BASS revisits Central Alabama

Published 10:33 pm Thursday, September 10, 2009

After a long cast with a deep-diving crankbait, Greg Vinson couldn’t help but wish he was among the 12 anglers who will be visiting central Alabama this month as the BASS Championship Series visits Lake Jordan and the Alabama River.

However, the Bassmaster Elite Series rookie from Wetumpka understands he’s got more dues to pay as he seeks his fortune as a professional bass fisherman.

The 32-year-old gave up the security of a job as an environmental scientist with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to tackle the pro angling world in 2006.

“I was fishing the FLW Tour and signed up for the BASS Southern Opens,” Vinson said. “I had two good finishes on the first two (Open) tournaments and knew I was within striking distance of qualifying for the Elite Series. I had to finish in the top 10. I went into the last tournament at Guntersville and finished second. I missed winning it by 12 ounces. I would have liked to have had that big win, but my primary goal was qualifying for the Elite Series.”

Joining the Elite Series was a whole new world for Vinson, who had rarely ventured out of the Southeast during his tournament career.

“The biggest hurdle when you come as a new guy is you’re going to all these water bodies all over the country that you’ve never seen before,” he said. “You’re seeing a much greater diversity of fishing patterns than what I was used to. The biggest adjustment for me was learning to fish these new bodies of water. I felt like I had a good year, but my goals were to make the (Bassmaster) Classic and win Rookie of the Year. With two tournaments left I was within striking distance of both. Then we went to two very unfamiliar water bodies (Lake Oneida in New York and the Mississippi River in Iowa) and the lack of experience caught up with me. I caught fish both places but not the quality I needed. These guys are so good you’ve really got to be on your ‘A’ game every tournament.”

The upcoming Alabama tournaments are part of the new Bassmaster Championship Week where only the top 12 anglers in the point standings can compete. The field includes two Alabama anglers – Randy Howell of Springville and Gerald Swindle of Hayden, as well as reigning Classic champion Skeet Reese and former Classic champions Kevin Van Dam, Alton Jones and Michael Iaconelli.

The opener is the Berkley Powerbait Trophy Chase set for Lake Jordan with two practice days on Sept. 10-11, followed by two competition days, Sept. 12-13. The weigh-ins will begin at 4:30 p.m. at Wetumpka Civic Center.

The Bassmaster Angler of the Year will be crowned days later when the series moves to Montgomery, the birthplace of BASS, for the Evan Williams Trophy Triumph on the Alabama River. A two-day practice period is set for Sept. 15-16, followed by the season’s final two days of competition on Sept. 17-18. At the conclusion of the final weigh-in, attendees will be treated to a free concert by the Zac Brown Band, best known for their No. 1 hit single, “Chicken Fried,” at the Montgomery Riverwalk Amphitheater.

Vinson has spent a considerable amount of time the past 10 years fishing both Lake Jordan and the Alabama River and predicts the anglers will be met with favorable fishing conditions.

“September on Jordan is a really good time for bass,” he said. “The shad start pushing into the shallow water and the bass will come up to feed real heavily. There’s a good chance you can also find them schooling. Most of the time the schooling fish will be (Alabama River) spotted bass. I think the biggest factor you’ll see at Jordan and the Alabama River is that the spotted bass will play a key role because of the size of the fish in both places. We’ve got some really big spots and there are a lot of them. I expect to see mixed bags do well on both places. Jordan has a lot more deep rocks, humps and points. Then up the river, you’ve got some nice current breaks along the main river walls. The largemouths will be moving shallower around the grass and the docks, so they’re definitely going to be accessible to those guys. I think they’ll do well fishing visible cover.”

“I also think the topwater bite will also play a key role. I think they’ll especially be able to do well early in the morning on both places. I think one thing we should be looking for on the Alabama River is they’re going to be pulling the lake level down on Lake Jordan to do some dock work, some work on the dam and it lets homeowners do some work on their property around the lake. When they’re doing that, they’ll be pulling a lot of water from Bouldin Dam and that ends up in the Alabama River. So there is going to be a lot of water moving through the river system. On the Alabama River, current is the key. That’s what positions the fish in the cover or on the current breaks, and they feed a lot heavier when the current is moving. I look to some better than average catches on the river because so much water is going to be moving through the system.”

Vinson, who finished 56th in the 2009 Elite Series standings, still has one shot at making the 2010 Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake in February. He must finish in one of the top two spots in the BASS Southern Open Division. He’s currently in second place with only one tournament remaining at Santee Cooper in October.

Making the Classic in his home state would make it easier to get the attention the new kid on the block needs on the tour.

“There’s a lot of pressure if you’re a new guy,” Vinson said. “With the economy like it is now, it’s hard to find sponsors. So for a lot of us, it’s performance-based. You’ve got to catch them every time. Next year, the money will be a little tighter, but I hope I’ll have some of the bugs worked out. Hopefully, I’ll be over the rookie jitters and be able to bang around with the big guys.

“The one thing I use to gauge myself is whether I’ve been able to improve as an angler each year. I feel like if I can improve every year there aren’t any limits and one day I can be a recognizable name at the top of the leaderboard.”