Editor's note: Join host Rob Russow at the top of each hour during Sunday's final day of the Synergy Southern Challenge for live updates, including analysis from Mark Zona and Tommy Sanders, on the water reports, BassTrakk breakdown, angler interviews and footage of the latest catches.
GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. Monster winds blowing down the biggest part of Lake Guntersville created difficult conditions for Billy McCaghren. After landing 28 pounds, 1 ounce off the lone deep spot on Friday, McCaghren found the windblown lake too difficult to hold on and he limped in with only two keepers on Day Three.
"I never was able to properly fish where I caught that big bag yesterday," McCaghren said. "I was fishing offshore at probably the widest part of the lake. The waves were rolling over the front of my bass boat and I had to use the bilge constantly."
McCaghren stayed in the spot for about an hour and a half, which by his accounts probably was too long. Even so, he had all his money riding on that one spot and he failed to locate another group of fish the rest of the day.
"I wasn't able to adjust and probably spent too much time out there because I thought I had the fish to win," McCaghren said. "I could have used one of those walleye boats with an anchor. Unfortunately, those PowerPoles don't work in 15 feet of water."
KVD is back
After a notable absence from the top 12 for the first half of the Elite Series season, Kevin VanDam finally got back into form at the Synergy Southern Challenge. His 66 pounds, 2 ounces of Lake Guntersville bass over three days has him in fifth place and will bring in some much needed points if he hopes to make a run at the postseason in July.
"I've been fishing as hard as I can, I just have had a few hard breaks," VanDam said, referring to making the cut in only two tournaments and finishing no higher than 22nd since winning the Classic in February.
Lake Guntersville has seemed to be the right cure for whatever was ailing KVD and another bag over 20 pounds on Day Three has him fishing on Sunday for the first time this season.
"This week you need to have a 7- or 8-pounder and I don't think I have had one over 5 pounds," VanDam said. "This lake is definitely my favorite. Over the years, I've done well here. Everybody is catching them it's a fantastic lake."
With a victory and six top-five finishes on the fabled reservoir, VanDam has Guntersville dialed in and looks to make it seven top-five finishes when he takes to the water on Day Four.
Now, for something completely different
Charlie Hartley's very essence breaks the mold of the typical bass angler, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that he was doing something very different from most of the field this past week on Lake Guntersville.
While many anglers looked offshore to find big groups of post-spawn fish, Hartley has focused on the lake's prevalent boat docks for fish just coming off their beds.
"I like to think I can put a bait up under a dock where no other man can," Hartley said. "In two weeks, this bite will be all little ones because the big ones will all move out, but right now, you can still get big bites under docks."
To target the docks, Hartley has been combining a spinning reel and 12-pound Berkley fluorocarbon with a 6-inch Venom Salty Sling and skipping it as far under a dock as he can, sometimes coming out the other side.
"I call that Salty Sling a bratwurst," Hartley said. "All the little fish run from it and the big fish go, 'Yum, bratwurst.'"
After averaging 20 pounds a day Thursday and Friday, Hartley had some execution errors that cost him a higher finish.
"I'm using too light line and it finally cost me today," Hartley said. "I had one pull so hard today, I hate to even guess how big it was. It broke my heart. Today should have been a good day — nothing's better for putting them under there than bluebird skies and a cold front. I would have had a big bag if I could have caught those two that broke me off."
Hartley ended up walking away with a check and a 38th-place finish after bringing in 54 pounds, 13 ounces over the three days of competition.
Not in Louisiana anymore
Since graduating to the big leagues of professional fishing, Cliff Crochet has been through a lot of new experiences outside of his home state of Louisiana.
First, it was seeing snow for the first time at the Classic in February. Then, it was fishing west of Texas when the Elite Series headed to California. This week, it has been fishing with a deep-diving crankbait.
"Dude, I've been catching them working off the bank, which freaked me out," Crochet said. "That's the first time I've caught them cranking a big plug. It's addicting and I need to get better at it because it's something I don't do much."
The spot was a textbook offshore location and Crochet quickly got a lot of practice throwing that plug. Sitting off a point at the mouth of a creek, Crochet was able to intercept fish as they pulled out of their spawning grounds and into the main lake.
"I pulled up there in practice and started cranking it and they started smashing it," Crochet said. "Turns out there was a shell bed or rock pile down there."
Crochet milked the area for 56 pounds, 5 ounces and a 34th-place showing, not bad for a rookie fishing a deep-diving crankbait for the first time.
"The few places I had that didn't have boats on them, had to much wind on them."
"Hopefully I'm in it tomorrow."
Skeet Reese after weighing his fish on Day Three
"I had a big fish break me off today, that's the first fish I've lost all year."
"This is the greatest lake in the country."
"These fish will be in a spot about as big as this stage during post-spawn, but when you find them it is the mother-lode ... especially on this lake."
"Everywhere you looked out there today you could see bass being caught."
"I went out and played around deep during practice just to get the guys talking, but went flipping during the tournament."
"I had a whole bass club on the spot I've been fishing this morning. It's a big lake but it fishes really small."
"We're back here behind the stage fighting over who's going to finish last."
"Without my sponsors I would have spent my whole pay check on baits this week."
Britt Myers on losing so many baits while fishing rip rap near bridges.