By DAVID RAINER
For the first time in memory, Alabama qualified more anglers than any state for the 2011 Bassmaster Classic that was recently held in New Orleans. Alabama sent 10 fishermen to the Classic, which was won by arguably the most dominant angler in professional bass fishing history – Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich.
Aaron Martens, the California native who has called Leeds home for the past seven years, was able to sit in the “hot seat” on the weigh-in stage until VanDam showed up. For the fourth time in his career, Martens had to settle for Classic runner-up when KVD weighed in the largest bag of the tournament at 28 pounds and shattered the Classic total weight record with a 69-11 total. Marten also broke the Classic record with 59 pounds even, as did Derek Remitz of Grant with 56-8.
Big bass honors for the Classic went to Boyd Duckett of Demopolis, the 2007 Classic champ, with an 8-15 whopper on the tournament’s final day, which boosted him into sixth place. Greg Vinson of Wetumpka made the cut to fish the final day and finished 24th. Matt Herren of Trussville just missed the cut and took 26th place, while Gerald Swindle of Warrior finished 31st. George Crain of Cropwell was 32nd, followed by Randall Tharp of Gardendale at No. 35, Russ Lane of Prattville (who had the second day’s lunker at 7-12) at No. 45, and Steve Kennedy of Auburn was No. 48.
With the weather warming up in Alabama and everyone’s attention turning to fishing, I wanted to find out each Alabama angler’s favorite lake in Alabama in the spring. The most votes went to the lake that is considered one of the top bass lakes in the nation – Lake Guntersville. The picks follow:
Aaron Martens (Guntersville) – “Because you catch 100 a day and they’re big. I like a jerkbait or a lipless crankbait. If it’s been cold and the grass is not as widespread, I try to run the bait to where it’s just ticking the top of the grass. In some areas where the grass is a little thicker or in clumps, you’ll find a 50-yard stretch that has a lot of fish. You can’t really see it, but you can graph it. That’s where they hang. If you can find grass and stumps, you’re really looking good. Once you find them, you can catch a lot.”
Derek Remitz (Guntersville) – “It’s a lot of work to find them, but when you do, you tend to catch the biggest fish of the year. The reason I say it’s hard is you may fish for miles and miles and then you’ll hit a spot where you’ll catch five or six big fish. All of a sudden, you’ll have 30 pounds. It’s just really fun, because you have the opportunity to catch the biggest bag of the year. I’m usually throwing jerkbaits and lipless crankbaits, looking for hydrilla and little ditches. I just cover as much water as I can until I find them and then hang on.”
Boyd Duckett (Guntersville) – “You’ve probably never heard that before. I can take a (lipless crankbait) and just wear them out. You just catch so many, it’s just a fun place to fish. You can follow them. I start about halfway into the creeks and fish the outside grass edges. Once it starts warming up, then I’ll go to the inside grass lines and follow them on into the backs of the creeks. That’s where the big ones hang out. As it warms up, the spinnerbait bite will kick in. In April, you’ve got the spawn going on, but the grass bite is still going on.”
Greg Vinson (Lake Jordan) – “I just love to catch big spotted bass. Until I started traveling all over the country, I didn’t realize what a good fishery it is. The springtime is absolutely the best time to catch a magnum spotted bass – a spotted bass over five pounds. I didn’t realize how fortunate we were to catch them that size. And springtime is a great time for the novice fishermen to go out with the shaky-head rig and catch those big spots and a lot of them in a day of fishing. The fish will stage on docks in the early spring and then they’ll spawn on seawalls and docks.”
Matt Herren (Lay Lake) – “You can fish for spotted bass. You can fish for largemouth bass. It’s just chock-full of fish, and it’s a fun lake to fish. I really like it from mid-March to mid-April when they start moving up to get ready to spawn. The spots like gravel bars and the largemouths like the backs of pockets. That’s when you catch your bigger females. You can end up with a 28-pound bag if you catch the right day. I was really disappointed about last year’s Classic, because we hit the lake cold. The weights were OK, but it didn’t show what the lake can do.”
Gerald Swindle (Inland Lake) – “This is from out in left field, but this is a lake near Oneonta that’s about 1,600 acres with not many houses on it. It’s extremely deep and clear. Most of the time it’s tough fishing, but in the early spring I can go over with a jerkbait and catch some giant spotted bass. I like the solitude of no boats and no traffic. When you go to Guntersville, you’re on top of everybody. When I go to Inland, I’ll catch 40-50 fish a day, and I always catch a 4- to 5-pound spot. I worked there as a kid and fished tournaments there growing up. I just never lost the love of going over there.”
George Crain (Logan Martin) – “Logan Martin has a pretty stable fishing pattern before the waters come up. A lot of the piers are out of the water and the fish don’t have as many places to scatter out. For me, it’s just a fun time to fish the lake. I’m using mostly crankbaits in crawfish patterns in three to five feet. There can also be some good jerkbait fishing in the spring, too. I live on Logan Martin, so I guess it’s my favorite because I’m just so familiar with the lake. But, I love Eufaula, too. It’s a really good lake.”
Randall Tharp (Guntersville) – “You got the best chance to catch a 10-pounder up there. Everybody knows how wadded up the fish get up there, and you can catch five big ones in five casts. You may go half a day without a bite, but to be able to catch five big ones in five casts, I mean that’s fun anywhere you go. I like a (lipless crankbait) and then a small crankbait. A jig is always good there any time. A jerkbait is strong when the water is cold.”
Russ Lane (Lake Jordan) – “Absolutely Lake Jordan is the place for me. In the spring, I’m flipping the bank grass. That’s the one time of the year you can catch a 25-pound bag. When the water is dirty in the early spring, you catch the spotted bass and the largemouths up shallow. I’ve been fishing there since I was a kid. There’s probably not a stump or rock I don’t know about on the lake.”
Steve Kennedy (Lake Martin) – “I like to go largemouth fishing in the backs of the creeks. I like to pitch a jig or throw a spinnerbait. Everybody thinks it’s a spotted bass lake, but I can catch a 25-pound bag of largemouths. You’d be amazed what’s in Martin. I went back in January with 46-degree water and caught 18 fish and had a five-pounder.”
PHOTOS: (Courtesy of ESPN/Bassmaster) Boyd Duckett of Demopolis ended up with the big bass of the 2011 Bassmaster Classic in New Orleans with a lunker at 8 pounds, 15 ounces. Aaron Martens of Leeds boats another keeper during the Classic, which suffered two fog delays during the opening two days. Martens, for the fourth time, finished as runner-up in the Classic.