June 22, 2010 by Rob Newell
GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. - Some call it Guntersville, some call it G-ville, others simply say it's the best bass fishery in America. No matter what it goes by, the fact that Lake Guntersville continues to produce quality bass after quality bass, despite the barrage of fishing pressure it receives during the course of a year, is simply mind boggling. This week, as the FLW Tour stops by the famed TVA impoundment for its fifth and final qualifying in event in 2010, the anticipation and expectations are running about as high as the near 100-degree daytime temperatures in North Alabama. The expectations are high because of the weights Guntersville can produce on any given day. And the anticipation is high because this is the final event in the 2010 FLW Tour Angler of the Year race. In the last two years, the Angler of the Year race has produced some tumultuous shakeups in the last event of the season. Two years ago, Andy Morgan and Glenn Browne were in a heated two-man race going into the Detroit River event. They hit the wall in the final lap, causing a contagious pile-up among all the front-runners and David Dudley came all the way from 5th place in the standings to win. Last year Brent Ehrler had a hold on the AOY race going into the final event at Champlain. And even though Ehrler turned in a respectable 22nd place performance at Champlain, he got passed up by Clark Wendlandt for the AOY honors. This year's battle could also result in such a last-minute melee. The FLW Tour's two powerhouse pros Bryan Thrift and Brent Ehrler are separated by 21 points in the AOY standings and they are going to duke it out, cast for cast, in a 100-degree pressure cooker for the AOY trophy in the next few days. Current points leader Bryan Thrift has had an unprecedented season, scoring three top-fives in a row, including a win at Lake Norman. He has finished fifth in the AOY race in the last two seasons and wants his first FLW Tour title now. Meanwhile, Ehrler has won two events this season, at Table Rock and Ouachita. He has finished second and third in the AOY race the last two years and is tired of waiting his turn to hold his own AOY trophy. While the FLW Tour's two best pros go head to head on Guntersville this week, several other pros are hoping their embroiled battle leads to inexplicable meltdowns, similar to what happen in 2008. Ish Monroe, Andy Morgan and Rusty Salewske all have a chance at winning the 2010 FLW Tour AOY should the door be left open. And if you don't believe it, just consider that Dudley was some 80 points behind going into the last event when he won all the marbles in 2008. So what's it going to take to get well at G-ville this week? Some of the local pros all allude to the same things: timing, rhythm and rotation. Though that might sound more like terminology you would hear on Dancing with the Stars, getting in the groove at Guntersville is going to a goal for many this week. Staying in step with spot rotation based on sudden changes in current and fishing pressure is the name of the game. Local favorite Randall Tharp of Gardendale, Ala., says the old days of camping on one "secret spot" every day to win a tournament at Guntersville are largely over. "Everyone knows the best places now," Tharp said. "This lake is so popular and it's been on T.V. so many times for tournaments, everyone knows what to look for. Add to that all the incredible electronics we have these days and every drop, ditch, hump, ledge and break has been scoured. To win at Guntersville these days, it's all about making the right moves at the right times." "In order to avoid the pressure, you have to be willing to fish new places everyday," he added. "I'm prepared to fish a completely different section of the lake with different techniques each day if I have to. You can't get caught flat-footed on the same old places out here." Tennessee's Andy Morgan is well-versed in the Guntersville two-step as well. "It's like a big game of musical chairs out there," Morgan laughed. "When one guy leaves a spot, another one pulls up there to fish it. There are no more secret spots, period. Every one knows where all the good spots are and they fish them constantly. Modern-day electronics with digital contour maps, accurate GPSing and side-scan have really exposed everything out there." These days Morgan defines a "secret spot" as one that has not been fished in the last 24 hours. Being acutely aware of pressure zones - especially places that have not been fished for a day or two - is part of the game. In a way, getting into the Guntersville groove is like trying to find a rhythm to a soundtrack that's constantly changing from Rock to Country to Jazz to Pop with some occasional Grunge thrown in for good measure. One minute you might be dancing to Barry Manilow and the next minute it's Nirvana. "Rhythm and timing is everything here," Morgan said. "And it's based on so many factors including current, fishing pressure and weather and you have to be aware of them at all times. I might be fishing one pattern, then see the current suddenly kick on and that brings a whole new set of places into my mind. Or I'll be headed to a spot and notice another spot that has not had any boats around it for a couple hours and totally change my rotation to take advantage of that golden opportunity. You have to be ready for whatever opportunity presents itself next." Scott Canterbury of Springville, Ala., agrees, giving his assessment of the Guntersville daily dance. "Being at the right place at the right time once or twice might work on other lakes," Canterbury said. "But on Guntersville, you have to be at the right place at the right time every time you stop to fish, all day long." And not only are there hundreds of places to catch bass at G-ville right now, there are hundreds of ways to catch them. Unlike winter, when rattling lipless crankbaits are the only lure to throw, during the summer time, just about any lure is fair game, which makes finding a rhythm even more difficult. During the second day of practice, Bryan Thrift had 23 rods out on his front deck, each one donning a different lure. "Yeah, I'm dialed in," Thrift joked about the plethora of poles heaped up in two piles along the gunnels. "Go ahead and take a picture of all those rods for the Internet," he directed with a laugh. "I want everyone to see what lures I'm throwing - all 23 of them - and maybe they'll be as confused I am." Thrift noted that he visited Guntersville before the official off-limits period and that fishing was "unreal." Since being back on the lake for official practice, things have not been as productive. "The first day (of practice), I was a little worried," Thrift said. "It really was not that great for me. But it's gotten a little better since then. As for the Angler of the Year, all I can do is go fishing and fish the very best I can each day. I wish I could sit here and say I'm going to wreck them this week, but with 23 rods on the deck obviously I'm not going to make such a claim."