Getting grassy on Guntersville

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James Overstreet

SCOTTSBORO, Ala.— Come to Lake Guntersville in late June and you expect to find the bass fishing on fire out on its famous channel ledges along the Tennessee River. That is not the case, at least so far, at the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite Series at Lake Guntersville.

Normally, the scales are heavily tilted in favor of the ledge bite. This week, those scales are teetering between a balance of deep and shallow water productivity. Ongoing offshore fishing pressure is a factor. Just as soon as the postspawn largemouth arrived at the ledges so did every tournament and recreational bass fisherman launching a boat into the 67,900-acre fishery.

Meanwhile, in shallow water the aquatic vegetation is blooming and growing dense. The flourishing vegetation is plenty of reason for the bass to stay shallow. Ambush habitat, shade and cooler water, and plenty of baitfish are there, just like they should be offshore.

Another added dynamic is the variety of vegetation that is growing in shallow water. Until recently, hydrilla and milfoil were the most common. Now eelgrass is in play, and it is overtaking areas previously dominated by the other two.

It’s too soon to tell which way the bite will swing. The truth will be revealed this afternoon on the weigh-in scales. In the meantime, here are the predictions made by some of the pros this morning before the launch at 6 a.m.

Chris Zaldain: Late bloomers

“Everyone thought leading up to this event that it would be a ledge fest. On the first day of practice I found out that was not the case. They are late getting out on the ledges. Just like the rest of the country, this place is behind where it should be in terms of the bass fishing. Just take a look at the mayflies. They are just now beginning to hatch. There is still a lot of bait in shallow water. My game plan is to key on shallow grass patterns. Just because you are on the Tennessee River in June doesn’t mean that ledge fishing is the deal.”

Patrick Walters: In flux

“We are in that mix. If we were here in May it would be all about the ledges. The ledges are getting really beat up. But the grass is beginning to flourish and thicken in the shallow water. The bass get the same habitat they prefer in shallow water as they do out deep. For the shallow end that is ambush habitat, shade for coolor water and lots of bait. Once the fish get pressured offshore the grass bite becomes an option.”

Hank Cherry: The anti-ledge man

“It’s a unique place because there are options. I am not going to get near a ledge. The only time I plan to be on a ledge is to cross it in order to get to the shallowest grass that I can find. I am fishing 10 feet or less and looking for a combination of grass—hydrilla, peppergrass and eelgrass.”

John Crews: Getting grassy

“I feel like everything is about three or four weeks behind. If you come here in mid-May or early June there still are a lot of bass in shallow water. There is a lot of grass—more eelgrass than I have ever seen. There are still some fish on the ledges, but I feel like a lot of those are well known. The best ledges, and most popular, are getting obliterated with pressure. I think the fish will shift to types of cover that don’t get fished as much.”

Mark Menedez: A new G-ville

“We have a whole new Guntersville. Go try and find some hydrilla and you will be out of luck. Eelgrass has covered those areas down to 11-13 feet in some places. That has given the fish more room to spread out. You won’t find large schools of fish in concentrated areas. You have to fish a lot of areas to find a few fish. I want to gather up 15-18 pounds in shallow water.”

Drew Cook: Hammered ledges

“The fish aren’t as far along as they should be. The few offshore schools I found are getting heavy pressure. You can’t just idle over a school and turn around and catch them. It takes time and a strategy. There is a pretty decent shallow bite. The person who wins this tournament will be doing some of both. They might catch them on ledges on the first day but it won’t hold up for the entire tournament. You won’t win on one school. Whoever leads it after today will find out the locals and guides are going to hammer it on Saturday. They might not even be able to get on it tomorrow.”