By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The second season of the MLF Bass Pro Tour will get under way on Friday with a decided emphasis on bigger fish. First up is a venue with a longstanding reputation for kicking out lunkers, but all the color in the water might make a lot of them difficult to locate.
The area surrounding Lake Eufaula in Alabama was hit by some powerful storms during the middle of the week and the runoff from those will dirty the water up to an even greater extent than it was prior to their arrival. That'll mainly impact the shallow bite, as anglers will be unable to visually discern much of the fish-holding cover in the skinniest water. It won't be as big of a problem for those fishing offshore, as their electronics units will still show them what's there.
It'll be the first BPT event conducted under the new variable minimum-weight provision that the league instituted during the offseason. At Eufaula, a bass must weigh at least two pounds to be scorable, which means that pounding a school of dinks will do a competitor no good.
The tournament will serve as the BPT debut for a couple of longtime FLW studs David Dudley and Bryan Thrift. The duo have six Angler of the Year titles and two FLW Cup wins between them and employ styles that seem to be well-suited for this form of competition (Dudley is known for generating lots of bites and Thrift fishes at a frenetic pace). Few would be surprised to see either or both post a lot of high finishes throughout the season.
Before delving deeper into the bite, here's some intel on the fishery itself.
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake Name: Lake Eufaula
> Type of Water: Chattahoochee River impoundment
> Surface Acres (full pool): 46,000 acres
> Primary structure/cover: Humps, ledges, rock piles, timber, milfoil, pads
> Primary forage: Threadfin shad, gizzard shad, bream
> Average depth: 15 to 18 feet
> Species: Largemouths, spotted bass
> Reputation: Once hailed as the "Bass Fishing Capital of the World," it went through some up-and-down cycles earlier this century. It harbors a lot of big-fish potential.
> Weather: In the wake of some severe storms this week, a more settled period is forthcoming that'll see daytime highs in the 70s. Some showers and thunderstorms are possible as the event progresses
> Water temp: Mid to high 50s
> Water visibility/color: Severely stained or muddy throughout
> Water level: Normal winter pool
> Fish in: 0 to 12 feet
> Fish phase: Pre-spawn
> Primary patterns: Jigs (swim and bladed), Carolina rigs, spinnerbaits, swimbaits, worms, frogs, topwater, flipping
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 2 for Eufaula
> Biggest factors: Off-colored water
> Biggest decision: Stay shallow, commit to offshore fish or employ a mix of both
> Wild card: Catching a 7-pounder or bigger will be a huge bonus, and it'll undoubtedly happen
For a closer look at Eufaula, check out the contour map below provided by the folks at Navionics:
Some Real Effort Required
Sam Williams, who operates Hawk's Fishing Guide Service at Eufaula, said some impressive weight totals will be compiled this week. However, they won't come easy.
"They're catchable, but it's a job right now," said Williams, who noted that the winning team in a college event last weekend had a five-fish limit that weighed 29 pounds.
He said that quality can be found both near the banks and in much deeper water. A lot of fish are hanging around the bedding area waiting to spawn and the females are full of eggs. They can be enticed with big, noisy baits, but the issue is knowing precisely where to throw those baits since visibility under the surface is so low.
"They're not actually on the beds, but I think they're trying to get there. ChatterBaits and big-bladed spinnerbaits that make a lot of racket will catch them."
Another option is to head for the ledges and focus on the brush piles and other irregularities that exist out there. The key depth range is 12 to 25 feet.
"If you get on them out there you can catch a bunch of them, but you have to aggravate them into biting," Williams said. "They're kind of lethargic."
A method that works for him is drag a floating lipped or lipless crankbait on a Carolina rig with a one-ounce weight.
In or Out?
Ish Monroe said he has no idea where his fellow competitors will be fishing when the first line-in call is made at 8 a.m. on Friday, but he knows where he'll be.
"I've seen some of the best offshore fishermen in the world up on the bank and some of the best bank fishermen offshore," he said. "The only thing I can say for sure is that my boat's going to be stuck in the dirt.
"I've always liked this lake and, to me, we've got almost perfect pre-spawn conditions. Everything's setting up for the way I want to catch them except for maybe the weather I'd prefer the warm and the rain over the cold and the sun. I've caught a couple of good ones and I've had a few other bites that I'm pretty sure were big."
Aaron Martens said he did very little casting over the past two days.
"I mainly just graphed around and I didn't really try to catch them," he said. "I was trying to find something special and in order to do that, you have to use your graph a lot. I don't think I found anything that special, really with the weather being cloudy and windy and rainy, they weren't that easy to find.
"The bite wasn't as good as I thought it would be, but that might all change with the sun."
A Few to Watch
> Edwin Evers The reigning Angler of the Year has always been a superb performer in the early season. Look for him to get off to another fast start.
> Brent Ehrler If this event is going to be won from the ledges, he's as likely as anyone to end up holding the trophy. He'll look to pick up where he left off last year (3rd on the final points list).
> Bryan Thrift He won an FLW Tour event at Eufaula in 2015, although that was a different time of year (May). No matter the lake, no matter the circuit, he's always a threat.
> Brett Hite Might be a reach considering how badly he struggled last year, but he's a master at throwing vibrating baits and has had pre-spawn success in the past.
Anglers will blast off from Lakepoint State Park Marina (104 Old Highway 165) at 7:30 a.m. each day. The first of three 2 1/2-hour periods will get under way at 8 a.m.
> Fri., Feb. 7 Partly Cloudy - 53°/35°
- Wind: From the WSW at 16 mph
> Sat., Feb. 8 Mostly Sunny - 63°/40°
- Wind: From the SW at 7 mph
> Sun., Feb. 9 Mostly Sunny - 68°/49°
- Wind: From the ESE at 6 mph
> Mon., Feb. 10 Showers - 71°/60°
- Wind: From the SSE at 7 mph
> Tues., Feb. 11 Scattered T-Storms - 73°/58°
- Wind: From the SW at 8 mph
> Weds., Feb. 12 P.M. Showers - 72°/61°
- Wind: From the SSE at 8 mph