Open: Valet parking and other notes

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Craig Lamb
Linda Lewis coordinated efforts by 50 volunteers on behalf of local sponsor, the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County.

Valet parking at a bass tournament? You bet. That’s just one of the services provided by volunteers at the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open #2 on Smith Lake.

The Chamber of Commerce of Walker County is well-equipped to handle the basics of a tournament. Economic impacts to the community and promoting tourism is the goal of any chamber of commerce. Walker County did that well, but what happened at the lake surpassed anyone’s expectations.

The chamber, local event sponsor, coordinated the efforts of about 50 volunteer that streamlined the boat launching process at Smith Lake Dam Access, also site of the weigh-in.

Everyone had a specific assignment. Many of the volunteers have performed their duties at chamber-sponsored tournaments since 2001.

“This community gets it,” said Linda Lewis, chamber president. “The best part is we all know what each other is doing.”

Deputies from the Walker County Sheriff helped organize two lanes of traffic merged into two launch ramps. Pros idled to the dock while co-anglers parked vehicles. Golf carts, 10 in all, transported the drivers to the awaiting pros. The reverse process happened at weigh-in. Anybody needing a lift from the spectator lots to the weigh-in was greeted with a smile and free ride.

All 178 boats got launched, vehicles parked and partners in boats by 6:30 a.m., the official start time.

An engineer calculated the size of parking areas for boaters, spectators, sponsors and service crews.

And that valet parking? Solo drivers needing help parking got assistance from reserve drivers. Those volunteers launched boats, parked vehicles and returned keys to the owner.

No one ever needed to ask for help. It was as near as a golf cart, volunteer or Linda Lewis and her staff.

Lee comes close

On Day 1 after charging into the lead Jordan Lee fell short of closing the deal on the final day. Lee, originally from nearby Cullman, Ala., started the tournament with 20 pounds, 10 ounces. A largemouth weighing 7-13 anchored the catch. The next day he caught 9-15 to finish with 30-9 and a fourth-place finish.

Lee targeted spawning bass and the big largemouth was an indicator. He spotted the female during practice and caught it three days later. Lee also admitted to picking dry most of his spotted bass spawning sites.

“I should have spent more time scouting out beds of individual fish,” he said.

Finding individual spawning beds for spotted bass can be time consuming. They nest on underwater shelves in water up to 10 feet. Thoroughly working a spawning area is the best bet. That’s what Lee did with a shaky head rig and finesse worm.

 “Probably what did me in was the lack of beds, the cold front and then post front on the final day,” he said.

 Even so, Lee remains one of the top young and rising anglers on the circuit.

 Stressed out spots

Lee credits winner Jesse Wiggins with much of his spotted bass fishing skills. Lee chose Wiggins as the winner prior to the tournament. In separate conversations the anglers had this to say about the spotted bass on Smith Lake.

“They don’t handle angling pressure very well at all after the second day of a tournament,” said Lee.

“This is one of the best spotted bass fisheries in the country for numbers,” said Wiggins. “That is, if you come here during the week.”

It takes it a couple of days to recover after a weekend event,” added Wiggins.

One bait, many styles

Stetson Blaylock, who finished 7thh, got there by using the same lure. That was unusual on a lake where changing conditions justified alternatives for filling a limit.

Blaylock used a Gary Yamamoto Custom Lures Senko to catch all of his weight of 30-6. He rigged the same lure one of four ways. When encountering certain conditions he picked up the matching bait and made a cast.

 “In spring you can’t beat a Senko for its versatility,” he said. “It’s a shad imitator and you just adjust the lure to the depth it needs to run.”

Blaylock’s personal best spotted bass, weighing 5-9, came on a wacky rigged Senko. When the strike occurred he was fishing the rig on a sloping shoreline. For fishing beneath docks he fished a weightless Senko for it’s skipping benefits. For laydowns and wood he fished a Texas rig. While many anglers used a shaky head rig he fished his with the bulky Senko.

“Using one lure just built my confidence even more,” he added.

Trophy striper

Third-place finisher Mike Johnson instantly knew what tugged on the opposite end of his line on the final day. Johnson, of north Georgia, regularly fishes for spotted bass on Lake Lanier, where another trophy fish lives.

Johnson eventually landed a striped bass he estimated to weigh about 50 pounds. Stripers in that class aren’t unusual at Smith. In fact, Alabama fisheries biologists collect brood fish for the state’s striped bass stocking program from the lake.

Johnson caught the fish during an exciting five-hour feeding frenzy in his area.

“The fish just came up and started blowing up blueback herring,” he said.

The striped bass were mixed with the spotted bass he was ideally targeting.

Johnson fished a fish head spin lure beneath the surface action to catch the striper and spotted bass. Of those fish he caught at least 50 on the final day. His limit of spotted bass weighed 18-1 and added to a cumulative weight of 31-14.