(Editor's note: In observance of Veterans' Day, the top story will not be updated until Tuesday.)
By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Thursday's announcement that the 2014 Bassmaster Classic will take place at Alabama's Lake Guntersville was met with great enthusiasm by many of the potential participants. After all, there's no better combination for a competitive angler than big fish in the lake and big crowds at the weigh-in, and the event is a sure bet to deliver both.
It'll be Guntersville's second crack at hosting the Classic – it was the site of the first of Rick Clunn's record-equaling four victories in the sport's premier showcase in 1976. Birmingham will serve as the host city – a role it's played superbly over the years for multiple Classics at Lay and Logan Martin lakes.
If conditions are normal, the 3-day winning weight could exceed 75 pounds at Guntersville (the current Classic standard is 69-11 caught by Kevin VanDam at the Louisiana Delta in 2011). The lake is littered with fish in the 6- to 8-pound class, and late winter is an optimal time to catch them as they feed up for the impending spawn. They'll be in eating mode, and numerous tactics will entice them to chomp.
The 100-pound barrier was surpassed in each of the last two tour-level events held there (both 4-day derbies). Skeet Reese compiled 100-13 en route to the trophy in an Elite Series tournament in May 2010 and Paul Elias scaled 102-08 when he won an FLW Tour Open in October 2011.
The FLW event, of course, will go down in the sport's annals as the coming-out party for the Alabama Rig – a technique that's currently outlawed in the Classic and the Elite Series.
Lower Limits, Bigger Fish
Clunn, who's competed in a record 32 Classics but none since 2009, badly hopes to qualify for the '14 edition, which is scheduled for Feb. 21-23, 2014. Much has changed since he prevailed there 36 years ago this month, perhaps most notably a reduction in the daily limit from 10 fish to five.
He recalls being forced to pawn a Browning deer rifle in order to fund the trip.
"It's a place that evokes a lot of memories," he said. "If I hadn't won that one, I don't know if I could've stayed in the sport – that's how broke I was at the time."
His winning weight was 59.15 pounds, but he needed 27 fish to achieve it.
"I think Guntersville had the potential for big sacks back then, but nobody knew that at the time. We didn't fish for big ones, we just fished for 10 fish a day, and the first day I only caught seven.
"The focus of the anglers now on the bigger fish, the understanding that there's huge quantities of big fish in that lake and the time of year it'll be held all point toward big weights. It's very capable of giving up 25 pounds a day, and hopefully I'll be in it so I can have something to say about it."
Following are comments from some other Elite Series pros regarding Thursday's announcement.
(Springville, Ala.; 11-time Classic qualifier)
"It was a really exciting thing to hear. I went to the press conference downtown and there was a lot of excitement in the air in Birmingham.
"I'd been hearing the rumors about Birmingham, but I really thought the tournament was going to be at Lay or Logan Martin, just because that's where they've usually been in the past. This will showcase the best anglers and one of the greatest fisheries at the same time.
"I live just over an hour from there, but I don't get to fish it very much. I've done decent in a few tournaments, but I need to learn more about it because it's a big lake with a lot of fish. I'll make sure to get there this winter a few times between boat shows.
Alton Jones says the Guntersville Classic will be a big-weight event regardless of what the weather does.
"This is going to motivate all of us 'Bama boys to have good seasons (in 2013) so we can make sure we get there."
(Trussville, Ala.; 4-time Classic qualifier)
"It ought to be a great Classic and if we hit it right, the all-time weight record should fall. You can catch some giant bags at that time of year. Even if we have water that's colder than normal, that won't really affect the fish – they're going to bite.
"It'll be a challenge for the anglers because it's a stretch go get there and back from Birmingham. It's about an hour and 20-minute ride, so it'll be a long day, but I don't think you'll hear much griping when you get to have the Classic on a world-class fishery.
"I've competed there for a long time and I know my way around that lake, but I'll still be spending an awful lot of time there this winter."
(Waco, Texas; 2008 Classic champion)
"I'm so excited that I can't see straight. That's one of those lakes where it doesn't matter what the weather does, it's going to take big weights to win. Not everybody will have big bags, but for the guys who are around the right groups of big fish, we'll be talking record-breaking weights.
"It's one of the places I always look forward to going, and I've had some success there. The big ones live there."
(Hughson, Calif.; 8-time Classic qualifier)
"I think it's a cool deal. It'll be a fun event fishing-wise. The weight record will get broken there after it gets broken at Grand (next) year."
"I actually catch them better there in the pre-spawn and the spawn than I do in the post-spawn, so I'm really excited about it. There'll be more things going on than people realize – the dock-bite will be happening as well as the bank bite.
"It's an awesome lake with a ton of fish, and they bite."
(Gainesville, Fla.; 15-time Classic qualifier)
"It's a great lake in a great state and there'll be some big weights caught. It's a good little distance from Birmingham to Guntersville, but it's going to be a great Classic. Those fish will be feeding up and they'll be really heavy, and no matter how bad the weather gets, you know it's going to be okay.
Chris Lane, this year's Classic champion, says his hometown lake is "the best in the country."
"That'll be an awesome time to fish there, and it wouldn't surprise me to see some records broken."
(Palatka, Fla.; 10-time Classic qualifier)
"There's a lot of history at Guntersville and it's a great fishery, so this is one that everybody will be looking forward to. There's a lot of big fish that live there, and there's multiple things you can do to get bit.
"It'll be interesting, for sure."
(Guntersville, Ala.; 2012 Classic champion)
"In my opinion, it's the best lake in the country, and it's also the most fished lake in the country. People are going to be able to have so much interaction with the anglers that it's going to be phenomenal.
"The city of Guntersville and the whole state of Alabama are really excited and I think we're going to have record-setting crowds. People are going to want to be a part of this and turnout-wise, it should shatter the numbers of past Classics."
(Mannsville, Okla; 12-time Classic qualifier)
"It'll be exciting and it'll be a good Classic. It's a great fishery and it'll be a lot of fun.
"My record there's been pretty good and I like the lake a lot."