Open On Smith Lake To Benefit From Blueback Herring Explosion

Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens champion David Kilgore will be one of 170 pros competing at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open at Smith Lake out of Jasper, Ala, March 31–April 2. Kilgore took home top honors in 2014 when he won his third Open event with a three-day total weight of 54 pounds, 11 ounces.

                                                   Photo by James Overstreet/Bassmaster
JASPER, Ala. — Smith Lake has been on the upswing since the last time the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Opens Series visited here in early March 2014. A surge in blueback herring baitfish has been regularly producing five-bass limits of spotted bass in excess of 20 pounds over the past two years.

“The reason I won the tournament the last time was because of the blueback herring, but I didn’t know that,” said David Kilgore of Jasper, who took first place with a three-day total of 54 pounds, 11 ounces. “I just thought the bass were feeding on shad.”

Now everybody knows about the blueback herring in Lewis Smith Lake, a 21,000-acre reservoir in north-central Alabama. Blueback herring lakes tend to fish a bit differently than other Southern waters with the usual forage of threadfin and gizzard shad. So there will undoubtedly be some surprises in store when the second Southern Open gets underway at Smith Lake March 31-April 2.

Wesley Strader of Spring City, Tenn., won the first Southern Open Jan. 28-30 at the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in Florida.

Kilgore, who owns a home on Smith Lake, predicts that about 50 percent of the bass will have spawned by the time the tournament starts. And due to heavy rains that raised the lake level 17 feet last December, the lake isn’t as clear as usual in many places. That combination might take the sight-fishing aspect out of this event for the most part.

“There will be some, but I don’t think there will be a lot of it,” Kilgore said. “This is a hard lake to do that on three days in a row.”

In a major tournament on Smith at the same time last year, five anglers weighed 60-plus pounds over three days, and it took 65-5 to win. Kilgore doesn’t expect the winning weight will be that heavy in this Southern Open. But because the bass are generally shallow now, he thinks it opens the possibilities for several more anglers than usual.

“Normally, there would be about 15 people who can win it,” Kilgore said. “This time I think there are 30 or 40 guys who can win, just because the fish are going to the banks.”

One thing is guaranteed: The tournament won’t be won on an umbrella rig, which Kilgore primarily relied upon two years ago. Those multilure rigs are no longer permitted in B.A.S.S. tournaments.

Brandon Lester of Fayetteville, Tenn., finished seventh here two years ago. He said he was one of the few in the Top 10 who wasn’t using an umbrella rig, so Lester is planning to rely on the same techniques he used then.

“It’s going to be interesting for sure,” said Lester, who is coming off a 13th-place finish in the Elite Series season opener on Florida’s St. Johns River. “A lot has changed since the last time I’ve been there. I don’t think the bluebacks had really taken hold then.

“The lake is definitely on the upswing. It wouldn’t surprise me if it took 20 pounds a day to win. I don’t think it’ll be won on just spots or just largemouth (bass). I think it’ll take a mixed bag.”

Kilgore is sure some 20-pound daily limits will be weighed in. But he’s unsure if anyone will be able to do that three days in a row with all the fishing pressure from this tournament.

“I think it will take more like 18 pounds a day, about like it did last time,” Kilgore said.

Anglers will take off each day at 6:30 a.m. CT at Smith Lake Dam Access. Weigh-ins will be held at 2:30 p.m. at Smith Lake Dam Access the first two days, with the final weigh-in on Day 3 taking place at the Bass Pro Shops in Leeds, Ala., at 3:45 p.m.

The local host for the event is the Walker County Chamber of Commerce.

2016 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Series Title Sponsor: Bass Pro Shops

2016 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota

2016 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Series Premier Sponsors: Berkley, GoPro, Huk, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Yamaha

2016 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Series Supporting Sponsors: A.R.E. Truck Caps, Carhartt, Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels, Livingston Lures, Lowrance, Power-Pole, Rapala, Shell Rotella, Shimano

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