Classic Breakdown – Are you ready?

Vance McCullough

The one thing that nobody knows, that I know, because I fish this lake a lot,”
began Matt Herren, before looking over his shoulder, lowering his voice, and apparently still guarding some of the secret for himself, “ . . . tomorrow, I can only tell ya, somebody finds that situation, it will be a heck of a beat down. I caught a 9.74 in water about that deep, said the Alabama angler, arms spread not far apart to illustrate that the fish had come from very shallow water.

Herren noted rising water temps during practice. “It went from about 48 to 52 degrees. They want to go. The only thing is, between all the rain, all the changes, the water keeps falling out, everything is so spun-out, they’re just kindahung up.”

“I think they actually move on the hour,” noted Hank Cherry.

Techniques are as plentiful as the eel grass on Guntersville right now. Crankbaits, traps, bladed jigs, jig jigs – take your pick. The jerkbait was mentioned surprisingly often. More often, it was seen in an open rod locker but not mentioned. The silence speaks volumes.

Cherry had no problem talking about it. Then again, everybody expects him to throw the jerkbait anyway so no harm in spilling the worst-kept secret at the 2020 Bassmaster Classic. “I am going to do it. I’m not going to be able to rely on it the whole time, but I am definitely going to throw it. I haven’t been getting a lot of bites but the ones I’m getting are the right ones so yeah, it’s definitely going to be a player. Not just for me but for other people too.”

Cherry says a lot depends on how fish position themselves. “If he’s buried down in the grass, three feet deep, he won’t come up for it. If you can get it front of them, they’ll eat it. Sunshine will get them up.

The forecast calls for increasing sun as the tournament progresses.

Camping, anyone? Herren says it will be important to pick a good area and sit tight, waiting for what might be brief bite windows to open up. Cherry agrees. “The guy that sits still and waits on them, that’s going to be the guy that capitalizes. I think patience is going to be a big thing.”

Anglers are excited to get on the water tomorrow. Fish are bunched into big groups which can be easy to miss but which, if found, could make a man famous in a matter of minutes.

Bass on the ‘Big G are shallow. So a bank-robber such as John Cox should feel right at home, right? Not so fast. “Everybody’s like ‘you catch ‘em shallow here’ and you do, but your ‘shallow’ here is still a hundred yards from the bank,” smiles Cox. “It’s a different kind of shallow.” Cox is looking for typical prespawn funnels that lead fish onto and off of flats as the water moves up and down; heats up and cools off. He’s searching for a spot similar to the hump he found on Lake Sam Rayburn last month when he won the first FLW Pro Tour event of the year.

He is still in search mode, but Cox found a good starting point. “I did get into one area. I looked at it on the map and it looked right. I made three casts and caught a three-and-a-half. I wanted to feel around it a little more, but I want it to be fresh when I get there Day One. I want to learn it as the tournament goes on. I didn’t want to get too caught up with right where they were at that point in time.” Cox then admitted that he simply likes surprises. “I’m going to come back and find out tomorrow.”

His tendency to live in the moment may be Cox’s greatest strength as an angler. It will serve him well this week as the lake and its fish undergo constant changes.

Other anglers are hoping things don’t change too much. “I’ll know real quick whether I’m in trouble or I’m in the fish,” said Drew Benton. “The last day of practice I rolled into an area and I made six casts in six different directions and I had six bites. I’m pretty excited to go fishing.”

Another young pro who is excited to go fishing on Friday is Drew Cook, your 2019 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year. “I have a good track record here. I like Guntersville a lot and Guntersville likes me a lot. This lake helped me make the Elite Series. I was very disappointed with my finish here in last year’s Elite tournament. My fault. It was June, I spent the whole practice idling, looking, never made a cast. Then I caught every fish in less than six feet of water in the derby.”

Cook is hoping the lake that helped him establish a career will help him take it to the next level. “This could change my life.”

Paul Mueller almost won it all on Guntersville in 2014. His Day Two effort was worth over 32 pounds. With a sub-ten-pound first round, Mueller eventually finished a pound behind Randy Howell. A pound. And $255,000.

This time around Mueller seeks consistency, along with outstanding weights. “If somebody could be consistent with big bags each day, I think they’ll have a very good shot at it. I can tell you, from being out here in practice, it has not been easy.”

Having won last month’s Elite Series opener on the St Johns River, Mueller isn’t feeling any momentum going into the Classic. “I’m not one to buy in to the momentum thing. Every tournament is its own challenge. Obviously, this is a very challenging event, with all the weather change, with all the rain. When it changes, you have to change with it, make the adjustments necessary when the time comes.”

The bites may be slow in coming but the rewards will be big. Brock Moseley has considerable experience on Guntersville and he expects the pros to put on a great weigh in show each day for the thousands of fans at LegacyArena in Birmingham as well as millions more following via internet. “Just for what this time of year should bring, we should have some heavy, heavy weights even though it’s not easy to get bit.”

Mosely said what everybody is thinking: “If I can get to Sunday.” Anglers expect conditions to improve each day as the Classic unfolds, meaning those who make it to Sunday’s championship round have the best shot at blowing it out with a megabag and taking the trophy.

The key is to stay on the pace the first two days. Herren prepping tackle, his favorite Kistler flippin’ stick across his lap, bites off a tungsten weight and Spicy Beaver and shakes his head, “Lord, let me get to Sunday, close enough to catch ‘em (the competition and the fish). Let it go up to 65 degrees and sunny in the afternoon and I’ll take my chances.”