Beatin' the Bank with Bernie Schultz - 2019 Lake Guntersville BASS Elite

My record on Lake Guntersville is solid. I’ve had a number of high finishes there that included some 25-plus pound stringers, and I’ve caught them in a variety of ways.

The one thing that factored into nearly all those catches was vegetation.

Lake Guntersville is full of aquatic greenery. Everything from milfoil and peppergrass to eelgrass and hydrilla, it has it all. And it’s an absolute bass factory because of it.

Beautiful at sunrise, Lake Guntersville is teeming with baitfish.

Beautiful at sunrise, Lake Guntersville is teeming with baitfish.

I knew if I searched long enough at the right depth and contour, I would find some quality fish … and perhaps finish high as a result.

I arrived a day early to complete some last-minute preparations on my equipment, and make a stop at Scottsboro Tackle to restock on some swimbaits. After that, a trip to the grocery store for a week’s worth of provisions and I was good to go.

Practice Begins

On day 1 of practice, I accessed the lake at Goose Pond State Park — the official take-off site for the tournament. My first stop was on an expansive grassy flat adjacent to the main river channel.

In minutes, I was catching bass using a variety of topwaters and swimming soft-plastics. Included in my selection were a Hildebrandt HeadBanger buzzbait, Rapala Skitter V, Arashi Cover Pop, Skinny Dipper and white swim jig with Yamamoto Swimming Zako trailer.

For the next two hours, I caught bass at will. Unfortunately, few were the size needed to excel. I knew I would need more than a 3-pound average just to make the cut, and better than a 4-pound average to win.

After moving further upriver, I found what I was looking for — a shallow flat with sparse grass and hard bottom sprinkled with mussels. My first strike was a 4-pounder. The next, a five. Both of which I was able to see take the bait. Two hundred yards later, I had shaken off enough fish to have a 20-pound stringer.

The rest of the day, I searched for other areas like it, but found only one with the same potential.

Some of the lures I used during the event included (Top, then L-R) the Yamamoto Flappin' Hog, Terminator Popping Frog, Rapala Skitter V, Skinny Dipper and 1/2oz. swim jig with Yamamoto Zako trailer.

Some of the lures I used during the event included (Top, then L-R) the Yamamoto Flappin' Hog, Terminator Popping Frog, Rapala Skitter V, Skinny Dipper and 1/2oz. swim jig with Yamamoto Zako trailer.

On day 2, I put in at the Waterfront. My first stop was to a large, submerged island dividing the main river channel. Again, I found fish feeding aggressively, but they averaged less than two pounds. At that point, I decided I would commit the rest of the morning to fishing deep.

Referencing my Garmin Panoptix, I found multiple schools of fish, but I was unable to make them bite. It was frustrating; seeing so many bass stacked together on key ledges … refusing anything I threw.

Done with that, I spent the rest of the afternoon flipping matted grass along the main river channel, hoping to find the motherlode. The combo I used was an 8-foot Shimano Expride heavy-action flipping rod and Antares reel spooled with 30-pound Sufix 832 Braid. That setup included a 3/4-ounce VMC Tungsten Flipping Weight, 3/0 VMC Heavy Duty Wide Gap flipping hook and 3-inch Yamamoto Flappin’ Hog in the Bama Bug color.

After probing nearly two miles of channel edge, I saved the waypoints to the better stretches on my GPS then headed for home.

On the last day of practice, I put in once more at the Waterfront and headed south to Brown’s Creek, where I discovered acres of schooling bass. Although they were fun to catch, I knew they were a waste of time.

From there I checked a series of deep ledges, hoping to locate an overlooked school. Yet, again, I found fish I couldn’t catch.

By 3 p.m., I headed for the ramp, then to a gas station for fuel … the whole time, wondering what I would do the next morning.

Competition Time

Drawing out in the third flight, I was concerned who might beat me to my starting spot. When my number was finally called, I proceeded through boat check then exited the marina and raced directly to the shallow mussel bed I discovered in practice.

To my amazement, no one was there. Not even a local. Believing I would have a limit in minutes, I dropped the trolling motor and began fan casting the swim jig with the Zako trailer. Two hours later, I was stuck on three fish …one of which was three pounds.

I wondered where had they might have moved to.

Baffled, I pulled the trolling motor and headed to the next flat where I added only one fish to the livewell — another 3-pounder. Believing the shallow bite was finished, I abandoned the flats and moved to the main river channel.

That’s when things started picking up.

At 12:45pm, I got my biggest break of the tournament when I flipped up a 7-pounder. With a livewell full of fish and my ice supply running low, I decided to race to the nearest marina and reload. Twenty minutes later, I was back on the channel, flipping the edge.

Just before weigh-in, I boated another fish close to five pounds. When I reached the scales, I posted a total weight of 20 pounds, 7 ounces and was sitting in 10th place. I wanted more.

This 7-pounder hung on to win "Big Bass" honors for the event.

This 7-pounder hung on to win "Big Bass" honors for the event.

On day 2, I started again on the shallow flat — alternating between the swim jig and Skinny Dipper. But the bite was too slow, and by 9:30am I was back on the main river, pitching a Flappin’ Hog to matted grass.

There was almost no current and it was a much tougher day as a result. I managed only 12 pounds — most of which came in the last hour — but it was enough to remain in the top-35.

Fishing on the Weekend

On day 3, I decided to start by flipping the main river. I believed it was my only chance for a big catch.

Fishing slowly into the current, I reached an area with a number of feeding fish. Fifty yards later, I had my limit. They weren’t big, but at least I had five.

Soon after, a thick layer of clouds appeared and the wind died. Seeing an opportunity, I pulled the trolling motor and raced directly to the shallow flat for one last try — this time opting for a Terminator Popping Frog.

Flipping matted grass along the main river channel provided the bulk of my catch.

Flipping matted grass along the main river channel provided the bulk of my catch.

Making long casts across the shallows, I quickly coaxed a 4-pounder to the top. After culling with that one, I caught a 2½. Then a 5-pounder crushed the frog. But as I battled the fish to the boat, it managed to pen itself in a clump of weeds and pull off. I thought then that my chances to make the top-10 were gone. It was the last strike I had on the flat.

With only two hours remaining, I moved back to the channel edge, hoping to flip up enough fish to save my day.

In a short 45-minute window, I caught three 3-pounders — pushing my weight to nearly 16 pounds. It wasn’t enough to make the top-10, but it did move me up to 24th place — five places higher in the standings.  Even better, my 7-pounder hung on to take “Big Bass” honors for the event.

It was a good tournament overall. And with Guntersville in the books, I’m now within striking distance of the AOY Championship … and, hopefully, another Bassmaster Classic qualification.

Stay tuned!