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Southern Open 1
Jan. 29-31, 2009
Harris Chain of Lakes, Tavares, Fla.
The 2009 Southern Open season opens in Central Florida on the Harris Chain of Lakes, Jan. 29-31. With 9 lakes in the chain covering approximately 76,000 surface acres, there will be plenty of water to go around. BASS last visited the Harris Chain in March 2008 when Elite Series pro Mike McClelland won the Sunshine Showdown with a 4-day total of 59 pounds, 2 ounces.
With the Open event coming earlier in the year, there will likely be plenty of big spawning bass to target, and weights could be up if the weather cooperates. Double-digit bass are always a possibility here.
Wheeler Lake, Decatur, Ala.
With the second event of the 2009 Southern Open season, anglers will have a chance to catch some big smallmouth bass. Wheeler Lake is not only a great largemouth fishery, but a strong bronzeback site, as well. The lake first came to national prominence in 1974 as the site of the fourth Bassmaster Classic. Since then, BASS has visited the lake for seven other professional tournaments, including the 2008 Southern Challenge won by Elite Series pro Jeremy Starks with a four-day catch weighing 78 pounds, 10 ounces. That came in early June. In late April and early May bass may still be spawning on Wheeler.
The lake offers a wide variety of terrific bass habitat, from the riverine waters of its upper end to the stump flats and weedbeds of its middle section to the step banks and long points near the dam.
Santee Cooper Reservoirs, Manning, S.C.
The Santee Cooper lakes Marion and Moultrie are legendary among bass anglers. Not only did they provide the training ground for one of the sport's all-time greats, Roland Martin, but they produced one of the biggest winning catches in BASS tournament history. In 2006, Preston Clark weighed in 20 bass totaling 115 pounds, 15 ounces to claim the Santee Cooper Showdown. Covering approximately 171,000 acres, Marion and Moultrie are a cypress-studded bass Nirvana.
This will be BASS' 13th professional tournament on the twin lake complex and just the second in the fall. In October 1994, Elite Series pro Kevin Wirth won the South Carolina Invitational with a three-day catch weighing 39-15.
BASS has only visited Chesapeake Bay once in its 40-plus-year history, and that was for the crown jewel of the sport, the Bassmaster Classic. Elite Series pro Ken Cook won that tournament, held in the middle of summer, with a three-day catch weighing just 33 pounds, 2 ounces. He used a spinnerbait to take bass fishing's most prestigious tournament.
Spinnerbaits should again be a factor when the Northern Open comes to the Chesapeake Bay in the spring. Bass will likely be shallow and aggressive, and the best anglers with a spinnerbait or swimbait should do well. Weights should be up from the 1991 numbers, too.
Lake Champlain, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
The Open anglers at Lake Champlain will have a tough choice to make. Should they fish for the lake's more famous and more numerous smallmouth or gamble on fewer but heavier largemouth. In 2006, BASS legend Denny Brauer opted for largemouth on the way to his 16th career win and 80 pounds, 3 ounces of bass. A year later, Tim Horton made the same decision as he boated 83-10. Horton's lead going into the final round was so secure that he came back to the ramp after catching a quick limit and slept in his boat until it was time for the weigh-in.
Both anglers fished jigs, but Brauer was pitching and flipping his to shallow cover while Horton was casting to offshore structure.
In 2009, Elite anglers will have to make the same decisions go after the more plentiful smallmouth or go for broke and hope for action from the bigger largemouth. They'll also have to choose between shallow cover and offshore structure. No matter which way they go, they're going to catch bass on this amazing fishery. The winner will have to find a way to catch the bigger ones.
Lake Erie, Sandusky, Ohio
To call Lake Erie "big water" would be a major understatement. Covering nearly 10,000 square miles, Erie is far and away the largest body of water on BASS' schedule for 2009. It's not only one of the Great Lakes, it's also one of the great bass lakes in the world, especially if you're a fan of smallmouth bass. BASS was last at Erie in the summer of 2008 when Kotaro Kiriyama drop shotted nearly 100 pounds of smallmouth bass over four days to win the Empire Chase Elite Series event.
Drop shotting seems to be the way to go on Erie. Soft plastic goby imitations fished on drop shot rigs near deep water reefs are a common key to victory. It's a good bet that offshore tactics and soft plastics will be popular again in 2009.
Some lakes are bass factories and churn out great fishing year after year. Others turn out great anglers because they're great training grounds. Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Texas-Louisiana state line has done both for decades.
In February 2001, Dean Rojas followed up his record setting performance on Florida's Lake Tohopekaliga with a win here. His four-day total of 55 pounds, 8 ounces might not be enough in 2009. At the Louisiana Central Open in March 2002, it took more than 63 pounds to win in just three days.
The prespawn bite on Rayburn should be strong and will likely give anglers lots of options as they target staging fish all around the lake with spinnerbaits, crankbaits, jigs and swimbaits.
Thirty-one times that's how often BASS has visited Sam Rayburn Reservoir. It started in 1968 with the All-American won by Bill Dance. More recently, it was one of the earliest stops in the Bassmaster Elite Series, and Greg Hackey took home the trophy. In between, such bass fishing luminaries as John Powell, Tommy Martin, Denny Brauer, Rick Clunn and Kevin VanDam have won there. Elite Series pro Shaw Grigsby considers it a second home, having won on Rayburn three different times!
The incredible variety of bass habitat keeps Rayburn vital. Anglers will have a myriad of shallow and deep water options to choose from as they visit this Texas jewel in the late summer. In September 2004, Edwin Evers rode the tide of a three-day catch weighing 52 pounds, 7 ounces on his way to victory at a Bassmaster Central Open.
It's been more than five years since BASS visited the Atchafalaya Basin, and the 2009 Central Open finale will be just the third time BASS has held a professional level tournament there. The first was the 1978 BASS Champs tournament for top finishers in the Classic and Federation Nation Championship. The second was in October 2004 and was won by Elite Series pro Cliff Pace.
Pace boated 29 pounds, 2 ounces of bass over three days to take the Central Open title in 2004. But if weather and water conditions cooperate, weights could be much higher in 2009. The Basin offers tens of thousands of acres of classic-looking shallow bass cover. The guys who pitch, flip and cover thin water the best will be cashing the checks here.