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Thursday, July 29, 2010
Updated: July 30, 8:48 AM ET
Daily Live Blog

Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph, Day One practice

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Day One practice analysis

If the first day of practice is any indication, the south end of the Alabama River is going to see a lot of boat traffic.

At least 10 out of the 12 competitors were south of the take-off area at the Amphitheater in downtown Montgomery for most of the day. Chop off 20 miles between the take-off and the dam as mostly unproductive, and the final 20 miles will be filled with anglers come tournament time.

Last year, Kevin VanDam fished two primary areas down south to dominate the competition, but that was under far different conditions. Then, heavy rains before and during the tournament caused the river to rise rapidly and current was high throughout the system. This year, the water levels are down and current is very sparse.

The reason so many anglers are down on the lower part of the fishery is because what little current is there gets pulled from the dam down there. Up in Montgomery, that pull is hardly noticeable, but down in the pool, the movement is enough to position baitfish and bass in and along current breaks.

(here's a simple map of the river for a better idea of what they are dealing with)

Many of the anglers were searching points and sandbars on the lower end. The entrances to backwaters and creeks create current breaks where the point breaks out into the main channel and most anglers were keying on those spots as obvious ambush points. While running this type of pattern could end up being productive, it is too obvious. What will separate anglers will be the ones that can find a unique area with a school of bigger fish. Last year, there was one spot that Kevin VanDam seined in the first 30 minutes of the day that gave up the majority of his weight.

Time is another variable anglers will have to contend with this year. The take-off isn't until 9 a.m., which means the early topwater bite that might be available in the summertime will possibly be over. Russ Lane has won many a summertime tournament by taking advantage of the topwater bite during the first few hours of the day.

Instead the focus will be on the current.

Another wildcard this year will be running upriver from Montgomery. Anglers can go north up the canal to the Bouldin Dam and up the Coosa and Tallapoosa toward Wetumpka. Last year, only Skeet Reese made that journey and in the end, it didn't pay off. This year, anglers ignored that most of the first day, but all it takes is one honey hole, a little bit of current and the lack of pressure up there and that might make an angler gamble on that direction come tournament time.

The only two anglers that went unaccounted for were Tommy Biffle and Gary Klein. Biffle launched at Powder Magazine in Montgomery, which means he could have been just about anywhere. With his shallow water abilities, Biffle could be dangerous if he finds a backwater way up a creek or an isolated slough off the main river that hasn't been touched by the main-channel beaters.

— Rob Russow


Last Saturday, Russ Lane said he'd be "embarrassed" to win AOY after the year Skeet Reese has had.

But that was before he thought he had a real chance to do it. Now you can bet embarrassment won't enter his thoughts as he bears down for a win on the Alabama River. It's possible that the postseason race will end in a tie for AOY points. If that happens, the tiebreaker is pounds of fish caught in the postseason. Whoever has caught more will be AOY.

-- Ken Duke


If Russ Lane wins on the river, he'll be the first Alabama resident to win AOY since Aaron Martens in 2005 and the first native Alabaman to win since Gerald Swindle in 2004. The AOY title has been won by four Alabama residents: Aaron Martens, Gerald Swindle, Tim Horton and Roland Martin (who called Montgomery home in 1971).

-- Ken Duke


The second on the water gallery is up here. Our crew is off the river and digesting what they saw today. Look for another set of BASSCam videos and a recap/analysis from Russow to come soon.

Thanks for following the blog today.


The Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award dates back to 1970 when Bill Dance won.

Roland Martin has won the most AOY awards in history with 9. Kevin VanDam has won the second most AOY awards with 5.

Only Roland Martin, Guido Hibdon and Kevin VanDam have won the AOY award in consecutive seasons, KVD doing it in the past two seasons.

If he wins again this year, KVD joins Martin as the only anglers to win AOY three consecutive years.

-- Ken Duke


We have a few videos posted on BASSCam:

Aaron Martens said he's sore from the slugfest at the Hope for the Warriors tournament yesterday -- Watch

Russ Lane knows he's going to have to bring his A-game -- Watch

KVD shares his perspective after a day looking at the river -- Watch

Cliff Pace said he's junk fishing -- Watch

More to come.


This time of day, the current has started to run and anglers are all falling into predictable patterns.

Terry Butcher and John Crews were both running the mouths of pockets, fishing current breaks and covering water.

They are looking for areas where the current breaks around a point, forming an eddy in which the bass can ambush prey. If the pocket has a ditch running out to the main creek channel, even better.

The water being low could help that bite, pulling the fish out of the shallow pockets and into predictable places, but also reliant on current to help funnel them into those areas.

One wildcard for the day is Tommy Biffle. He is still off the radar and is a great shallow-water angler. If he finds a creek to get way back in, that could be just different enough to give him an edge while everyone else fishes the main river.

— Rob Russow


Our first gallery from on the water today is live, and the second will be following shortly. Check them out.


The back of Cooters Pond is covered in pads, but not anglers. The water looks fishy but under the afternoon sun, has warmed to 94 degrees.

Overstreet reminisces about his first BASS tournament when he covered Tommy Biffle on the hole course back here. The golf course overlooks the area and he rode around on golf carts photographing the anglers.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see someone back here," Overstreet said.

Right now, no one is around though. We are going to try to catch up to Butcher and Crews, who are just downriver from our position.

— Rob Russow


With the water level on the river down about two feet, much of the usual bank cover is nearly out of the water.

This could really hamper the anglers with less experience on the river and play right into the hands of Russ Lane, who knows every stump and bend here.

Certainly the pitchers and flippers will suffer since the bass may have abandoned the skinny water in favor of offshore cover and structure.

The Alabama River has been the site of several Bassmaster Classics, including the 1981 Classic won by Stanley Mitchell. That was the first year the Classic weigh-in was held indoors.

The Top 12 were older on average that last year at 41.03 years.

The youngest angler ever to qualify for the Top 12 is Derek Remitz this year. He'll be 28 years, 1 month and 3 days at the end of the Alabama River event.

The oldest angler ever to qualify for the Toyota 12 is Gary Klein this year. He'll be 52 years, 9 months and 21 days at the end of the Alabama River event.

-- Ken Duke


Sorry for not checking in for some time. It's a lesson in how this river is going to fish. Overstreet and I just ran from where we saw Russ Lane, about 15 miles from Montgomery, to the Amphitheater without seeing a single angler. The Mad Dawg and Keith Poche went from Montgomery all the way to the Bouldin Dam without seeing a single angler.

Still unaccounted for: Tommy Biffle and Gary Klein. They could be hidden up the Tallapoosa or Coosa. They could be down in a creek on the lower end. They could be back in the air conditioning in their hotel rooms sipping cocktails and ordering room service.

The one thing we do know is that the other 10 anglers are all looking at the south end of the Alabama River. That's why we're going to head back that way. Maybe the current is starting up.

— Rob Russow


The youngest ever AOY was Kevin VanDam. He was 24 years, 7 months and 3 days old when he won the title in 1992.

The youngest angler in this year's Toyota 12 is Derek Remitz. He's 28 and would be the third youngest AOY if he can win it this year. Only KVD (1992) and Tim Horton (2000) would be younger.

The average age of an AOY is 35.63 years.

The average age of this year's Top 12 competing this week is 38.92 years.

-- Ken Duke


Russ Lane has been fishing by himself in the middle section of the river. He said he hasn't seen many other anglers at all today. Judging by his past success this time of year on what could be described as his home water, the other anglers in this field need to watch out.

Lane has spent the good majority of his time in practice looking at spots. He doesn't think his homefield advantage will give him a big leg up, "but it might help me catch a few key fish here and there."

Understandably, Lane was pretty secretive about what he's doing on the water. After winning last weekend, Lane went from a tie for ninth in the AOY race all the way to second, only 5 points behind Skeet Reese. His title shot is very realistic, especially considering he is even better on the river, or at least has more experience and knowledge.

Part of that knowledge can be thrown out the window.

"Some of the summer tournaments I've won have been in the first few hours on a topwater."

With the late start, that expertise won't likely come into play, but Lane was enthusiastic that the later day might bring an evening bite into the picture.

— Rob Russow


Here's your early afternoon weather report. It's only 90 with a heat index of 96, down from the 100s of last week's practice and competition days.

The high is expected to only be around 93, kind of a relief from last week's heat wave. The winds are out of the northwest at about 10 miles an hour.

It actually feels OK, except when you're out in the beating sun too long.

The forecast calls for about a 30 percent chance of isolated thunderstorms in the late afternoon. Those increase for Thursday and Friday, as do the temps. A local TV station predicts that from Friday on, the temps will lock into the 98-102 degree range.

— Mike Suchan


Greg Hackney was back in a cut off the main river picking apart what little shallow cover was left in the water. The water temperature was 92 degrees and Hackney was still searching for a sign of how the river is fishing.

"I've only been out here once before and that was when the river was normal," Hackney said. "It's pretty low now because they were pulling water, but I think now it's on a slow rise."

Is a slow rise a good thing?

"Honestly, I haven't spent enough time out here to know," Hackney said. "When I told VanDam that was what they might be doing, it didn't seem like he thought it was a good idea."

Hackney's theory might explain why the bite has been tough in the morning. If there isn't much current, the river level rises slow, scattering the fish.

On the other hand, "When they are pulling water, that is when the points and main river stuff is good."

— Rob Russow


I was trying to think of things I had noticed on the river, when I realized something I wasn't noticing: baitfish activity.

After coming from Jordan, where bait was all over and the bass were schooling, we haven't seen many signs of life on the river yet. Maybe that is directly related to the current. If so, it promises to be a long wait for the afternoon bite to pick up.

— Rob Russow


In Skeet's Beat, his blog on, the AOY leader writes that he's rather upset with himself for not weighing in a limit Sunday. He wanted to put the hammer down and build up his lead to give himself some leeway on the river, and he admits the tighter race will be interesting to fan but makes his job harder.

Leaving that door open has made most in the upper echelon of the standings say it will be anybody's game.

He reports that he's still confident he will do it but has a lot of work to do, so maybe that's why he's not talking so much today.

Check out his blog.

— Mike Suchan


Things have been quiet on the river for the last several miles. With such a large playing field, there is a lot of room for the anglers to spread out.

"It's like an Easter egg hunt for us out here," Overstreet said. "There are 12 guys and 70 miles of river. All it takes is for one of them to duck back into a little cut and we can't see them."

We decided to focus in on the south end of the river today, knowing it was a popular spot last year. The south end of a river pool is generally wider, with larger backwater areas and while the Alabama River doesn't have giant bays and sloughs, they are more plentiful here than on the north end.

There are a variety of places to fish down here -- points, sandbars and backwater areas alike. Not to mention all the creeks anglers can run up. Last year, no one ran way back in a creek that I recall, but we have to check a few to make sure a river rat like Greg Hackney isn't hiding from us.

Terry Butcher just ran south past us. The anglers seem to be migrating that direction, which makes sense if they are expecting current down there.

— Rob Russow


With a miracle finish, either Gary Klein, 52, or Tommy Biffle, 52, but four months younger than Klein, would become the oldest ever to win the AOY.

Currently, Roland Martin, holding nine titles, is the oldest AOY holder. He was 45 when he won his last in 1985.

More stats: Only KVD and Skeet have finished in the top 12 every year of the Elites Series. Biffle has been in the top 12 of the Elites in all but one of its four years.

Anglers back for the second year of postseason include KVD, Skeet, Klein, Biffle and Cliff Pace.

-- Ken Duke


Talking last night with Aaron Martens, he said luck can play a role in finding a hidden bit of structure.

He said before the off-limits period, he was running the river and slowed to take a phone call. He just happened to glance at his electronics when he came across what he thought were several huge concrete blocks on the river bottom.

There for no apparent rhyme or reason, that kind of fortuitous discovery could wind up being a gem.

— Mike Suchan


Even further south down the river was Derek Remitz, trying to unlock shallow cover, grasslines and laydowns.

"These guys are seeing what areas are holding more fish," Poche said. "They're going to see the pattern -- how the water is going to fall and rise -- and where the fish will pull to when the water is high or low."

There is plenty of structure in the river, laydowns, ledges, stump rows, and anglers are breaking it down to see where they'll want to hit Friday and Saturday.

"There's a lot of good ledges that they can find good spotted bass and largemouth," Poche said. "The key will be the current."

— Mike Suchan


While running we passed a small tree that was casting some shade over the water. A group of eight or nine cows were huddled together knee-deep in the river trying to stay cool.

Derek Remitz has been fishing with his shirt off to stay cool. He's targeting areas just off the main channel and like a lot of competitors, covering water with a crankbait. The wind is blowing and he hooks up with a small fish that shakes off halfway to the boat.

"That's about the size I've been catching," Remitz said.

Remitz, a resident of Alabama, hasn't spent much time on the river. He came out before the off-limit period for two days.

"I spent one day down the river and one day up the river," Remitz said. "Today, I decided to come down this way and mess around. This is a huge place, I haven't seen anyone all morning."

— Rob Russow


Greg Hackney, a shallow water expert, was further down the river in the mouth of a creek, also flipping shallow cover. He's checking a lot of water, and trying to determine where the fish will be if the water conditions change.

The water can raise and lower overnight, moving the fish. Elite angler Keith Poche, who is running our photographer up and down the river, said it's hard to determine exactly where they'll be.

"They can find fish up, and if it drops, those fish are just going to go back out," he said. "The spots that they find in practice might not be productive come tournament days. I've been burned many times."

Poche said the anglers also must plan for current and no current, because the fish are going to position themselves in those varying situations.

"You have to fish the moment. You have to fish the condition at hand," Poche said. "This river right here, it fluctuates so much, it's rare it will stay consistent over a couple days."

The anglers will also have to factor in cloud cover, Poche says, as that could keep them shallow.

And Poche noted the river has creeks coming in that silt up near the mouths and anglers might have to run shallow to get back into a productive pocket, but getting the boat back out can be tricky if the river level lowers.

"You can be stuck in there all night," he said.

— Mike Suchan


Elite angler Keith Poche just came back from a jaunt on the river with photographer Larry Towell and Ken Duke.

They found Terry Butcher, who was still just south of the launch site back in the pocket flipping shallow cover. The water is hot and not moving much, which Poche says could make it a difficult day.

"The water is real low and probably giving the guys a tough time," he said. "From my experience, the fish back out of that type of stuff, to the first drop or back into creek channels. Some make their way back out the to the river channel."

— Mike Suchan


This may be Skeet Reese's title to lose, but one man is mighty confident heading into the final leg of the playoffs. Kevin VanDam is a mere 7 points back, less than he was last year going into the Alabama River.

"I really think whoever wins this event will win Angler of the Year."

He acknowledged that the river is very different from last year when he won, but he likes the fact that they will get more afternoon time in the current. On Jordan, he waited out the flow up the river and capitalized on a few hours of moving water. That narrow window should open slightly here, and expect that to play right into VanDam's hands.

He seemed to be as relaxed as Skeet was focused. Last night, after the Hope for the Warriors tournament, he took his twin sons fishing back out at The Waters and they had a blast.

"I found a sweet spot out there," VanDam said. "The kids caught a couple 6s and a whole lot of 3- to 5-pounders."

That kind of composure makes KVD a very dangerous man.

— Rob Russow


One angler noted that Skeet Reese will have to get last year out of his head.

Championship week has set up a bit like last season, when Kevin VanDam rallied from a 16-point deficit to overtake Skeet and earn his fifth AOY title.

Skeet again holds the lead with 232 points but now three competitors are within 10 points: Russ Lane 227, KVD 225 and Aaron Martens 222.

Sure he's got some folks breathing down his neck, but Skeet knows what he has to do.

— Mike Suchan


Reaching the farthest point south any angler is allowed to run, we began our trip back up the river. Passing Aaron Martens, we could see he had both his livewells open and was looking in there. Suchan blogged earlier about how Martens planned to spend time making sure they were working properly. Smart move, considering his dead fish fiasco cost him $60,000 and a few AOY places.

As we run back up river, there are constant reminders of the low water and most are sand related. Geese are walking along a sandbar at the mouth of a creek, stumps and sand are visible on shallow bars. I wonder if visible sand will play a big part in this year's event. Especially when the current starts running.

The heat is cranking up on the river. Not surprising considering that this is the middle of summer in Alabama. Honestly though, it's not as bad as the first few days on Jordan. The north wind seems to be keeping the humidity down. There is a chance of storms in the afternoon this week, but we haven't seen any sign of that yet today.

— Rob Russow


The blogs are coming in a little slower today because there is so much water to cover on the Alabama River and the anglers are harder to find. They should pick up as we start to narrow down their location.

We sent a boat upriver and they weren't able to find an angler. That doesn't mean there aren't guys up there because we haven't accounted for all 12 on the south end, but it's doubtful.

I remember last year the word was that no one would go upriver, but come tournament day, I stared in disbelief as Skeet Reese's yellow boat started heading that direction. So you never know.

-- Kyle Carter


Cliff Pace was fishing off the main river near the dam. Like the other anglers we talked to, his practice has been slow thus far. His deck was scattered with rods. All the lures he had tied on were for covering water.

"I'm looking for just one bite," Pace said. "One bite can give you one piece of the puzzle. I'm going to move fast covering water looking for that bite. That's why you see crankbaits and swim jigs on my rods."

Pace probably had five different types of crankbaits tied on, to cover a variety of situations as well as a few colors of jigs.

I mentioned the late start earlier in the blog, and Pace reinforced its importance. He works that into his practice strategy, knowing he won't be on the river for the morning bite.

"You have to practice in places you know they are going to be."

The only benefit to the late start is that the anglers will be on the water later and can capitalize on the afternoon current. Pace thinks the current will be helpful to all the anglers.

Judging by the tough conditions when the current isn't flowing, everyone better hope they open the gates.

— Rob Russow


As we cruised down the river from Martens, we discovered we were still quite a ways from the dam. Getting closer, a boat raced out from a creek next to us. Through a stroke of good fortune, because surely we never would have seen him if he had been tucked back in there, we were now following Edwin Evers.

Earlier, I noticed the water temperatures on the main channel was around 88 degrees. We pulled into a backwater area not long after and it wasn't much warmer, just under 90. I've been told the water is cooler up the river, but after the sauna on Jordan, this will probably feel like cool relief.

Evers has stopped just a few miles from the dam and is idling along a flat off the main river. After a tough tournament last weekend on Jordan, Evers will need to excel here to have a shot at the title. Interestingly, however, he still comes into this event closer to Skeet than he was last week. That is true for most competitors even though they may have fallen a few places in the standings.

Evers is power fishing with a crankbait like he was last week in practice. His strategy has been to find a productive area in practice covering water and then slow down with a jig in key spots when the tournament rolls around.

We passed Skeet again. This time, he was fishing a spot near the channel that Kelly Jordon and Alton Jones were both sharing last year.

— Rob Russow


Aaron Martens was not too far from Skeet and was much more amenable to an interview. Check out the BASSCam video with him for more, but it was telling that he had his first bite while the camera was rolling.

"The low water probably pulled the bass off the bank," Martens said. "There is not much cover for them to get into."

He was picking apart what grass and docks were still wet, but the most activity he had were from bluegill.

Surprisingly, Martens wasn't as concerned about the current. Like on Jordan, he thinks he can catch them even in their less aggressive state. He caught 21 pounds in two hours on Jordan in the morning on a shaky head before any current was flowing.

Here on the river he expects the crankbait bite to dominate when there is water flowing, but he should excel during the down time with a more finesse approach.

Even with only one bite so far, he was still optimistic: "The tournament wouldn't even be starting until now."

— Rob Russow


Skeet Reese was fishing just off the main river as we headed south. He didn't stop to talk long.

"I've got one thing I'm focused on today and that's finding fish."

That's interesting because he's usually friendly on the water, but you can tell the reality of the situation is upon him. There is one tournament and 11 other guys standing between him and the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year.

Don't expect to see any BASSCam updates with Reese unless it's off the water.

— Rob Russow


I take back what I said about wind a minute ago. We turned a bend in the river and it was howling up through there. Overstreet and I are still on our way toward the dam. We've been running well over 30 minutes so far. This is the kind of run the guys will have to get used to in the tournament no matter which way they go.

We passed KVD working a shallow backwater and then saw John Crews fishing a few docks at the mouth of a creek. It looks like the same spot we found Mike Iaconelli last year on the first day.

The water clarity is about perfect right now on the main river. It's not crystal clear, but has just a light stain. I'll report in with the water temperatures when we arrive.

— Rob Russow


BASS senior editor Ken Duke is out on the Alabama River and reports seeing Terry Butcher trying out the backwaters just south of the launch in Montgomery.

Butcher struggled on Day One of the Chase with 8-12 for 11th place and climbed to sixth with a 13-2 on Day Two. He's currently tied in seventh with Cliff Pace in the AOY race, and certainly hopes to make a climb in this week's event. They stand 20 points behind leader Skeet Reese. (For AOY standings, click here)

Butcher is throwing a square-billed crankbait to shallow cover but so far he's only caught several small bass.

— Mike Suchan


One thing to keep in mind is that the tournament won't begin until 9:00 on Friday. That means some patterns working this morning (read: early topwater bite) will be gone as the heat envelopes Montgomery.

Russ Lane, Prattville native, has won a handful of local tournaments on the river this time of year, but he said they were all won in the first hour of the day on a topwater.

It will be very interesting to see how the late start impacts the anglers' strategies and the weights they bring in.

— Rob Russow


It will be a test day of sorts for Aaron Martens. He'll be testing the waters of the Alabama River for fish and testing his livewells to see if his health care issue is remedied.

Martens has oxygen problems that cost him victory in the Ramada Trophy Chase, the first leg of Toyota Tundra Championship Week. Martens threw back three dying fish estimated to be more than three pounds then had to weigh-in smaller fish that did die. He estimates it cost him nearly 5 pounds.

Russ Lane won the two-day event over him by 3 ounces.

Work has been done to move the water flow closer to the water line to help with oxygenating his livewells. He plans to keep a couple fish in there today to see how they fare.

— Mike Suchan


Making a 40-mile run leaves a lot of time for contemplation. The first thing I noticed about the river was how low it is. It could be a whole two feet lower than last year and that will make a big difference. Access to backwater areas will be more difficult and all the great shallow water wood and grass is mostly on the bank now.

What that makes this is more of an offshore tournament, in that I think we will find a lot more guys fishing main-river structure like points and shoals, especially around current.

Talking to some locals, the current is a lot more likely on the south end of the river, and that could be why more of the guys chose to start down there.

Ah, the delightful odor of a paper mill drifts up, blown by the gentle south breeze. The one big change from last weekend is that wind will have less effect, and offer less relief. Down in between the river banks and with all the twists and turns the river goes through, wind is blocked from gaining momentum.

No anglers in Cooters Pond, a popular spot last year for Tommy Biffle and a few others. We continue south.

— Rob Russow


The second leg of the Toyota Trucks Championship Week begins today, as the anglers get practice started on the Alabama River. Like Jordan, this fishery is highly dependent on current. In the heat of the summer, that current triggers the fish into a flurry of activity and can quickly turn a tough day into a winning stringer.

The river is diverse and expansive, stretching 40 miles south from Montgomery and then north, where it divides into the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers near Montgomery. There is also the canal that flows down from Bouldin Dam. Last year in practice, the field flocked there when they generated current, but only Skeet Reese returned in the tournament.

James Overstreet and I will be heading all the way down, near and past the spot Kevin VanDam won the tournament last year. The Mad Dawg Larry Towell, Keith Poche and Ken Duke will be covering the mid-section of the river. I don't expect too many anglers to go up, but if we see it start to happen we will be right there behind them.

The parking lot at Powder Magazine, the ramp in Montogomery, was empty except for Tommy Biffle. That was a little bit shocking considering last year it was full of Elite guys. I guess they figure out they need to head south and trailered down there.

Expect frequent blog updates, BASSCam videos and photo galleries. If you have any questions about practice on the river, post them in the comments section. Here we go again!

— Rob Russow

Archive: Hope for the Warriors -- Trophy Challenge, Day Two -- Trophy Challenge, Day One -- Trophy Challenge, Practice Two -- Trophy Challenge, Practice One