After a five-week hiatus, the revamped schedule of the top B.A.S.S. circuit resumes this week with the NOCO Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville. This Wednesday-through-Saturday event is the first of three consecutive tournaments.
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To complete a nine-event season, Lake Guntersville was added in place of New York’s Cayuga Lake, which was canceled because of COVID-19 concerns. Officials in Scottsboro, Ala., stepped up to help bring the Elites back and B.A.S.S. to fill its original nine-event schedule.
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The famed 69,000-acre fishery in northeast Alabama, which ranked second in Bassmaster Magazine’s list of Best Bass Lakes of the Decade, will be hosting its 25th pro level B.A.S.S. tournament.
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The event starts a Southern Fall Swing that will have anglers compete at least six days between Sept. 30 and Oct. 17, with the potential of fishing 12 competition days over a 20-day span, not counting three practice days for each event. There is one off day between events.
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After Guntersville, the Elites have a travel day Sunday before starting practice on Monday, Oct. 5 for the Santee Cooper Elite that runs Oct. 8-11, the standard Thursday-Sunday schedule. Monday is a travel day before three practice days for Lake Chickamauga, the twice-rescheduled tournament that now runs Friday-Monday, Oct. 16-19.
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A number of anglers report they have not competed this deep in the fall, where stingier fishing conditions can make managing a four-day event more difficult. Anglers said big bags will be caught, but it will be hard to duplicate over four days. The most recent October event on Guntersville was the 2008 Southern Open, won with 66-12, an average of 22-4 a day. One angler called the fall swing a crapshoot, with his prospects ranging from winning to placing near the bottom.
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Goose Pond Colony Resort in Scottsboro is tournament central. Goose Pond, which has two championship golf courses and a 234-slip marina, has been voted the best resort on the Tennessee River. Takeoffs at Goose Pond begin Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. CT, and weigh-ins will be held there at 3 p.m. each day.
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Fans will be allowed at the takeoffs and weigh-ins, and there will be an Expo on Friday and Saturday, but B.A.S.S. asks visitors to abide social distancing protocols. B.A.S.S. will have Mammoth sanitizing stations at the venue.
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The last B.A.S.S. event on Guntersville was the 2020 Bassmaster Classic, where the big fish offerings of the lake were displayed. Hank Cherry jumped into a tie for third largest bag in Classic history with 29-3 on Day 1, and he went on to win the 50th Classic wire-to-wire with 65-5.
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Jamie Hartman won the 2019 Elite event on Guntersville, rallying from 10th place on the final day last June. Hartman started a trend of sorts as three of the past nine Elite winners have climbed from the 10th spot. Micah Frazier and Buddy Gross also pulled off the last-in, finish-first feat.
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The abundance of large bass in Guntersville again provides such an opportunity, and recent cold fronts could help turn the bite on. Despite holding around 400 bass tournaments some years, Big G continues to produce. In the 2014 Classic, Paul Mueller set the single-day Classic record with 32-3, catching much of that within eight minutes.
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There is always a possibility of a double-digit bass at Guntersville. Each year, true lunkers are caught from Guntersville, with the lake record a 14-8 caught in Feb. 1990. The Elites can bring in their best five fish each day, with a minimum length of 15 inches. In last year’s Elite, Bernie Schultz landed the Phoenix Boats Big Bass with this 7-pounder.
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The Bassmaster LIVE crew will bring 24 hours of coverage from Guntersville on Bassmaster.com starting Wednesday morning.
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The 85 anglers are vying for the $100,000 first-place prize, a blue trophy and points in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. Texan Clark Wendlandt, who won three FLW AOY titles, leads the 2020 B.A.S.S. AOY race with 423 points.
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As always, the national anthem begins each day, with fishing battles to follow the next eight hours. Besides the title, anglers will be working to stay in or get into the top 40 of the AOY standings, which qualifies those for next year’s Bassmaster Classic on Lake Ray Roberts out of Fort Worth, Texas.