For most people, the Christmas and New Year’s holiday is a time of relaxation with family and friends, but that’s only part of the story for the 18 Yamaha Pros who will be fishing in the Bassmaster Classic® in February. For many of them, at least part of the Christmas season was spent bass fishing and scouting Alabama’s Lake Guntersville, site of the 2014 world championship. The lake went off-limits to all competitors Dec. 31.
“I went to the lake right after Christmas,” noted Yamaha’s Cliff Pace, winner of the 2013 Classic® on Grand Lake. “I’ve had both good and bad tournaments on Guntersville over the years, but this event has the potential to be one of the greatest Classics® we’ve had in many years. Guntersville ranks as one of America’s top bass lakes, and February can be one of the best times to fish there.”
Pace can be excused for not visiting Guntersville sooner, because he’s been celebrating the holidays since December 5 when his first child, daughter Jordan Baylee, was born. Other Yamaha Pros, like Greg Vinson, have been making periodic trips to the lake since October. Vinson finished second in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic® on the Red River and hopes Guntersville may set up well for his style of fishing.
“Guntersville is famous for its milfoil vegetation, which has helped create the great fishing,” he noted, “so I spent my scouting time there looking for places I think the milfoil will be growing in February, because that’s where the bass are going to be. I’d really like to find just one or two key areas, but so far, I haven’t found any places that might be dominant. It’s good from one end of the lake to the other.”
Fellow Yamaha Pro Alton Jones agrees. He won the 2008 Classic® and likewise spent his scouting time looking for potentially strong areas that bass may be using in February. Guntersville contains more than 69,000 acres, but Jones concentrated on only about 20,000 acres during his trip there in early December because he knew he couldn’t learn the entire lake.
“It’s exciting because it may take as much as 70 pounds of bass to win, and those fish can come from dozens of different places,” Jones said. “I believe shallow crankbaiting around the milfoil will play an important part in the tournament, and that’s one of my favorite ways to fish.”
Like Pace, Jones waited until December to look at Guntersville, but for a different reason. He’s helping with a fisheries management program on the La Perla Ranch in south Texas where the owners are hoping to grow a new world record largemouth. Right after his scouting trip on Guntersville, he and the ranch owners shocked up a five year old bass weighing
Yamaha Pro Cliff Crochet made two trips to Guntersville in early November between games with the junior high school football team he coaches during the off-season, and one day there he caught five bass weighing 18 pounds. Overall, however, he spent most of his time idling and looking.
“For the 2010 Classic® at Lay Lake near Birmingham, I pre-fished the lake hard prior to the cut-off, but it really didn’t do me much good,” Crochet remembered, “because the water and the fish changed between November and February. “This time, I looked more at how the milfoil was growing, and where I think it may be growing, and I was encouraged.
“Everybody knows the lake is full of bass and that some big catches will be made, and that’s fun to think about.”
“Guntersville is one of the lakes on the Tennessee River system, and it can change overnight,” concluded Pace. “When I go, I won’t fish very much at all, either. What I’m really hoping to do is narrow my fishing options and just establish a starting point when the official practice begins, but I’m like Alton in that I believe this Classic® will be won in water 10 feet or less, and around the vegetation.
“Of course, I want to win again, but no matter how it turns out, I know it’s going to be exciting.”
Other Yamaha Pros who have won previous Bassmaster Classics® and will be competing at Guntersville include Mark Davis (1995), Michael Iaconelli (2003), and Takahiro Omori (2004).