Last week, the Alabama Bass Trail tipped off its first tournament of the season on the Big G. About 200 anglers braved the sub-zero temperatures in search of a limit of bass.
At blastoff, the water temperature on the lake was a balmy 36 degrees. For some anglers, the fishing was hot. While about half the field brought one fish or none to the scales, other anglers topped out at more than 20 pounds. The winning team had a five-bass limit that bottomed out the scales at 32 pounds and some change. A pair of anglers in 16th place had about 20 pounds.
If Guntersville is already giving up these kinds of stringers in the worst conditions, what will happen when the B.A.S.S. pro anglers arrive in two weeks? The Bassmaster Classic will drop anchor Feb. 21-23. Any warming trend could turn this year’s Classic battle into a slugfest.
With an average of more than 30 pounds a day, the winning angler could break the all-time Classic weight record with more than 90 pounds for just three days of competition. That amount is realistic and doable, especially on a fishery as great as Guntersville.
Nine Alabama anglers will be in the mix and many are odds-on favorites to win or least make a top spot. Randy Howell, Gerald Swindle, Chris Lane, David Kilgore, Aaron Martens, Coby Carden, Steve Kennedy, Jordan Lee and Greg Vinson will have their eye on the trophy and the $300,000 cash prize.
Martens has done well on Guntersville in the past in Elite Series tournaments. He carries with him some momentum from winning Angler of the Year. Howell and Swindle also have performed well on the Big G. Lane moved to Guntersville from Florida and has lived on the lakeshore for the past two years.
Kilgore has a good deal of tournament experience on Guntersville and has placed high in some events in the past few years. Both Carden and Kennedy have experience on the lake and should not be underestimated. Vinson has competed on the lake and knows the layout.
One angler who should not be overlooked is Lee. He qualified from the College Series representing Auburn. You may recall Lee’s younger brother, Matt, qualified and fished last year’s Classic in Tulsa, Okla. The Lee brothers grew up fishing Lake Guntersville since they were children. Their mom and dad had a cabin on the lake, and these two guys know every slough, cove and creek.
Of course there is the home-lake curse, in which the angler in the home state has had trouble winning. Only once has an angler fishing his home waters taken the Classic title. Boyd Duckett broke the curse in 2007 on Lay Lake. Can one of the nine anglers bring the trophy home to Alabama?
That question will be answered in a few weeks. But one thing is for certain -- it appears this year’s Classic may turn out to be a slugfest for mammoth sacks of bass.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at ChrJohn7@aol.com.