Going into my first Bassmaster Classic since 2006, I wasn’t really sure what the Guntersville bass would be doing. This time of year is typically very volatile, and February of 2014 was no exception. We had cold weather, snow, rain and then a warming trend. I knew that certain lures would probably dominate – specifically a lipless crankbait and a chatterbait in the grass, along with a jerkbait – but with water temperatures in the 40s, everything was subject to change at a moment’s notice.
Since I’d been there for pre-practice in December, a lot of the grass had died off as a result of the exceptionally cold winter. The majority of the grass that remained was in the backs of the creeks, an area that the fish typically don’t frequent this early. There were some fish still out on the main lake, but they weren’t relating to anything in particular, and without being able to use the Alabama Rig I felt that they’d be tough to locate and pattern.
Despite that fear, I still forced the issue and fished out on the river for two days of practice. I knew that’s where the real giants would be caught, but I couldn’t really get anything going out there and things were changing so fast that I had to locate a reliable population of fish that I could track. The backs of the creeks had numbers of fish and plenty of good ones, just not the absolute giants.
It was important to come out of the gates strong, and not fall too far behind the first day, so I started on a main river spot and had three bites there before heading to the back of a creek which had some of the thickest milfoil around. I got in there with a black and gold XCalibur XR75 one-knocker and went to work. Fishing it on a 7 foot Carrot Stix rod and a Team Lew’s baitcasting reel spooled with 16 lb. Toray fluorocarbon, I could feel everything that bait was doing, which enabled me to slow down my presentation and just tick the tops of the grass. When it would momentarily get stuck in the grass, I’d free the bait with a quick snap of the rod and often that’s when the bites would come.
The fish were out in the middle of the creek, and while I caught a 6-pounder very quickly, after that it was a grind, with just three more 2-pounders to show for my efforts. At 12:30, I left for my secondary spot and on my first cast I caught a short fish. With a quick adjustment, within five minutes I caught a 3 ½ pounder and on my next cast I landed another 6-pounder. After that, I had 10 or 12 bites that didn’t help before I hooked a fish that I couldn’t move. I never saw it, so I’m not 100 percent certain it was a bass, but it pulled off. Except for that I fished very clean and when I got to the scales I had 19-05. Normally that wouldn’t be great on Guntersville, but the weights were off and it put me in 14th place.
On Day Two, I was inclined to keep doing the same things, knowing that the fish were continuing to move a long distance. The water was getting dirtier, but I just felt that would push them out of the middle of the creeks and to the banks. At 7:35 I sat down a little bit short of where I intended to fish and fortuitously I landed right on top of the school. Twenty minutes later I had 16 pounds in the livewell, so it was clearly the right call.
The spot had quite a few 3- and 4-pounders, but I couldn’t get a 6-pound bite, so at 10:30 I left for my backup spot. On my first cast I landed a 3 ½ that didn’t help, but on the cast after that I landed a 5-pounder that enabled me to cull. The spot continued to produce and I even flipped a few docks with a ½ ounce black and blue Lunker Lure jig, which produced two of my weigh fish. With 21-14, I moved into 7th place. That was 6 pounds off the lead, but on Guntersville that’s a single bite.
It was going to take a few breaks to make up that deficit, and I just didn’t get them. My area continued to get muddier, which scattered the fish out. In the first two and a half hours of Day Three I caught three fish, but one was too short to keep and the other two were just average keepers. It wasn’t what I needed so at 9:30 I headed for my good spot from Day Two and it was covered up with local anglers. I couldn’t fish the key spots I wanted to hit, and in the areas I was able to fish I couldn’t get bit. That led me to scramble, trying different areas and different patterns, but nothing seemed to work. To be honest, it kind of spun me out. I ended the day with three fish.
The final result disappointed me, but looking back on it I realize that I didn’t know the lake well enough to make the winning adjustment on a whim. It takes time on a lake like that and I learned a lot as the tournament went on – if it was this week I’d be better prepared to make a charge at it. I really have no regrets. There were some patterns I’d considered, like what Jordan Lee did behind some of the culverts and causeways, or what Randy did on the Spring Creek bridge, but I hadn’t really developed them well enough in practice to make them a viable part of my game plan.
In addition to the tackle mentioned above, the other key piece of equipment this week was my bow mount Humminbird 360 sonar. It enabled me to look in front of the boat and find key grass patches without disturbing them first. It’s dead-on accurate and I was able to confidently make the right casts again and again.
Next up I’ll stay in Alabama for a Bassmaster Southern Open on Smith Lake. It’s getting cold here now, but I’m fishing well and since I don’t have the pressure of having to qualify for the Elites this year I can fish wide open and look exclusively for the winning pattern. After that the Elite Series season starts and I’m ready to go. It’s full of great lakes, some old, some new, but I feel like I have some momentum now and I’m anxious to keep on fishing.
13 fish, 47-12