Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bassmaster Classic on Guntersville Lake Review

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Well, I am in gorgeous Ogden, Utah for work. I just finished up for the day and had some spare time on my hands. Sure, I am going to hit the gym in a little while, but I figured I would tell you about my experience watching the Bassmaster Classic live and in person. It didn't really sink in until later, but Josh and I had a moment where we realized that this was the Super Bowl of fishing and we had front row seats. Literally. How fortunate were we to have the event on our home lake and have the ability to go watch it?
Now, first off, I was very skeptical of everything I had heard about records being set. I am not a good fisherman and I probably will never claim to be, but the pressure that Guntersville has been under has made it difficult on me and many others, from what I had read. I expected the weights to be very moderate and certainly not better than the local sticks who continue to bring in 30 pound sacks. But, I understand that wasn't the popular opinion, after all....everyone recalls what the last few events on this lake have produced. But, I have fished here a lot. I have read a lot. And I knew just how hard this lake has been fished leading up to the event. Fish don't usually get dumber.
I had hoped to go both Friday and Saturday but with the upcoming trip to Utah, I decided to attend on Saturday only. The weather took a turn for the worse and Friday was not terribly kind to the fisherman. I figured I dodged a bullet. The fish couldn't hold out forever and I knew these guys who figure it out eventually. My fantasy team, however, with JVD, Carden, Ashley, Monroe and Chris Lane did well, though Chris Lane, who was the man to beat I thought, absolutely struggled on a lake where he owns a home.

 I expected Saturday to be a madhouse. I had gone on record to many of my friends and said I expected there to be 1,000 boats on the water. At least. I expected the ramps to be swamped. We put in at Seibold as it seemed that most of the leaders were fishing there. The ramp wasn't very easy and we were able to quickly get in the water by 6. It was the first time I could ever remember not being able to see a boat on the water. We were able to go graph some spots for future use as well. It was tough for me to leave my rods on the deck, but I knew it was the right thing to do, etiquette and all. We were able to graph about 10 places that we plan to fish in the upcoming tournaments.

Right on time, we heard the boats come storming up from Guntersville. There were so many boats it was hard to identify who the pros were. Luckily, Bobby Lane and Iaconelli stopped just inside of Seibold within a few hundred yards of us. With Iaconelli's high entertainment value, we figured that was as good a place to start as any. Ironically, they stopped in a place that has been a good prespawn spot for me. Funny how that works, I thought. What was even funnier was that the two were within a cast distance of each other. I assume they had talked beforehand and established that they would both fish that area. But, I am not so sure. After all, Guntersville is a huge lake and I would think they would both have other places. I guess they each thought there was something worth catching and they were either willing to share or willing to compete for it. Ironically, neither caught a thing in the spot, so we moved across the creek channel to where Roumbanis was fishing. He was one of the leaders in day one and you could tell by the 50 boats following him around. While I thought most people did a fair job of being respectful, I don't think the meager 50 yards was enough. But, it was hard on the spectators as he would frequently flip 180 degrees to make a cast. And his casts were LLLOOONNNGGG. So, when in doubt, scoot back. Of course, I found ironic that the live bloggers complained about the amount and distance of the spectators, yet the boats that came the closest were media boats who would unload photographers and other media personnel directly onto the pros boat. But, hey, I guess it's ok when it's about the money. (sarcasm)

Roumbanis failed to catch a fish on the big swimbait that he was chunking, though we saw him miss several and get hung up a couple of times. Though I didn't wish getting hung up on him, it did give me a lot of insight into how he was fishing. But I think I will keep some nuggets to myself. :-)

We left him and ran upriver just a piece where we found Chris Lane fishing a shallow ledge. Josh and I chuckled when we realized that he was fishing the exact spot we had graphed just a few short hours ago. It was a spot that we caught a lot of fish during the SNUFISH Tournament a year ago. We watched him bag a short fish. After a few minutes, he picked up and left. We lost him in the crowd. Don't ask me how!

We moved down lake to the allreds area and Brownscreek, as we had read that there were a lot of fish being caught. We watched Shimizu work the ledge just off of the 431 bridge, another spot I have fished with success, notably a terrific day with Basswhacker. Shimzu bagged a short fish and he headed back to the main river towards Honeycomb.

We headed further back into Brownscreek where we found current leader Tharpe fishing a rip rap stretch. This was really the first NEW thing I had seen so far. All the other techniques and areas were things I have tried and had success with. Tharpe worked the area hard catching and culling a fish. He looked to be throwing a jerkbait and a swimbait, alternating. Then he headed out.

Just on the other side of the rip rap roadway we found John Crews, who I respect and thoroughly enjoy his products. Amazingly, he was all by himself. Not a single follow boat aside from what looked like to be some personal friends of his. He was really struggling and had resulted to throwing a shakey head on rip rap. But he found no takers. While we watched, I Tweeted. Look who responded!

Before we knew it, it was time for the pros to take out so we headed to the ramp. While they each waited for their trucks, each pro was readily available to fans. Many of them didn't wish to talk as they had had rough days on the water. I exchanged pleasantries with Iaconelli, who was obviously bothered by his turnout with under 20 pounds for his time on the water in both days. We found KVD, who also seemed to be bothered. We snapped some pictures of him but didn't bother him.

What is unique about Bassmasters is the availability of the pros (whether they like it or not) to the general public. After all, I was literally able to troll over to any of the pros as they waited to load up and talk to them. It also means that follow boats have the ability to be extremely rude, whether they realize it or not. Tharpe, for example, had boats within 10 yards of him as he fished. Some even in front of him, though not on his line. Still, too close.

I was also amazed that guys like Chris Lane, who won the Classic last year, had ZERO follow boats at time, as did Iaconelli. I never thought that would be the case, but I enjoyed it. But, they usually had no boats because they weren't catching fish. And, on the topic of Lane and other local guys like Swindle to finish in the bottom of the pack? Sure, someone HAS to finish last, but I didn't expect to find Skeet Reese, Swindle, and Lane in that pack.

That brings me to the last bit. Man, was the lake tough! We saw a grand total of 4 fish caught all day and only one keeper in the mix! There were exactly 9 boats who averaged at or above 20 pounds a day for the 3 day event. Only 5 bags over 25 pounds. Period. And, what happened to the 30 pound bags EVERYONE expected to be the norm? Exactly 1, though Howell brought in 29 and change the last day to win it. Granted, the weather was tough. I wouldn't have fished it if I had the choice. Ok, that's a lie. Weather has never stopped me, but I would have expected it. I'm sure the pros knew it was coming, too. But, it just shows that you can't hype of things too much or you will never meet or exceed the expectations. Certainly it was hard to beat the last Bassmaster event on Guntersville where you had to average 25 pounds a day for 4 days just to get a check.
I don't want anyone to struggle at fishing. That's why I started out writing this blog. I admit, however, that seeing these guys struggle did make me feel better about my own struggles. Now, I struggle because I am not any good at fishing. They struggled because the weather turned on them. Still, even the best bass fishermen in the world, with all the resources they have, and the time they spend, still can't make the fish bite all the time. And, that's important when making expectations, whether it's about the biggest event in fishing, or your next trip on the water.