The 2014 Bassmaster Classic will be held on Feb. 21-23, and they rightfully call it the “World Series of Bass Fishing.”
No other tournament puts so many top anglers together to compete for big money and the life-altering experience that comes with being named a Classic Champion. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to prepare for this major fishing event?
A lot of the contestants, including Alton Jones, winner of the 2008 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Hartwell, traveled to Alabama in December to pre-fish 69,000-acre Lake Guntersville, located along the banks of the Tennessee River in northeast Alabama and the site of this year's Classic.
Guntersville event folks go all out for this grand event – the bass grow huge and there's quantity as well as quality. If conditions are right and you are on your game, you could be culling fish all weekend long and all excited participants know this.
But lakes change throughout the year, and bass adapt to those changes. Guntersville went off limits for fishing to contestants at the end of December, so no one in the field will have a chance to find these bass until the week of the tournament.
A lot of changes take place during that winter interim. Where the bass are located and what they’re relating to is different in late December than in late February.
“The first thing I tell myself is not to fish too much,” Jones said. “Instead of looking for fish, I pay more attention to how the grass is laid out, where the green beds are thickest, marking structure near promising locations and investigating areas I was unfamiliar with. I did these things with an eye to February fishing, not to find December bass. A spot that produces bass in December isn't necessarily a place I will fish during the Classic.”
However, finding schools of bass ganged up on a particular piece of structure in mid-winter can help Jones put together the puzzle for February. River and creek channels are key locations in winter, and they will remain so right up until the bass migrate in spring.
December bass position on channel edges, and you might find a similar situation in February, but you, too, might find them shallower, particularly if a warming trend has brought them to more shallow water.
“Finding channel bends and other winter fish-holding areas adjacent to spring foraging flats and spawning areas is critical for me,” Jones said. You can visualize the bass migration and anticipate their position, adjusting to the weather and water conditions. Cover also is important, but Guntersville is rich with underwater foliage like hydrilla and milfoil rather than wood.”
Jones has found that vegetation changes seasonally while wood just slowly rots away, so a lake where the bass relate to vegetation is more volatile than one with lots of wood. If you have a cold winter, a lot of your shallow vegetation is going to die. The grass that is left becomes a magnet for bass. Fresh hydrilla or milfoil can pretty much hold bass year-round.
“What I was looking for in December was vegetation that was just a little bit deeper because it’s better insulated from the winter chill,” Jones said. “There was still plenty of grass available, but if we have a cold month or so the only substantial grass left will be the deep stuff. If I can find that deep grass, I have a starting point.”
But what if the lake receives a few weeks of warmer weather as the Classic nears? Bass may switch to pre-spawn mode, and one of the keys to finding them will be fresh green growth. It may be growing only an inch or two or three off the bottom of the lake, but the bass will likely be there.
Everything for Jones depends on weather as the tournament gets closer. He will arrive with wintertime baits and warmer water pre-spawn baits, then adjust to the situation.
“Several different types of baits could play a role – a lipless crankbait, a Rogue, a YUM Money Minnow, even a Fat Free Shad,” Jones said. “I don’t know which one is the right one because I don’t know what the fish will be doing when I get there. But I’ll have each lure type – and more – ready to go when official practice time begins.”
Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org