By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
From a pure numbers perspective, Lake Guntersville didn't fish nearly as well in the 2020 Bassmaster Classic as it did during the 2014 edition even though the tournament took place 2 weeks later on the calendar. Several variables likely contributed to that, including one that was purely a short-term factor (a cold front) and another that's been in play for quite some time now (angling pressure on the renowned Alabama impoundment).
BassFans who were hoping to see a parade of bags in excess of 25 pounds come to the stage at Legacy Arena in Birmingham didn't get their wish. There was only one of those – the 29-03 monster sack that Hank Cherry plopped on the scale on day 1 to lay the foundation for his eventual victory.
No one else topped 24 pounds (Keith Combs' 23-10 on day 2 was the second-biggest haul). By contrast, the 2014 Classic saw 11 bags that weighed 24 pounds or more.
Six years ago, 34 of the 135 bags contained 20 pounds or more – or roughly 1 out of 4. This year, the number was 12 of 131, or about 1 out of 11.
"Guntersville still produced, but with everything that was going on it was really hard to stay on (the fish) consistently," said Matt Herren, an Alabama resident who likely went in with more experience on Guntersville than any other angler in the field. "The weather system that came through was supposed to last one day and be gone, but it basically stayed until about noon on the last day.
"The lake's fishing the way it has over the last 5 years. What people have to understand about grass lakes is they evolve – the vegetation changes every year and the fish change with it. And just the sheer pressure on the lake has been tremendous. Guntersville's still healthy, but it's just not on one of those upswings."
Herren's 10th-place finish was his second-best in eight Classic appearances – he was 7th at Lay Lake (also in his home state) in 2010. Like many in the field, he found what he was looking for during the practice period at Guntersville, but had trouble keeping tabs on his fish once the conditions changed.
"The biggest thing was that Monday, Tuesday and even Wednesday, we got a lot of rain," he said. "It affected a lot of guys and it got me, too. The groups of fish got busted up by that last rain.
"I had a ditch that ran through a spawning flat that was 6 or 7 feet deep and 3 feet up on top. The fish were on patches of coontail on top of that flat. When we got the rain, the water came up about a foot and those fish busted up and scattered and I couldn't relocate them. I was convinced I'd find them and I caught 18 pounds the first day, but when the wind changed directions on the second day, I don't know where they went."
Like much of the field, he started the tournament throwing a rattlebait in and around grass. By the end, after losing track of his fish, he was flipping a jig around docks.
"If we'd had a week of warm weather going in. It would've been much different. If the surface temperature had been in the mid 50s (instead of the high 40s to low 50s), it would've totally changed everything.
"The Classic is probably the most difficult tournament to prepare for because you practice a week beforehand, then you get a little window on Wednesday to take one more look. When things are changing, there's no stability. I tried to look into the crystal ball with the forecast we had coming, but that's tough.
"To win that tournament you need everything, including the moon and the stars, to line up."