Water clarity, current, spawn are key factors on anglers’ minds as REDCREST practice begins - Major League Fishing
Water clarity, current, spawn are key factors on anglers’ minds as REDCREST practice begins
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Water clarity, current, spawn are key factors on anglers’ minds as REDCREST practice begins

Heavy recent rains will mean shifting water conditions on Lay Lake
Image for Water clarity, current, spawn are key factors on anglers’ minds as REDCREST practice begins
The 50-angler REDCREST field will have multiple things to consider as practice on Lay Lake begins. Photo by Jody White.
March 11, 2024 • Tyler Brinks, Joel Shangle • Bass Pro Tour

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A rapidly fluctuating Lay Lake greeted the field of 50 pros Sunday morning as they put their boats in the Coosa River waters for the first day of practice of 2024 Bass Pro Shops REDCREST Powered by OPTIMA Lithium.

On the heels of an afternoon/evening deluge that dropped just over 3 inches of rain on Shelby County, Alabama, during an eight-hour period on Friday, Sunday’s practice kickoff found a majority of the pros considering water clarity above all other conditions.

“The number one thing on my mind going into practice is the amount of rain we just had on the lake,” admitted Jesse Wiggins, who, despite his Alabama roots, has never fished Lay Lake previously. “I don’t have any experience on the lake, so I don’t know yet how it’s going to look when they start moving water (through the dams). They’re obviously going to have to move a lot of water, so my number one factor is to try to figure out what it might look like when the mud settles. I’m going to be covering some water.”

What’s happening higher on the chain?

Inflow into the 12,000-acre reservoir spiked from just above 30,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) on Friday to 55,000 cfs Saturday and Sunday. That adds up to rapidly changing water clarity and current for the lake’s largemouth and spotted bass to get comfortable in.

“That most important, drastic thing to me is how the water clarity might change for the week, and how I might adjust to it,” said Arkansas pro Mark Rose. “I got off to a little bit of a tough start at (Stage One) Toledo Bend. I had a good pre-practice and practiced for the rain when I showed up for official practice. But during the tournament, that water shifted – different areas cleared up and some mud pushed into some of my areas, and I didn’t respond to it fast enough. I’m trying not to let that happen to me twice.”

Like Wiggins, Rose doesn’t have a lot of experience on Lay Lake to fall back on, but a lifetime of living and fishing on the Mississippi River in Memphis has the Bass Pro Shops pro conditioned to expand his practice fact-finding beyond what he sees on competition waters for the next three days.

“I’m sure we have a handful of guys who have enough experience on the Coosa to know how fast it clears out when it gets muddy,” Rose said. “But you have to do a lot more research than just the changing of the water on Lay Lake per day; you also have to know what’s behind it up on Logan Martin and Neely Henry. How far north of us did that storm reach? Growing up on the Mississippi River, what affected the oxbows in Memphis was what was also happening in St. Louis and above. I’m used to that type of research.”   

Current (and bite) could change

Deciphering the ebb and flow of dirty water will be a major part of REDCREST practice plans. Photo by Jody White

Driving to Lay Lake, Wisconsin pro Matt Stefan took note of the condition of the creeks, which were flowing hard.  

“Every creek was raging with mud, and that will surely dirty up the lake,” he said. “That could do a few things – it could cover up any potential sight fish, but it could also turn on the bite. I don’t know anything about Lay Lake, but it could also help with the shallow largemouth bite if I had to guess.”

Stefan is a river rat and loves fishing current. He believes there will be plenty of it to decipher in the week ahead, but he’s hesitant to get too excited about the water flow.

“It looks like most of the rain here was pretty localized, and that generally means that there will be a lot of runoff, but it won’t last long,” he said. “That scares me because the fishing might be excellent in the strong current during practice, but it could keep dropping off as we enter the tournament. That bite can fade quickly.”

Stefen heads into practice undecided on which species to target. Initially, he believes that both largemouth and spotted bass will be significant players.

“I don’t know what a good day will be here, and that’s the biggest question, along with what species will get me there,” Stefan said. “I think this event will be one where you can do whatever you want, and there will be good finishes from guys targeting just largemouth or just spotted bass. But I think the winner will have a good mix of both. These are the type of fisheries I like, where you can catch fish in different ways and have a chance to win.”

Watching water temperatures, too

Wetumpka resident Greg Vinson has some of the most extensive history on the Coosa River chain among the REDCREST field. He spends most of his time near home on Lake Jordan (two lakes down), but Vinson grew up fishing the Alabama tournament scene that included frequent stops at Lay Lake. Vinson has witnessed similar spring rains on the Coosa and confirms that they greatly impact the water clarity on the lakes.

“I went out to Jordan (Saturday) and was fishing in a place that’s usually very clear, and you couldn’t see down 6 inches,” Vinson said. “The good news is that the weather has been pretty warm, and the overnight lows haven’t been too bad. It would be much worse for the fishing if it were cold and muddy.”

While many will see the excessive runoff and muddy water as a negative, Vinson is trying to look at the positives.

“Lay doesn’t stay muddy for long because it has so much vegetation, and there are water willows on the bank to help clean it up,” he said. “With how much rain we’ve had, there’s going to be plenty of current, which is always a good thing on any lake on the Coosa River. I looked at the forecast for the rest of the week, and it was originally saying rain during the tournament, and now it doesn’t. Welcome to Alabama in March, where you never know what the weather will do.”

One eye on spawn timing

Although he’d also never been to Lay before practice started, Arkansas pro Spencer Shuffield is looking forward to the warming trend he’s seeing on his weather app.

“It’s going to be cold in practice but will get warmer every day,” he said. “I don’t know the water temperature out there right now, but I’m guessing it’s in the mid-50s. If that’s true and it does warm up, those big females will be sliding up, and there’s a chance we’ll have some sight fishing by the end of the week.”

Like Stefan, Shuffield is trying to gauge which species to target.

“It should be a hardcore prespawn event and both the largemouth and spotted bass should be itching to move up,” he said. “I think those spots will be suspended and the largemouth will all be pretty shallow right now. All that will depend on the water temps – 54 degrees is a lot different than 57 degrees this time of year.”

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