Guntersville's dream-making bridges

You wouldn't think Lake Guntersville's many bridges had any dream-fulfilling power left in them. They're like a riff off the old saying, often credited to Yogi Berra: "Nobody fishes Guntersville's bridges anymore. They're too crowded."

While winner Skeet Reese didn't fish the bridges in last week's Diet Mtn Dew Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville, runner-up Byron Velvick did and sixth-place finisher Carl Jocumsen certainly did. Jocumsen concentrated on the two Spring Creek bridges in catching the heaviest Day 3 bag of the tournament – 26 pounds, 10 ounces. He relied almost exclusively on those bridges and a few others all four days.

"This has changed my life forever," said Jocumsen, the first Australian to compete in the Elite Series, while on-stage at Sunday's final weigh-in. "This is a dream-come-true."

Guntersville's bridges are some of the best-known "community holes" in the world of bass tournament fishing, hence the aptness of the "nobody goes there/too crowded" joke.

"That's how I feel now," said Gerald Swindle, who recalled an important 29-pound day on the Brown Creek bridge when he won the Bassmaster Angler of the Year title in 2004. "When I run by them, I'm like, 'I'm not going over there. It's too crowded.'

"Wonder why? Because they're all catching fish. That's how smart I am."

Consider this list of dreams turned into reality by the bridges of Lake Guntersville:

— Rick Clunn won his first Bassmaster Classic title on one of the Brown Creek bridges in 1976. In that time of 10-bass limits, Clunn said 22 of the 27 fish he weighed in the Classic came off bridges, primarily in Brown Creek. He said it was also a Brown Creek bridge that year that produced the biggest bass in Classic history at the time: an 8-9 caught by Ricky Green.

"I was fishing bridges in this lake before a lot of these guys were born," said Clunn, who caught an 8-8 largemouth last week. "Nobody fished them back then."

— Paul Elias started the Alabama rig explosion in Oct. 2011, when he ran away with an FLW Tour event, totaling 102-8 over four days with a 17-pound margin of victory. It was at the Comer bridge where Elias realized how to most effectively use the A-rig.

Rather than fish the bridge pilings, which always hold some fish, Elias saw on his graph that baitfish and bass were suspended in the main channel under the bridge.

"That's how the whole (Alabama rig) thing got started," Elias said. "I wasn't just getting one or two off the pilings. I started positioning my boat next to the pilings, and throwing out into the creek channel. They were suspended throughout the whole channel. It was just stupid."

— And, of course, there was Randy Howell's dream day in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic, when he came from 11th place, 9 pounds out of the lead, to catch 29-2, mostly on the first Spring Creek bridge, and won the title.

"I must have caught 75 fish there between 9 o'clock and 2:30," Howell said. "I've been catching them off bridges in Guntersville for years and years. I caught 26 pounds off a bridge in '06. Another time, Britt Myers and I shared the Spring Creek bridge one day. He had 22 pounds, and I had 21 pounds.

"Everybody knows about these in bridges at Guntersville now."

But they still keep producing, fulfilling dreams. Why?

It's a combination of two main factors: 1) Lake Guntersville's location, where the Appalachian highlands have tapered into the lowlands, and where several wide creek channels feed the 69,000-acre lake from both east and west; plus 2) the bridges are mostly riprap-lined causeways with short bridge spans in between.

In simpler terms, there are an unusual number of bridges on the lake, and the short bridge spans act like choke-points, where the bass have to funnel through tight spots while moving between shallow creeks and the deeper main channel of the Tennessee River.

"Leading into all the big creeks – the spawning grounds, so to speak – there's a bridge or two that intersect," said Jordan Lee, who grew up in Alabama and has fished Guntersville often. "There have been more tournaments won on bridges here than any other way.

"You can't find them congregated like that around a grass bed or something like that when they are moving in or out."

But if you want a spot to yourself, you can eliminate fishing Guntersville's bridges.

"I've never seen anything like this anywhere else in the country," said Brent Ehrler, who made the Top 12 cut, finishing ninth, without fishing the bridges. "It's unbelievable how effective those bridges are here. I don't fish them because I can't stand the (fishing) pressure. You show up and have 10 guys there.

"The thing about the bridges here is they have the riprap causeways that create a bottleneck. And the bottlenecks always have current. There's only one way in and one way out of the creeks. This time of year they are going both ways, and it's a traffic jam for bass."

The human equivalent of this bass traffic bottleneck would be the many bridges and tunnels that connect the densely populated New York City borough of Manhattan with the various densely populated areas around the island. For instance, the George Washington Bridge, which spans the Hudson River, connecting Manhattan and New Jersey is the world's most heavily trafficked bridge, carrying over 100 million vehicles a year.

Lake Guntersville is like the New York City metropolitan area of bass.

"There are lots of creek arms on this lake, and at least one road crossing nearly every creek arm," said Elias. "On the second day of practice in the FLW tournament, I ran every bridge on the lake. I was surprised how many bridges there were."

Elias started listing them, noting two in Spring Creek, one in Honeycomb Creek, two in Brown Creek, two in Town Creek, three in North Sauty Creek, one in South Sauty Creek, one in Comer Creek, one in Mink Creek, and one in Mill Creek.

And that's not all of them.

"There are about 15, I guess," said Elias.

Chris Lane, the 2012 Bassmaster Classic champion, moved from his home state of Florida to Guntersville several years ago. He now has a detailed knowledge of the lake and its history.

"The one thing about this place, all these bridges have made somebody's dream come true," Lane said. "Every single bridge on this lake has made somebody's dream come true over the history of this lake."