FLORENCE, Ala.-- Go small or go large? Choosing between smallmouth and largemouth was one of the first decisions of the day for Bassmaster Elite Series pros as the Alabama Charge began Wednesday morning.
At the McFarland Park takeoff, almost one quarter of the Elite field turned left, or upriver toward the Wilson Dam and the smallmouth that inhabit those tailwaters. The remainder of the 99 anglers turned right, presumably headed toward largemouth of Pickwick's lower regions, although smallmouth can be found south of McFarland Park.
Travis Manson turned left. From Wisconsin, the Elite rookie knows about smallmouth, but Pickwick Lake smallies are not much like the fish at home, he said at the docks as he waited for the "go" signal that kicked off the four-day competition.
"Back home on the Great Lakes and on our natural lakes, it's clear, deep water, nothing remotely like what I've seen here," he said.
Stained water and current, much of it the result of recent rains, accented the differences, he noted. Still, his first stop of the day would be to the smallmouth he found early this week during the three days of practice.
"Then I'll decide if I want to flip around for a kicker largemouth, or give smallmouth another try," Manson said.
Dean Rojas said he'd target largemouth.
"You fish your strengths, stay in the areas you feel comfortable with, and a lot of the areas down there are what I like to fish," said Rojas, who said 6- and 7-pounders each day will be needed to be in contention for the win.
Gerald Swindle said he'd go for largemouth.
"Competing with smallmouth is going to be tough," he said. "The current and high water has spread them out so much. And the largemouth are a little heavier this year -- they're fatter and they haven't spawned."
Hedging his bets, Paul Elias said he'd spend Day One on a "combination of both."
The "shorts" pattern: Kenyon Hill and Paul Elias vowed Wednesday morning that it was the last time this season they'd wrap up against a frosty morning.
"It's shorts from now on," the well-bundled Hill jubilantly declared. "It helps your attitude a lot. You get out of the suits, put away the insulated boots, you're like 'all right!'.
Music masters: Picture a band made up of "Big Show" Terry Scroggins on piano, Brent Chapman on the big bass fiddle, Kota Kiriyama on the fiddle and Gerald Swindle on guitar.
The Bassmaster Elite Series pros didn't actually play the instruments. It was all a setup Tuesday evening on a dock for a scene in Darryl Worley's new music video of "The Fishin' Hole," his song set to the theme of the old Andy Griffith Show.
The pros also appeared in scenes shot on Wheeler Lake.
"We took our rigs up there, put them in the water and fished around him while he sung from an aluminum boat -- and then we got to play some instruments in a couple segments like we were the band," Swindle described. "I got to play Darryl Worley's guitar, although I don't play guitar, but I strummed around on it. We did a couple different sets, took about two hours, and we got back at dark last night.
He said their part in the video might amount to 10 or 15 seconds, but they were happy to help out.
"That's another connection of fishing and country music, and it gets more people watching our sport," Swindle said.
The Elite pros got involved in the project through the University of North Alabama Fishing Team. The college students from Florence had been helping Worley on technical aspects of the shoot, and mentioned that the Elite pros would be in town. Then the Florence/Lauderdale Tourism Office helped orchestrate the project and escorted the pros to the shoot.
Lock or not?: Closed for repairs, the Wilson Dam lock is scheduled to open Friday morning. That would give the Elite pros within Friday's top 50 field the option of locking up from Pickwick Lake into Wilson Lake.
But without two days of history on Wilson, would an Elite pro elect to go to new water?
Randy Howell is one of the few who said he might take the time for a trip through the lock.
"It's a great lake and it would not be pressured like Pickwick will be by that time. It's a mix of smallmouth and largemouth, and there are some big ones in there," said Howell, who said he knows Wilson better than Pickwick.
"I started to practice up there (Wilson), but I didn't have enough time or confidence in making that top 50 for sure," he said. "I didn't want to take away from my chances of getting to that top 50."
Future pro: Ryan Salzman, a senior studying marketing and military science at the University of North Alabama in Florence, Ala., is a co-founder of the college's fishing team.
He'd like to make fishing his life's work.
"I got into it when I was really young," he said. "When I was 13 or 14, I started following the Bassmaster Elite Series. I knew then it was what I wanted to do as a career."
His plan was to first go to college and major in marketing. To help finance his college, he joined the National Guard and was accepted into the ROTC program. In May, after college graduation, he will be commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and will attend Army Intelligence School. In eight years, he said, he could be a captain or a major, and then he could try to qualify for the Elite Series.
Meanwhile, Salzman said, he is an ArmyBassAnglers "hopeful." ArmyBassAnglers is a team made up of active and retired soldiers who compete to raise money for programs that benefit returning and wounded soldiers.