Top 150 Solo At The Big G
By John N. Felsher
After a highly successful inaugural tournament at Lake Eufaula in southeastern Alabama, the competitors fishing the American Bass Anglers Top 150 Solo Series Southeast Division will remain in the Cotton State, but head north to Lake Guntersville.
The second event in the inaugural Southeast Division season will run from April 30 to May 1, 2021. The tournament launches out of Goose Pond Ramp, located at 417 Ed Hembree Drive in Scottsboro, Ala. to fish the biggest lake in Alabama and one of the best lakes for big bass anywhere.
“Without a doubt, Lake Guntersville is one of the premier bass lakes in the nation,” advised Mike Iaconelli, a former Bassmaster Classic champion. “It’s an amazing numbers lake, but it can also produce giant bass. On Lake Guntersville, I’m not happy until I get about a four- to five-pound average.”
With the upper portion extending into Tennessee, Lake Guntersville meanders 75 miles along the Tennessee River and covers 69,100 acres. The northeastern Alabama impoundment drops to about 60 feet deep in places. Anglers could catch a double-digit largemouth on any cast in any part of the sprawling reservoir. The impoundment also produces abundant bass in the five- to nine-pound range.
Charlie Bertus holds the lake largemouth record with a 14.50-pounder that he caught in the Murphy Hill area in the midsection of the reservoir. In March 2019, an angler landed a bass just shy of 14 pounds. Many tournament victories come from fish caught from North Sauty Creek down to about Brown’s Creek. Other good places to fish include Siebold Creek and Town Creek.
“Lake Guntersville has a great largemouth bass population, a small smallmouth bass population and a fairly good Kentucky spotted bass population,” advised Phil Ekema, an Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division fisheries biologist in Tanner. “It’s one of the best lakes in the country for largemouth bass. It’s probably the lake that takes the fewest hours to catch a largemouth bass over five pounds in Alabama. For spots or smallmouth, I recommend fishing the lower portion of the reservoir where the lake spreads out or some deeper, clearer water near the Guntersville Dam.”
Native to the Tennessee River system, smallmouth and spotted bass populate all of Lake Guntersville. Anglers might catch a big smallmouth or a spotted bass anywhere in the lake. Since the impoundment doesn’t hold many smallmouth, the state stocked brownies into the Town Creek, Scarham Creek and Shoal Creek areas of the massive reservoir in the past.
Fishing an ABA championship tournament as a co-angler in November 2010, Duanne McQueen set the Lake Guntersville smallmouth record with a 5.85-pounder. Owen Smith holds the Alabama state record for smallmouth with a 10.5-pounder he pulled from the Lake Wheeler tailrace downstream on the Tennessee River.
McQueen caught his record-breaker on a Texas-rigged V&M pearl-white Pork Shad soft-plastic jerkbait while fishing in 15 to 18 feet of water. He rigged the light bait with no weight. He tossed it as far upstream as he could throw to let the bait free-fall to the bottom and drift along as the current naturally carried it downstream. He occasionally popped the bait off the bottom to keep it moving in the flow.
The northern portion of the huge lake retains much of its riverine characteristics with fallen trees and stumps marking many steep shorelines. Several feeder creeks flow into the giant impoundment. Current flows more heavily through this part of the lake, especially when the Nickajack and Guntersville dams release water. This part of the lake also contains many rocky banks that provide bass cover. In the spring, fish these areas with jerkbaits, spinnerbaits or crankbaits that resemble shad or soft plastics that mimic crawfish.
From just above Scottsboro to the dam, the lower part of Lake Guntersville looks more like a typical southern reservoir with deep water, points, ledges, coves and flats. Off the river channel, anglers find many backwater flats, good places to look for spawning largemouth bass. Occasionally, someone catches a trophy spotted bass or smallmouth in this area.
In the Tennessee River impoundments of northern Alabama, smallmouth, spots and largemouth commonly spawn near each other. Smallmouth usually spawn earlier than largemouth, about when water temperatures reach 59 to 63 degrees. Spots spawn shortly after smallmouth. Smallmouth and spotted bass also spawn much deeper than largemouth, often in water at least eight feet deep.
Largemouth usually begin spawning when water temperatures reach about 65 to 68 degrees. They generally spawn in two to five feet of water around weeds, flooded brush, stumps, docks, fallen trees or other cover. During the tournament, anglers throughout the reservoir will likely find bedding largemouth bass, as well as fish staging in slightly deeper waters and some of all three species that already spawned.
“Fish don’t all spawn at the same time,” Ekema explained. “Fish could spawn at different times in different parts of the same lake, especially in a lake as large as Guntersville. Smallmouth typically like areas with more gravel and not quite as shallow. Largemouth bass mostly spawn in shallow coves with sandy or gravel substrate around some type of structure. They like to get around a tree, a rock or some other cover to shield the nest from predators. Sometime, larger bass spawn a little earlier. The spawning peaks in April, but could extend into May.”
Thick beds of milfoil, hydrilla and other aquatic grasses dominate the bass cover in many places on the lake. With so much vegetation covering large sections of the immense reservoir, many people fish the weeds, particularly during the spring. Rigged weightless with a 3/0 to 6/0 wide gap hook inserted into its body to make it weedless, buzzing frogs go over the thickest vegetation like a four-wheel drive vehicle and generate explosive strikes on top.
“Using topwaters is an exceptional technique for fishing Lake Guntersville and the rest of the Tennessee River chain,” recommended Jake Davis with Mid-South Bass Guide Service (615- 613-2382, www.midsouthbassguide.com) who guides on Guntersville and other lakes. “When the water temperature reaches about 54 degrees, people can start throwing topwaters. In the spring, many people on Lake Guntersville miss the topwater bite because they are so focused on bedding fish. Any types of topwaters baits would work, but when grass gets too thick, I go to a frog.”
Anglers can fish frogs several different ways. Some frogs slowly sink and others float. Toss either kind across the thickest cover and bring them back with a steady buzzing retrieve. Hold the rod tip high and crank the reel just enough to make the legs and feet sputter across the surface.
“In many places on Lake Guntersville, weeds get so thick that it’s impossible to get any bait other than a frog through it,” Davis remarked. “Bass will eat about anything that moves over the top of that grass.”
With floating frogs, the “pop and stop” method works effectively. With this method, pop the frog so it goes a few feet and then pause just like when working a traditional topwater popper. Let it sit on the surface until the concentric rings clear and then pop it vigorously again. This commotion simulates a live frog splashing across the surface.
In patchy cover, try the stop, sink and go approach with sinking plastics. Cast to a likely spot and let the bait remain briefly motionless. Depending upon hook size and cover thickness, it might sink slowly. Pull it a couple feet and let it rest. When the frog hits a pocket of open water, let it sink a couple feet before pulling it back to the surface or across grass tops. As the frog slowly sinks, its appendages twitch and quiver, driving bass nuts. When fishing lily pads, let the frog sit briefly on the pad. Then, ease it off the edge to sink into another pocket.
Anglers can also work lizards, jerkshads, fluke-type baits or other slithering soft plastics over the grass tops for dynamite topwater action. When rigged with hooks either pointing up or inserted into the plastic, these baits can skitter across the most entangling cover just like frogs and look like something bass would normally eat. Work them the same way as frogs. Sometimes, bass erupt through the mats to clobber floating soft plastics – engulfing weeds and all!
When fish won’t come to the top, anglers might need to punch through their vegetative roofs with heavy jigs. Some anglers toss jigs high into the air so they crash down through the grass mats like mortars, provoking vicious reaction strikes.
“I grew up fishing Guntersville,” stated Gerald Swindle, a top bass pro who lives on the lake. “When I’m looking for a big bite, I fish a jig around the grass. For punching mats, I fish a 1/2-ounce jig in low-light conditions. As the sun gets higher, I’ll switch to a 3/4-ounce jig and fish the thicker clumps. For the jig itself, I stick with browns or greens.”
Almost any grass flat on the lake can produce behemoth bass, but when scouting for honey holes, watch for other signs of life. Shad, bluegill and other forage species frequently hide in thick grass. Look for shad flicking the surface and listen for bream popping at bugs. With their small mouths, bluegills make distinct snapping sounds when feeding near the surface. Fish-eating birds may also indicate good bait supplies in an area. Lunker bass always stay where they can find abundant food.
“Guntersville is my home lake,” commented Paul A. “Tony” Tidwell of Horton, Ala. “I like to throw creature baits on Carolina rigs. In the spring, I fish smaller finesse-type jigs. I also like to fish swim jigs tipped with a chartreuse Zoom Fat Albert Grub on it. I swim the jig around grassy edges. I also throw it into deeper grass to pick up bass that have already spawned or are moving up to spawn.”
Besides grassy flats, anglers can also fish many ledges, drop-off edges, humps, natural rock piles and docks. Bridges and riprap offer more cover. In the backs of creek, watch for shad spawning early in the morning around shallow shorelines with access to deeper channels. Anglers who find an active shad spawn could put a lot of fish in the boat quickly.
Around a shad spawn, throw shad-colored lipped or lipless crankbaits, swim baits, bladed jigs or white spinnerbaits. Bang crankbaits off objects or work over the area with shaky heads or worms. Anglers might even spot some schooling bass at any time. During a shad spawn or when schooling bass chase shad to the surface, anglers could possibly land a limit on one cast with an Alabama Rig or other multi-bait rigs.
After Guntersville, the Southeast Division anglers will conclude their first season as well wrap up the entire inaugural year for the ABA Top 150 Solo Series on June 25-26 at Lake Chickamauga. The tournament launches out of Dayton City Ramp on Lakeshore Drive in Dayton, Tenn.
While the Southeast Division anglers battle it out at Lake Guntersville their cohorts in the Southwest Division will be fishing their last ABA Top 150 Solo Series of the season at Lake Eufaula in Oklahoma. That tournament will also run April 30-May 1 and launch out of the South Point Cove ramp, located at 400 Lakeshore Drive in Eufaula, Okla.
Anglers pay $600 to enter each divisional event. Up to 150 anglers can compete in any Top 150 Solo Series tournament. If 150 anglers participate, the winner will take home a guaranteed $20,000 in cash. If fewer competitors register for an event, the top 20 percent of the field will each earn a portion of the prize money, based upon the number of entries. In addition, the winner of each divisional tournament, plus the two division Anglers of the Year will qualify to fish the 2022 Ray Scott Championship.
For more information on the ABA Top 150 Solo Series, see www.americanbassanglers.com/Top150.
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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