Southeast Top 150 Solo Opener Set for Lake Eufaula, Ala.
By John N. Felsher
The American Bass Anglers Top 150 Solo Series Southeast Division, one of two regional divisions in the new ABA Top 150 Solo Series, will hold its first-ever tournament on Lake Eufaula near the town of Eufaula, Ala.
Set for Feb. 26-27, the Eufaula tournament runs out of Lakepoint Resort State Park, located at 104 Lakepoint Drive near the town of Eufaula, Ala. Dating to 1962, Lake Eufaula garnered an early reputation as the “Bass Fishing Capital of the World.” Officially dubbed Walter F. George Reservoir, the impoundment covers 45,181 acres along the Chattahoochee River spanning part of the Alabama-Georgia border.
“I’m excited about fishing this tournament,” reported Wayne Christopher of Huntsville, Ala. “I’ve never fished Eufaula. When I’m going to fish a new lake, I do a lot of internetwork and map study. I’ll try to find out what other people have done there in the past at this time of year. I want to get an idea of what I might be doing before going and then make adjustments day to day on the water as needed.”
Over the years, Lake Eufaula delivered many double-digit largemouths. It holds excellent numbers of 1- to 4-pound bass, abundant 5- to 8-pounders, and occasionally produces a bass topping 12 pounds. Some single-day tournaments take more than 30 pounds to win.
“I’ve fished Eufaula many times,” advised Patrick Anderson, who retired as an Army sergeant first class after spending most of his career disarming explosives and now lives in Ardmore, Ala. “In February, when it was cold, rainy, and miserable, I caught fish in 30 feet of water on a 1-ounce jigging spoon. I’ve also fished Eufaula in February when I came in with almost 27 pounds fishing a buzzbait in three feet of water. What happens in this tournament depends upon what the weather does leading up to it. We should see come big bags.”
Spawning might begin in February on Lake Eufaula but traditionally peaks during the full moon in March or April. The biggest bass usually spawn first. During late February, anglers could find pre-spawn, bedding, and even a few post-spawn bass all close to each other on the same day.
“The tournament could be won in six inches of water or 12 feet of water,” predicted Keith Bardolf, who retired as an Army lieutenant colonel who flew helicopters for 25 years and now lives in Enterprise, Ala. “People will probably get a lot fewer bites in extremely shallow water, but they could get bigger bites. I anticipate it’s going to take 40 pounds over two days to make the top five.”
The main river and numerous creek channels combine to create 640 shoreline miles. Some of the best fishing occurs in Cowikee Creek by the state park. Some holes in the creek drop to more than 30 feet deep. Look for brush piles or other deep cover.
“I’ve fished Eufaula later in the year, but never in February,” revealed Tony Tidwell of Horton, Ala. “I’m sure brush piles and submerged trees will play a part in some good catches for people familiar with the lake. I don’t know it that well, so I’ll try to hunt for brush piles around rocky points or close to a channel.”
From Eufaula, the Southeast Division travels northward to Lake Guntersville near Scottsboro, Ala. Slated to run April 30-May 1, the tournament launches out of Goose Pond Ramp, located at 417 Ed Hembree Drive in Scottsboro. The largest reservoir in Alabama snakes 75 miles along the Tennessee River and spreads across 69,100 acres.
“Guntersville in April is going to be a free-for-all,” Anderson remarked. “By then, the bass are probably going to be in all stages of the spawn. If winter drags on, April could be a slugfest with pre-spawn giants. I think the majority of the bigger bass will probably have spawned out by then, but there will still be plenty big fish to catch. I’m going to stay shallow looking for bedding areas.”
Always a great lake for lunker largemouths, Guntersville produces many double-digit bass including some topping 14 pounds and countless largemouths in the 3- to 8-pound range. In March 2019, an angler landed a bass just shy of 14 pounds. The lake also holds spotted bass in the 5-pound range and even a few smallmouth approaching six pounds.
“Guntersville is my home lake,” Tidwell proclaimed. “I would expect bass to be in a full-blown spawn with most larger fish spawning three to five feet deep. Generally, at that time of year, I like to throw creature baits on Carolina rigs. For me, sight-fishing is not as fun as picking out likely areas that might hold spawning bass and fan-casting for them. I like smaller finesse-type jigs for spawning bass. I also like to use a swim jig with a chartreuse Zoom Fat Albert Grub on it. I swim it around grassy edges and even throw it into deeper grass to pick up bass that have already spawned or are moving up to spawn. Many people also like to throw Alabama rigs. Some big stringers could be caught on that.”
In late April, anglers could still find bass actively spawning, moving up to spawn, or roving for prey after spawning. Pre-spawn and post-spawn bass feed heavily upon shad or other fish so many people throw umbrella rigs tipped with swimbaits. They also throw swim jigs or lipless crankbaits to cover large tracts of water.
“Over the past few years, Guntersville has become a really good deep-water ledge lake with people throwing big swimbaits,” Bardolf advised. “People will catch bass by fishing ledges, but I don’t think that technique will dominate the tournament. Guntersville is going to be dominated by the shad spawn. Someone who gets on a shad spawn and lands on the right fish during those first two hours in the morning could be done by 8:30 a.m. During a shad spawn, anglers can catch bass however they want to fish. It’s just a matter of finding the right area to fish.”
The final Southeast Division event and the last tournament of the year for the ABA Top 150 Solo Series will run June 25-26 on Lake Chickamauga. The tournament launches out of Dayton City Ramp on Lakeshore Drive in Dayton, Tenn.
“We’re going to three great lakes that are spread out and we’re hitting them at three distinct times of the year,” Bardolf stated. “Whoever wins the Angler of the Year in each division will have to be a really good fisherman. Any angler can catch 20 pounds one day, but to do it two days in a row takes more skill, especially when traveling to somebody else’s home lake. This series could grow into a 6- or 8-tournament trail if the anglers support it.”
Lake “Chick” covers 36,240 acres on the Tennessee River from the Watts Bar Dam to the Chickamauga Dam. The Hiwassee River flows into Lake Chickamauga. Several creeks also flow into the system.
“This is going to be a great tournament,” Tidwell predicted. “Chickamauga has a lot of big fish. I imagine that most of the fish would have spawned out by then. I’ll probably be fishing swimbaits, but mostly big jigs. At that time, I like to stroke them, fishing them quickly and erratically looking for big, post-spawn females.”
The Tennessee River impoundment dates to 1940, but only recently earned bass legend status after the state of Tennessee began stocking Florida largemouths into it in 2000. In 2015, Gabe Keen landed a 15-pound, 3-ounce lunker, setting a new Tennessee state record. Lake Chickamauga also produced the Tennessee record spotted bass, a 6-pound, 1-ounce fish. The lake also holds some smallmouth.
“I’ve never been on Chickamauga, but I imagine that it would be a post-spawn bite fishing the grass edges with plastics and maybe crankbaits,” Anderson said. “I’m going to have to learn Chickamauga during the practice period. I like the two-day format because it gives a person a second chance after a rough first day to build on something learned late that first day.”
Both the ABA Top 150 Solo Series Southeast and Southwest Divisions offer big cash payouts and chances for weekend anglers to fish the annual Ray Scott Championship. Most of the rules remain the same as for other ABA events, except every Top 150 Solo Series tournament will run for two days and all anglers fish alone.
“We have been asked for years to have a solo tournament trail with an affordable entry fee and a good payback,” announced Morris Sheehan, ABA president, and owner. “This is that trail. These tournaments have been scheduled on great lakes at the prime time for big bass stringers.”
In each event, anglers will pay $600 to enter each of the three divisional tournaments. Up to 150 anglers can sign up to compete in an event. If 150 anglers participate, the winner will take home $20,000 in cash. If fewer competitors register, the top 20 percent of the field will each earn a portion of the prize money, based upon the number of entries.
“We’ve had many requests from anglers asking about a higher payout tournament trail or possibly a singles trail,” confirmed Christopher Wayand, series tournament manager. “There was a big gap from the Bass Pro Shops Open Series into the next higher level of competition. The ABA Top 150 Solo Series is designed for those anglers who want a mid-level entry fee tournament trail with a substantial payback. It costs a bit more to enter this new tournament trail, but it’s not out of range for most weekend anglers.”
Anglers can register to fish events in both ABA Top 150 Solo Series divisions if they wish. The Southwest Division kicked off the new season on Feb. 5-6 at Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Louisiana-Texas line. From Toledo Bend, the division heads to nearby Lake Sam Rayburn near Zavalla, Texas, from March 26-27. The Southwest Division wraps up April 30 to May 1 at the other Lake Eufaula near Eufaula, Okla.
“I like the concept for several reasons,” Anderson explained. “I like when one angler is pitted against other anglers and there’s no one else in the boat who can affect the outcome of the event. Some anglers are leery about carrying people to areas because that person might be sitting on that same spot the next day. When fishing the same water all day, it’s inevitable that the co-angler will pull in some fish that the boater may have caught. That could affect the tournament outcome.”
In addition to earning major cash prizes, the winner of each divisional tournament, plus the two-division Anglers of the Year will qualify to fish the Ray Scott Championship for a possible total of eight people selected from the series. Since this is the inaugural year for the ABA Top 150 Solo Series, winners and Anglers of the Year from the 2021 events will earn slots to compete in the 2022 Ray Scott Championship.
“The winners of each of the six divisional tournaments, plus the Anglers of the Year for each division will go to the Ray Scott Championship, provided that they participated in all three divisional tournaments,” Wayand elaborated. “For example, an angler enters the first tournament, which is close to home and wins it. If that angler wants to fish the Ray Scott Championship, he or she must fish the other two divisional events. People can’t just pay for the entire series and expect to go to the Ray Scott Championship without fishing the other division events.”
In some tournament circuits, the same competitors fish the same lakes every time. This trail allows anglers to fish lakes outside their home areas, perhaps in a different state, without crossing the continent to do it. Many anglers enjoy an opportunity to visit different waters they might not otherwise fish.
“We created two regions with tournament venues inside each region,” Wayand explained. “That way, people can possibly fish a new place or a different state, but they don’t need to travel too far to do it. Everyone who wants to fish these events needs to sign up. Priority will go to those anglers who sign up or put their deposits down for the entire season. People can enter individual events if there’s room.”
When asked how they would change the format if they could, some anglers expressed interest in seeing divisional championships added to the schedule. Some would also like to see a combined series championship. Others hope the series grows into more divisional tournaments and expands to three days for each event.
“I like the two-day format, but I wouldn’t mind seeing it become a three-day series,” Tidwell remarked. “With a three-day event, a person could overcome the home lake advantage of some locals. In a two-day event, we can use what we’ve learned on the first day and maybe move up the board. ABA has a trail for all kinds of budgets, needs, and experience levels. For anybody looking to get started in tournament fishing or to improve their skills, ABA is a really good place to make it happen.”
“We thought about adding divisional championships or even a single head-to-head championship for each division, but since this is the first year, we’re going to go with the original plan for now,” Wayand commented. “This trail is new and we can reformat it or change something later if we feel that’s the thing to do in the future.”
American Bass Anglers is sponsored by Bass Pro Shops, Triton Boats, Mercury Motors, Motor Guide, Berkley, Abu Garcia, T-H Marine, Power Pole, Garmin, Monster Energy, Lucas Oil, Engel Coolers, OPTIMA Batteries, REKS Sunglasses, and HotelPlanner.com.
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