CELEBRATION, Fla. Nearly halfway through the 2007 Bassmaster Elite Series season, the sixth event the Blue Ridge Brawl presented by Advance Auto Parts scheduled for June 7-10 at Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta, Va. represents a make-or-break tournament for anglers looking to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic and contend in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
As the season reaches a turning point, anglers jockeying for position will be looking for top finishes at Smith Mountain, a scenic 20,600-acre lake that is 40 miles long and features more than 500 miles of shoreline nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of rural southwestern Virginia.
The 40-year-old impoundment was created for power generation with the damming of the Blackwater and Roanoke rivers. Tournament coverage from the event will be featured at 9 a.m. ET June 16 on ESPN2.
Perhaps none of the other 107 Elite Series pros know the lake as intimately as John Crews of Salem, Va. Crews, who is 30th in the Angler of the Year standings, will look to improve his chances during the event for a Bassmaster Classic berth. Only the top 37 in the standings at season's end will advance to the Classic.
"The fishing will be pretty good," he said. "If you were to assign a number rating, it will probably be a 6 out of a 10 in terms of fishing. But it won't be what we're used to on the Elite Series. You won't see a lot of 20-pound limits.
"The lake does have some big fish in it. You can find some 6-, 7- and 8-pounders. We'll see a few of those. There is just not a plethora of 4- and 5-pounders like most of the lakes we'll be going to on the Elite Series in 2007."
Last October, for the second time in its nearly 40 years of existence, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society brought a tournament to Smith Mountain Lake. The three-day event, the final Bassmaster Northern Tour event of the season, was won by Robert Hoyt Jr., of Harrisonburg, Va., with 36 pounds, 14 ounces.
The conditions will be considerably different this time around.
"The bass are going to be on the tail end of the post-spawn," Crews said. "There are going to be a lot of fish transitioning into deep water. It's going to be an interesting tournament because the fish are really going to be in a transition mode."
Although the lake is home to two species of bass, Crews expects largemouth to dominate.
"There are about 70 percent largemouth and 30 percent smallmouth in Smith Mountain," he said. "In June, there will be a few smallmouth weighed in, but the smallmouth really get cranked up when it gets cold. It's going to be anything but cold in June."
Crews predicts the winner will average 15 to 16 pounds for each of the four rounds, totaling a winning weight of more than 60 pounds.
"The dominant patterns will be topwaters, shaky heads, Senkos and probably some fish caught on drop-shots," he said. "There will be a lot of fish in the mid-range. There will be some fish out deep and still some fish left up shallow. And a bunch of fish in between."
Daily weigh-ins and launches will take place at Parkway Marina, with launches beginning at 5:50 a.m. ET and weigh-ins starting at 3 p.m. ET.
Local sponsors include Franklin and Bedford counties.