GADSDEN, Ala. — When the 99 competitors from the Bassmaster Elite Series arrive next week for the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Neely Henry Lake, Scott Canterbury expects the 11,200-acre fishery to put on quite a show.
Mind you, he doesn’t predict fans will see the type of historic smashfest atop the standings they saw just last week at Lake Fork. But throughout the field, the Alabama pro believes it’ll be one of the more satisfying tournaments of the season for anglers and fans alike.
Competition days will be May 6-9 with daily takeoffs at 5:40 a.m. CT from Gadsden City Boat Docks, with weigh-ins back at the docks each day at 2 p.m.
The 2019 Bassmaster Angler of the Year said he doesn’t expect to see many empty bags.
“I think we’re hitting Neely Henry at as good a time as we could have possibly hit it,” said Canterbury, an Odenville, Ala., resident with extensive experience up and down the Coosa River chain. “The lake looks really good. It’s completely full with plenty of stuff to fish.
“I think it’s setting up for every angler in the field to fish his strengths, whatever they might be.”
This will only be B.A.S.S.’s fourth visit to Neely Henry for a major event and the first time an Elite Series tournament has been held on the lake. Most recently, the Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens circuit visited last October for an event that was won by Cody Bird with a three-day total of 34 pounds, 1 ounce.
Canterbury believes it will take a bigger daily average to win the Elite Series — and he said he wouldn’t be surprised to see a few scattered 20-pound bags during the week.
“I probably consider Logan Martin my home lake, then Lay Lake and Neely Henry after those two,” Canterbury said. “I don’t fish it a ton, but I pay really close attention to the results coming out of the local trails, and they’ve been down a little the past two or three years.”
He attributes that dropoff to a lack of grass in the lake and annual spring floods that have created less-than-ideal spawning conditions.
“For four or five years in a row, we’ve had a big flood — and when they run those floodgates, there’s an area called Minnesota Bend that creates a natural dam,” Canterbury said. “Water can’t get out of there as fast as it does on the lower end. That leaves the lower end of the lake well below full pool, while the rest of the lake is up in the trees.
“Neither of those things is good for bass on the bed.”
However, local results have rebounded as of late, and the Elites will be hitting the fishery at full pool from dam to dam. That will provide a vast array of deep and shallow structure, and the lake’s healthy populations of both largemouth and spotted bass will allow anglers to fill their daily five-bass limits virtually any way they choose.
“I know I’ll have a couple of different topwaters ready and probably three different kinds of jigs,” Canterbury said. “But there’ll be chances to catch fish any way you want. There’ll be fish caught flipping, fish caught on moving baits and fish caught on topwaters. If you like dragging, I think there’ll be an offshore bite for that.
“There’ll be lots and lots of limits caught — and in my mind, that makes for an exciting tournament.”
As for the question of whether anglers should target largemouth, spots or both?
“If I was fishing a one-day tournament, I’d definitely say largemouth,” Canterbury said. “But remember Matt Robertson finished second in the Open on Neely last fall with nothing but spots — so there are definitely some good spots in the lake, just like there are with all of the Coosa River lakes.
“I don’t know if you could win it with just spots. I think at least two or three out of the four days, you’re going to need a kicker largemouth to really put you up there over the hump.”
Canterbury expects anglers to need 14 pounds a day to make the Top 10 cut for Championship Sunday, and he believes the winning weight will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 61 pounds.
“The great thing about it,” he said, “is we’re likely to have a situation where all 10 anglers still have a genuine chance to win going into Sunday. That makes for a great event.”
Live coverage for all four days of the event can be streamed on Bassmaster.com and the FOX Sports digital platforms. FS1 will also broadcast live with the tournament leaders beginning at 7 a.m. CT on Saturday and Sunday.