LAKE GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Fish-factory Lake Guntersville is like racing on a fast track, golfing on a short municipal course or bowling with those deflecting cushions. In other words, things can get a bit easier and infinitely more entertaining. On Thursday, Todd Faircloth of Jasper, Texas, smashed 31 pounds, 0 ounces, on Guntersville to lead the Marine Formula STA-BIL Southern Challenge, edging out a host of anglers who caught 28-plus pounds.
Spurred by a productive practice, Faircloth boated the vast majority of his weight by 8 a.m., just two hours into his competition day. The two-time BASS winner visited high spots on the main lake filled with either shell beds or grass. With a firm total in hand, Faircloth spent much of his day searching for new water that he could use throughout the rest of the four-day tournament.
"It was just one of those days that you dream about having," said Faircloth, 33. "You pretty much can do whatever you want to catch them. But I know how these things typically play out. One day you can be on them and the next you can be scratching your head."
Like many pros, Faircloth felt that the fishery had turned on due to the heavy current being pulled on Guntersville. While he felt that the areas he visited were a key to his success, he said his pattern played a significant role in his banner day. He didn't, however, divulge details of his technique.
It's been quite a run for Faircloth over the past few seasons. He has qualified for three consecutive Bassmaster Classics, crossed the $1 million in BASS career earnings threshold and narrowly missed out on the 2008 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, finishing second to Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich.
He is far from done, however. This year, he is eighth in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings and still has an outside shot at the coveted title. And a victory at Guntersville would put his credentials on par with the top echelon of Elite anglers.
"I've been running pretty good of late," said Faircloth. "But I'm always looking to improve. That's what I'll be looking to do tomorrow."
While Faircloth is red hot, Mike McClelland, who is just 6 ounces behind Faircloth, is looking to turn around a less-than-stellar season. He is well positioned to do so after boating a limit of 30 pounds, 10 ounces, which included an 8-pound behemoth.
Two days into a so-so practice period, McClelland of Bella Vista, Ark., decided to change things up. Something didn't feel right and he conferred with Jeff Kriet, a fellow Elite angler, and made some slight adjustments. It worked Thursday. The six-time BASS winner, throwing a variety of baits, was able to lock in where he is comfortable, away from the shoreline.
Troubled by events this season where sight fishing was the dominant pattern, McClelland has yet to find his grove and is 44th in the AOY standings; this after staying close to VanDam and Faircloth in the AOY chase last year.
Nonetheless, McClelland, a six-time Classic qualifier, could easily turn things around with a top finish at Guntersville.
"Things just fell into place today," said McClelland, 41. "This can definitely help me for the rest of the season. I feel comfortable and I plan to explore some things tomorrow."
To illustrate Guntersville's productivity, Martens said he caught 137 fish in the keeper-size range Thursday and had more than 200 bites translating to more than 20 bites per hour.
Kevin VanDam and Skeet Reese finished in a tie for 15th. The two, neck and neck in the 2009 AOY race, continue to stay close to each other. Reese is trailing VanDam by more than 60 points and Alton Jones, who placed sixth Thursday, is lurking in third in the AOY race.
Guntersville has been the site of more than 20 previous BASS events, including the 1976 Bassmaster Classic, won by Elite Series pro Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo. The last time the Elite Series visited the popular fishery, in 2007, VanDam outlasted the field to claim the trophy. His winning weight of 66 pounds, 3 ounces, was more than 7 pounds the better over St. Louis' Mark Tucker, who finished second with 59-1.