By Todd Ceisner
As many suspected, Lake Guntersville's grass played a crucial role in several top finishers' strategies at the Bassmaster Classic. It produced Paul Mueller's runner-up stringers and also was the focal point of third-place finisher Edwin Evers.
But grass wasn't the only factor at Guntersville. Rocks, particularly riprap banks along causeways in creek arms, came into play as the water continued to warm up through the tournament.
Here's a rundown of how the rest of the Top 5 finishers went about their business at the Classic:
3rd: Edwin Evers
> Day 1: 5, 26-13
> Day 2: 5, 20-09
> Day 3: 5, 18-05
> Total = 15, 65-11
Evers said he found the area in Goose Pond that he ultimately fished during the tournament on the second day of practice.
"It was the first time I'd ever fished in there," he said. "I really didn't know if it had any history or not."
He said the water was warmer in there than most other places he practiced and by the final day of competition it got up to 60 degrees.
"I fished the little bays where they were fixing to spawn next to the gator grass," he said. "I caught them over the grass and out in front of it on days 1 and 2."
On the final day, he had to move shallower to trigger bites.
"I got a lot of bites," he said. "I just didn't get the 10-pounder I needed. If we hadn't see those changes in conditions like we had, it probably would've been a different game."
> Shallow cranking gear: 7' medium-action Bass Pro Shops cranking rod, Bass Pro Shops CarbonLite casting reel (5.2:1 gear ratio), 10-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon line, Megabass Flap Slap (sexy French pearl), Megabass Knuckle 60 (Bahama pearl).
> Vibrating jig gear: Same rod, same reel, 20-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon line, homemade vibrating jig (green-pumpkin).
> Main factor in his success – "I just expanded on the area I'd found. I stayed in there the whole time. I just locked down in that area and stayed with it. There are so many in this lake that I think you could pick any major pocket anywhere on this lake and there are tournament-winning fish in there anywhere. I locked down in there. Maybe it hurt me, but maybe it helped me."
> Performance edge – "The new SpotlightScan is a neat deal on the Lowrance. Being able to see that grass out in front of me and how detailed it is makes it a great tool."
Ott DeFoe was fortunate to have a 6-pounder or better in his bag each day of the Classic.
4th: Ott DeFoe
> Day 1: 5, 20-10
> Day 2: 5, 22-11
> Day 3: 5, 20-01
> Total = 15, 63-06
Ott DeFoe now has two Top-5 finishes in three Classics and he can attribute his latest impressive performance to adjusting to the conditions.
He'd visited the lake for about 2 days in December, but had a general idea what was going to happen come tournament time.
"After about 2 hours on the water, I was ready to go home," he said. "I've been here enough and I know the lay of the land so catching them then didn't matter."
In practice, he caught fish on a little bit of everything in shallow and deep water. He entered the competition without a firm grasp on what would be his go-to pattern or strategy.
"The 3 days of practice, it was so cold and so much had changed," he added. "I caught four on the first day of practice, then I had 15 bites on Saturday and caught 10. I had 10 bites Sunday and caught three. It was some here and some there. I got bit on a jig shallow and deep, a swimbait, a jerkbait and couple different crankbaits and a few lipless baits.
"There was no rhyme or reason to it. Wednesday was no better. On Friday, I said it is what it is and decided to fish what looked good."
He ultimately cranked bridges, riprap banks and causeways on days 1 and 2.
"The thing that made that really good was after that storm came through and dropped 3 or 4 inches of rain, I was fishing those in creeks and I didn't expect it but that big rain was pushing a lot of water out of those creeks and that really set those fish up the first 2 days," he said. "The first place I stopped I caught three pretty quick. Then I went to another area that had been really clear where I'd actually seen some fish just cruising around. That area got really dirty, but in front of it was some riprap with some current pushing them back and forth. Once I figured that deal out I sensed I was onto something, so I found a couple different places and caught them doing that."
On day 3, the current around those areas tapered off and he shifted his attack to main-lake spots and was able to sew up a third 20-pound stringer.
"I would've liked to have started fishing bridges earlier on day 1," he added. "I'd caught three, but they were three that didn't matter and I knew that when I caught them."
> Crankbait gear: 7'8" medium-heavy Fenwick Elite Tech casting rod, Pflueger Supreme casting reel (5.4:1 ratio), 10-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, Rapala DT-6 (custom pumpkinseed color).
> He also caught some fish on a jerkbait, but the majority of his keepers and bigger fish came on the DT-6.
> Main factor in his success – "Getting big bites and getting them in. I had a 5 1/2 or 6 the first day, a 7 1/2 on day 2 and an 8-04 on day 3. Getting those bites, period, was huge, but it was important to land them."
> Performance edge – "That new Fenwick rod and the VMC hooks on the DT-6 were big in terms of confidence that I could get those fish into the boat."
Randall Tharp would've liked the weather to have remained cool and overcast throughout the tournament.
5th: Randall Tharp
> Day 1: 5, 27-08
> Day 2: 5, 19-13
> Day 3: 5, 15-07
> Total = 15, 62-12
If the Classic had been held on the weekend of the 3-day pre-practice period, Randall Tharp thinks his chances of winning would've gone way up. Instead, the weather started to trend warmer for the tournament and much of his local knowledge fell by the wayside by the time Sunday rolled around.
"My odds would've way better had the water stayed in the 40s and normal conditions," he said. "All that flow and the water warming up so rapidly, I saw real quick they were right on the bank. That's what I figured out (on day 3).
"Unfortunately, I don't have much experience here fishing the bank. All of the times I've fished here, just the last 4 or 5 years, I fish docks just because I've gotten proficient and good at it."
He mainly fished main-river grass ledges that had points and a mixture of milfoil and eelgrass, throwing lipless cranks and jerkbaits. On day 3, that pattern began to fade and he fished a stretch of docks he knows is historically good.
"There are two key pine trees on a point in a spawning cove and that's where I lost that big one," he said, referring to a 9-pounder that slipped away. "I'm not happy that I didn't make the right adjustments. It's a 3-day event and in every multi-day event, you have to make decisions and the correct adjustments."
Dating back to last fall, he's posted two wins (Forrest Wood Cup, Bassmaster Central Open) and two other Top-5s (Lake Okeechobee FLW Tour and Classic).
"Those are all solid finishes," he said. "If you keep putting yourself in position, that's how you win tournaments. I didn't get this one done. I'm going to (Lake) Hartwell (FLW Tour) next week and it's going to be Classic prep for next year."
> Lipless crankbait gear: 7'4" medium-heavy Halo cranking rod, Shimano Core 100 Mg casting reel (6.2:1 gear ratio), 14-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line, XCalibur Xr50 (royal shad).
> Jerkbait gear: 7' medium-action Halo Twilite casting rod, Shimano Core 50 Mg casting reel (7:1 gear ratio), 10-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line, SPRO McStick (blue bandit).
> Performance Edge – "The Lowrance SpotlightScan looks like it'll be a great tool. I used it a little bit only because I had it installed on my boat the day before the tournament."