By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
A Tennessee River event in the latter part of June would normally be all about the offshore ledges. That's not necessarily the case this week, however, as the Bassmaster Elite Series visits Alabama's Lake Guntersville for the sixth stop on its nine-event regular-season schedule.
Yes, there are quality fish set up on the deep-water summertime hangouts, as there always is at this time of year. But there's also acre upon acre of vibrant grass in much shallower water, and that seems to be causing some of the fish to postpone their migration to the depths.
The 75 anglers in the field can opt to pursue one or the other of those scenarios or go with a mix of both. Run-of-the mill limits (12 pounds or so) should be relatively easy to compile, but exceeding a 15-pound daily average, which is about where the day-2 cut to the top 35 is expected to fall, will require some of the 4-pound-plus specimens that have made Guntersville one of the top destination lakes in the country.
Before delving deeper into the bite, here's some intel on the fishery itself:
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake name: Guntersville
> Type of water: Lowland reservoir fed by the Tennessee River
> Surface acres: Approximately 70,000
> Primary structure/cover: Grass (hydrilla, milfoil, eelgrass), causeways/bridges, creek channels, humps, riprap, boat docks, shell beds, laydowns
> Average depth: Roughly 15 feet
> Species: Largemouth, spotted bass
> Reputation: Big-bass factory that sustains itself despite an incredible amount of fishing pressure.
> Primary forage: Shad
> Weather: Sunny and hot on day 1, then scattered thunderstorms for the remaining three days.
> Water temp: Mid to upper 80s
> Water visibility/color: Some stain in upper reaches and clearer toward lower end
> Water level: Full pool
> Fish in: 4 to 45 feet
> Fish phase: Post-spawn/summer
> Primary patterns: Crankbaits (lipless and lipped), swimbaits, jigs, vibrating jigs, big worms, spinnerbaits.
> Winning weight: 85 pounds (4 days)
> Cut weight (Top 35 after 2 days): 30 pounds
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 3 for Guntersville
> Biggest factors: Big fish. This lakes got em and one (or more) per day will be a huge difference-maker.
> Wild card: Finding a loaded-up ledge that hasn't been pounded.
Here's a good look at Guntersville (depth contours included), courtesy of the folks at Navionics:
Look for the Green Stuff
FLW Tour pro Alex Davis, a longtime guide at Guntersville, said the offshore bite was much better two weeks ago than it is right now.
"Obviously the ledge bite's a huge thing on the Tennessee River, but the problem is the lake gets so much pressure and guys are fishing for fish that have been beat on for six solid weeks," he said. "Early last week I could ride over schools and there were fish everywhere, then later in the week those same schools were down to almost nothing.
"It happens every year right around Father's Day a lot of the fish just seem to leave."
While noting that some competitors will do extremely well on the ledges this week, his advice to most would be to focus on grass in the 4- to 8-foot depth range for at least part of the day.
"There's so many fish in the grass it's ridiculous and anybody who gets it in their mind to fish it should do fine. Whoever can figure out the grass stuff until mid-day and then has some deep stuff to lean on and catch a couple big ones in the afternoon, that could be the guy.
A variety of standard tactics should be effective in and around the vegetation. Those options include jigs popped through the grass, spinnerbaits, bladed jigs, topwater plugs, large worms and swimbaits.
As always, the best bets for the ledges will include deep-diving crankbaits, swimbaits, dropshot rigs and scroungers.
"Two weeks ago I'd have said you'd need 100 pounds to even sniff winning," Davis said. "Now I'd say you're looking at 84-85 on the high side.
"You can literally catch 12 pounds with your eyes closed and there will be a lot of stacked weights. Twenty-four pounds could be dead-last after the first 2 days, but 30 or 31 might make the cut."
He said some anglers will undoubtedly experience extreme frustration on Saturday (day 2), when the lake will be teeming with local tournament anglers and recreationists.
"A community grass area that has five boats on a weekday morning will have 12 on Saturday. On Sunday, there won't be near as many people. The guys who make it to Sunday and Monday will have the lake cleared out for them a bunch."
Following are some practice notes from a few of the anglers who'll compete this week.
"It's an atypical Guntersville I'm not finding any bunches of fish and that's very concerning for me. I found one bunch and got one to bite, and then I sat there for 30 minutes and never got another one to go and the bunch never moved.
"There's a lot of eel grass and there's also a new kind of grass that I don't know exactly what it is. It's very fishable grass; the fish are using it.
"It's still a work in progress for me. I'll have 25 rods on my deck and hope I can catch a fish on every fifth one."
"It's a little tougher than what I thought it would be. I'm not sure that the fish haven't already gathered up (offshore) and then gone back shallow. We're dealing with a lot more grass than I've ever seen. A lot of fish seem like they're not going out; they're staying in the grass.
"I've found some schools, but not as many as I expected to and nothing mind-blowing as far as the populations of the schools. It's hard to be confident when you don't have many schools and you don't know how many people have found the same ones.
"I'm going to have to mix it up, shallow and deep. I haven't found enough offshore to convince me to spend the entire day out there."
"There's a lot more grass this time, but I haven't seen any Asian carp, and that's a good thing. There's some spirally grass that I've never seen before and I'm not quite sure what it is.
"A lot of the fish are definitely shallower than what I thought they'd be and they're much harder to find. You have to do more fishing to find the sweet spots rather than graphing. Even with the great electronics we have, all that grass creates a lot of clutter and you can't get any separation.
"You're going to see some 22- to 23-pound bags every day, but I don't think the weights will be as heavy all the way down as they usually are."
"It's been tougher than my expectations; I don't get it, man. I understand that these fish have been beaten up the last few weeks, but it still shouldn't be fishing as tough as it is. The only thing I can think of is maybe the eel grass has got a lot of the fish still up shallow and I'm too stubborn and hard-headed to go shallow.
"The thing is that even when the ledge bite is tough, you always think you might find that one spot. I keep searching for one that guys haven't found and locals haven't beaten up. If I can't find anything like that, I might have to go up shallow and hope I stumble into something."
A Few to Keep an Eye On
Based on the above information and more, here are a few anglers who might fare well in this event.
> Drew Benton He wouldn't draw much attention if this were a straight-up ledge event, but all that grass could make him a big factor.
> Clent Davis If the ledge bite picks up just a little bit, he'll likely be one of the guys who parlays it into a strong finish.
> Scott Canterbury The veteran has a lot of experience at Guntersville and it's a bonus for him that so many fish are still in the shallows.
> Clark Wendlandt He's had a just a mediocre year in his return to B.A.S.S. competition, but his patience and versatility could really pay off in this derby.
Anglers will launch at 6 a.m. CT each day from Goose Pond Landing. Weigh-ins will be held at the same location beginning at 2:15 p.m.
> Fri., June 21 Mostly Sunny - 94°/73°
- Wind: From the WSW at 5 mph
> Sat., June 22 Scattered T-Storms - 88°/72°
- Wind: From the WSW at 6 mph
> Sun., June 23 A.M. T-Storms - 92°/72°
- Wind: From WSW at 6 mph
> Mon., June 24 Scattered T-Storms - 86°/67°
- Wind: From the WSW at 7 mph