When Association of Collegiate Anglers (ACA) teams from all over the nation descend on Pickwick Lake in late May for the 2012 BoatUS Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship, grinding out a limit shouldn’t be a problem. The issue will be who can catch a kicker each day – or possibly a limit of kicker-caliber fish – to claim the title.
TVA neighbors like Guntersville and Kentucky Lake have claimed the headlines for many years, but Pickwick is a lake that seems to be peaking right now.
“It used to be a lake that people would dread going there,” said two-tour pro Ish Monroe. “Now it’s no problem to catch 30 or more fish a day if you get on the right shell bed and the current is flowing. It’s a combination of the grass and the lack of pressure on the lake.”
The average size of the fish has increased along with their numbers. “It’s pretty amazing,” said Cabela’s pro Clark Wendlandt. “A few years ago there were tons of two-pounders. Now there are tons of three- to five-pound bass and some bigger ones, too.” The lake produced multiple double-digit bass this spring, including one that unofficially weighed in at about 15 pounds.
Both pros agree that the key bite will likely be offshore, on the Tennessee River ledges that are the summertime bread and butter for regional anglers. “Once you get on a good ledge, it’s just a waiting game as to when they’re going to bite,” Monroe said.
So what makes a key spot on a ledge?
“You’re looking for mussels, gravel, maybe a little bit of rock at the end of a drop-off,” Wendlandt said.
For collegiate anglers who must split their time between the water and the classroom, that makes practice a comparatively easy affair. Monroe said that with his Navionics chip and high-tech electronics, any angler could pick out key areas to try long before he hit the water. “With the online application, you can do all of your practicing at home, looking for channel swings and key depths,” he explained. “Then you can load all of your waypoints onto a blank card and go right to them when you get there.” Key lures for ledge fishing include deep-diving crankbaits, football head jigs, Carolina Rigs, flutter spoons and castable umbrella rigs.
Both Monroe and Wendlandt believe that it’ll take 15 pounds a day to be in contention, but that it could easily take 20 or more to claim the victory if conditions set up right.
“There are going to be a whole lot of fish caught,” Wendlandt said. “There’s no reason to hold back.”
While the ledges will dominate, some anglers might be able to find a decent bite in the limited backwaters if the water levels are up. If they’re high enough, Monroe said he might spend some time in those areas chunking his signature frog. It’s a fallback pattern to be sure, more likely to produce a wad of two-pounders than the threes and fours it’ll probably take to win, but he also believes it provides the best chance of catching a seven-plus-pound mule, so it might be worth the gamble.
Wendlandt said he wished that the ACA had been around when he was in school. “It’s an awesome way to get a good degree but also learn about the outdoors,” he said. “Maybe some of these students will become professional anglers, but others may learn that there are other ways to become involved in the industry.”
He’s also proud that his title sponsor, Cabela’s, is the also a stalwart supporter of this effort.
“I think it’s awesome that Cabela’s is supporting these college kids,” he stated. “It’s the future of our sport and a great testament to their commitment to the outdoors.”
After three days of practice, May 21-23, 2012, the competitors in the BoatUS Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship will launch on competition days May 24 and 25, 2012, from McFarland Park in Florence, Alabama. The tournament will subsequently be televised on NBC Sports Outdoors.