Auburn University Fields 15 Boats for FLW College Tour on Guntersville
photo: Auburn Tigers Bass Club facebook page.
Guntersville is always a massive draw on the fishing tournament trail, and the FLW Yeti College trail is no exception. The lake is consistently among the top ten bass fishing lakes in America, although it rolled off the list last year. Perhaps that dropoff was needed for the fish to regroup and get back to the level it should be: a lake where you don’t show up to the scales with less than 20 pounds in your best five fish and expect to get a check.
In the days leading up to the second tournament of the 2018 season, Guntersville was on fire. After several tough years due to weather and, most importantly, fishing pressure, the Big G was showing out. Even for people like me, who hadn’t been on the lake in six months, it was possible to catch fish the likes of which made Guntersville the Big Bass Headquarters. For example, my first trip to the G this year yielded a nine-pounder. Read about it here.
I caught up with Armando Ortiz, the Auburn Bass Club president, this week following the tournament that saw 273 college teams take to the water on Saturday March 3rd. To put things in perspective, that’s an insane number of boats for any lake on any one day. But it wasn’t even the only big tournament on the 70,000-acre fishery. Virtually every ramp on the lake had at least one tournament fishing out of it. With numbers like that, it seemed tough to think 20-pound bags were going to show up in prevalent numbers.
When the Auburn University Bass Club arrived Friday, February 23 and fished the weekend, the weather had been fantastic, and the lake had stabilized from the rain. Water temps had continued to creep towards the 60-degree mark that would cause numbers of big fish to start appearing in shallow water to spawn. All indications were that the first wave of big females were about to move up as good numbers of fish were being caught by the 12 or so boats that were prefishing.
The weather took a turn for the worse when the team members headed from Auburn to Guntersville after classes concluded. North winds made it tough to fish a lot of areas and after rains ended late in the week, a post-frontal cold spell settled in, which is death for fishing. Still, Ortiz said that despite the bad weather, his best five went 14 pounds without any monster fish.
How did the different teams compare notes before blast-off? Armando said
that exact weight points weren’t shared, but the teams were open with the “five W’s:” what kind of location to look for, what kind of bait and presentation and when the were fish biting. According to Ortiz, the baits that were producing were chatterbaits and lipless cranks, standard fare this time of year.
The “where” was interesting because the teams were spread over the course of miles of water from Mud Creek to Spring Creek. Teams found drains that led from the main channel to spawning flats. The teams that did well found areas where the bigger fish were moving up from the 10-foot range to the four-to-six-foot range. The team of Murphy and Phillips finished 10th with a five-fish limit weight of 20 pounds, using the combination of bait and location to find the bigger fish, including a lunker over seven pounds. We will cover their strategy in a later article.
The rest of the teams struggled to find the big fish, though one of the teams found an eight-pound monster early in the morning but couldn’t add two more fish to seal out 14 pounds in three fish. The beast was caught on a lipless crank near the State park due to the smaller nature of their boat.
Ortiz said that the majority of the boats that found fish were up river, typically above Goose Pond Colony. These boats were catching 10–15 fish apiece, which is normal for this time of year. The boats were grouped together with five different teams in the stretch of 46th–85th place, and teams were split in half in terms of boats with quality fish versus those with quality numbers. Six of the teams didn’t weight a fish, which shows how the combination of weather and fishing pressure affects people down the leader board.
At the end of the day, two boats really separated themselves from the field. The team of Lambert and Brewster from the University of Tennessee brought home the win with a 25-9 pound sack and Topken and Biby from South Carolina were just short with 24-7. Less than half a pound separated third through sixth.
Those who follow college fishing will note some schools that continually show up in the top ten in every event, such as Bethel University with two Top Ten teams. According to Ortiz, what separates Auburn from Bethel is Bethel’s ability to recruit and offer scholarships. Other schools, such as Bryan College, are two-year schools that anglers in many situations use just to compete at the college level.
Auburn’s team is a true club that gets some reimbursement from the University but relies heavily on sponsorship. Free baits, equipment and clothing are great, but at the end of the day, cash is the main issue. Boats require significant amounts of gas to operate and not just on tournament day but on practice days as well. Getting the boats to the various lakes across the country also costs significant money as do hotel rooms.
People are always hesitant to hand out cash, and that’s understandable. There are other ways to help. Auburn’s club is desperate to find boat storage in Auburn. Currently, members are having to keep their boats at home, wherever that is. To fish, they may have to travel to Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville, or wherever just to pick up the boat. It’s tough for members to justify practicing on local lakes such as Lay or Martin. If you can help, the easiest way is to contact Armando through Facebook.
Kentucky Lake is next up. This is another Tennessee River fishery that has been on fire for the last few years. Expect huge bags to take the win.