Elite Series back at Smith Mountain

HUDDLESTON, Va. — In postcard-pretty southern Virginia, Smith Mountain Lake promises to fish as good as it looks during the April 15-18 Evan Williams Bourbon Blue Ridge Brawl.

The lake's beauty, however, has nothing to do with the amount of looking Bassmaster Elite Series pros will be doing. Most pros will be busy watching for bass on their way to, or already on, spawning beds.

Smith Mountain Lake out of Huddleston, Va., will be the 2010 Elite Series' third stop. There the pros will compete for a $100,000 first-place prize. They also will be after points to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason in July, when the $200,000 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year contest will play out in Alabama. Points also count towards elusive berths in the 2011 Bassmaster Classic.

Without warming temperatures, not much sight fishing will happen in mid-April in Virginia. But if the spawn is on, the 2010 Brawl would start looking more like last year's version. Then, most pros cast to largemouths they could see on beds in backwaters. But the winner — five-time AOY Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich. — finessed smallmouth spawners on main-lake points. He posted 61 pounds, 13 ounces, over four days.

This year's Blue Ridge Brawl lands a week earlier on the calendar. That timing, combined with the unusually cold winter, might nix a sight fishing tournament, VanDam said. And that, he pointed out, could be all for the good.

"A lot of fish in spawning mode don't want to feed, don't want to bite at all," he said. "We saw a lot of that last year during the event. It was hard to get the fish to commit to a bait. So this year could be better if they're pre-spawn, if they're in a feeding pattern."

VanDam said that even if the weather cooperated and triggered a spawn, he would not try to replicate his winning Smith Mountain Lake smallmouth pattern.

"Last year it was perfect timing for those smallmouth for me. For that to happen again, you'd have to be pretty lucky. Even if it were the same week, things change a lot year to year," said VanDam, who earned his 15th BASS victory at the 2009 Brawl. He has since earned two more: No. 16 at the Postseason event when he took his fifth AOY crown; and No. 17 as 2010 Classic champ.

He is focused on another high finish at Smith Mountain Lake to help make up for his very un-VanDamlike finishes, a 29th and a 59th, at this season's first two events in California. The slow start has him in 42nd place in the AOY points standings.

Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., is looking for a finish in Virginia that will help him into the postseason. He's currently in second place in the AOY standings.

"I started the year off in the right direction," said Hackney, a three-time BASS winner. "But it's still a long ways until the end; there are six events left."

He's headed to a lake on which he's excelled. At the 2007 and 2009 Elite events there, Hackney finished 14th and fourth, respectively.

"If it stays warm like it is now, it will be a full-blown sight fishing tournament," he said. "The whole lake should have fish spawning from one end to the other. But we're subject to have a cold front — that happened last time we were there. It warmed up in practice, and the fish came out, a lot of big ones. Then the cold front went through and shut them down."

Bassmaster.com will follow the Brawl each day with BASSCast, BASSCam, real-time leaderboards during weigh-ins, photo galleries, daily results, and Hooked Up with ESPN Outdoors personalities Mark Zona and Tommy Sanders. Live, streaming video will be carried by ESPN3.com. Click here closer to tournament time for a complete coverage schedule.

At the event, all spectator activities are free and open to the public, including the Thursday-Sunday launches and weigh-ins at Parkway Marina, 16918 Smith Mountain Lake Parkway, Huddleston, VA 24104. Takeoff is set for 6:20 a.m. ET; weigh-ins will begin at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Other fan events include a Friday tailgate party with live music and a "corn hole" tournament. The party will begin after weigh-in. Likewise, Saturday's Karaoke contest will begin after weigh-in.

Special events for kids include a Saturday tournament, "Fish Like the Pros," and Saturday and Sunday activities hosted by the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance. Also for young fans is the Toyota Kids Casting Challenge.

Saturday and Sunday, fans can check out the Yamaha VMax SHO Demo Tour and the Berkley Demo Tank. Contests include the Revo Reel Giveaway at the BASS booth.

Page views