DECATUR, Ala. — The pre-tournament forecast for the highly-pressured Wheeler Lake area of Decatur Flats was ugly: "There will be blood."
With as many as half the 107-angler field of the Southern Challenge presented by Advance Auto Parts attempting to win $100,000 in one area of the 68,000-acre lake, some ugly scenes seemed likely.
Just the opposite occurred, according to one of the participants — Matt Reed.
"We all worked together," said Reed, who is in 11th place with 16 pounds, 11 ounces after Day One. "Nobody screamed or cussed at anybody all day. We made it work real well."
The fact that everybody knew before the tournament that Decatur Flats would draw a crowd probably kept anyone from getting angry, according to Reed. Pro bass tournaments are often marked by highly-charged "turf battles." But that didn't happen this time.
"When you know it's going to be that way already, you might as well work together," said Reed, in explaining the lack of fireworks from the Flats.
The next secret lure of the pros
Shaw Grigsby was one of the Elite Series pros concentrated in the Decatur Flats area. Grigsby credited his sixth-place performance of 18-7 to a new Strike King lure. The lure will be introduced to the public at the annual ICAST show next month, and Grigsby, understandably, didn't want to reveal any details Thursday, other than how awesomely it performed.
"I'm fishing in that crowd, but I've got a great bait," Grigsby said. "I've got a bait that they were literally choking themselves on, which is pretty neat.
(Strike King) sent them to me in March. This opportunity to really play with them is just awesome. They're loving it."
In an attempt to pry a little more information about Grigsby's secret lure, Kevin VanDam, also affiliated with Strike King, was asked about what Grigsby was using so successfully.
"I really don't want to say what the baits are because we've got several new baits coming out," said VanDam, who thenwinked and added, "I'm just going to say it was looking pretty sexy out there."
We'll leave it to the reader to put two-and-two together on that remark. And, to paraphrase Forest Gump, that's all we've got to say about that.
The Wolak way
Dave Wolak pays particular attention to keeping his mind and body in top shape for tournament competition. One way he does that is skip the partial day of practice that's allowed on Wednesday. Wolak gets his practice work done on Monday and Tuesday, then concentrates on getting focused Wednesday.
"Ninety-percent of the time, I don't practice on Wednesday," Wolak said. "I just stay in the hotel and get my stuff ready, stay relaxed, get focused and rested, most importantly.
"I'm not saying it's the right pattern, but it has worked for me."
It worked well Thursday, as Wolak had the third-place total of 19-4 and the Purolator Big Bass of the day, which weighed 7-10.
Wolak said that the only time he practices on Wednesday is when sight-fishing for spawning fish is important. Then it's crucial to be on the water until the last possible minute before the tournament, when you're able to find bass that have just moved up on spawning beds.
However, especially when the weather gets hot, like it is now on Wheeler Lake, he thinks it's much more important to go into competition with a rested body and a clear mind.
"This is the time of year you've really got to grind it out, washing lures to get a big bite," Wolak said.
"Just staying focused is the hardest thing in this heat. You really have to stay focused because on a quality bite like that (7-10), you've really got to be in tune with what's going on."
"This is unreal to be here and watch Wheeler produce fish like this. Back in the '90s, seven-pounders were pretty common here, so maybe Wheeler is coming back." — Gerald Swindle on the two 7-pound bass weighed-in Thursday
"I didn't have a fish for an hour-and-a-half this morning, and you can catch a fish on a rock in this lake." — Matt Reed on the early difficulty he had in catching the abundant bass in Wheeler Lake
"I had kind of had a terrible practice. I don't think I caught a fish over two pounds in practice." — Terry Scroggins, who caught 22-3 Thursday to lead the tournament
"Alabama has always been really good to me. As far as I'm concerned, I wouldn't mind if we had the whole (Elite) Series on the Tennessee River, going down the chain." — Kevin VanDam, who won the Elite Series event at Alabama's Lake Guntersville last season
"You try to hold it together when you see a fish like that in this lake, but I pretty much sat down for about five minutes after that. I needed a rest." — Dave Wolak on catching the 7-10 big bass of the day