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Fishing in the winter is a true test

In less than a month, the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk will be held at Lake Guntersville. That’s a fitting place to celebrate the Classic’s 50th birthday, in the great state of Alabama where the Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society got its start in 1968.

Often billed as the Super Bowl of bass fishing, fans are getting hyped up for the biggest tournament of the season.

Back when I was a kid, I remember my father attending the Classic in the summertime. He’d head solo somewhere — usually south — to cover the event for this newspaper. Although I suspect he also enjoyed the heck out of a week living and breathing what he enjoyed most in life, bass fishing.

In the early years of the Classic, from 1971 to 1983, the tournament was held in the fall. That all changed in 1984 when it became a summer event, which I how I remember it from my childhood. But in 2006, the Classic was moved up to the beginning of the year. This year’s Classic will be held March 6 to 8.

Even though the Classic has been a wintertime event for more than a decade now, anglers are still debating the timing of the tournament. There are folks who contend that like the NFL’s Super Bowl, the Classic should be held at the end of the season, not the beginning.

I rather favor holding the Classic during the colder months of the year. There might be a larger gap of time between the last tournament and the Classic the following year, but unarguably the fish are going to be at their largest during the prespawn period. The last year the Classic was held in the summer, in 2005, Kevin Van Dam won the tournament. But he also set the record for the lowest weight to win a Classic.

We should expect some big bags from this year’s tournament. Lake Guntersville is a bass fisherman’s paradise. It came into existence through the efforts of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The dam was constructed in the 1930s and 1,182 family homes, 14 cemeteries and 90 miles of roads were relocated. It’s Alabama’s largest lake, covering almost 70,000 acres, and it was voted second in Bassmaster’s 100 Best Bass Lakes in 2019. It’s no wonder this will be the third time the Classic is fished on Lake Guntersville.

As Lake Guntersville is bass fishing heaven, we might even see an angler catch a century bag — more than 100 pounds of bass caught in four days of fishing with a five-fish creel limit. Lake Guntersville is one of only seven lakes that has produced a century bag during a tournament.

And while summertime fishing is usually more reliable, fishing in the winter is a true test of ability and perseverance. Shouldn’t the Classic be a true challenge?

But the most important reason I like having a winter Classic is because it’s better for the fish. These days, and for good reason, people recognize we’ve got to take care of the resource.

While the fishing takes place on Lake Guntersville, the weigh-in is 75 miles away in Birmingham. Those fish are going to be taking a long trip, and we want that trip to be round-trip, not one-way. Fishing mortality is greatly reduced by moving the tournament to the beginning of the year. Holding the tournament in winter ensures the best possible outcome for the fish.

However, none of us can predict exactly what Mother Nature will throw at those 53 competitors who will battle it out from their bass boats on Lake Guntersville in March. It could be 70-degrees with fish itching to spawn or 15-degrees and downright teeth-chattering for the anglers and marshals as those bass boats zip across the water. Or maybe it might even be a little bit of both.

You just never know what might happen at a Classic. In 2015, on South Carolina’s Lake Harwell, Steve Lund attempted to launch his boat. It was a frigid morning on the first day of the tournament, and things were not going Lund’s way. he weather was so cold that he couldn’t launch as his boat was frozen to the trailer. His name will forever be associated with that story from the Classic.

Ask anyone who has followed the Classic over the years and they’ll tell you the most memorable tournament was in 1994 when amateur Bryan Kerchal won. Kerchal never did get to realize his dream of becoming a professional as he lost his life the following year in a plane crash.

Who knows what legends will be made this year? The tournament will pay out over $1 million to 53 of the world’s best bass anglers. You can watch the action on www.bassmaster.com or see the highlights of the tournament on Sundays in April on ESPN2.

We’ve got our own season opener to look forward to this month.

While there’s not a huge payout and the boats are a lot humbler (in fact, a boat isn’t even required to partake in this annual tradition), yellow perch fishing is this region’s initial event that gets anglers itching to get outside.

A reliable source said yellow perch are already being caught where those two bridges along Route 234 cross Allen’s Fresh in Charles County. While the amount of sunlight increasing each day affects the perch run, the warmer, mild weather certainly has helped persuade them to start moving a little early.

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