Next March, the eyes of the bass fishing world will focus upon Lake Guntersville, a legendary TVA impoundment loaded with grass and big bass. There are 75 Elite Series pros who dream of competing in the 2020 Bassmaster Classic, and currently only Brandon Cobb has a reserved place at the party. The rest of them are going to have to claw their way into the field, and the next portion of that process begins at…
You guessed it: Lake Guntersville.
It’s almost cruel that a few dozen of these guys will get another taste of the 2014 Classic site, only to see their Classic dreams dashed or diminished there. Meanwhile the guys who do well have to wait nearly nine months to compete there again.
Guntersville receives exceptional fishing pressure, but it continues to churn out big bags, and at any time an angler can be just five casts away — or fewer if fishing an event where the Alabama Rig is allowed — from putting together a massive limit. Paul Mueller had 32 pounds, 3 ounces on Day 2 of that amazing Classic, but Randy Howell’s 29-02 on Day 3 was enough to edge him out. No one who knows anything about the place doubts that a 40-pound limit is possible.
Of course, it will fish differently in June than it will in March, but look for some similarities. Grass should play a role, as should current, but it’ll likely take more of an offshore focus this time around. On a lake of this stature, also dial in on anglers who aren’t strangers to the act of stuffing five giants in their livewells on tournament day.
Here are my picks:
BUCKET A: WALTERS (KEEP ON TRUCKIN’)
Alabama Slammer: Normally by this time in the season, some of the rookies are starting to show signs that they’re going to fold up like a taco. Well, Patrick Walters had his worst Elite Series performance of the year at Fork, but he still finished 29th and got paid. He’s still your AOY leader, and he seems to be some sort of unflappable cyborg. Guntersville is a pattern lake and a spot lake, so expect him to find a few of both.
Title Contender: In another entry from the “en fuego” bucket, Brandon Cobb has a Classic berth and a few hundred thousand dollars to show for his efforts so far this year. He’s playing with house money, but don’t expect him to let off the gas. If you think that Walters might stumble, BCobb may be an easy replacement.
BUCKET B: HERREN (HOME STATE HERO)
Alabama Slammer: Matt Herren has been in the top 20 in the last four Elite events, and now they’re headed to a lake in his home state where he’s had mixed results in B.A.S.S. competition. He’s in 18th in the AOY race, only 14 points out of the top 10. If he’s going to make a late move on the title, now would be a good opportunity to make some noise.
Title Contender: If you think there’s a chance that a swimbait will play at the Big G, then pick Chris Zaldain who is going to win with it at some point. He’s been close, and eventually that 8-pounder to put him over the top will chew at the right time.
BUCKET C: MORGENTHALER (GRASS FREAK)
Alabama Slammer: Chad Morgenthaler loves to flip grass and it has produced some of his top finishes on tour, and Guntersville is right up his alley. He can play the offshore game, but he’d rather punch the big jig or heavy tungsten. After a 23rd-place finish in the 2014 Classic, he’d like another shot at the career-defining event next year.
Title Contender: Paul Mueller is another one who made waves in the 2014 Classic, and with several more years of seasoning under his belt he’s a solid second choice in this bracket, especially because he’s exceptional with his electronics.
BUCKET D: LOUGHRAN (LEGAL EAGLE)
Alabama Slammer: 48-year-old “rookie” Ed Loughran has struggled to put two good days together this season, but at some point he will and this could likely be that derby. He caught 20-plus on Day 2 at Fork on a frog, so the big bass chops are there, and he needs a strong finish to move toward the Classic cutline as he prepares to head north thereafter.
Title Contender: Will there be a jerkbait bite? If so, put home state angler Kelley Jaye on your team because he’s going to figure it out. Since doing well at perennial nemesis the St. Johns River to start the year, he’s struggled thereafter. This one may be make or break for his chances of qualifying for Classic number one.
BUCKET E: FRITTS (FRITTS BLITZ)
Alabama Slammer: David Fritts has performed abysmally this year, a shock for an angler who is set to be inducted into the Hall of Fame this fall. The season is moving into his time of year, though, and they’re hitting a classic structure fishery. He’s been competing in B.A.S.S. events on Guntersville since 1988, with multiple Top 10s, and won an FLW Tour event here in 2009. He’s a low percentage pick with a high upside.
Title Contender: Steve Kennedy is a riddle wrapped in a mystery, packed inside an enigma. He’s just as likely to win as he is to finish in the bottom third, as he has four times this year. At some point he’ll win again, and he has plenty of experience on the TVA impoundments. If you think this is that time, bet the farm.