Practice leaves pros puzzled at Guntersville

SCOTTSBORO, Ala. — In B.A.S.S. history, Lake Guntersville rates a chapter all to itself. The storied 69,000-acre reservoir on the Tennessee River in northeast Alabama will host its 25th B.A.S.S. pro level event when the four-day NOCO Bassmaster Elite begins here Wednesday.

That list includes two of the past seven Bassmaster Classics, the most recent being Hank Cherry’s wire-to-wire win last March. Cherry tied for the third-heaviest five-bass bag in Classic history when he weighed 29 pounds, 3 ounces on Day 1. In 2014, Paul Mueller set the one-day Classic record of 32-3, also at Lake Guntersville.

All that’s to say don’t expect any bags like that over the next four days here. It’s fall fishing in the South, and that’s a completely different animal than the record-setting days at Guntersville in the late winter, spring and summer.

“September and early October is the toughest time of year here, bar none,” said Brandon Lester, who usually excels on Tennessee River lakes. “It’s easier to catch ‘em here in January when the temperature is in the 40s.

“Everybody is going to be moaning and groaning about how bad the fishing is. Some fish are still out deep, some fish are in the grass and some are in-between. You’re not going to see great big weights like you see in the springtime, but there will still be plenty of fish caught.

“My gut tells me if you catch 16 pounds a day, you’ll make it to Day 4. I’ve fished a couple of BFLs here in the fall and 13 to 14 pounds a day was pretty strong.”

Hank Cherry knows it will probably take two days’ weight and 10 bass to match his five-bass Day 1 weight of 29-3 in the Classic here on March 6.

“I think if you average 14 pounds a day you might make the top 10,” Cherry said. “It’s different, to say the least. Guys are either going to run-and-gun all day or find a grass line, get on it and flip grass all day.”

Cherry said he’s going to be one of those run-and-gunners. That’s his game plan formulated after three days of practice.

“The more I move around the better I do,” he said. “Sunshine helps, and we’re supposed to get that. It’s fall junk fishing – pickup a jerkbait, chatterbait, flip a jig, fish a dock, fish a laydown.”

Lester, on the other hand, has found a pattern in practice.

“I’m fully committed to what I’m doing,” he said. “Somebody is going to catch ‘em junk fishing, but not me. I’m all-in on what I’m doing. It’s either going to work, or it’s not.”

Twenty-pound bags, which are often the baseline for success in a Guntersville tournament, are predicted to be scarce this week.

“Somebody is going to catch 20 pounds (Wednesday),” Lester said. “There might be three or four in the tournament. But no one is going to do that consistently.”

The key to a 20-pound bag is going to be a 7- or 8-pounder, of which there are many here. They’re just really hard to find now.

Jamie Hartman won the last regular-season Elite Series tournament at Guntersville, in June 2019. He jumped from 10th place going into the last day to win with a four-day total of 79-10. Hartman was singing the blues after practice this week.

“You’re going to hear a lot of that,” Hartman said. “It’s been tough – straight up tough. I’ve tried everything. I bet 16 pounds a day will get you into the top 10 for the final day. My goal is 12 pounds a day, and I don’t know if I can do it.”

It’s no surprise that Lake Guntersville is tough this time of year. Someone will solve the puzzle over the next four days. But who that will be is anyone’s guess right now.

Daily 6:30 a.m. CT takeoffs and 3 p.m. weigh-ins will be held at Goose Pond Colony Resort.

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