Ending with a bang in ’Bama

Terry Scroggins says he is not thinking much about June 19. That’s when he could collect — or miss out on — his first Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year crown, the sport’s top-achievement title to be awarded after the June 16-19 Bassmaster Elite Series season finale on Wheeler Lake out of Decatur, Ala.

He says he is focusing on fishing. Before he moves on to Wheeler Lake for the Dixie Duel, he’s got to clear the hurdle of this week’s tournament on the Arkansas River.

“I really haven’t thought about AOY,” said Scroggins, who took the lead in the AOY points race on May 15. “I’m going to fish as hard as I can at each event and see how it shakes out. I don’t let the points worry me too much.

He’s facing two diverse fisheries.

“I feel a whole lot more comfortable with Wheeler than I do the Arkansas River,” Scroggins said last weekend as he was headed to Little Rock, Ark., for the June 9-12 event. Coming from a river expert — he has lived all his life on Florida’s St. Johns River — that’s saying something. The predictions for Arkansas River fishing range from tough to tougher because of rapidly changing conditions.

Wheeler promises its own challenges.

“Almost all the grass is gone off the Decatur flats,” said Scroggins, a grass man weaned on his native Florida fisheries. “Now that the grass is gone, it’s made fishing there a whole lot tougher. But I still like the lake and I’m looking forward to it.”

Bass still hang on the flat’s ditches and humps and stumps, he said, so the Decatur Flats will, as always, be a popular spot.

Scroggins’ Wheeler finishes have been either very good or … well, not so good. The last time he competed on Wheeler, he finished fifth. That was in an end-of-April Bassmaster Open in 2009. At the beginning of that same month, but in a Bassmaster Elite Series event, he finished in 88th place. That contrasts to another strong Wheeler performance: third in a June 2008 Elite event.

“The fish moved and I didn’t make the right adjustments,” he said of that 88th finish. “And I fished a creek that got too much pressure. It was just one of those bad deals.”

Which Elite pros besides Scroggins have good Wheeler karma? Tommy Biffle was the most recent champ there. That was in April 2009, when a weather-shortened tournament resulted in his winning with 50 pounds, 13 ounces.

Kevin VanDam, now second to Scroggins in points, has a 45th-place finish on his Wheeler record. That was in the 2009 Elite tournament. But that finish doesn’t hint at his proficiency on this Tennessee River impoundment (or on others, where he’s also excelled). In 2008, he was runner-up to Jeremy Starks. And from 1999 to 2001, VanDam was strong every time he hit Wheeler: 11th, 3rd, and 11th again.

Other 2011 AOY points frontrunners can claim decent Wheeler records: Alton Jones, third in points, posted 14th in the 2009 Elite. Edwin Evers, fourth in points, was 26th in 2009 and 13th in 2008.

Wheeler Lake has the potential to offer each of the 99 Elite pros just about any type of fishing they could wish for. A Tennessee River impoundment, Wheeler stretches 60 miles across northwestern Alabama, covering about 67,000 acres and offering 1,000 miles of shoreline. The lake is diverse — riverine runs, sprawling flats and deep water make it angler’s choice. And anglers have their pick of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass.

Water conditions have been fairly steady. Unlike the rivers and lakes in other U.S. locales, Wheeler has not been hit with flood conditions. Wheeler’s water level, in fact, was running about half a foot low at the beginning of June.


Facts about the Bassmaster Elite Series 2011 regular-season finale, the Dixie Duel:

* First prize: The winner’s prize is $100,000 and a 2012 Bassmaster Classic berth.

* AOY title at stake: This is anglers’ final shot at earning points in the 2011 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. The angler with the most points after Wheeler will win the $100,000 AOY prize.

*Postseason berths at stake: The top eight in points after the Wheeler season finale will qualify for Toyota Trucks All-Star Week, a postseason event with a $100,000 top prize. Four additional All-Star qualifiers will be selected by fan voting online at Bassmaster.com.

* Bassmaster Classic berths at stake: The top 28 in points after the Wheeler event will qualify for the 2012 Classic. Double qualifications through other routes could push that cutline to 37th or 38th place.

* When: June 16-19. Anglers will be allowed three days of official practice, June 13-15, before the four-day competition begins on Thursday.

* Where: Wheeler Lake out of Decatur, Ala.

* Launch: 6:45 a.m. CT, Ingalls Harbor, 701 Market St., Decatur, AL 35601

* Weigh-ins: 3:15 p.m. CT, also at Ingalls Harbor

*The cut: The 99-angler field will compete the first two days, then be cut to 50 for the third day. The fourth and final day — Sunday, June 19 — will be a contest between the 12 pros who made the final cut.

* Fan festival on site Saturday and Sunday. For a full list of the activities, music and fun, check out Attend the Dixie Duel at Bassmaster.com. The list includes a two-day Family Jam Music Fest, during which donations will be accepted by the United Way to benefit April tornado victims. On Sunday, Colt Ford will perform after the weigh-in, and fireworks are planned.

* No cost to attend: There’s no admission fee for launches, weigh-ins, the festival, or concerts and fireworks.

* All-out online coverage: The Dixie Duel will be covered wire-to-wire by Bassmaster.com. That includes live, streaming video of the weigh-ins; a real-time weigh-in leaderboard; BASSTrakk catch reports; day-long live blogging; from-the-water BASSCam video reports, the live Toyota Trucks Hooked Up! show with Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona; live hourly updates hosted by Elite emcee Dave Mercer from the Toyota Trucks Hooked Up! stage; daily photo galleries; in-depth analysis; and daily results and standings.

*Host organizations: Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Decatur Sports.com.

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