2015 Bassmaster Elite Series
I’ve spent a lot of time on the Tennessee River chain of lakes over the years, including several good tournaments, but I hadn’t previously fished Guntersville in April. I’d certainly been there in February and March, then in May and June, and again in the fall, but April had escaped me so far. I figured that the bass would be in all stages of the spawn, which always makes it a little funky. There’s no better word for it than that. Nevertheless, I knew that the lake was going to produce good weights and that had me excited heading into practice.
In previous Guntersville events I’ve typically spent one practice day down lake and the others mid lake and above. I’ve never ended up fishing in the lower end, so this time I decided to scrap that part of the plan. Each day I launched mid lake and worked my way up.
The first day of practice it rained quite a bit, which hindered my sight fishing efforts. I didn’t get a good bite until fairly late in the day when I caught a 4 ½ pounder and then lost one about 5 pounds. Adding in the group of 3 pounders that I caught, I probably could’ve had 18-20 pounds, which I knew would be decent. Unfortunately, I never really figured out a pattern or one key area. I was just bouncing around, using multiple baits, doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that. The only thing the various techniques had in common was that they were all basically shallow.
The second day went just about the same way as the first. I went a little bit further up the lake and caught a decent fish off of a bridge. Then I went beyond the bridge and in the little bay behind it I caught three or four fish in the 2 ½ pound class. It gave me an area where I felt that I could catch a limit and have a chance at a big fish, and that was about the only good thing I found that day.
I filmed an episode of “Pro Patterns Exposed” on the third day of practice and started further down the lake than I had gone either of the first two days. I caught a few early on topwater, then I spent a lot of time looking for bedding fish. It was the first sunny day we’d had, which meant it was the first good opportunity to look. I located a few stretches of bank that had some 3 to 5 pounders that looked ready to bite and there were lots of 2 to 2 ½ pounders mixed in. My best area was fairly close to the bridge where I’d caught the good fish on the first day, so that gave me confidence to focus on that part of the lake. Guntersville is such a good lake that every major creek has the fish in it to win, and in this case my best option was to concentrate on one general area and try to mix up my tactics to put together some big bags.
On the first day of competition I went straight to the bridge and I wasn’t there five minutes before I felt a good one grab my square bill as it banged off the rocks. It was a solid 4 to 5 pounder, but part way back to the boat it jumped and threw my crankbait back at me. A few minutes later I caught one about 5 1/2, which eased the pain a little bit. Shortly after that I caught one around 2 ½ pounds. Then I headed back into the bay to fill out my limit, but in several hours of fishing I never got a bite. I’m not sure what happened there, but I knew that I needed to change strategies to salvage my day.
Leaving the bridge, I went to my spawning areas and caught a limit of small keepers within 40 minutes and started culling. I had a nearby waypoint for a decent fish that appeared as if it was going to bite quickly, but it took much longer than I expected. When the 3 ½ pounder finally bit, she ran around a little stickup between us once, then again, and then broke my line. After that, I couldn’t get her to lock down on the bed or bite again, so I had to move on.
The shade and wind prevented me from seeing some of my better fish, so after adding a few more small ones to my catch by looking at them, I had to resort to fishing blind. Down the bank there was a good set of laydown logs, and nearly every one of them had a fish on it. They weren’t all big enough to cull, but I upgraded several times. At that point I went down the lake to try to catch another big one, but that didn’t pay off, so I returned to my tree pattern and was able to upgrade once more with a 4 pounder to bring me to my final weight of 18-11. I probably had 15 keepers that day, and even though I lost a good one early that would’ve helped, I felt pretty good about the way things had gone. I was in 42nd place and there were plenty more fish for me to catch.
On Day Two I once again went straight to the bridge. This time, though, I cranked all the way around and never had a bite. I was getting ready to leave when I saw a fish blow up on a shad. If I’d had a shakey head tied on I would’ve thrown that at him, but I didn’t so I tried spinnerbaits, crankbaits and almost everything else I had on the deck with no success. As a last gasp measure I threw out the 4-inch Power Hawg that I’d been using for bedding fish and I immediately boated a small keeper. After that, it was just about every cast. I’m sure I caught six or seven keepers and at least that many shorts. The last bass was about 2 ¾ pounds, and after I culled with it I never got another bite, so I decided to make my move.
I felt that many of the areas I’d fished the day before were played out, and with increasing cloud cover it was going to be hard to see the bedding fish anyway. It was time to head out to a shallow point or a high spot and throw a big topwater. On the first high spot I hit, with the boat still drifting in, I made four twitches with my big walking bait and a 5 ½ pounder smoked it. I put her in the livewell and thought I’d figured something out, but after a few more hours of running that pattern I didn’t catch another fish. It was nice to have that big one in the boat, but it was frustrating to spend a bunch more time on something that didn’t pay off.
After that disappointment I went back to the spawning areas and bounced around. The skies had lightened up a little, so I was hopeful, but nothing seemed to pan out. I found one fish between 4 and 5 pounds, but she would never lock down on the bed and again I spent a lot of time with nothing to show for it. I don’t think that I culled after 11 o’clock, and ended up with 13-14, which pushed me out of the cut.
Looking back on it, I probably shouldn’t have spent so much time chasing that topwater bite, but after catching my biggest fish doing it I can’t really say it was a foolish plan. Unfortunately, there were lots of 2 ½ pounders on the beds, and if I’d just concentrated on adding a few more of those I probably would’ve made the cut.
I used a hodgepodge of tackle to catch my fish at Guntersville, but the single bait that caught the most was the 4-inch Power Hawg. Around the spawn it’s like candy or crack for the bass – it simply drives them crazy. I primarily used a green pumpkin bait with a 3/16 ounce Reins Tungsten weight and a 3/0 VMC worm hook.
After tough finishes at the Sabine and Guntersville, I find myself in 69th place in the AOY race, which is certainly not where I want to be. It’s not a lost cause, though – last year I had similar bad finishes at Toledo Bend and Cayuga and still made the Classic. This year I just got them out of the way a little bit earlier. The points race is so tight right now that with a top 12 or a top 20, I’ll be right back in it.
Next up is our west coast swing to the California Delta and Lake Havasu. Except for the long drives, I’m looking forward to it. Normally, I would’ve done a ton of online research on those waters already, but I’ve decided to take a step back from Google Earth and some of my other typical tools. I want to treat those venues as blank canvases and fish with an open mind. I hope that by fishing my instincts and leaving no area unexplored I’ll be able to get things back on track.