By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

The sun is set to shine on Lake Guntersville Friday for the first time in several days and a stiff wind will blow from the north/northwest. It'll be a quintessential post-frontal day on the Alabama impoundment as the 50th Bassmaster Classic gets under way.

Many of the 53 competitors said they encountered difficulty developing patterns or even getting bites during their four days of practice over the past week. Whether they fared well during that period or not, quite a few are wondering what the new conditions will bring.

Will the wind make their favored locales more difficult (or even impossible) to fish effectively? With those places be inundated with floating eelgrass to the point that moving baits are rendered useless?

Or maybe some new fish in the 4- to 5-pound class will have moved in as they prepare for the spawning ritual. Or perhaps an angler will stumble across a pre-spawn transition area that's loaded up and nobody else knows about it.

"You really only need five to eight bites to have a good bag," said Brandon Cobb, a two-time winner on the Elite Series in 2019 who's competing in his first Classic. "That can happen if you cover a lot of water and get a bite here and a bite there.

"I don't feel like I found any of those special places (where large fish are grouped up), but I like this style of fishing. I think it's definitely going to be a power-fishing tournament."

More than One Option

Clifford Pirch, who'll be fishing his seventh Classic, said the unsettled weather that the region has experienced this week keeps just about any tactic in play.

"I think there's a number of ways it can be done," he said. "It's Lake Guntersville and it's got a lot of big ones, but the fishing's been a little off.

"With it being post-frontal, a real finessey approach could do it, or a real reactive approach to get lethargic fish to bite could work, too. It's hard to tell who might do well, but I hope it's me. I do like my chances how many times does a guy who had the worst practice end up winning the tournament. I feel like I had an okay practice and I definitely saw the type of fish it takes to win here. It's a matter of putting enough of those in the boat."



BassFan
Photo: BassFan

Brandon Cobb said that getting five to eight bites per day might be enough to contend for the Classic title.

Ray Hanselman Jr., a longtime Texas ace set to make his Classic debut, was in agreement with Pirch about the possibility that a variety of game plans could be effective. He also said that the Alabama residents with a lot of experience at Guntersville could have an advantage with the lake in a state of flux.

"You can catch them a lot of ways right now and with the strong current they've had for a few weeks, fish are in places that they don't often go," he said. "There are places where the current has pushed the baitfish and there's actually (bass) schooling on them. They're not big ones, but they're 2 1/2- to 3-pound limit-fillers.

"Somebody local whose fished these conditions before, I'd have to give them a slight edge. With the water being high, then dropping out and going back up again, if you've seen it before, it helps."

Experience Counts

First-time Classic competitor Matt Arey, who had a long stint on the FLW Tour prior to his transition to the Elite Series last year, predicted that an angler with considerable seasoning at the tour level will emerge as the winner.

"Nothing against the rookies, but a tournament of this caliber favors a guy who can keep it all together mentally for the whole day, every day," he said. "There was a lot of local pressure the last time the Classic was here and it'll certainly be that way again, and managing that can be a little tricky.

"A guy like Scott Canterbury (an Alabama resident and the 2019 Angler of the Year) comes to mind, not because we're friends and we room together, but because he catches them here. Another guy is Todd Auten he can cover a lot of water and do a lot of damage with a bladed jig."

Paul Mueller is a guy who has experience doing well at a Guntersville Classic he was the runner-up to Randy Howell in 2014. His confidence isn't brimming, but he's not counting himself out.

"I don't have the caliber of fish I had going into the '14 Classic; it's a different lake and conditions are changing," he said. "I'm going to keep an open mind because I think different things are going to fire on different days with different weather conditions. Hopefully I can make the right adjustment each day.

"We're all looking for that one clue something we can build off of with all of the change that's happening. This lake has a lot of big fish, and probably some that nobody's gotten onto yet."