When the 56 of the world's best bass fishermen roll into Guntersville for the Bassmaster Classic - long considered the Super Bowl of bass fishing -- for many it will be like coming home.
Lake Guntersville, a 69,000-acre impoundment on the Tennessee River, has been recognized as one of the nation's greatest bass fishing spots for more than 40 years, and recent Bassmaster polls have consistently ranked it as the third- or fourth-best fishery in the country.
Bassmaster Magazine Editor James Hall said the poll results reflect a host of qualifiers. State conservation representatives provided the five most productive lakes in each state based on electroshock surveys and angler catch rates. B.A.S.S. Federation Nation presidents offered top lake recommendations based on tournament catches, while conservation directors supplied details on lake accessibility and best fish stocking practices.
A panel of outdoor writers, editors, Bassmaster Elite Series professional anglers and fishing industry veterans ranked the final list based on current fishability of each lake, considering its history, big fish and overall quantity potential and aesthetic surroundings of the area.
Guntersville qualified on all counts. It's some 70 miles long, allowing competitors and spectator boats plenty of elbowroom. It offers every type of fishing, from main channel drops to winding creek channels to vast acreage of shallow grass flats. And it turns out incredible numbers of big bass season after season, despite angling pressure that would wilt lesser fisheries.
"You pretty much have to catch a sack of five-pound fish, every day, to win a major tournament here," said 2012 Classic champ and Guntersville resident Chris Lane. "There's hardly anywhere else in the country where that's consistently true."
And it certainly didn't hurt that the lake is only 70 miles from the home office of the B.A.S.S. empire in Birmingham.
This year's Classic -- set for Feb. 21-23 -- will feature daily weigh-ins, plus the accompanying Classic Fishing Expo, at Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center, and the hard-traveling B.A.S.S. staff will sleep in their own beds during the championship.
What's more, northern Alabama is at the epicenter of the bass fishing nation. Nowhere else is bass fishing held in such high esteem by so many anglers as in the Southeast.
Draw a line around the SEC football states and you have pretty well defined the heart of bass fishing in America. There are about a half-million dues-paying members of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, and the majority of them are found in the Southeast.
And Alabama has just become home to the state-sponsored Alabama Bass Trail, a sort of Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail for the fishy set. Nine of the Classic contenders are Alabama residents. Don Logan, one of the three owners of B.A.S.S., is a Birmingham businessman. And the city of Guntersville and Marshall County have welcomed the event with open arms.
"This is a huge event for Guntersville," said Guntersville Mayor Leigh Dollar, "and we're rolling out the red carpet for bass fans from all over the country."
In short, it simply made sense that the Classic should be here this time around.
This story originally ran on AL.com.