GADSDEN, Ala. — The season’s first significant cooling trend may be just what Neely Henry Lake needs to deliver a true fall scenario for anglers competing in the Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Open.
Competition days will be Oct. 22-24 with daily takeoffs from Coosa Landing at 6:45 a.m. CT. Weigh-ins will be held back at Coosa Landing at 2:45 p.m.
Making his home in Ashville, Ala., about 30 minutes from Neely Henry, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Matt Herren said the lake is fairly stable with a water level just a few inches below full pool. However, cooler weather pushing through northern Alabama a week before the tournament could hasten the fall transition.
“This will be the first cold front of the year and that will help because the lake’s been fishing incredibly tough,” Herren said. “We need the cold fronts to trigger these fish and get them going in their fall feeding.
“This first front is definitely going to bring the water temperature down. I think that it will be in the upper 60s when the tournament starts.”
Daytime highs will fall from the low 80s to the upper 60s, with overnight lows slipping from the mid-50s to the low to mid-40s. Temperatures will come back up during the tournament, but with shortening days already nudging fish along, it doesn’t take much of a weather change to crack the whip.
Created by Alabama Power Company in 1966, this 11,200 acre Coosa River impoundment stretches 77.6 miles from the Neely Henry Dam upstream to Weiss Dam. Comprising a mix of deep, offshore structure and steep bluff banks, major creek arms with flats and a long stretch of traditional river habitat peppered with laydowns, stumps and rocks, Neely Henry offers plenty of room to spread out.
“I think the entire lake will be in play and for a guy to do well, he’s going to have to develop a pattern, because I don’t think any one area will hold up for three days,” Herren said. “It will be a pattern tournament; you’re going to have to run new stuff every day.”
Herren also believes the most successful anglers will follow a junk-fishing game plan with multiple baits producing their daily limits. Likely players for fall on Neely Henry include buzzbaits, bladed jigs, squarebills, football jigs, Texas-rigged creature baits and shaky heads.
“It’s not going to be rocket science; it’s just going to be figuring out what the pattern of the day is,” Herren said. “That lake’s kind of fickle. One day you go out and they’ll be all over rock-type banks and the next day they’re not there — they’re on docks or laydowns. You just have to go fishing every morning and let them tell you what to do."
Known mostly for its scrappy Coosa River spotted bass, Neely Henry also holds plenty of largemouth. Herren believes both will factor into the tournament’s outcome, but there is a clear difference in size potential.
“Spotted bass get pretty aggressive in the fall, as well as largemouth, and they’re both going to be bait-oriented,” he said. “I think whoever wins the tournament will have some of both, but you’re going to need that kicker largemouth.
“You can catch a lot of 3- to 4-pound spots, but if you want a 5- to 6-pound bite, you’re going to have to go look for a largemouth. I think it will have to be an integrated approach.”
Current always factors into a river-system event, but Herren said it’s even more essential for the spots. That being said, Herren stresses the importance of paying attention to the daily hydroelectric power generation schedules.
“Largemouth feed all day long and they will feed better, at times, with current flow, but they’re not as absolutely dependent on it as the spots are,” he said.
Herren estimates it will take a three-day total of about 42 to 44 pounds to win the $35,000 first-place prize. Finding a couple of top-end spotted bass and adding a hefty largemouth or two could yield a banner day.
“On this lake, a ‘mega bag’ that will put you in a really good position would be somewhere between 15 to 19 pounds,” Herren said. “The big thing is figuring out how to get that 5- to 6-pound largemouth bite.”
This will be the third of four events on the Central Open slate for this year. When all four are done, the Top 4 anglers in the final division standings will earn an invitation to fish the 2021 Elite Series.
The Top 4 anglers from the final Eastern Open standings will also receive Elite invites, along with the Top 4 from the overall combined standings from both divisions. The winner of the overall standings will be crowned Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year and earn a cash prize of $10,000.
The tournament is being hosted by Greater Gadsden Area Tourism.