By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Competitors in the 44th Bassmaster Classic at Alabama's Lake Guntersville will get a final look at the venue today before the event gets under way on Friday. Some are wondering whether anything they discovered during the 3-day practice period that concluded on Sunday will hold up this week.
The lake is emerging from an unusually frigid Southern winter and is less than 2 weeks removed from having some of its most remote locales covered with ice. There's been a major reversal in the weather pattern in recent days, however, with daytime air temperatures in the 60s adding several degrees to the water temps.
The big fish that swim in Guntersville have undoubtedly noticed the change. More significantly, they'll certainly react to it, and many of them won't be inhabiting the same haunts they were using last weekend.
Today will be critically important for most in the 55-angler field as they determine where they'll go and what they'll do first when they depart from the launch on Friday morning. Here are a few insights into what some have discovered so far and what they expect to see going forward.
"My practice hasn't been all that great and I didn't really want it to be. The weather coming in will be changing things throughout the week, in my opinion, and I'm kind of glad I didn't blister them too hard. I caught some fish and I've got some ideas, but I'm not locked into anything yet and I think that's a good thing. I definitely want to get out there (today) and gauge the water temperature and get a better feel for what the fish are doing.
"This will probably be one of those tournaments where guys went through some potential winning areas last weekend and never got a bite, but they could come back this Friday and have it be leaded. At the same time, areas that were real good last weekend won't have anything this weekend.
"I have a couple areas I like, so now it's time to dial it in a little (today)."
"I went out every day from dawn to dark and it was pretty unbelievable seeing everything around me so white (from snow). It reminded me that this is the Bassmaster Classic and I have to bring everything I have whether we're getting sleet or snow or whatever. That was good motivation for me as far as knowing I need to excel and find the right group of fish.
"The water temperatures we've seen so far have been very cold and that forces you to really slow down. That's all going to change, though, and it's going to be a matter of adapting to the conditions.
Seeing the land surrounding Guntersville covered by snow has been a unique sight for Dean Rojas, who's visited the lake many times.
"I think (today) could be the most important day we've had yet because it's going to set the tone for the weekend and everyone is going to determine which group of fish they're going to go after on Friday."
"It's been okay for me. I spent a lot of time with the new Lowrance SpotlightScan, looking at a lot of grass in front of me, making some casts to it before idling over the top of it. I think that might play a huge factor – knowing that the grass is there before you have to go over it with the big motor to see it.
"I feel really good and I feel like I accomplished a lot. I spent most of the time looking and the few times I found what I thought was the right stuff, I'd fish and get a bite. That always makes you happy.
"I'm going to use (today) to check on a couple of places that I think have potential, then I'm going to try to find some more stuff."
"I haven't had a really good practice. They first day I caught nine fish, but most of them weren't big ones. I'd been here once before at this time of year and didn't get many bites, but the ones I did get were solid fish. I was shocked to get that many bites that first day, but three were non-keepers, four were 15-inchers and two were decent ones. I thought I was on to something, but it didn't pan out the next day.
"I told myself that when it warmed up for the last day things would get better, but I only caught two fish. That kind of hurt my feelings right there.
"Just looking at a map or trying to read the water from the surface, you can't really tell what's going on. The only way you can figure out the quality of (a particular piece of) grass is to just fish, and it's time-consuming. I don't think this one's going to be won by a guy covering water with one bait – you're going to need one or two or three key spots that happen to replenish.
"(Today) is going to be very important to me. I'd love to just scrap everything I've done so far and go find something new because I don't think I can win on what I've got."
"From a timing perspective, I really don't think we could've hit this any better. This warmer weather should make them bite. The fish might not bite because fish have been known to make people look like liars, but I doubt that's going to happen.
"I'm curious to see (today) how much things have changed, because fish react quickly. There's been some good fish to be caught so far, but not a lot of numbers – not for me, anyway. When you get a warming trend, those numbers generally start to increase.
"The exciting part for me is waiting for the first-day weigh-in to see what it's going to take (to contend). There's likely going to be several bags over 25 pounds that day. I think this is going to be one for the books."
"To be honest, I don't feel like I've landed around the right group of fish. That being said, I've got (today's) practice to try to home in on that area.
Stephen Browning is convinced that the Classic will won from water that's 10 feet deep or shallower.
"I didn't get a lot of bites and the few I did get, I didn't catch. I'm just going to have to go on my gut. I feel pretty good because this is my kind of fishing – I think it's going to be won in 10 feet of water or less and I can back the boat in there and know that I don't have to cover a huge part of the water column.
"I know I can catch them in the dirt and I can catch them in 8 or 10 feet, so I just have to hope I land on the right bunch."
"I don't feel like I accomplished anything and I'm almost a little bit scared. I fished a lot of areas that looked good and didn't get any bites. That leaves me with 7 or 8 hours (today) and there's a lot of places I want to fish and a lot of things I want to try, but what I find then might change again by Friday.
"You always want to get some bites so you have some confidence in an area or a bait. I might have to rank the places I've been in my head as far as what looked the best and just go there on the first day and fish and hope they're there.
"I think this tournament's going to be won on the fly – the guy who wins will figure things out on Friday sometime and then just roll with it."
"I think a lot is still going to change (before Friday). The last day we were out there it warmed up and it's going to warm up some more between now and when we take off. The interesting thing about Classics is there could be a night-and-day difference from a week before it all happens.
"Tomorrow's going to be important because I'd like to find an area and get a couple bites. I can equate if back to the tournament on Guntersville that I led for 3 days (in 2005) and I only got two bites in practice.
"You just have to make good decisions and land in the right area where the fish are coming to you."