HUDDLESTON, Va. The bass are on the beds at Smith Mountain Lake, but at Thursday morning's launch for Day One of the Evan Williams Bourbon Blue Ridge Brawl, seeing the fish doesn't necessarily mean they'll wind up in the livewell.
Early week practice sessions allowed anglers to find bass on the beds and in various stages of the spawn, but finding enough large bass to win the $100,000 top prize that will be handed out Sunday will be the key.
"It's a tough fishery. There's a lot of fish to be caught in this place, but they're tough to catch," said Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., the leader in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. "A lot of little males and the females are few and far between. My experience on this lake is even the ones you see, they're hard to catch. I've been sight-fishing for 20 years, and these are some finicky ones to catch. There's going to be some guys who pull their hair out today and tomorrow."
Gary Klein of Weatherford, Texas, also said he wasn't seeing many trophy bass.
"I'm seeing quite a few fish up shallow, but most of the fish I'm seeing are just small fish," said Klein, who is currently 11th in the AOY standings. "But things are changing. It's going to get better. It's just going to be a day-to-day deal. If I can catch 15 [-pound stringer] today, I'll feel pretty comfortable.
"I'm not going to change what I'm doing. I'm seeing enough fish to keep me interested. If I stumble across a good one, I'll have a good day."
Several anglers said temperatures that dipped into the low 50s during the final day of practice on Wednesday may have pushed some of the bass off the beds. But with a forecast calling for the high to be in the low 80s on Thursday, most said they expect them back.
Last year at Smith Mountain Lake, while almost the entire field was sight-fishing for largemouths on the beds in shallow pockets, Kevin VanDam won by going after spawning smallmouths on or near main-lake points.
Shaw Grigsby of Gainesville, Fla., said there's nothing guaranteeing the same tactic won't work again this year.
"It wasn't won [on the beds] last year and they were spawning really well," Grigsby said. "Kevin won it going down the bank throwing a crankbait. Skeet did real well, and he was throwing a crankbait. With the smalls, you've got to find the big ones, and there's not that many of them."
"VanDam threw a lot of different things last year," said Terry Scroggins of San Mateo, Fla. "He mixed it up quite a bit. This year, I think you're going to see everyone even more concentrated on sight-fishing than anything else."
The weather is improving, but there are a lot of factors that affect sight-fishing.
"Pollen can always hurt sight-fishing," said Dennis Tietje, an Elite Series rookie from Roanoke, La. "It puts a sheen on the water. There's always something that can happen to change things."
Such is the like for the professional angler, Reese said.
"Every day is tough out here," he said. "You start out with five. If they weigh 12 today, they might weigh 18 tomorrow."