BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — There is no doubt that cold, muddy conditions on Lay Lake make for tough fishing, but sun improved the bite for many of the contenders on the second official day of practice.
At least the weather was a marked improvement from Friday, when three inches of snow fell during the day and cold temperatures forced many anglers in early. Mike McClelland stayed out all day and felt he reaped the benefits from his diligence.
"I stayed out until dark yesterday and I actually got quite a few bites, so I think it was worth it," McClelland said. "I love the way this lake fishes, so I'm looking forward to it. It's been a long time since it has been this cold here in Alabama, but it's pretty normal for home, so I think that gives me an advantage."
The cold weather didn't let up despite the sun and Mark Menendez reported that the boat ramps were icy in the morning. One big issue with cold water temperatures has been the shad die-off. Both McClelland and Jeff Kriet agreed that it has been hurting the fishing.
"There are so many of them, it makes them an easier meal than our lures," McClelland said. "The fish haven't stopped eating this winter. The fish I've caught have been fat."
Kriet wasn't happy about the shad, but still managed to get six bites on the day, more than most reported having on Day One.
"Unless something changes, it's going to be hard to get a limit during the tournament," Kriet said. "You fish a long time without a bite and a lot of the bites you do get just hit the bait — you can't actually catch them."
While many of the anglers have been trying to figure out a tough bite on Lay Lake, local favorite Russ Lane spent the second day of practice looking for areas that will produce if the weather warms up during the tournament.
"If the water temperature gets up to 48 degrees, it could get good," Lane said. "We need this sun to warm up the water, which is why I came down to the lower end of the lake. Come tournament time, fishing will either be really good or really bad. It could take over 50 pounds if the conditions get right, but if they stay like this it might only take 35 pounds."
Randy Howell wasn't optimistic that it would warm up much, but explained that if the lake just settles down, the fishing will get better.
"We moved here in '98 and I've never seen the lake this cold," Howell said. "I still didn't expect the fish to be as shut off as they are, but it has to get better — it can't get any worse. If the lake stabilizes a little and the current slows down, these fish will have a chance to get used to it."
Brent Chapman had 4 or 5 bites on Day Two and compared to his first day, that was pretty good.
"This is very, very unusually cold water," Chapman said. "If we get a few warm days without a cold front like we are having now, the fishing will probably get better."
Some areas on the lower end of the lake had water temperatures nearing 46 degrees, but average temperatures were closer to 44 degrees. Add the mud that has been flowing through the system and the fishing suffers.
Self-proclaimed "Cajun Baby" and Elite Series rookie Cliff Crochet did not get a bite on the second day of practice.
"I did have two bites yesterday and got them where I wanted, so that's a plus for me," Crochet said. "But this is bad muddy and cold. If you have one or the other, it would be alright, but both makes it tough."
Crochet did catch his first Coosa River spotted bass on Lay Lake, but was disappointed that it was only a small one and didn't put up the fight normally associated with a fish here. He's hoping the sun stays out throughout the week, but looks forward to the Classic rain or shine.
"Life is good," Crochet said. "I'm scouting for my first Classic. How bad can it get? Well, that thrill lasts for about 15 minutes and then I'm disgusted with this place again."
Despite the struggles after two days of practice, many anglers were optimistic that conditions would change for the better come tournament time. Weekend Series angler Darrell West had a slow practice, catching a few fish, but also looking for areas that would benefit from sun and warmer temperatures.
"I just hope the sun is warming this grass a little bit — that is keeping me optimistic," West said. "The first day is supposed to be 55 to 58 degrees, so I'm trying to key in on grass mats close to deep water."
Casey Ashley took a different approach to the fishing than West. He didn't have a bite on the second day of practice, but believed there were fish in his areas.
"It's supposed to keep warming up all this week and next week, too," Ashley said. "All you are doing is fishing the same water you probably will during the tournament. There are fish here, they just aren't biting with the water in the low 40s."
Competitors have one more day of pre-practice before Lay Lake goes off limits. Then they will have a final day to fish the lake on Wednesday. Anglers will launch Sunday to temperatures right around freezing, eventually warming up to the upper 40s and a chance of rain in the afternoon.