Dealing with change

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — With a myriad of fishing possibilities, Lake Guntersville is not only a proving ground for everyday anglers, but it's also one of the most challenging stops on the Elite Series tour.

Now it seems that Mother Nature is trying to compound that reality during this visit to the 69,000-acre lake in north Alabama.

 Heavy rains swept across the state Thursday morning and the forecast of extreme weather forced BASS officials to cancel the first day of the Southern Challenge presented by Purolator — a four-day tournament that has now been reduced to a three-day event.

The full field of 100-plus Elites will fish Friday and Saturday, but won't be afforded the usual cut to 50 anglers after two days. Instead, the field will be pared to 12 on Sunday when the top pros will vie for the $100,000 championship check.

Though they'll spend one less day on the water, almost all of the Elites said they can't change their gameplans now.

"The way it's restructured, it's still a two-day qualifying event," said Kentucky pro Mark Menendez. "You have to look at it the same way. The duration of the tournament is shorter, but what I have to get done is the same. It doesn't change the outlook much."

Menendez said he hoped to fish on Thursday, but said BASS officials made the right decision by canceling the first day of the tournament. In fact, he said he relished the down time.

"I enjoyed the day off," he said. "Obviously, the fish are going to bite better in low light conditions. It would have been a good day because we would have caught some nice fish … But there's still a strong population of fish that is shallow.

"There are some fish in transition and there are some that are already in summer-time deep water areas. So, I don't think this is a tournament where you can just pick up one or two rods and fish the event. I think you'll need eight to 15 rods on the deck."

Florida pro Shaw Grigsby was one of the Elites who said the shortened tournament might change the way the Southern Challenge is fished.

"You'd like to think it doesn't have an effect, but unfortunately it does," he said. "You normally have time to make up ground, like if on the first day you catch a decent stringer but it's not necessarily competitive. You might be in 25th place, then you catch the same stringer and move up to 15th. Then you do it again and move into the top 12… That was initially my game plan. I don't have big ones so I'm not sitting here thinking I'm going to catch 25 pounds and be up top to start with. The guys that have big ones, they can live off those because it's a shorter tournament."

Grigsby predicted that the winner of this event will catch his fish offshore.

"It's going to be post-spawn stuff, the big females that will win it," he said. "The bed fish might get you a check, but it's not going to win it. The grass lines, the humps — those are going to be key."

 Louisiana's Jeff Conella said he plans to fish in numerous fashions to make the top 12.

 "With these guys, you can't fish conservatively," he said. "You've got to catch them every day … I've found that Guntersville is a place where the fish kind of wad up. All the fish I've caught have been post-spawn. But that's not to say I won't go pre-spawn, because I don't know if they're done."