By Rex Chambers
FOR THE TIMES
The 2013 Top Rod Solo Trail is certainly off to a hot start after Sunday’s season-opening event on Guntersville Lake.
The Frogg Toggs Open was the first of eight regular season tournament leading up to a $10,000 championship payback, and there was an impressive roster of North Alabama’s finest fishermen to kick off the year in style.
All told, 45 of the area’s top anglers took on “The Big G,” and from the looks of the weights of the fish brought to the scales, the field won this battle decisively. It took an amazing 19.34 pounds to finish in the top 10, and there were at least six keepers more than six pounds weighed in for the tourney’s big-fish prize.
This was despite less than ideal water conditions on the lake, with the main river channel still muddy and a great deal of current from the deluge of rain over the past two weeks. Water temperatures were in the 49- to 50-degree range, and the sun never appeared on a cloudy day that saw air temps reach the mid 50’s.
When the big bass were through being paraded across stage, local guide Johnathan Henry of Grant, Ala., walked away with his second straight Top Rod win at Guntersville with a solid 25.68-pound stringer.
Another local guide, Brent Crow, of Hartselle, took home the big fish of the tournament with an 8.43-pound trophy that also set a new Top Rod Solo Trail record for biggest bass weighed.
Henry, who runs Basswhacker Guide Service on the lake, made it 2 for 2 in Top Rod Solo Trail events with his whopping sack of largemouths and took home $900 for this victory. He also won last July’s event on Guntersville with a 30-pound stringer.
Henry figured out his pattern midway through the day after a slow start to the morning. He struggled fishing mid-depths and deeper grass before moving to the bank to find the winning fish. Henry said once he realized the fish were in 2 feet of water or less, he began to catch them consistently and wound up with 20 keepers on the day.
He threw a Tomato Shad Lucky Craft RC 2.5 squarebill crankbait on rocky banks and also flipped a 1/2-ounce Killer Bass Baits jig around wood laying close to the bank. Henry used a combination of Powell Rods and P-Line to throw the crankbait and jig.
Finishing in second place was Justin Aaron of Morris, Ala., with a solid 22.30-pound bag. Aaron took home $562 for his runner-up finish in his first Top Rod Trail event.
With all the new rattle baits on the market in recent years, the original Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap has fallen out of favor for many fishermen, but Aaron showed that it can still catch big Guntersville bass. He tossed a 1/2-ounce version in Red Craw on 20-pound flourocarbon line to catch his limit — plus eight more keepers. Aaron keyed on grasslines in depths of 6-7 feet with his Rat-L-Trap.
Justin Lucas hasn’t lived in Guntersville long, but the California transplant showed once again that he’s learned his way around pretty quickly. His 21.56-pound haul earned him $337 for third place in his first Top Rod event.
Lucas used the Lucky Craft version of the rattle bait, the LV100 in Spring Craw and Aurora Brown to catch his fish. He had just six keepers on the day but found the right ones in depths of 4-6 feet around milfoil and hydrilla.
Guntersville’s Jim Leary finished in fourth with 21.27 pouncs of bass to take home $225.
He also threw a rattle bait to catch his fish, choosing a new half-ounce Spro Aruku Shad in Purple Rain. Leary threw it on a 7’6” Duckett Rods heavy-action rod to rip it out of the grass in 6-feet depths. He culled up four times to reach his final weight.
Mitch Smith, of Cullman, grabbed fifth and $112 in winnings with a 21.24-pound total.
Unlike the top-four finishers, he didn’t catch his fish on a crankbait or rattle bait, instead using the A-Rig to sack five hefty keepers. He caught a few short fish but never culled.
Smith tossed his A-Rig on 65-pound braid on grass points. He also found his fish deeper than anyone in the top five, catching them in depths of 8-11 feet. Smith used 1/8-ounce heads with albino-colored Reaction Innovations Skinny Dippers on his A-Rig.
The rest of the top 10 is as follows: Rick Williams, sixth, 20.77 pounds, $112; Sam Johns, seventh, 20.36; Mark McCaig, eighth, 19.75; Jerry Lemley, ninth, 19.47; and Norman Ligon, 10th, 19.34.
Crow, who runs North Alabama Guide Service, clinched big-fish honors and a $100 check for his record-breaking beauty. He also takes over the lead for the Big Fish of the Year with one that will be hard to top.
Crow caught the fish in depths of 6 feet on a half-ounce Rayburn Red Excalibur Rattlebait. The bass inhaled the bait after he ripped it out of the milfoil. Crow hooked it on a Dobyns Rods 704CB crankbait rod using 20-pound P-Line Flourocarbon.