After four months away, the top circuit of B.A.S.S. returns this week with the DEWALT Bassmaster Elite at Lake Eufaula.
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The 87 anglers (Yusuke Miyazaki won't be fishing), many of whom haven’t competed since the season opener, have converged on Lake Eufaula for the June 10-13 event, postponed from early April due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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Eufaula, a 46,000-acre impoundment of the Chattahoochee River on the Alabama-Georgia border, has a long history with B.A.S.S. The lake extends about 85 miles north from its dam and has around 640 miles of shoreline.
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Officially named Walter F. George Lake after a U.S. Senator from Georgia, the lake was legally changed in Alabama and has been widely known as Lake Eufaula. The lake’s lock boasts one of the highest lifts of any east of the Mississippi River.
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Lakepoint State Park, 104 Old Hwy. 165, on the northern end of Eufaula is tournament central this week.
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Takeoffs from the park begin at 6:25 a.m. ET and weigh-ins will be there at 3 p.m. ET. B.A.S.S. has social distancing protocols in place.
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Here’s the launch of the 1969 Alabama National, the second of 17 pro level Bassmaster events on Lake Eufaula, which puts the fishery on the top 10 list of most visited venues.
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The crowds came out in 1969, only six years after Eufaula was impounded, to watch the anglers compete in the fledgling series.
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Blake Honeycutt was handed the trophy by B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott at the 1969 awards banquet. Although it was with 15-fish daily limits, Honeycutt totaled 138 pounds, 6 ounces over three days, a mark never eclipsed in more than 700 subsequent tournaments.
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Rip Nunnery had the best day ever on Eufaula, using a boat paddle to carry in his 15 bass that weighed almost 100 pounds. The paddle broke. While Nunnery helped the fishery earn the moniker of ‘Big Bass Capital of the World,’ Nunnery couldn’t follow up and finished third in his only B.A.S.S. entry.
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The year before in the Eufaula National, the fifth ever B.A.S.S. event, John Powell won with 132 pounds. The most recent Bassmaster event on Eufaula was the 2006 Southern Open won by Ryan Ingram.
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There is no shortage of lore surrounding Eufaula. Roland Martin, who won tournaments there in 1972 and 1981, was famously almost scared away from competing in B.A.S.S. after watching the huge stringers in 1969, but Ray Scott talked him down. Martin’s 1981 win completed a string of three consecutive victories.
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Davy Hite, who won the Alabama Invitational on Eufaula in 1994, finished third in the 2002 season-ending event there to pull away and secure his second Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. Here, Bassmaster TV host Tommy Sanders hands over the trophy to his cohort. There was a tight race going into the event, with five anglers separated by 24 points and 11 mathematically alive. Denny Brauer scored his first of two wins on Eufaula that year.
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Fishing legend Tom Mann is closely associated with Eufaula, from his Mann’s Bait Company that produced Little George lures and Jelly Worms, to his Fish World museum that was home to Leroy Brown, a largemouth he caught in 1973 and brought home to live in a tank.
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Leroy Brown made headlines as the aggressive male ruled the tank, learned to jump through a hoop, received fan mail and had his own fans. Ray Scott helped give Leroy a funeral attended by a huge crowd (estimates range from 500 to 1,200 people), including pallbearer Roland Martin. Scott and Eufaula mayor Jack Tibbs rededicated the monument to Leroy on East Broad Street in 2016.
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Just across the street from the Leroy Brown monument is Manny, a 12-foot leaping largemouth statue named in honor of Tom Mann and unveiled in 2018.
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Mann was also behind the development of the Humminbird electronics, which are still engineered and manufactured from this Johnson Outdoors facility on Eufaula at Humminbird Point.
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Originally set for April, the Lake Eufaula event still promises great competition as fish should be found shallow to offshore. Eufaula has an average depth of 15-18 feet, with 100 feet the deepest point, and ledges will be in play.
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On the northern end of the lake is the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge. Lakepoint State Park lies within the refuge’s 11,000 managed acres, which are designated to protect endangered and threatened wildlife such as the wood stork.
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Lake Eufaula supports one of the largest alligator populations in Alabama. During the 2019 fall hunting season, a father and daughter took a potential state record gator, longer than the 920-pounder taken there just a few years earlier.
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Eufaula is well-populated with bass of all sizes, including the occasional double-digit lunker. Grass and vegetation cover is abundant but some believe bigger fish will be found deeper.
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There are also several bridges over the lake and numerous docks. The long-range forecast for Eufaula includes scattered thunderstorms leading up to and continuing for each day of competition with temperatures climbing to around 90. A tropical depression has formed in the Gulf of Mexico, and its path is uncertain.
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A little rain and hot temps won’t hinder the Elites, many of whom have not fished since Paul Mueller won the season opener on the St. Johns River 121 days before Day 1 on Eufaula.
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It also will be 94 days since Hank Cherry claimed the title in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk on Lake Guntersville.
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COVID-19 postponed much of Bassmaster’s spring schedule, but the season is set to complete in full, with fishing going deep into fall. Anglers bided their time as best they could, with many getting projects done around their homes. Like several others, Chris and Trait Zaldain had extra time to move into a new home, and Chris even had time to work on the flower beds.
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One positive note for missing the original date is that a tornado hit Eufaula and crossed the lake on a day when the Elites would have been practicing and in harm’s way.
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After the hiatus, the anglers are excited to resume the season and see how the things play out. There will be a month off before the circuit heads to New York for three consecutive tournaments, but the circuit reconvenes for the second of nine scheduled events at storied fishery, where more stories will be chronicled.