May 2, 2013 by Gary Mortenson
FLORENCE, Ala. - With high water levels, a late spawn and near-perfect weather conditions serving as key variables for this week's EverStart Series Central Division event on Pickwick Lake, it appears as though anglers should be poised to capitalize on some bountiful stringers if they're able to unlock the puzzle of this majestic Tennessee River impoundment.
Departing McFarland Park marina shortly after 6 a.m. with light winds and an impressive sunrise serving as backdrop, EverStart Series anglers hit the open waters of Pickwick Lake filled with both optimism and bit of caution. The good news was that with high waters levels and a late spawn, anglers should be able to fish to their strengths - be it shallow or deep, targeting pre-spawn, spawn or post-spawn quarries. The bad news is that with the higher-than-normal water levels and a tremendous current, the flood gates are open - literally and figuratively.
"Normally I don't even need to practice here because I know this lake so well," said Twix team pro Jonathan Newton of Rogersville, Ala. "But with the water levels where they are and the current this fast, I've really had to spend some time figuring this place out. I think we're all really just going to have to adjust to the conditions today. It's a big unknown out there and I need to figure out what's going on. The lake is in transition right now and there are lots of things to consider. We'll just have to see what happens."
For starters, due to the recent storms that have swept through the area, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has opened the flood gates - which have resulted in a massive current channeling through Pickwick.
"With the current as strong as it is you're going to see boats setting speed records today," said EverStart team pro Randall Tharp of Gardendale, Ala. "With a 15 mph current, just sitting still you're going to moving pretty fast. And that's going to take a lot of water out of play. For me personally, I really like fishing the Horseshoe area. And normally you'd see like 25 to 30 boats there. But that's not going to happen today."
"The way the water is right now, you can't fish the river systems because the current is so strong," said pro Jim Smith of Minooka, Ill. "Right now if you wanted to go out there and fish a hump, you'd need a cement truck as an anchor."
Newton, who has fished Pickwick Lake for years, can't remember a time when the current was moving this swiftly.
"You always want current, but right now - and I just checked (online) - it's running at 150,000 cubic feet a minute and that's pretty excessive," said Newton. "I really don't know that I've fished down here any time before when they were running 150 cfm. And really, with the current this strong, the key question is: How is that going to affect the positioning of these fish?"
In addition, due to some late-developing issues with the locks, it was unclear for many anglers at takeoff whether or not that situation would ultimately prove problematic for anglers who intended to make the eastern journey to Wilson Lake.
"Last night at our meeting they told us there could be some problems with the locks," said Smith. "They said it might be an issue or it might not be. But I think (that information) was enough to change some people's game plans for today."
"They did say there was some (potential issues) with the locks," said Newton. "As for me, I'm just going to take my chances and stay here (at Pickwick)."
However, despite the strong current and unease over the locking situation, anglers believe that Pickwick Lake is poised to produce some hefty limits.
"There have been some great stringers caught here in tournaments this spring," said Tharp. "It's hard to believe but (due to the late spring) the majority of fish here are prespawn. So I think overall it's going to be a very good tournament. Everyone will be able to fish to their strengths. And you're going to see some giant fish caught here. It wouldn't surprise me to see people coming back with 7- and 10-pounders this week.
"The fishing is good," Tharp continued. "It's springtime on the Tennessee River so somebody is going to catch them here."
So, with multiple variables in play, how will the field attack Pickwick Lake this week?
"I think flipping will be a big player," said Newton. "Some people will have success with offshore cranking and football-head jigs. The majority of the fish will probably be heading back to the bank, and the largemouth still haven't spawned out, so there should be some sight-fishing as well."
Tharp agrees that almost any tactic should be on the table this tournament. He also believes that both the largemouth and smallmouth bite will be significant factors as well.
"You're going to see a lot of mixed bags," said Tharp. "I actually wouldn't be surprised to see somebody come back with 24 pounds of just smallmouth bass. As far as baits and techniques go, you're going to see the Alabama rig of course. But you're also going to see crankbaits, spinnerbaits, swimbaits and even some topwaters. Basically, whatever you like to throw should be available to you."
As for top-10 weights, most anglers agreed that something on the order of 15 to 20 pounds day should be good enough to qualify for Saturday's finals.
"I think 20 pounds a day should be good enough," said Newton. "At least, I hope so."
During EverStart Series 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, with the top-10 pros and top 10 co-anglers advancing to Saturday's final round of competition based on their two-day accumulated weight. Winners ultimately will be determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from all three days.
Anglers will take off from James McFarland Park, located at 200 James M. Spain Drive in Florence, Ala., at 6 a.m. each day. Weigh-in will be held at the takeoff location on Thursday and Friday beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday's final weigh-in will be held at Walmart, located at 3100 Hough Road in Florence beginning at 3 p.m.
Takeoffs and weigh-ins are free and open to the public.
Pros will fish for a top award of $40,000 plus a Ranger Z518 with a 200-horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard if Ranger Cup guidelines are met. Co-anglers will cast for a top award consisting of a Ranger Z117 with 90-horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard and $5,000 if Ranger Cup guidelines are met.
The EverStart Series consists of five divisions - Central, Northern, Southeast, Texas and Western. Each division consists of four tournaments and competitors will be vying for valuable points in each division in an attempt to land the prestigious Strike King Angler of the Year title and automatic berth into the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup.
EverStart Series action continues at today's weigh-in, scheduled to take place at 2 p.m. at James McFarland Park, located at 200 James M. Spain Drive in Florence, Ala.,
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 2 p.m. Central time (3 p.m. Eastern time) to watch live streaming video and audio of today's opening-round weigh in.
This week's EverStart Series tournament on Pickwick Lake is being hosted by the Florence/Lauderdale Tourism Bureau.
Sunrise: 5:59 a.m.
Temperature at takeoff: 61 degrees
Expected high temperature: 77 degrees
Water temperature: 66-70 degrees
Wind: From the east-southeast at 6-10 mph
Humidity: 88 percent
Day's outlook: Mostly cloudy