The windy search for big bass

Practicing on Pickwick and Wilson lakes early this week for the Wednesday-Saturday Alabama Charge out of Florence, Ala., Bassmaster Elite Series anglers were discovering that the bass do not have love on their minds.

Good thing, too; if the high winds early in the practice session carry on through tournament time, sight fishing would be next to impossible.

"Last year we were a bit later in the year and the fish were further along," said Todd Faircloth, on a roll this season with a ninth-place standing in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race. He finished 27th in the 2010 Alabama Charge, which ran April 29-May 2.

Pickwick is definitely a prespawn situation, Edwin Evers said from the water Monday morning as he fought the wind.

"It's been hard to do much moving around at all, there's so much wind," said Evers, fresh off his March 20 Elite Series win on Florida's St. Johns River. "There's a cold front coming through, and then the winds should subside."

On its website, the National Weather Service on Monday reported sustained winds of 25 mph with gusts of 41 mph in Florence. The service's forecast for Tuesday included winds of between 5 and 15 mph. "Breezy" was the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday.

While the wind is almost certain to be down somewhat, the water level is another matter, Evers said. "The water is really high, all flooded back up into the trees." He estimated that the water was 4 feet above full pool, a result of recent upstream rains.

Normally at this time of year, Pickwick is at winter pool, which is about 4 to 5 feet below summer pool. The lake level is controlled by a series of Tennessee River dams, but a deluge anywhere upstream in the watershed can bring a lot of water into Pickwick. Fluctuating water levels can change the bass fishing game not only overnight, but from morning to afternoon.

Evers finished ninth in the 2010 Alabama Charge. He said conditions this year aren't similar, so he can't tap into patterns that produced a year ago. Many of the fish then were postspawners, but with water temps on Monday between 58 and 61 degrees, the spawn is yet to happen and probably won't materialize by tournament time, Evers said.

Like last year, one kicker per bag probably won't be enough. Limits at last year's Alabama Charge were plentiful; no pro failed to bring in five bass each day. But only those with multiple big bass populated the upper regions of the daily leaderboards.

Said James Niggemeyer, "It's not a matter of needing to get five; it's a matter of needing to get five big ones."