DECATUR, Ala. – There are no vegetarian bass, and the Tennessee River's offering no incentive for such a dietary option, as the FLW Tour Open field takes to a Lake Wheeler literally brimming with bait.
"There's bait from the top of the water column to the bottom, out on the river ledges all the way to the backs of the pockets," said Straight Talk pro Scott Canterbury.
Such baitfish prevalence, he said, is exacerbating an existing seasonal challenge. This is the time of year when bass abandon their hot summer patterns and head for creeks and pockets where they'll gorge on shad. This week isn't likely to see any mass migrations, as conditions and food status are not prompting any significant changes.
"There's tons of fish in the river but they're just in a funk right now. It's the late summer and the water temperature hasn't really fallen yet. The summer fish that have been out on ledges have been beaten on all summer long and they're wanting to transition (to fall patterns) and go shallow. But the fish can be anywhere. They don't have to go back (shallow) to find bait – they can eat anywhere they want. They can be in between the ledge and the backs of creeks or pockets. Anywhere they open their mouth, they can eat."
Canterbury said he'll keep a variety of baits handy, but he believes his best bet will be slower presentations with plastics. He didn't catch a lot of fish in practice, but those he did seemed to prefer a bait that stayed in easy reach.
Chevy pro Jay Yelas will look for bass schooling on baitfish and tempt them with a jigging spoon, crankbait and worms. He'll also try to find a few flipping bites.
Ohio pro Charlie Hartley agrees with the bait analyses, but he'll take a more wide open approach. He pulled out multiple rods this morning with an assortment of jigs, Texas-rigged plastics, Rat-L-Traps and small crankbaits.
"I've had a lot of success this time of year on this body of water just junk fishing," Hartley said. "If something will sit still, I'll pitch at it and then keep moving. The fish are scattered this time of year and you're happy to get a bite or two and if I fish really hard, I can get a bite or two.
"You want to throw anything that imitates a shad. They are eating shad and you want to be where the bait is and that's the key. You want to look like the bait, or just a little bit different."
Rookie of the Year Clent Davis will try to imitate shad – specifically, the large ones. He had a topwater tied on and said he'll likely walk the big bait throughout the day.
"I'm not getting many bites on this bait, but when I do it's a good one," Davis said. "This time of the year, I'm not fishing for points, so I'm fishing for a win. I'll be targeting laydowns, rocks – anything that breaks current is what I'll be targeting today. I'm fishing for individual fish. I didn't get on any numbers this week, so this will be my plan. If I get five in the boat, it will be a pretty good day."
A calm, sunny and cool morning greeted anglers at the day-one launch – predictable conditions, given the cold front that passed through about a day prior. As Michigan pro Tommy Robinson reported, the front side of the weather system brought torrential rains that raised the lake level. The ever-diligent TVA is presently sending some of that water downstream, so anglers can expect a healthy dose of current, and that's a good thing for those who hunt the green fish.
"Days like today are beautiful days to be on the water but it usually makes the bite tough when it's bluebird with no wind," Yelas said. "What it usually does is get's fish more around cover so I'll do more flipping than I did in practice. Today that should be better and you try to use the current conditions to your advantage.
"The other big factor today that's different from practice is they're pulling a bunch of water due to the rain we had on Monday and Tuesday. There's a lot more current today and typically in the Tennessee River, that stimulates the fish to feed and that helps the bite. So there could be some patterns that emerge today that didn't work in practice because there's a lot more current and the sun will be out. You have to keep an open mind to that stuff because the Tennessee River changes a lot with conditions so you just have to go try and adapt."
On the back of the boat, co-anglers will likely experience a challenging day. Retired Colonel Timothy Dearing – the Forrest Wood Cup co-angler champion – said he had great difficulty finding keepers in practice.
"It's going to be a challenge today because most of the fish I caught in practice were not even 12 inches," he said. "There was a lot of little fish. And, of course, it's post-cold front, bluebird day so that's going to make it even more challenging. My goal is just to catch a couple of keepers and I think a couple of keepers is going to keep the co-anglers in business today."
Dearing will throw a chatterbait and a weightless fluke. If his pro (Hartley) ends up near shallow structure, he'll pitch soft plastics.
Good thing is that the flat calm conditions of day one will allow anglers to run wherever they please. Today's weigh-in will likely see a handful of big sacks past 15 pounds, but keeper limits may prove challenging for some.
During FLW Tour competition, pros supply the boats, fish from the front deck against other pros and control boat movement. Co-anglers fish from the back deck and compete against other co-anglers. Anglers are permitted to weigh in their best five bass each day. Every angler who receives weight credit in a tournament earns points that determine angler standings. The full field competes on days one and two. After Friday’s day-two weigh-in, both the co-angler and pro fields will be cut to the top 20. On day three, the co-angler champion will be crowned based on the field’s three-day accumulated weight. Also on Saturday, the pro field will be cut down to the top 10 pros. The remaining pro field will then compete during Sunday’s final round of tournament action. The pro winner ultimately will be determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from all four days.
The tournament will feature a full field with top awards of up to $125,000 in the Pro Division and up to $25,000 in the Co-angler Division.
Tourney Expo and Logistics
In FLW Tour Open competition, anglers are also vying for valuable points in hopes of qualifying for the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup, the world championship of bass fishing. The 2013 Forrest Wood Cup will be in Shreveport, La., Aug. 15-18 on the Red River.
Anglers will take off from Ingalls Harbor located at 802 Wilson St. in Decatur at 6:30 a.m. daily. Thursday and Friday’s weigh-ins will also be held at Ingalls Harbor beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday’s final weigh-ins will be held at the Walmart located at 2800 Spring Ave. SW in Decatur beginning at 4 p.m.
Fans will be treated to the FLW Outdoors Expo at the Walmart on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. prior to the final weigh-ins. The Expo includes Ranger boat simulators, the opportunity to interact with professional anglers, enjoy interactive games, activities and giveaways provided by sponsors, and fans can learn more about the sport of fishing and other outdoor activities. All activities are free and open to the public.
Coverage of the Wheeler Lake tournament will be broadcast in high-definition (HD) on NBC Sports Network when “FLW” airs Oct. 28 from 1 to 2 p.m. ET. "FLW" is hosted by Jason Harper and is broadcast to more than 559 million households worldwide, making it the most widely distributed weekly outdoors-sports television show in the world.
For complete details and updated information visit FLWOutdoors.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/FLWFishing and on Twitter atTwitter.com/FLWFishing.
Bass-fishing fans take note
Want to watch the weigh in live but can’t make it in person? Then tune into FLW Live on FLWOutdoors.com shortly before 2:30 p.m. Central Time to watch live streaming video and audio of today’s opening-round weigh in.
Daily on-the-water coverage will also be available online at FLWOutdoors.com.
Sunrise: 5:11 a.m.
Temperature at takeoff: 48 degrees
Expected high temperature: 79 degrees
Water temperature: 76-78 degrees
Wind: S-SW 1-3 mph
Humidity: 60 percent
Day’s outlook: Sunny