Decline In Guntersville

North American Fisherman Staff Writer Zach Taylor's pre-2013 report showed 30 pound bags such as this were fairly common. Now they are rare.

Over the last three years, the lake repeatedly named "Best Bass Fishing Lake in America" has continually toughened for me to the point that I refuse to fish it unless I am either practicing for or participating in a tournament. Day after day I wondered: Is it the lake or is it me? I am not a guide. I am not a professional. I am an average fisherman who enjoys the occasional tournament and loves to write about it on my blog.

As such, I struggled with simply declaring Guntersville to be in the decline because I was a single data point but when I would discuss it with contemporaries, the majority overwhelmingly agreed with me. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who continued to rave about the lake. It seemed that they all had something in common: they had money involved.

Guides, in particular, have done much in the way of exaggerating success on the lake. On any given day, those who follow them on social media are treated to claims of “magical” days and pictures of massive bass, but these claims are always backed with statements like “I have open days this week” or “buy my bait, it’s the only thing that works.” In other words, business is based on success and it makes no sense in pushing anything else, even if that means making exaggerations, hollow promises or even outright lies.

 That doesn’t mean every guide is willing to compromise their integrity. Though they may not advertise their own struggles on the lake, and who would blame them, they are also willing to give you their feelings about just how tough the lake has become and why.

Jonathan Henry, FLW Tour pro and longtime Guntersville Guide, whom you can find at Basswhacker Guide Service had this to say when I posed my struggles on the Big G to him

“I do believe there has been a slight decline in Bass at Guntersville. However I don't personally believe it is enough to curb the fishing. What I believe has curbed the numbers of fish caught is eel grass. It went from an amount that wasn't even fishable, to the most prominent cover the lake has ever seen in just a few short years. So while most anglers are visiting old holes they have fished for years and not getting results, big tournaments are being won by new faces willing to experiment for days in the eel grass.”

Mike Carter of Angling Adventures Guide Service has been a guide who has been very vocal on the struggles on the lake. Mike and his wife Sharon started a group called Lake Guntersville Conservation Group, which has met regularly to discuss the decline and attempt to find and fix the issues through legislation. Carter sites several reasons for the decline in fishing such as the mortality rate of tournaments.

Local guide and pro Brent Crow had the following to say as he quoted another Auburn University report:

“Obviously the shocking data shows a huge decline in 15-18" bass from 2011 to 2015, and I am sure that the 2016 data will be worse than 2015. Basically, the great spawn class of 2008 sustained the great fishing from 2011-2013 and below average spawns since 2008 have resulted in what we have today. There are less fish in the lake than there were in 2011-2013. “

As one tries to gather the info, which can be biased one way or the other, the data never lies. I decided to go to the sources: tournaments weights.

For example, the Alabama Bass Trail is a very good blend of expert tournament anglers as well as local fishermen. Looking at the top of the board, you see that winning weights were almost 27 pounds, down over two pounds from the 2015 weights. However, skipping to 10th place shows that it took less than 20 pounds. ABT pays out to 40th place, which took just over 14 pounds to cash that check. Over half of the 152 boats failed to break ten pounds and almost 100 of the 152 boats failed to weigh a limit, which exceeded the 75 boats who didn't weigh a fish in 2015, per AL.com. Could natural causes be a reason? Sure. So, I looked elsewhere.

Despite the struggles of the general public, many believed that the 2017 FLW event on Guntersville, which wrapped up February the 5th, would prove all the naysayers wrong. The expectation was that the winning weights would be closer to those seen when Paul Elias unveiled the Alabama Rig in 2011 and slayed 112 pounds in four days. Yet, the lake where 20 pounds is the demarcation line that defines who is in the running and who isn’t had just one fisherman average the magic number all four days.

Mark Rose averaged just over 20 a day on the way to the win, but there were just ten 20-pound bags weighed in over the course of the four day tournament with just two of them coming in the back half of the tournament. Fully four of those sacks were caught by fishermen who didn’t even make the cut and just two fishermen weighed in two of those, Rose and runner-up Bryan Thrift.  

Moving on to my personal experiences, I pulled in all the data from the two fishing clubs with whom I fish, which have a good mixture of skill levels. In the percent of boats who weighed in limits, Pickwick led the way with 45% of tournament boats weighing in limits. Wheeler followed with 40%, Wilson with 39%, and finally Guntersville with a 30% mark. Of the 59 tournaments, there were only three tournaments where there were no limits weighed. Two of those were on Guntersville. Interestingly enough, if the smaller club, which features around six boats per tournament is eliminated, Guntersville average is still 30%, but Wheeler stands at 48%, Wilson at 49% and Pickwick and amazing 73% of boats weigh in limits. 

The average winning weight and big bass on Guntersville is a 17.7 winning sack and 6.62 pound big bass average. Pickwick, Wheeler and Wilson checked in at 15/4.7, 16/5, and 13/4.7, respectively. In other words, local clubs are representative of what is seen in larger tournaments and both are in agreement with my own struggles over the last few years, though it is decidedly different than what those in the market are typically selling. The big fish are still in Guntersville, but they and their smaller kin are becoming harder and harder to catch.

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