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Expect the unexpected at Guntersville

by Major League Fishing 23 Feb 01:35 UTC
Shimano © Major League Fishing

As the Central Division of the Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. opens its season this morning on Lake Guntersville, the largest field in Toyota Series history - 328 boats - hits the water amidst some of the most uncertain conditions Guntersville has seen in a long, long time.

Aside from the obvious difficulties associated with a 328-boat field (namely the fishing pressure), everything seems to be just a little off. The Tennessee Valley Authority pulled a lot of water throughout the practice period, which dropped lake levels to the lowest point since at least this time last year, all in preparation for several inches of rain that's expected to fall over the next few days. That means anglers who have been around since late last week for practice will have seen clean water and dirty, little current and lots, all in the span of four or five days.

Then there's the odd timing in relation to spawning phase: This time of year, it's hard to predict if fish are going to be grouped up in prespawn haunts or pushing up shallow in preparation for the spawn. All indications point to a mix of everything, and that means finding some fish could be relatively easy but finding lots of fish near impossible without being on the move early and often.

Still, Guntersville is one of the premier fisheries in the country, and with a field this big, you can bet someone is going to get on some big fish this week in pursuit of the up to $115,000 top prize and a trip back to Guntersville in the fall for the Toyota Series Championship.

About the fishery

The largest lake in Alabama, Guntersville extends 75 miles from end to end and covers about 69,000 acres between the cities of Bridgeport to the north and Guntersville to the south.

While Guntersville has long been known for its aquatic vegetation, the types of vegetation that its bass call home has changed dramatically in recent years with the proliferation of eelgrass that has slowly choked out a lot of milfoil and hydrilla. According to Guntersville local and Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit pro Alex Davis, that's changed the way a lot of people are fishing the Tennessee River big-bass factory.

"We've got so much eelgrass and it's absolutely everywhere. In a lot of the places it doesn't have edges," he said. "It looks like a carpet underneath the water. There's no edges, there's no big holes where fish are concentrated. It's very, very bizarre.

"It used to be when we had hydrilla and milfoil that they lived on the edge. You'd see a line of boats fishing an area and everyone was almost in a perfect line because all the fish lived on the edge. Now there's not an edge. Everyone just randomly throws every direction."

Guntersville is known for its grass, sure, but the sprawling fishery has plenty more to offer in the form of docks, riprap, laydowns, creek arms and just about everything else you'd expect to find on a Tennessee River reservoir. This week, it might all come into play.

Current conditions

At the time of publishing this article, the water level on Guntersville is about 593 feet (more than 2 feet below full pool). On Monday, the TVA was pulling about 72,000 cubic feet per second in anticipation of several inches of rain this week and projects an outflow of up to 90,000 by Wednesday.

Given the amount of water being pulled, anglers can expect varying current from day to day, though water levels may not fluctuate a ton as the TVA stays on top of increasing volume.

Water clarity, though, could vary wildly from day to day and even hour to hour. The whole region received a few inches of rain just days ago, meaning everything is already saturated. More rain will undoubtedly bring muddy water, to say nothing of what forecasted 20-mile-per-hour winds can do, as is called for today.

"A week-and-a-half ago this water was clear; there wasn't a lot of current," Davis said. "Now we have dirty water - we got three inches of rain the other night - and it put a lot of color in the lake.

"The ground is already saturated and the creeks are dingy. The way the lake sets up, when you have a lot of wind, it makes the main-lake stuff muddy, too."

High winds on Day 1 could also limit how much anglers are able to run around, which means the largest field in Toyota Series history is going to find itself more bottled up than many would probably like.

Still, it's not all bad news. Even when Guntersville is fishing strangely, the possibility of catching massive bass and massive bags is always on the table.

"[On Sunday] I had 10 bites and caught five for 29 pounds," Davis said of his penultimate practice day. "I caught two 9-pounders."

Tactics in play

As great as 29 pounds sounds (and paired with Davis catching 20-plus pounds the prior two days), catching next to nothing a couple other days in practice has left Davis wondering which side the coin will land on during the tournament.

"I've seen the best of days and worst of days in the last six days - three days I practiced I had 20 pounds," he said. "The next two days, if it was a two-day tournament, I'd have weighed in 9 pounds. That's unnerving."

Part of the reason for Davis' uneasiness is that Guntersville isn't fishing "normal." He has three wins at Guntersville in MLF competition, but leaning on that history is a scary proposition right now.

"The local advantage is going to be everything and nothing at the same time this week," he explained. "I know just enough where I can send myself down rabbit holes because of history. Or I can send myself down rabbit holes and there's gold at the end of it. This is where local knowledge is either really, really going to help or really, really screw me over. And I don't know which one it is."

Historically, Davis knows of places he can go catch big bags, but the fish are so scattered that each one of those spots is a gamble. He believes any number of tactics and techniques could be in play this week, especially things that aren't the typical Guntersville staples (lipless crankbaits, umbrella rigs, ChatterBaits, swimbaits and swim jigs fished around grass).

"I think someone's probably going to fish stuff that's not historically Guntersville," Davis said. "It's people that have a different perspective on the lake than the locals. They don't know what they're supposed to do and where you're supposed to do it."

While riprap and fishing shallow in creeks is always popular this time of year, Davis expects any number of oddball patterns to develop this week and wouldn't be surprised to see bluff walls, laydowns, docks and other non-traditional Guntersville patterns to be in play.

Whatever the case, he still expects moving baits to be the big players and doesn't anticipate finesse and dragging presentations to do enough damage to sustain an angler all week.

Critical factors

  • Pressure - It really can't be overstated: The massive tournament field is going to be a curveball for just about everyone. Finding something to have to yourself is going to be absolutely critical. Anglers who don't have multiple fish in an area are going to be left running and gunning, hoping and praying there won't be boats sitting on their spots when they get there.
  • Adjusting to conditions - Something that worked in practice may not work when the wind is blowing, the rain is pouring and the water is get dingier by the minute. This week, the whole field is going to have to contend with those factors. "There's probably more variables going into this one than I've seen at Guntersville in a long, long time," Davis said.
  • Fishing clean - All indications point to bites being few and far between for bass anglers on Guntersville right now. Many of those bites are quality, but few anglers are getting bit enough to miss or lose fish. "Whoever wins, when it's over, he's going to say he never lost one and caught everything that bit," Davis posited. "I don't think the winner is going to say he lost 6-pounders every day. I don't think you're going to be able to make that up."

Dock talk

On one hand, a 328-boat field is going to make catching giant bags a lot more difficult. On the other, Guntersville is an exceptional bass fishery, and 328 boats means 328 chances that someone is going to get into a bag like Davis' 29-pound practice stringer.

"I think if you have 20 pounds a day, if you don't win it, you're going to scare somebody," he said. "If someone busts a great big bag, I'd say that's going to propel them to victory as long as they have something to go with it the other two days."

Davis expects about 12 to 12 1/2 pounds to be good enough to finish in the Top 50 anglers and about 15 1/2 a day to make the Top 25 to fish Day 3.

"It's going to be a tournament like we've never really seen Guntersville have," Davis said. "We have so many variables. It's probably the most amount of variables going into a tournament here that I can remember."

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