosley and Greg DiPalma listed 72 even. Hanselman was a lunker higher with 78-15, which would even top Rick Clunn’s all-time weight record of 75-9 in 1984 in the seven-fish era.

To top the five-fish record, an angler will have to average 23-4 each day to total 69-12. (That’s my choice for the winning weight; eh, who doesn’t like to see a record fall?)

But one wonders what Hanselman has seen, or knows. In the past, I’ve altered my Rapala Fantasy Fishing team after seeing some high guestimates, but this year I will not — I already had Hanselman on my team. Now I just hope he really knows something.

Trip Weldon knows exactly what it will take to win the trophy.

Pre-practice can be thrown out

Paul Mueller had a bad pre-practice, and Wednesday’s final official practice will be crucial for his chances. In the 2014 Lake Guntersville Classic, Mueller set the single-day weight record with his Day 2 bag of 32-3. That’s far from his thoughts today.

“I’ve actually had a bad practice. It’s kind of a good thing thought, honestly,” he said. “You know I shoot straight. If I have a good practice I’ll say it. I have not had a good practice. I’ve seen a lot of the lake, but I also realize you can pretty much throw it away. It’s one of the only times you can say it’s a good thing that I don’t have anything.”

With how much the lake and conditions are changing, he said he’s grateful there’s not going to be a pattern that worked in practice stuck in his head. Things have changed that much.

“I do need to figure out what I’m going to do. Even if it’s just a couple of clues, it’s an important day. It’s do or die for me,” he said. “There’s a lot of anxiety because your whole tournament hinges on it, because you need to have a starting point.”

In 2014, he had three areas, but, as expected, they have since become community holes.

“You can’t fish history on a fishery that’s going to be so drastically different six years later,” he said. “There’s way more grass, which changes the whole dynamic. There’s also much more current, which chances the dynamic of the lake, and we’ve had all that rain and a warming trend.

“Whoever is going to win it is going to do something different, maybe win in a part of the lake where it’s never been won. I think you’re going to see something different this time around. I’m just hoping I can figure out some clues to get me in that direction.”

He said it can be equated to putting together a difficult puzzle.

“It’s kinda cool and exciting, but it’s also nerve wracking because I have no pieces,” he said. “I just have like a big puzzle spread out all over the place. I just have to put it all together.”

He’s been there before.

Drew Benton prepares to go out Wednesday.

Puzzle needs to get into focus

Drew Benton said he’d like a fish weighing as much as son Colt, who was born during a practice day before the St. Johns event. The baby weighed 5-11. He’d like 15 weighing that much, but said he’s still got some figuring out to do.

“It’s going to be a little bit off with all the rain we’ve had,” Benton said. “There’s will be a lot of water moving through, which is going to shake things up a bit. I think it’s anybody’s ball game, really.

“It’s just a matter of figuring out what’s going on this week. What’s going on in the event might not be what was going on the first three days of practice. It’s definitely going to be changing a lot between now and when we hit the water Friday.”

With many reporting a trying practice, Benton said it’s appropriate that Guntersville is in flux before the Classic.

“It’s the biggest event in the sport, with that needs to come this kind of challenge, this kind of curveball,” he said. “If it wasn’t, it almost wouldn’t be a Classic. It seems every Classic that I’ve followed had some kind of element to it that made it unique.”

As most always, Benton said it will come down to who makes the right adjustments and figures out the fish the fastest and maybe has some great luck.

“Anytime you’re on a grass lake, it’s a needle in the haystack gig,” he said. “You’re really trying to hunt and peck and try to find that one magical place in a whole river system of grass. It’s almost gotta be meant to be. Yeah, you’ve got to have the skill to find it and know what to look for, but with the way the practice is set up, you’ve kind of got to land on them.

“Somebody is going to do that. When you put 50 guys on Guntersville, somebody is going to land on a place where they can catch 25 pounds a day, and that’s just what you’ll have to have.”

Colt’s weight times 15 might just do it.

Chris Zaldain heads out on Wednesday.

Zaldain looks for something big

Chris Zaldain said he believes this Classic is sizing up to be quite the puzzle, but the winner will need one huge day, even a record-setting bag.

“It’s changing. Everything is changing. Boat pressure, air pressure, water levels, it’s all changing,” Zaldain said. “For the last decade, the last five decades of the Bassmaster Classic, things change every single day.”

Again with the puzzle analogy, Zaldain said the pieces are not really even in focus yet.

“They’re not. The edges of the puzzle aren’t cut yet,” he said. “Once those puzzle pieces get cut real nice, then you can start to put them together.”

One key piece will be having a monster day.

“As long as I’ve been around, you’re going to need one giant day, one mega day,” he said. “The fish live here, 5-, 6- 7-pounders, so you’re going to need a standout day to win the Classic.”

Zaldain landed two big ones in pre-practice, so he has several things to work on.

“I’m not clueless, but it’s up to me to apply those clues. Every little tidbit I learn in practice, just applying those when it counts,” he said. “I’m going to load up full of fuel and just look today.”

Caleb Kuphall is one of two Wisconsinites in the Classic.

On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin

Bob Downey and Caleb Kuphall are the third and fourth anglers from Wisconsin to compete in a Classic. That there are two qualifiers in the same year says something about the angling opportunities there.

Downey, 32, of Hudson, won the Basspro.com Open on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake to qualify, while Kuphall, 36, of Mukwonago, received his berth by winning the Smith Lake Open in Alabama. And there might have been a third as Wisconsin’s Devin Teigen won the La Crosse Open, but he didn’t fish the entire Central Open schedule as required to fish the Classic.

Downey and Kuphall credit having an Open on the Mississippi River out of La Crosse, Wis. They said about 30 from the Badger State fished that Open and around 10 fished the full Central schedule.

“The Mississippi River played a role with that,” Downey said. “I think a lot of people wanted to get into that, so there was a lot more Wisconsin guys in the Central Opens because they were coming to La Crosse.”

Kuphall said fishing the Mississippi River over the years might have helped him pick up more techniques that translated to other fisheries.

“I think it has expanded my skills, compared to fishing natural lakes,” he said.

Either would love to become the first champion from the Badger State, but they reported tough practices. Wednesday will be critical to find the right place to start for Friday’s first day of competition.

Locals, let ‘em fish

The anglers won’t say it because they know Lake Guntersville is a public body of water and fishing is fair game to anybody with a license, so I will.

Please give these guys some room and let them fish. This is their job, their livelihood. Please be respectful on the water, and please wait until Monday to fish any of their spots.

Practice do unto others; If you were fishing for the life-altering Classic title and $300,000, would you want someone else casting to your spots? Yes it could affect the outcome. It could be the difference between them catching a 3- or 5-pounder, and potentially winning the most-coveted title in bass fishing.