A ‘grinder’ at Neely Henry

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Craig Lamb

I knew what to expect when interviewing some of the anglers following the wrap of practice at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Open at Neely Henry Lake. 

This is my fifth week of covering events in the South during the fall transition, and I have grown accustomed to comments like those made by Darold Gleason. “It’s going to be a grinder, a junk fisherman’s dream come true.”

Indeed, it will be. The lake, more like a river, stretches 77 miles from Weiss Dam to Neely Henry Dam. Grassy flats, meandering backwaters and textbook river channel swings near shoreline will be the focus of the anglers.

The glimmer of hope here is Alabama Power, which built this and other hydroelectric dams on the Coosa River. Bass fishing success here is akin to a light switch. When Alabama Power turns on the generators, current in the narrow river stimulates bass activity. When the generators are off, the fishing gets tough. The current generating schedule was unavailable when I checked, however the anglers I spoke with reported there was current in early afternoon.

“This afternoon (Wednesday) they generated current at Weiss Dam, but it takes it a while to get down here to Gadsden,” said Gleason. “Also, they are sending water into Logan Martin, so you have to play the current game.”

Playing the game requires being on the best areas out on the river to take advantage of the bass positioning on current breaks to ambush passing baitfish. Gleason noted the early bite is decent, even without current, because the bass here use the low light to roam and feed. What is more, the fall nights make the water cooler. 

Gleason had 15 baitcasters and two spinning outfits on his deck when interviewed. He might have a wise game plan, choosing to eliminate water and drill down in one select area, seining it and looking for clues. 

“I narrowed it down to 10 miles, and I’m going to focus there, instead of spending so much time running from end to end of the lake,” he said.

Concentrating in one area results in better time management, while enabling him to react to what the fish are doing.

Andy Thomasson, Trait Zaldain and Lee Livesay were working on tackle when I interviewed them. Livesay, fresh off a Bassmaster Elite Series win on Monday at Lake Chickamauga, was upbeat about what could happen.

“It’s tough but there are a lot of fish in here, and it’s similar to Logan Martin,” he said. "Yesterday I had 11 bites, some were keepers and were big, and when I say big, I’m talking 2 3/4 pounds.” 

That weight, incidentally, was the benchmark set by everyone I spoke to about sizing up a daily weight to make the cut on Championship Saturday. Catch 10 pounds and you have a shot; anything more lands you inside the cut. The other measure of success is just catching five keepers, not reaching a particular weight. 

Thomasson’s game plan is to maximize his odds of just catching a limit by keeping a bait in the water.

“Literally when my boat number is called, I’m going to drop my trolling motor and fish,” he said. "Afternoon has been my best time when they generate current.”

Thomasson’s goal is first to get two keepers in the boat, then fill his limit later in the afternoon during the magic hours of current. 

Matt Pangrac’s summation of the week thus far is a tale of two tournaments.

“There will be guys that run far up the river, and others fishing the lower end of the lake,” he said. 

From Gadsden north, the lake is more like a narrow, meandering river. To the south, it opens up more like a lake. 

Regardless of which choice is made, one thing is for certain when it comes to fishing success here this week. It’s all about Alabama Power, and when it flips the switch on the current to turn on the bite.