May 2, 2013 by Gary Mortenson
FLORENCE, Ala. - If there was any doubt as to the current overall health and vitality of the Tennessee River system, those questions were answered definitively today. Just as many anglers had predicted, Pickwick Lake wound up producing a procession of eye-popping, 20-plus-pound weights all day long - a reality that would have been unimaginable on this body of water just a few years ago. But the Tennessee River system, and Pickwick Lake specifically, has undergone a cyclical transformation that has manifested into more grass habitat, fewer shad die-offs and generally healthier and more robust largemouth and smallmouth bass. That fact, coupled with the late spawn and some driving current, helped produce some of the greatest weights witnessed on Pickwick Lake in years. So how good was the fishing on Pickwick Lake during Thursday's opening round of tournament action? Well, if you were a competitor in the 103-boat field and didn't return to the marina with at least 22 pounds, you weren't even sniffing a top-10 place in the standings. In fact, it took 22 pounds, 4 ounces to qualify for the top 10, at least 20 pounds, 7 ounces to grab a spot in the top 15 and nearly 19 pounds to just hang around in the top 20. Taking full advantage of today's opportunity was Randy Haynes of Counce, Tenn. Bolstered by a gargantuan catch of 33 pounds, 1 ounce, the Tennessee native dwarfed the efforts of his fellow competitors, out-fishing his next closest rival by nearly 5 1/2 pounds in the process. "It was just a freak of nature today," said Haynes. "It was just one of those days where I could do no wrong. I had a good week of fishing (leading up to the event) but it all came together today. It's my home lake and I feel very comfortable fishing here. So to have it all come together - with the (super fast) current, fishing pressure, high water levels and other variables - is just awesome." Haynes, who has been fishing Pickwick Lake since 1998, said he couldn't remember a tournament day that was ever this good on this body of water. "I've never caught a 30-pound bag here before," said Haynes. "My previous record was a 29.78-pound sack. I've caught some other 29-pound bags before but this is my personal best. Today I only had one smallmouth bass and it weighed 5 pounds. And that was my smallest fish. So it feels great." Haynes said that he used a variety of baits and hit a number of different areas - both deep and shallow - to land his catch. "It was a real mixture today," said Haynes. "I used several different baits and ran to a bunch of areas. Like I said, I know this lake pretty well so I have a number of (options). The deepest I fished was 30 feet and the shallowest I fished was probably 5 feet." As for tomorrow, Haynes said he is going to continue to do more of the same. However, that being said, a front is predicted to move into the area over the next two days, potentially bringing in some heavy rains. As such, Haynes acknowledged that things could change depending on the weather. "I like how this lake is fishing right now," said Haynes. "And I feel like I'm going to live or die by what I've been doing. But the rain is a big question for me. This is a very humbling sport and it can bite you at anytime. So we'll just have to see what happens." Rasberry nets second place, largest bass of tourney Not too long along Todd Rasberry of Killen, Ala., was more than content to finish out his hours working as the local Walmart store manager and then, time permitting, pop on down to the marina to catch tournament weigh-in. But as luck would have it, Rasberry's plans changed. "I hadn't been on this lake since last September and really wasn't planning on fishing this tournament," said Rasberry. "But then (tournament director) Ron Lappin called, said they had some openings and asked me if I could fish. And I said, `yes.'" At about 1:30 p.m. today, Rasberry knew unequivocally that he'd made the right decision after hooking into a monstrous, 10-pound, 10-ounce largemouth. "I got lucky today," said Rasberry. "It's the biggest fish I've ever caught in my life. After it hit, it jumped and jumped but managed to stay pinned and I was able to get it into the boat. It was definitely lucky, but I'll take it." Rasberry said he spent most of the day throwing a Strike King 6XD crankbait, targeting largemouth bass holding to deepwater ledges in 16 to 30 feet of water. "I didn't catch a lot of fish today so I'm a little worried about tomorrow," he said. "I'm probably realistically on about 12 to 15 pounds a day. But hopefully, I can catch another big one tomorrow." For his 10-pound, 10-ounce catch, Rasberry walked away with the day's big bass honors in the Pro Division as well as an additional $200 in winnings. Suratt brothers make their move Local fishing gurus Jeff and David Suratt did their best to ensure that the pro field will remember their names when they come to Pickwick Lake in the future. Using a total catch of 26 pounds, 3 ounces, Jeff Suratt of Leoma, Tenn., not only scored bragging rights over his brother but managed to net a third-place overall finish as well in today's competition. "It was a good day," said Jeff. "I live about 45 minutes away and I basically consider this my home lake. Today's weight was a little more than I'd even hoped for. And that 7-pound kicker I caught today was the biggest fish I'd caught all week. I was going to be happy with 20 pounds today, so it feels great." Jeff's brother didn't fare much worse, netting a 22-pound, 14-ounce stringer for sixth place overall. "It was a great day for me," said David, who also resides in Leoma, Tenn. "The current definitely affected me but I used it to my advantage. I stuck with one bait all day long; and the pattern I'm using is the one I found in practice. I'll be doing the same thing again tomorrow." While neither of the brothers were willing to divulge their bait and technique of choice, it's clear that they know Pickwick Lake and most likely will be potent contenders moving forward. "It was a grind out there today," said Jeff. "But if we can do this again tomorrow, we should be all right." Rose snares fourth place Using a total catch of 25 pounds, 14 ounces, Walmart team pro Mark Rose of West Memphis, Ark., recorded a fourth-place finish overall after the first day of competition. "I'm happy. This fishery is just awesome," said Rose. `This place has really got `em. I have a few places that have fish on them and I'm just making the most of it." The highlight of the day for Rose was hauling in a 8-pound, 7-ounce largemouth - a quarry that was mostly responsible for his impressive showing. But being the veteran stick that Rose is, he's fully aware that 8-pounders don't find their way into your boat every day. "It wasn't like it was gangbusters out there all day," said Rose. "I caught a lot of 3-pounders and lots of fish in general, but those 4- and 5-pounders are eluding me. I'm definitely happy with my catch, but heading into tomorrow I'm not happy about the fact that I had to rely on an 8-pounder. I'd much rather have had five 5-pounders. It's going to take a lot of weight to make the cut tomorrow and I'm only on about 15 pounds, so I'm a little worried." Rose said that he used a Strike King 10XD crankbait almost exclusively today while targeting bass holding to current eddies. "I'm not sure what's going to happen tomorrow," said Rose. "But I do know there is a giant bag out there waiting to be caught." Schultz lands top-five finish Greg Schultz of Naples, Fla., parlayed a 24-pound, 2-ounce catch into fifth place overall in the standings after Friday's competition. "It was a lot of fun out there today," said Schultz. "I went to a spot that was loaded with a school and by 6:50 a.m. I already had five keepers in the livewell. I probably had my final limit by 9 a.m." Schultz credited the banner fishing conditions today to both the extremely swift current and wind. "The current has really turned those fish on," said Schultz. "And the last two days the wind has picked up and that's helped the fish get into a good feeding mode. And that really helps the fishing." Schultz said that he had found some key areas housing some nice males. But he knew that if the females started to move into his location to spawn that he could be in for a stellar day - and that's exactly what happened. "The females finally moved in and we just killed them," he said. "I was flipping banks and I really guessed right today. It was just a great day." Schultz argued that if the current conditions hold, he should be in a prime position to make a run at the title. "I'm going with the same game plan tomorrow," said Schultz, who didn't want to divulge his primary bait of choice. "And if I can just get a limit in the first hour and a half or so, it will really take the pressure off. If they keep that current pumping, that's really going to help as well." For a complete list of pro results, click here. Bliss snags co-angler lead Using a total catch of 18 pounds, 3 ounces, Logan Bliss of Cottage Grove, Wisc., landed in the top spot in the Co-angler Division. Logan currently holds a 13-ounce lead over his next closest competitor. Jason Smith of Killen, Ala., grabbed second place overall with a total catch of 17 pounds, 6 ounces. Tim Cummings of Waynesboro, Tenn., finished the day in third place with a total catch of 15 pounds, 7 ounces. Justin Lee of Iron City, Tenn., grabbed fourth overall with a four-fish stringer weighing 15 pounds, 5 ounces. Lee also netted the day's big bass award in the Co-angler Division after landing a 5-pound, 14-ounce largemouth. For his efforts, Lee took home an additional $137 in bonus money. Rounding out the top-five co-angler competitors was Tim Beale of Hernando, Miss., with a total catch of 15 pounds, 4 ounces. Beale is also the current leader in the 2013 Strike King Angler of the Year points standings race. For a complete list of co-angler results, click here. To view photos from today's tournament, click here. EverStart Series action continues with a 6 a.m. Friday morning takeoff at 200 James M. Spain Drive in Florence, Ala., Bass-fishing fans take note To view Friday's weigh-in online, head to FLW Live on FLWOutdoors.com at approximately 2 p.m. Central time (3 p.m. Eastern time). FLW Live will continue to offer live streaming video and audio of each day's weigh-in at Pickwick Lake throughout the week.