GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. Torrential thunderstorms threatened to wash out Thursday's opening-round weigh-in at the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series Southern Challenge presented by Berkley.
But after two delays that totaled nearly 80 minutes, the Elite anglers competing on Lake Guntersville eventually made their way to the scales. And when the weigh-in was complete, there was a crowd atop the leaderboard.
Denny Brauer and Alton Jones are tied for first with 20 pounds, 11 ounce limits. Terry Butcher and Kelly Jordon are tied for third with 20-01 and Takahiro Omori and Timmy Horton are not far behind with 19-10 apiece.
As expected, a variety of techniques were employed by the anglers. That's because the Lake Guntersville bass currently are in a variety of stages a few fish in pre-spawn mode mixed in with some spawners and even more post-spawn bass. Conditions were good to catch each type of fish as the foul weather didn't occur until after the anglers returned to shore.
Butcher set the stage early by being the first angler to weigh in Thursday. Soon after, Mother Nature forced a 64-minute rain delay and sent the anglers running for cover. Then, Brauer and Jones promptly bumped Butcher out of first place.
Brauer said he didn't target any bedding fish and focused instead on post-spawn fish. His methods were something of a microcosm of what anglers are dealing with in their attempts to figure out the best way to land keepers.
"I threw top-water, I threw jigs, I threw spinnerbaits," he said. "I did a lot of different things. I don't know what I'm going to do tomorrow. It depends on the weather. But I feel real fortunate to have the kind of day I did today. I'm not getting many bites. I may not catch anything tomorrow. But then again, I may catch another good bag. At least I know what a few good fish are doing. So I feel pretty good about that. You've just got to get real fortunate."
Jones worked beds throughout the day, but wasn't sight fishing entirely, he said.
"I did some sight fishing, but I really didn't see anything that would improve my stringer. So I seem to do better fishing areas where I know the bass are spawning, but fishing a little deeper. You can't see them. I'm just blind fishing, casting through those areas."
But like many other anglers here, that wasn't the only technique Jones used.
"My best pattern is a post-spawn pattern," he said. "It's even like an early-summer type of pattern. There are a lot of fish that have been finished spawning for several weeks now. I'm targeting places like that. I think every day, there will be more and more fish coming into areas like that because of the extremely hot weather we've had."
Jordon, who has won on Lake Guntersville before, is an avid sight fisherman and that's the technique he used to climb into a tie for third place. His bag was anchored with a 7 pound, one ounce lunker he saw swimming along the bank about one hour before the first day of competition ended.
"Heck yeah, that was a difference maker," Jordon said. "That put me from 15 to 20 pounds. It gave me five pounds."
Jordon said had it been sunnier on Thursday, he could have landed bigger bass while sight fishing. But a frontal system that moved across northern Alabama late Wednesday scattered some of his larger fish. Lingering clouds Thursday made it slightly more difficult to sight fish, he said.
Weather could play a part in Friday's catch. Heavy rain is expected throughout the remainder of Thursday evening and into Friday. Early warning tornado systems went off in Guntersville approximately 30 minutes after the weigh-in ended.
Jones said knowing additional thunderstorms are possible makes the ability to fish a number of ways increasingly important in this tournament.
"I think sight fishing and spawning bass may play a part in the winning pattern, but I think a guy is going to have to be really multi-dimensional to be win," Jones said.
Friday's launch is scheduled for 6 a.m. The field of 104 anglers will be trimmed to 50 after Friday's weigh-in.