The 55 anglers in the Bassmaster Classic can no longer ask for advice from local anglers — that's not permitted under the rules for the event, now less than two weeks away from the kickoff date of Feb. 21.
But if they could, some well-known guides could probably give them some veryy, verry useful tips. Of course, the guides don't have to put a string of five 5-pounders in the well every day, but they have the benefit of thousands of days on the water, year-round, and the know-how they've accumulated is a treasure for anyone who wants to enjoy a day on the water fishing for fun, before, after or during the Big Show.
Captain Mike Gerry (www.fishlakeguntersvilleguideservice.com) says the conditions on the lake were so different before the off-limits began for Classic contenders that their practice time probably won't do them much good.
"With the extreme cold in late January, the weeds really died back and some places and tactics that were great in December are not going to work at all at the end of February," says Gerry. "Guntersville is going through one of the coldest winters in history; the lake froze over in some of the bays and water temperatures have reached low to mid 30s."
Gerry says the result is going to be very little grass in water shallower than 6 feet deep, and few fish there, either, unless there's a dramatic last-minute warm-up.
"I would expect the best fishing to be on scattered weeds on the deeper ledges, and on hard bottom areas, rock outcrops, stump fields and roadbeds," says Gerry. (It may be worth noting, however, that next week has several sunny days in the low 60's forecast — Gerry might be singing a different tune if that holds until the event begins.)
Captain Mike Carter (www.anglingadventures.info) says the lake is currently high and murky, but that might well be completely different by tournament time.
"We're still catching fish on Rat-L-Traps, but the squarebill crankbait in shallower water might be a really good bet by the time the Classic gets here if the warm-up comes through," says Carter.
Carter also notes that early spring is one of has absolute favorite times for running a Choo Choo Lures swimjig through the primrose and lily pad fields of upriver tributaries like Crow Creek and Mud Creek. For Classic anglers who decide to swing for the fences, this may be the way to go — two years ago, Carter caught an 8- and a 12-pound fish on the same day with this tactic — 20 pounds in two casts!
It's always hard to argue with a jig on bottom at Guntersville, and that's the strategy Captain Lee Pitts (www.leepittsoutdoors.com) used to weigh in a 26.59-pound stringer in last week's Alabama Bass Trail event, earning him and partner Keith Vann a fourth place.
"We found fish on scattered weeds on channel bends and points in 4 to 8 feet, and that's likely to be a good pattern in the Classic, too," says Pitts.
Captain Tim Chandler (www.mildrillafishing.com) says he has continued to do well on XCalibur Rattle Baits right through the cold weather, and expects that some of the Classic anglers will do well with that pattern.
"I like a pull-and-drop in scattered weeds — rip it when you hit weeds, then let it drop and be ready to set the hook," says Chandler. "Until the fish go to the shallows to spawn, that's as good a pattern as you'll find at Guntersville."
This story originally ran on AL.com.