The hard and heavy rain really knocked the fish back for a least 2 of the days this past week as the struggle to get a bite with high water, muddy water and floating grass everywhere made for a couple of tough days. If you take away the 2 tough days fishing was great on 3 of the 5 weekdays, you had to fish slow and focus on light bites, but the results were good.
We tried to stick to slow moving plastics most of the week, a few exception on faster baits like SPRO Aruka shad rattle baits, and Picasso Shack Blade but for most of the week we stuck to Missile bait “48” D-Bombs and Destroyers.
So far so good as we approach the spawn, we have guides and days available to fish with you, no one will treat you better or work harder to see you have a great day on the water. This is the best social distancing I can think of. We fish with great sponsor products Tight-Line jigs, Ranger Boats, Mercury motors, Boat Logix mounts, Vicious Fishing, Navionics mapping, Power Pole, Dawson Boat Center and more.
Spring weather means fast-changing conditions for bass fishing. Two weeks ago, it was a ten-degree drop in water temperature in two days at Sinclair. At Eufaula the next week it was a drop in water level. Those are my excuses!
I got to Lakepoint Campground a week ago last Tuesday and set up my camper. A couple of folks camping near me stopped by to talk and told me they were catching a lot of catfish, but few crappie. One of them pointed to a five-foot-high pole by the boat ramp and said it and half the campground had been underwater the Friday before. The pole showed just over one foot of water on Tuesday.
A four-foot drop in water level in four days had to hurt, and my fishing seemed to prove it. I fished about five hours Wednesday and caught only two bass. Both looked like males that had moved in to find a bedding area in the 59-degree water. And the water continued to drop, going down .4 of a foot Wednesday.
Thursday morning I got up and drove south to put in closer to the main lake, hoping to find clearer water. It was even muddier! I did catch a keeper spotted bass and an eight-pound blue cat hit my shaky head worm.
I did get a thrill. While fishing grass beds between docks, I eased around one and looked at the post with my Garmin Panoptix. What looked like a fish was at the base of it about a foot off the bottom. When I pitched my jig to it and watch it sink, I saw the bass come up to it and the jig disappeared. I was so shocked I just watched; I had not seen that before. Then the fish almost jerked the rod out of my hand as it took off, and I did not hook it!
Friday, I rode around checking some creeks and found some clearing water that was 67 degrees back in one. I decided to start there Saturday morning in the Potato Creek Bassmasters tournament the next day. It was a good decision, but a lot of other folks decided the same place looked good.
Saturday morning, I put my boat in at the campground ramp and ran up to the bridge where we were to meet. Due to the Alabama Nation tournament with more than 60 boats and several other clubs taking off from the park, the ramp was a madhouse. It didn’t help that one set of ramps was closed due to construction.
Folks were backed up from the ramp all the way back to the highway, at least a mile and a half, waiting to put in before daylight. It was so bad Niles called me, got the campground gate code and drove around to put in there. He was at the bridge while most folks were still waiting.
In the tournament the first day, 27 members landed 79 bass weighing about 153 pounds. There were seven limits and four zeros. Lee Hancock did it right with five weighing 16.02 pounds and had a 4.88 pounder for first. My five at 12.70 pounds was second and I had a 4.62 pounder. Third was Caleb Delay with fiver weighing 12.26 and Edward Folker was fourth with five weighing 11.59 pounds.
On day two, Sunday, the fish bit better – for some. There were 10 limits and three zeros. We landed 58 bass weighing about 173 pounds. Stan Wick had five at 13.80 pounds for first with a 4.59 pounder. Raymond English had five weighing 13.68 pounds with a 5.11 pounder for second, Trent Grainger was third with five weighing 13.02 pounds and Edward Folker had five weighing 12.73 pounds.
Overall, Lee Hancock won with 10 weighing 26.80 pounds and Edward Folker was second with 10 at 24.32 pounds. Raymond English came in third with ten at 23.14 pounds and his 5.11 pound largemouth was big fish. Fourth was Trent Grainger with ten weighing 22.91 pounds. I caught only three keepers the second day and dropped to a tie with Drew Naramore. My eight and his ten weighed an identical 19.12 pounds.
On Saturday I quickly caught a keeper on a spinnerbait, then two more on a bladed jig. At 9:30 I laned my four-pounder on a jig. Then it got slow, I did not have another bite until 2:30 when I caught my fifth keeper on a jig then immediately caught another keeper on it. A few minutes later I set the hook and felt a good fish fight for a few seconds before pulling off.
Sunday did not start well. I did not get a bite until 9:00 and that fish pulled off the jig. I guess I set the pattern the last fish the day before. At 9:30 what looked like a four-pounder just came off my bladed jig. Then, at 10:00, in about ten minutes, I caught three keepers and a grinnel on the jig.
It got slow. Just after lunch I set the hook, my rod bowed up and the fish fought then came off. With 30 minutes left to fish I set the hook on a good fish, fought it to the boat, and reached for it with the net. It jumped, missed the net by THAT much, about two inches, and came off.
I had my chances, as did many others. There was a lot of talk at both weigh-ins of big fish lost. Part of the problem was the number of fishermen, especially on Saturday. All-day there were at least ten bass boats within sight in the small creek I was fishing.
Sunday at least four other club members were fishing the same area, it was get in line, go down the bank and hope you got a bite all day both days.
Right now is a great time to get on the lake to avoid the virus and catch good bass. That is my plan!
I am always amazed at fishing in Alabama. Tuesday morning, I met Curtis Gossett, a high school bass fishing team coach, and Chandler Holt, a senior on his team, to get information for my April article.
Curtis’s son, Zeke, is a senior on a college team. I did an article with Zeke six years ago when he was just a sophomore in high school with his dad as coach and was very impressed with him.
Chandler was impressive, too, with great fishing skills and knowledge of Lay Lake. He quickly caught a 3.5-pound spot then I caught a largemouth just over four pounds. A little later Curtis got a largemouth right at four pounds. So we had three nice fish in the five hours we fished, plus some smaller fish.
Chandler fished the High School Championship on Lay the following weekend and weighed-in on the Bassmasters Classic stage just before the pros weigh-in on Saturday. He placed Second.
On Sunday Zeke fished the college championship and weighed-in on the Classic stage that day, and he won. Zeke was practicing while I fished, and he caught five spotted bass weighing a total of 20.17 pounds in five hours!
Watch for both these young men next weekend and in the future!
After Ricky Layton’s great catch on Friday, I could not wait to get on the water Sunday morning in the Flint River Bass Club March tournament at Sinclair.
I should have known better.
After fishing from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, 13 members landed 20 bass weighing about 36 pounds. There was one five bass limit and five people didn’t catch a 12-inch keeper.
Travis Weatherly won with five weighing 9.02 pounds and his 4.99 pound largemouth was big fish. My three weighing 7.47 placed second and I had a 4.57 pounder for my biggest fish. Niles Murray placed third with three weighing 5.75 pounds and Brent Drake came in fourth with three weighing 4.20 pounds.
The cold air made me shiver on my run to my first stop. Luckily there was enough wind to keep the fog down, it was wispy and hanging just off the water. But there was enough to make it scary trying to watch for all the floating wood.
I stopped off a grass bed that was perfect for the pattern Ricky caught his big fish on Friday, but my heart sank when my temperature gauge hit 49 degrees. A nine or ten degree drop just had to affect the bass. It surely did affect my optimism! I fished three places in three hours without a bite.
Around 11:00 the weak sun was warming the water a little, raising the temperature to about 51 degrees in the cove where Ricky caught a six pounder. I cast a Chatterbait across in front of a grass bed, something thumped it and I set the hook. My rod bowed up and the fish headed for deep water. I just knew I had a six pounder on, but suddenly my line went slack. The fish just pulled off without me ever seeing it.
At noon I was in the area where Ricky caught two fish, hole #2. I was very down, fishing half the day without a keeper. The water had warmed to 52 so I had some hope. I cast my Chatterbait into some grass and hooked the four pounder I weighed in. That improved my attitude a lot.
After another hour of fishing without a bite, I caught a two pounder in front of some grass, then at 2:00 PM landed my third keeper, a one pounder, from another grass bed. That was it. I fished hard for the rest of the day without another bite.
On Monday, the weather guessers said it would be in the 70s all week as I got ready to go to Eufaula for a week. I hope they were right, the Potato Creek Bassmasters are fishing our March tournament this weekend at Eufaula.I think I kinda wish we were at Sinclair!
Call it a tale of two Sinclairs. Or a tale of three lakes in only three days. Last weekend showed how fast bass fishing can change this time of year.
Last Friday I met Ricky Layton to get information for my GON April Map of the Month article. The weather guessers were right for a change when they predicted high winds, bluebird skies and cold weather. That combination is usually the kiss of death for fishing in the spring.
Ricky said we would meet at Bass’s Boat House, an old marina where the clubs used to put in back in the 1970s. It was near the dam and the water might be slightly clearer in that area, and we would be more protected from the wind. All this spring the flooding rains have made our lakes fill up with very muddy water.
We waited until 9:00 AM to go out since it was cold. The first two hours seemed to show the weather and muddy water was working against us. Ricky took me to some places he had caught good fish the weekend before, but the water was even muddier than it had been and we got no bites.
At 11:00 Ricky was starting to look at the article pattern and caught an eight-pound largemouth on a bladed jig. The fish was up shallow near a grass bed, the pattern for April. That is a big fish for Sinclair, it has been a long time since I have seen one that big there, although there have been several that were close the past few years.
About noon we started fishing and marking places for the article, working bass bedding and shad spawning areas. Ricky caught a five-pound largemouth out of a grass bed on what will be hole #2. A few minutes later he caught one weighing about six pounds there.
The next place we fished Ricky caught another fish right at six pounds, on the same pattern, halfway back in a creek with grass beds up shallow on the bank. One of the last places we fished he landed his smallest fish of the day, one that weighted about 3.5 pounds. In all that time I landed one weighing about 2.5 pounds, but my excuse is I was too busy netting his fish and taking pictures and notes to fish.
Ricky ended up with five bass weighing a conservative 28 pounds. That is the kind of catch you dream about and expect on Guntersville, not Sinclair, especially under bad weather conditions. The water temperature was 58 to 59 degrees where we fished, making those big largemouth were looking for bedding areas.
On Saturday Ricky took his son fishing at Sinclair. Although colder, the weather was better, but the fishing was not. He said they did land a seven-pound fish out of hole #10 but their best five weighed “only” about 14 pounds, not great compared to the day before.
Sunday, February 23, 13 members of the Spalding County Sportsman Club fished our February tournament at West Point. After fishing from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, we brought 31 keeper bass to the scales. Ten of them were 14 inch largemouth and 21 were spots over the 12-inch size limit. Three people had five fish limits and no one zeroed.
Russell Prevatt won with five weighing 11.04 pounds and Zane Fleck placed second with five at 10.17 pounds. Robert Proctor, fishing with Zane, had five weighing 8.30 pounds for third and Jay Gerson placed fourth with four at 8.10 pounds and had big fish with a 3.46 pounder. My four weighing 6.22 pounds was fifth.
Robert told me he and Zane caught at least 20 keepers during the day. That always amazes me, I struggle to get four fish and others catch a bunch of them, doing exactly what I was doing!
After the Potato Creek tournament the Saturday before, I felt hopeful, but when I ran to the creek where I caught fish the week before, the water had come up 18 inches and the temperature had dropped five degrees! It was still very muddy, and there was already another bass boat back in it fishing.
I caught a keeper on a worm before 9:00 but then it got slow. I probably should have left the creek and tried other places, but I was convinced bass were somewhere in that creek and stayed there all day. It almost worked, I landed my biggest fish of the day at 2:00 PM and just knew they were moving up as the water warmed.
I had my chances, too. About a dozen times I got bites and brought in half or no worm after setting the hook. They could have been small spots that are notorious about grabbing a worm but they are so small the tail of the worm is in their throat but the hook still outside their mouth.
But on one hookset, the fish was swimming to my left. When I set the hook, my rod bowed up and drag on my reel slipped, then the line went slack. I reeled in my jig and worm. It could have been a gar that my hook could not stick, or it could have been a big bass that was clamped down on my jig head so tight the hook could not move and stick it. I will never know! Thats fishing!
Here’s a look at what some of the competitors think might be the winning combination at the Bassmaster Classic, kicking off today at Guntersville, Alabama.
Whether the fish move shallow or remain around offshore cover and structure this week, Bassmaster Classic competitors will catch many big bass on crankbaits, Rapala pros agree. Other go-to baits will likely include lipless crankbaits.
“A lot of those baits that will be key this week are your standard, classic springtime baits,” said Rapala Pro Seth Feider, a three-time Classic qualifier from Minnesota. “I don’t know if that will change, even with changing conditions. The colors you tie on might change if the water gets real dirty.
But I can guarantee some fish are going to get caught on a Rapala DT-6, no matter what.
”First-time Classic qualifier Patrick Walters agreed.“DT-6, of course,” said Walters, a second-year Elite Series Rapala pro from South Carolina. “Some DT-10 too. I think your key baits are going to be shallow- to mid-diving crankbaits and lipless crankbaits. I think we’ll be getting reaction strikes on something moving fast with trebles on it.”
DT stands for “dives to.” A DT-6 dives to a max depth of six feet; a DT-10 to 10 feet. Built of balsa wood, Rapala’s signature material, DT-series cranks wobble while swimming and deflect off cover to trigger bites from bass around both grass and rock.
If stable or falling water positions Guntersville’s bass this week in offshore, submerged vegetation, Classic competitors will swim DT’s over the top of it, making occasional contact and ripping free. If rising water draws bass to the bank, the pros will cast them around hard-bottom shorelines, making constant bottom contact on the retrieve and caroming off wood and rock cover.
The lipless crankbaits you’ll see Rapala pros slinging in the Classic are Rapala Rippin’ Raps and Storm Arashi Vibes. Those baits, along with DT-6’s, are “pretty traditional, Guntersville-type baits,” said Cody Huff, a collegiate Rapala pro-staffer competing in his first Bassmaster Classic. “You’re going to catch ‘em on those.”
A Storm Arashi Vibe helped Rapala Pro Ott DeFoe win last year’s Bassmaster Classic on Fort Loudon Lake, another Tennessee River reservoir. On the 2019 Classic’s first day, four bass in DeFoe’s 20-pound limit came on a Vibe, including a 6-pounder that was the biggest bass caught that day by any competitor. A 4-pound, 7 ounce bass he caught in the championship round on a Vibe allowed him to cull a smaller fish, solidifying his win.
Lipless crankbaits like the Vibe excel in the spring, when bass are first pulling up from deeper water and moving close to shallow spawning areas. Vibes start swimming at slower speeds than do other lipless crankbaits. They fall slower too, allowing you to fish them in shallower water at a slower speed. Featuring a soft-knock rattle, Vibes emit a unique single-cadence, low-pitch sound that attracts attention without alarming tentative fish. Storm is a Rapala Respected Brand.
First-time Classic competitor Bob Downey said he will be among the pros slinging DT-6’s and Arashi Vibes this week. “The DT-6 I don’t think will be a surprise to many people,” said the first-year Elite Series pro, a Minnesota native. “I’ve been catching some pretty good fish on it – good quality keepers and some that are above average.”
Offshore grass or shallow banks? Especially in the spring, when weather and water conditions can change quickly, bass tend to move a lot.“The more the water level drops, the more fish are going to be caught around deep water, with deeper-running crankbaits, towards the main river,” Walters predicted. “The more it comes up, the more they’ll be caught in pockets and up on the bank.”
Rapala pros interviewed on Monday said they were expecting higher water by Friday, because a lot of rain had been forecast. And higher water, they said, would likely pull bass away from offshore grass in which many were found last weekend in practice. Although not all the Rapala pros want that to happen.Feider, for one, said he hoped water levels wouldn’t rise, because that would keep offshore grass in play.
“I’d rather fish in the grass versus around the bridges or the riprap,” he said.
Huff expressed similar wishes.“What I’m really hoping for is that we don’t have too much rain,” he said. “I hope the river continues to drop, and not rise. If the river continues to drop, they’ll start to group up really good on some of those good offshore places in the grass, where you don’t have to just catch one here, one there. It’s a lot more fun when you can pull up, make one cast to get the school fired up, and then catch ‘em one after another.”
Walters, on the other hand, will be happy if water levels rise and pull bass to the bank.
“That’s what I’m hoping for,” he said Monday. “I’m a bank-beater by heart.”
If the bass move shallow, Walters said, those fish could be relatively unpressured – a rarity on a popular tournament and recreational-fishing reservoir like Guntersville. “They’ll be up there and we’ll kind of get the first stab at them,” he said.
Interviewed Wednesday evening after his final practice round, Downey said water levels and conditions had not changed dramatically in his areas.“I caught most of my fish [Wednesday] similar to how I caught them last weekend,” he said. “So it didn’t really change a lot for me yet.”
Late Wednesday evening, more rain rolled through the area and continued through mid-afternoon Thursday. Clear, sunny skies were forecast for Friday and Saturday with clouds returning on Sunday.
No matter how the weather ends up positioning the fish, Rapala pros agreed they will need to tailor their gameplans to prevailing conditions.
“All I can do is start where they were and then just kind of let the day unfold,” Feider explained. “I’m just going to have to keep an open mind and adjust.”
“I enjoy fishing pretty shallow,” Downey said. “If they pushed shallow – more towards the banks – I wouldn’t mind that at all. But I would have to make some adjustments.”
The 2020 Bass Masters Classic is being held on Lake Guntersville March 6 – 8 with weigh-ins held in Birmingham. This is the biggest tournament of the year on the pro circuit.
I was quoted in Sports Illustrated a few years ago saying, “The Super Bowl is the Bassmasters Classic of football,” a twist on the usual comment. I had no idea a writer for that magazine was sitting near me on the bus going to practice day on the lake for the pros.
One thing some don’t understand about the fan support of pro fishermen. We are different from other pro sports. We may watch our favorite pro catch bass on TV today then go out and try to catch them ourselves tomorrow, using the same baits and equipment the pro used.
Other pro sports fans are viewers only. They may have played the sport years ago in high school or even college, but almost none will be competing on the field tomorrow. Bass fishermen keep competing all their lives.
I have been lucky enough to spend time in the boat with many of the pros, including five of the 53 competing in this year’s Classic. After hours of watching how they fish and questioning them on what they are doing and why they chose to do that, it always amazes me that they fish just like the rest of us. They just catch more and bigger fish.
The Bassmasters Classic is a big event. I will not be able to attend this year but a trip to Birmingham next weekend to attend the huge outdoor show, meet the pros and watch weigh-ins would be a great way to spend some winter days. Then you can come home and go fishing with the baits and equipment you bought at a discount at the show, fishing just like them.
Saturday, February 15, 28 members of the Potato Creek Bass Masters put mud grips on our boats and fished our February tournament at West Point. After fishing from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM, we brought 58 bass weighing about 116 pounds. There were seven five-fish limits and nine people didn’t have a keeper.
Tom Tanner blew us all away with four fish weighing 15.39 pounds and won big fish with a 6.90 pound largemouth. Mitchell Cardell was second with five weighing 10.81 pounds, my five weighing 10.18 pounds was good for third and Lee Hancock came in fourth with five at 10.16 pounds.
The water was very muddy, I am surprised we did as well as we did. It did not start very good for me. At 9:30 I got a bite on a jig and pig and landed a keeper spot on a main lake point. After another hour of fishing that area I went into Whitewater Creek, where the water was a little less muddy, but never hooked a fish and spent too much time in there.
At 1:30 I ran down the lake near the dam into a creek with a little better water color, and quickly caught a keeper spot on a jig and pig, then a second one on a shaky head worm. Both hit on a rocky point. Another rocky point in that creek is about 100 yards away. I decided to fish to it although I have never caught a fish between the two. I put the trolling motor on high and picked up a crankbait.
The first cast I made with it a 3.35-pound spot hit it, my biggest fish. I slowed down some then caught my second biggest spot on the crankbait. Before I got to the next point a keeper largemouth hit my crankbait.
I fished the point without a bite but felt pretty good with a limit. I wanted to go back over that area since some decent fish were hitting but my cranking battery was dead when I tried to start the motor. No problem, I had jumper cables and three more batteries.
The first two I hooked up would not turn the motor over! When the last one did, I decided to run back to the weigh-in area and not take a chance on being late.
I fished near the ramp for the last two hours and caught one more keeper spot that did not cull anything I had.
Lake Guntersville, the site of the action for the 2020 Bassmaster Classic, has a history of producing scale-busting bags during tournaments. It also has a reputation for breaking the wills of otherwise talented anglers with disappointing days.
Oftentimes, there isn’t a whole lot of rhyme or reason separating those two things. So what exactly does it take to catch those famous Lake Guntersville lunkers? How do you get more boom than bust when it comes to bass at this year’s Classic?
We sat down with three Power-Pole pros — Chris Lane, Randall Tharp and Justin Lucas — who happen to know a little something about this year’s venue in Alabama and asked them for their insider tips for how to conquer the Big G.
Lucas, originally a California native, moved to Lake Guntersville nearly a decade ago to help further his pro fishing career. Lucas was the 2018 Bassmaster Angler of the Year when he gained a reputation for working vegetation to find the really big fish. The amount of vegetation might end up being a hindrance, however, for this year’s event.
“One thing that has been really interesting this year is the amount of eel grass in the lake. There has been two mile stretches of the river that you couldn’t even make a cast because there was so much floating eel grass. You have to keep that in mind because you might have the perfect spot with lots of fish but you aren’t going to be able to fish it effectively.
“If it was me, I’d have plenty of backup plans because you can have a winning hole and never be able to get into it. I’d probably have a couple of creeks where I could get as far away from that eel grass as I can.
”Lane, a former Classic champion, has made his home on Lake Guntersville, so he understands how quickly the fish can move from one part of the lake to the next. For him, finding the schools will depend on the conditions of the lake itself which can change rapidly with the weather.
“Weather plays a massive role when it comes to fishing Lake Guntersville in the early spring because you can have pouring down snow, you can have sleet or you can have a 65-70 degree day. All of that is going to be a big variable.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of downpour and the lake is as high as it’s ever been. Guntersville will fluctuate normally only two to three feet because of the amount of barge traffic that comes through there. We are right there in the horseshoe and that’s where those big, big bass get in there. They love it in those currents and those eddies. When you have that much current and that much rain coming down, you have to pay attention to that.
”Tharp has plenty of experience fishing the lake in tournament situations. The former Birmingham, Alabama native began his competitive fishing career there with the Bassmaster North Alabama regionals in 2005 and has put that expertise to his advantage ever since, including a fifth place finish in the 2014 Classic.
“For me it was always about winding stuff around with a horizontal presentation. I love fishing a lipless bait, a crank bait or a vibrating jig. Those are the big three lures. A jerk bait does play if there are extreme cold front conditions but I’ve narrowed it down to those three or four techniques because they allow you to cover tons of water with them. You have to cover big grass flats.
“A lot of it is water temperature dependent so the colder the water, the slower you’ll need to fish them. There does come a time, and it looks like we are approaching that time, when the water temperature hits that magical 55-60 degrees and it doesn’t matter how fast you reel. It does look like we are shaping up to where the big ones are going to feed regardless.
”Of course all three of the pros agreed that properly utilizing their Power-Pole Shallow Water Anchors would play a vital role in all of those situations.
“If you are in the main river, you can anchor down and hold your boat in the strong currents while you cast upcurrent and let your bait come down in a natural way,” Lucas said. “Me personally, after I was done doing that, I would troll around to the upside and make those casts in the other direction to show the fish a new angle.”
“There’s no doubt. Even when they are feeding aggressively you’ll need to make multiple presentations. Sometimes you’ll find that grass flat that you feel really good about and that’s when it is time to Power-Pole down and make repeated casts at the same piece of cover,” Tharp said.
“When you can Power-Pole down and not get on that school of fish (by drifting over them), you can sometimes sit there and catch them on every single cast,” Lane said.