SCOTTSBORO, Ala. — As Gerald Swindle contemplates northeast Alabama’s spring weather patterns, he’s expecting a familiar tune with a couple of different notes at the Berkley Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville.
Competition days will be May 20-23 with daily takeoffs from Goose Pond Colony Resort Marina in Scottsboro at 5:30 a.m. CT and weigh-ins each day back at Goose Pond at 2 p.m.
Coming off a third-place finish at the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Neely Henry Lake, where flood conditions postponed the scheduled start by a day, Swindle notes a similar scenario playing out on Guntersville. Neely Henry is a Coosa River reservoir, while Guntersville takes the form of a Tennessee River impoundment. Nevertheless, both are subject to the same weather impacts.
“Guntersville is 50 miles from Neely Henry, and they got the same amount of rain,” Swindle said. “The water jumped up a foot and then (the Tennessee Valley Authority) ripped it downstream and it was muddy. It was the same thing on Neely Henry — it was up and down, the shad were trying to spawn, there were fish left on the bed — so I’m thinking Guntersville’s going through the same change.”
About a week prior to the tournament, Swindle drove the roadways around Guntersville to check out the conditions. Finding the lake back down to normal pool, with relatively clean water and slower current, he knows that means even more change for fish already weary from fluctuations.
“I think it’s going to be a little bit of a guessing game because we haven’t had an extremely warm spring,” Swindle said. “We haven’t had many hot days, but in the last month, we’ve had some high-30-degree nights. I think what you’re going to see is a lingering shad spawn and a few more fish shallower than what guys expect.
“Will there be some deep? Yeah, but I don’t know yet if there’ll be loads of them deep. For a May tournament, this is going to be extremely different. It’s not just going to be full bore, big spoons and crankbaits.”
With plenty of Guntersville fish having completed their bedding cycle, part of the field will, no doubt, spend much of the event looking for that classic postspawn offshore bite. Swindle, though, makes a telling prediction.
“I’m betting that three of the Top 10 will come shallow, if not four,” he said. “We may possibly see somebody make a run for it flipping docks.
“Our bream are still bedding. There are just so many variables that say Guntersville is probably going to fish as big this time as we’ve ever fished it.”
Also, given the seasonal warming, Swindle said a mayfly hatch could be a strong possibility, so he’ll be watching streetlights every morning for clouds of newly-hatched insects. On top of these variables, Swindle points to Guntersville’s recent eelgrass explosion as a detail demanding attention.
“Guntersville has more grass than it’s ever had, but it has more eelgrass,” he said. “It has less hydrilla and milfoil than it’s ever had, so anglers are going to have to learn where they go in the eelgrass. There are places where the eelgrass is on top of humps 10-12 feet where we normally (fish crankbaits).
“I don’t think you can come here anymore and say, ‘I’m putting six cranking rods up there and I’m gonna fish deep.’ I think the guys are going to have to consider eelgrass, whereas most of the time, it’s not even considered a factor in May. You cannot ignore it or you will get beat.”
Given the seasonal transitions and the eelgrass proliferation, Swindle expects Guntersville to offer potential winning opportunities end to end. Essentially, since the fish have not yet fully committed to their traditional offshore move, pockets of opportunity are more broadly scattered.
“I think you could see someone threaten to win it somewhere up the river where Frank Talley won it last year, and I think it could be won all the way down by the dam because of the (diversity), the shad spawn, the way the grass has changed and what the fish are moving to,” Swindle said. “If we were here in the dead-end of June, I’d say this is pretty much going to be grind and wind and offshore dragging.”
Swindle said spinnerbaits, topwaters and crankbaits will likely dominate the event, but shallow flipping and skipping baits will likely make a strong showing. Should the mayfly hatch ignite, look for poppers and frogs to play.
Swindle predicts an average of 18 pounds a day will make the Top 10 cut for Championship Sunday, with a winning total estimated at about 80. Winning, Swindle said, will demand diversity.
“There’s no way you can win with one pattern, because from what I know of May, there probably won’t be enough out there and the ones that are out there have already been found, so you won’t have them alone,” he said. “I think a guy’s going to need two primary patterns and two styles of fishing to stay consistent for four days.
“You’re going to have to move around; there’s just not enough fish (in any given scenario) to sit on it and win it. And even if you sit on it one day, you’re not going to sit on it the next day because there’s going to be people there.”
Live coverage for all four days of the event can be streamed on Bassmaster.com and the FOX Sports digital platforms. FS1 will also broadcast live with the tournament leaders beginning at 7 a.m. CT on Saturday and Sunday.
The tournament is being hosted by the City of Scottsboro.