By Todd Ceisner
It appears, for the time being at least, that the miserable series of polar vortexes and panic-inducing winter weather patterns that gripped the southeast over the last couple of months have relented. The bass, to be sure, are ready for a return to normalcy. So, too, are the 112 anglers set to kick off the Bassmaster Elite Series season this week at Lake Seminole along the Florida-Georgia border.
Seminole and bass (and B.A.S.S.) go way back. Wingate's Lodge, located on the lake's east end, is where Ray Scott, along with Jack Wingate and former Georgia Gov. Marvin Griffin, famously decided to form B.A.S.S. back in 1967. Since then, Seminole has held its own as one of the premier lakes in the southeast. The confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers along with Spring Creek, Lake Seminole is known for its gators, grass and beefy bass.
"You don't normally come to Seminole to catch a lot of fish," said FLW Tour pro Chad Prough, who has numerous BFL Top-10s at Seminole, including a win last year. "You'll catch 15 to 20 bass a day, but of those fish the quality is going to be out the door."
That reputation holds true to this day as just last month, Clint Brown and Terry Stevens caught a 38.88-pound limit during a Media Bass team tournament. It'll be a stretch to see a comparable stringer this week, but the lake is plenty capable of churning out healthy numbers of 20- to 25-pound sacks, especially during the pre-spawn/spawn time period, which seems to be the prevailing phase right now.
For the handful of pros pulling two-tour duty this season, this is the second leg of a grueling six-week stretch of tournaments stacked one after the other. So far, though, it seems to be the way to go as anglers chasing both circuits this season – Brett Hite and Casey Ashley – won the first two FLW Tour events.
Three anglers in this week's field have tour-level wins to their credit at Seminole: Shaw Grigsby (2000), Michael Iaconelli (2002) and Gary Klein (2003) while two others – Cliff Prince and Randall Tharp – registered Top-5 finishes at the 2010 Southern Open there.
The race to the Angler of the Year championship set for September at Bay de Noc in Michigan starts this week at Lake Seminole, which is hosting its first Elite Series event.
Before getting into more about the bite, here's the lowdown on the lake itself.
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake Name: Lake Seminole
> Type of Water: Lowland reservoir
> Surface Acres (full pool): 37,500 acres
> Primary structure/cover: Hydrilla, laydowns, stumps, standing timber, docks
> Primary forage: Shad
> Average depth: 10 feet
> Species: Largemouths, spotted bass
> Minimum length: 12 inches
> Reputation: Regarded as one of the best big-fish lakes in the south
> Weather: Expected to be clear and in the 60s the first 2 days, but rain is in the forecast for the weekend
> Water temp: High 60s
> Water visibility/color: Some stain, but plenty of backwaters with clean water. Likely to muddy up with looming rains, wind
> Water level: Full pool
> Fish in: 1 to 8 feet
> Fish phase: Pre-spawn/spawn
> Primary patterns: Spinnerbaits, flipping, Texas-rigged plastics, swimbaits, swimjigs, flukes, ChatterBaits, sight-fishing
> Winning weight: 91 pounds (4 days)
> Check weight: (Top 50): 30 pounds (2 days)
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 2
> Biggest factors: Weather. How much rain and wind the area gets will dictate how accessible those bedding fish will be.
> Biggest decision: Which river or stay in the lake.
> Wildcard: Offshore bite. There are plenty of casting options around, be it stumps or grass beds.
Below is a map of how Seminole lays out. The field will launching out of Bainbridge, Ga., along the Flint River.
Here's the Deal
At first blush, the conditions at Seminole this week appear to be aligned in such a way that BassFans could be treated to a dandy of a pre-spawn/spawning derby. With clearing water after some rains last week, sight-fishing opportunities were readily available across the lake early on in practice. So, too, were fish in and around staging areas in 3 to 8 feet whether it was on grass or sand flats. Either way, it appears this tournament will be a skinny-water shootout.
"One wave of spawners have already come up, but it wasn't a big wave so I've got a real strong feeling that this weekend is when the big wave is going to hit the hill," Prough added.
Clint Brown and Terry Stevens hold up their nearly 39-pound limit caught during a tournament last month at Lake Seminole.
However, a cold front started to move through Tuesday night, bringing with it rain and wind and overnight lows in the 40s (Wednesday), nearly 20 degrees cooler than nighttime temps earlier this week. The low Thursday night is expected to be in the mid-30s and such drastic temperature swings don't always sit well with Florida-strain largemouth.
At the same time, it's mid-March and the water temperature is in the 60s and a full moon is slated for Sunday. Usually, that equates to waves of fish moving toward their spawning grounds, making them easy prey for more than 100 anglers.
"Currently, there is a major push toward the beds right now, but with the cold front coming through on Wednesday, things might change for Thursday, but not drastically," said Paul Tyre, who guides out of Wingate's Lodge. "Friday, Saturday and Sunday should be great for bed fishing."
The forecast for Thursday and Friday is calling for clear skies and sun both days but the weekend will bring with it another front as additional rain is expected Saturday and thunderstorms are possible on Sunday.
Notes from the Field
Following are practice notes from a few of the anglers who'll be competing this week.
"It's a sweet place to fish no doubt, but it's been tough on me and a lot of other guys as well. The fish are changing a lot and they're going to keep changing. Pre-fishing for that is going to be tough. It's almost the opposite of the Classic because now the fish are set up, but we have a cold front and high winds coming in and those are the worst possible conditions to sight-fish in. Not to mention these are Florida fish and they get super finicky when it gets like that.
"The first 2 days I practiced different and I've seen some fish doing a little of everything. You can get into an area with a lot of fish in it whether they're spawning or just swimming around. All you can hope for is put yourself in an area and if I can't see them, maybe fish around and catch some."
Cliff Crochet hasn't had a strong practice, but he thinks going against the grain might help him out this week.
"I had a really good day Monday. I know I could've caught a big bag. On Tuesday, I didn't do a lot of fishing, but I did a lot of looking. I saw where quite a few fish moved up, but I'm concerned about the front coming. These bass are the closest thing to Florida fish that you can get and when we're getting wind and all that good stuff, if they go hard to the bed, it might be hard to see them and find them. I just need to find more areas.
"If I'm in over 4 feet that's too deep. I know there will be guys who will catch them out there – I have some friends who are throwing a (Rat-L-Trap) and they might catch one or two good ones, but they can't duplicate it.
"It's a good lake. It's got 'em and big ones, too. If we didn't have this front coming in, it'd be one of those events with a lot of 20-pound bags. With the weather coming in and the wind blowing hard, it changes things."
"So far, it 's not been good. I have not seen those 22- to 24-pound stringers that we're supposed to see. I'm probably not fishing the right patterns and probably not fishing what I need to be fishing, but sometimes that's what you do to win. My biggest fish so far has been a 3-pounder.
"The weather is kind of weird, too. It's the first week of March and you think they should be doing this and the water temperature is this. You can get caught up in that and not handle your business. I've caught about 15 fish a day and they've mostly been in 62- to 64-degree water."
"I was here once last fall to do a TV show with Charlie Ingram and it gave me a chance to get a look at it, but this is my first time in a tournament here. It seems like you can get into a little area and there will be some fish, but there's also a lot of dead water and places I'm not getting bites. There are a lot of bucks up (on bed), but very few females. We (had some rain) Tuesday night and it's supposed to get cooler.
"I could go one of two ways right now. We'll see what the changing conditions will do, but I think with the low coming they might bite a little better. I really don't know what to expect here. I know this place has 'em. There's too much grass for it not to."
Top 10 To Watch
With the above in mind and more, here, in no particular order, is BassFan's recommendation on the Top 10 to watch at this event:
1. Bobby Lane – Has done well at Seminole in the past and is brimming with confidence entering the new season.
2. Brett Hite – Followed up his FLW Tour win at Lake Okeechobee with a Top-10 at Lake Hartwell. He can be streaky and right now, he's on a roll.
3. Todd Faircloth – The big Texan just put another Classic Top 10 next to his name. He's typically strong on shallow, grass lakes and Seminole seems to be right in his wheelhouse.
4. J. Todd Tucker – He's the de facto hometown favorite, hailing from nearby Moultrie, Ga., plus he's partial to sight-fishing derbies.
Todd Faircloth is usually a powerhouse in early-season tournaments on grass fisheries.
5. Randall Tharp – He's fished three tournaments so far and has a 4th, 5th and 13th to his credit. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?
6. Ott DeFoe – Fresh off a 4th-place effort at the Classic, he's been fairly strong during the month of March in recent years.
7. Jason Christie – Earned $10,000 checks in each of the first two FLW Tour events. He's at his best in shallow water and this time of year is one of his strong suits.
8. Justin Lucas – Set to make his Elite Series debut this week, he is coming off a Top-5 finish at the Smith Lake Open.
9. Alton Jones – He'll certainly be one to watch next week at St. Johns, but if there's a plethora of fish on beds expect him to be on the prowl.
10. Randy Howell – Fresh off a Classic win, his mind's probably still spinning from his triumph at Guntersville. Momentum is a valuable commodity in this game and he's got some serious mojo going.
> Anglers will launch at 7:30 a.m. ET all 4 days from Earle May Boat Basin (100 Boat Basin Circle, Bainbridge, GA 39819). Weigh-ins all 4 days will begin at 4 p.m. EST at the same location.
> Thurs., March 13 – Clear - 60°/36°
- Wind: From the NNW at 10 to 15 mph
> Fri., March 14 – Clear - 69°/45°
- Wind: From the SE at 5 to 10 mph
> Sat., March 15 – Chance of Rain - 70°/57°
- Wind: From the SE at 5 to 10 mph
> Sun., March 16 – Chance of Thunderstorms - 73°/58°
- Wind: From the SE at 5 to 10 mph