GILBERTSVILLE, Ky. Take a survey of the 103 anglers competing in the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series Bluegrass Brawl, and almost to a man, you'd hear that the key to winning this tournament will be having success on the offshore ledges that routinely hold bass this time of year.
But there apparently is another trick to landing lunkers on Kentucky Lake and neighboring Lake Barkley a south wind.
After several days of a blustery northeast wind that stymied the bite during practice sessions, the wind is expected to blow out of the south on Thursday during the opening round of the Bluegrass Brawl. That had many of the Elite anglers thinking conditions could be in their favor as they search for victory on this mammoth 220,000-acre manmade fishery.
The pros launched at 5:30 a.m. this morning from Kentucky Dam Village State Park in the western corner of the state to begin the year's seventh Elite Series event. Each of the men is competing for a $100,000 top prize.
Because of his familiarity with Kentucky Lake, Mark Menendez, who lives in nearby Paducah, Ky., is considered by his peers to be one of the favorites to win the Bluegrass Brawl. Menendez said a gentle south wind should have a positive effect on the size of fish landed Thursday.
"When the wind is out of the northeast, that really keeps the fish from biting," he said. "Now if it's supposed to be out of the south, that's what they're used to. Plus, there will be a little more current because (the dam) is going to pull. It's supposed to be hot today (low 90s), so they'll have to generate some electricity to keep those air conditioners going. But that's the conditions you want, where you can catch them easier. They get on the respective cover and you can catch groups of them in one place."
Whatever effect the change in wind has, Menendez is certain of one thing.
"This tournament won't be won on the bank," he said. "You don't win on the bank here after May. It will definitely be an offshore deal."
Virginia pro John Crews agreed, though he wasn't especially excited about his prospects.
"The fish, I can't find them ganged up anywhere," Crews said. "It's been one here, two there. One here, two there. So I think if you know where a lot of good places are, you can catch a good limit here. But it's not going to be easy for me, by any means. I think that's probably the case for a lot of guys."
There was one thing, however, that had Crews believing he can find quality fish on Kentucky Lake the enormous amount of acreage he has to find keepers.
"It helps spread the boats out and that's a good thing," he said. "There's so much water here, 100 boats can be gobbled up quickly."
Alabama's Steve Kennedy, who leads the Toyota Rookie of the Year race and currently is third in the Angler of the Year standings, has won tournaments twice before on Kentucky Lake. He said because this lake and Lake Barkley are so popular, angling pressure could still be problematic for the Elite.
"A lot of the good places are community holes," he said. "So it's going to be a round-robin thing out there. As soon as one leaves, another boat's going to pull in on them. Even as big a place as this is, there may be 20 really good places, and a lot of them are beat up right now. So I'm going to try for one spot where I caught fish in practice. If I don't get on them there, I'm going to be struggling. I can tell you right now, I'd be happy with a limit if that doesn't work."
Tim Horton, another Alabama angler, said he's heard that story before from his fellow pros.
"Everybody struggles in practice, but they always catch them," Horton said. "That's the consensus, but it's hard to go by."
Horton, a pre-tournament favorite because of his ledge-fishing skills and familiarity with Tennessee River impoundments, expects quality sacks of fish to be weighed today.
"The north wind negated the current," he said. "The fish weren't where they're supposed to be. But there are no excuses today. It should happen if it's going to happen."
Weigh-in is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. at Kentucky Dam Village State Park.