GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. – Lake Guntersville showed why it’s regarded as one of the top bass fisheries in the country during Toro Stage Four Presented by Bass Cat, with many stout limits of fish placed on SCORETRACKER®. Twenty-pound bags were relatively common and we even saw one over 30, courtesy of Matt Becker on his first day of fishing.
Offshore ledge fishing dominated the event, and that was how Jacob Wheeler won, but there were several other ways to catch enough to stay in the hunt. Several top finishers stayed with the shallow bite all week, while others mixed it up shallow and deep.
Here’s a complete look at the top baits and patterns from Guntersville.
During an event with multiple big bags, Wheeler stood out during a dominating win that saw him average well over 5 pounds per fish for the final two days of fishing.
He did it by staying ahead of the game and finding areas where he knew bass would be coming to.
“This week was when the fish were starting to move out and places I found with three or four fish during practice would have 12 fish, then 20 fish during the tournament,” he said. “The key was finding the new groups.”
Wheeler caught fish as shallow as 8 feet and down to 35 feet of water, targeting secondary areas and main river ledges. To catch his fish, he primarily relied on a new ‘Freeloader’ soft plastic baitfish imitator fished on a VMC Hybrid Swimbait head in sizes from 3/16 to 3/8 depending on the depth, wind conditions, and where the bass were sitting in the water column.
“Each morning, the fish would be more suspended and tuck closer to the bottom in the afternoons,” he said. “I fished the bait in two shad colors, green shad and natural shad. Both were shad patterns, but one had a darker back and they’d bite that one better when it was cloudy.”
Alabama’s Jacob Wall didn’t let the pressure of being a local favorite get to him. Since moving to the Lake Guntersville area from Oregon four years ago, the first-year Bass Pro Tour pro spent plenty of time on the lake and it paid off for him with his best BPT finish to date.
“I spent my time fishing offshore anywhere from shallow shell beds in the grass to more traditional ledges,” he said. “Some were holes in the grass and some were on points or the mouth of a creek channel, but the shell was the main key. I had probably 25 spots and fished everywhere from Honeycomb down to Goose Pond. I fished the whole lake and ran all over the place.”
Wall adjusted his baits depending on the depth, going with a glide bait in shallower water and traditional ledge baits like a spoon, big worm and deep diving crankbait in deeper water.
“I was able to catch them on the glide bait for fish that were down to around 12 feet deep,” he said. “In deeper water, it was a spoon earlier in the week, both a Lake Fork Flutter Spoon and the 6.5-inch Nichols Ben Parker Mini Magnum Flutter Spoon. On the final day, I caught three big ones on a Strike King 8XD in blue gizzard shad. Another key was a big Gambler worm in a plum color.”
Berkley pro Adrian Avena secured his solid finish by strictly fishing offshore with various baits. He bagged two limits over 23 pounds during the week and said one of the keys was fishing deeper than the majority of the field.
“I committed to offshore fishing, targeting schools on island heads and drains,” he said. “One of the keys to my success was that I was fishing deeper than many guys. Most of the fish were in 25 to 30 feet, but they’d get shallower when feeding heavily.”
Avena had several baits in the rotation, from a magnum spoon and hair jig to more finesse offerings.
“I caught some fishing a small swimbait and quite a few on a Berkley Magnum Hit Worm on a Neko Rig,” he said.
“I spent all of practice marking bream beds and covered a four-mile stretch in the middle section of the lake,” he said. “They were all shallow, between 1 and 2 feet deep. I used the wacky-rig the whole time and fished the bait on a 2/0 straight-shank hook and drowned them in ProLine Baits Bass Series Attractant in the nightcrawler scent.”
Dudley weeded through plenty of smaller fish to get to his big bags.
“I caught 50 or so the first day and another 50 the next day before I cut my hook off and started shaking the fish off,” he said. “I caught maybe 30 in the Knockout Round and another 25 on the final day.”
Bass Pro Tour rookie Matt Becker had some great days on Guntersville during the event, but none bigger than his first. He bagged an incredible 30-9 limit in a 17-minute flurry, the best bag of the week. Becker caught those fish targeting offshore ledges, which is something he did all week.
“I strictly ledge fished and pretty much committed to it from the time I got here for practice,” he said. “I spent all my time idling and looking for schools of fish. The key depth for me was between 15 and 20 feet, and I fished from the power lines down to the dam.”
Becker’s bait selection was all over the board as he mixed it up throughout the day based on what the fish were doing. While his monster bag came on a 5/8-ounce white True Bass Shuttlecock hair jig, it was a small part of his arsenal.
“I had 20 rods on the deck and used them all,” he said. “Deep crankbaits, glide baits, spoons, drop-shot, Neko rig, Carolina rig, you name it. The key was adjusting based on what the fish were doing and how they were positioned, whether they were suspended, chasing bait, or inactive. I threw a new bait at them every five minutes to give them a new look.”
Oklahoma’s Edwin Evers cranked his way to another Top 10, which has him in second place in the Bally Bet Angler of the Year race. He rotated through two different Berkley crankbaits, depending on the depth.
“I caught them all cranking a Berkley Dredger 20.5 or 25.5 in citrus shad,” he said. “The key was making lots and lots of casts and trying to get the fish to react. All my fish came between 18 and 25 feet of water on offshore points; it wasn’t big drops or anything. All of the subtle stuff was better.”
Evers stuck with the lower third of the lake, except the first day when he found himself in 31st place.
“I fished up the river but only caught 13 pounds, so I had to try something different,” he said. “I kept looking and looking and finally ran into them the second day to get me to the Knockout Round.”
Takahiro Omori stuck to his guns and stayed shallow the entire event, never venturing into deeper water. He remained in the lake’s lower section and worked with a ½-ounce green pumpkin Z-Man ChatterBait Jack Hammer with a Z-Man RaZor ShadZ as the trailer. He also fished a wacky-rigged 5-inch Yamamoto Senko in green pumpkin.
“I stayed under 5 feet deep every day,” he said. “I was fishing points in the grass down lake around spawning pockets. The fish would come there after spawning.”
Thanks to a great area, Omori came out the gate with big bags first thing in the morning early in the event.
“I had one sweet spot in the grass, it wasn’t a shad spawn, but for some reason, they were there,” he shared. “I caught my big bags and left to save them for the next day.”
Bradley Roy had an up-and-down week, mixing it up between shallow and deep-water fishing. He was the last man in during the Qualifying Round in Group B, and a late rally in the Knockout Round allowed him to squeak into the final day on the strength of a solid offshore bite.
“I started the week fishing bream beds with a wacky rig and had just enough to get to the Knockout Round,” he said. “That bite dried up on me, and I had to go offshore and they were biting like crazy that afternoon. I tried it again on the final day and couldn’t find any big ones.”
“The hair jig was best when they got active,” he said.
Like others in the field, Randall Tharp had multiple patterns going. He did a little bit of everything from shallow to deep, but the shallow bite was one of his best deals.
“My best bait was a wacky rig with a green pumpkin Zoom Trick Worm fished around bream beds,” he said. “But all my biggest fish came by flipping a green pumpkin ¾-ounce jig with a Zoom Super Chunk in deep hydrilla.”
“I chose the areas where hydrilla was the most prevalent, and I looked for real healthy grass because that’s what the bigger ones wanted to be around,” he said. “The ChatterBait was great later in the event, but you had to reel it fast because of how clear the water was. They wouldn’t bite it going slow.”
Fishing the middle section of the lake, Tharp also explored some offshore areas.
“I caught some key fish on a hair jig and some on a Carolina rig,” he said. “I mixed it up and did many different things, both shallow and deep. I didn’t fish offshore the last two days because it was impossible to get on anything by yourself with all the boats out there and the spots never had a chance to rest.”
The current AOY leader, Ott DeFoe had plenty of ups and downs at Guntersville, beginning the event in 38th place after catching just four bass to having the best bag of the day to advance. His rollercoaster didn’t stop there as he bagged 24-8 during the Knockout Round, only to zero on the final day. No matter how it happened, he left with a Top 10 and a big lead in the Bally Bet Angler of the Year race.
“The first day, I was targeting bream beds, which was terrible for me,” he said. “I had such a bad day that I needed a big bag to make the Knockout Round. I went fishing deep, spent a lot of time graphing, and finally found them on one spot late in the second day.”
What he found was what he described as a small secondary ditch mouth.
“I was sitting in 17 feet and throwing to 12 feet,” DeFoe said. “I started with a Rapala DT14 in citrus shad and caught some on a Neko Rig with a Bass Pro Shops Magnum Fin-Eke Worm in a sooner run. I fished it with a 1/0 VMC RedLine Series Weedless Wacky Neko Hook.”
After such a good day, DeFoe returned to the same area during the Knockout Round and stayed there all day, throwing the same baits and mixing in the Fin-Eke worm on a ¼-ounce VMC Rugby head.
The conditions on the final day caused him many issues, though, and he couldn’t catch a scoreable bass.
“The wind this morning was really strong, and I couldn’t fish a worm because it was smoking so hard,” DeFoe said. “It was postfrontal and colored up the water and blew the eelgrass in. I didn’t think it would hurt the spot so bad, but the fish were gone. I don’t know if I just caught a big wave of them the days before, because I only caught three little ones there the last day, and I went there four times.”