By Billy “Hawkeye” Decoteau
Alabama’s Lay Lake tested each of the B.A.S.S. 40th Anniversaries fifty-one ‘Classic’ contenders with just about every abnormal condition ‘Mother Nature’ had to offer!
After their final ventures on the Coosa River impoundment in December, Classic contenders anticipated a February 2010 Classic, with possible pre-spawn and/or spawning southern Alabama bass. With visions of bass bathing in water temperatures within the high 50 to low 60-degree range, anglers’ dreams were shattered……….. What they found was a winter wonderland! As the best B.A.S.S. Anglers in the world dug deep into they’re Bass Journals, and their winter wardrobes!
Cold windy wet weather containing snow showers filled the air above the surface, while water temperatures dipping down into the middle 30 and low 40 degree range caused a major migration route detour for the majority of Lay Lakes Bass population.
“These were totally abnormal conditions, reaching far beyond what Lay Lake bass were used to,” reflects Skeeter/Yamaha Pro Mark Menendez. “I believe there were several factors hampering our angling efforts. First, the extremely miserable cold weather patterns had prevailed for an abnormally long extended time period. Secondly, this in turn caused a major shad-kill.” (www.MarkMenendez.com)
No doubt the fifty-one Bassmaster Classic Contenders struggled! After two official days of competition thirty-two anglers failed to land a five-bass limit each day. While the 25th place contender logged only six-bass weighing in at 15lb 9oz, yet good enough to advance into the third and final day of Classic competition.
Bass Cat/Mercury Texas Pro Angler James Niggemeyer managed to stay consistent, holding unto 10th place on Day #1 and Day #2, before sliding into 18th on the final day of competition. However, ‘Kentucky Gentleman’ Mark Menendez slipped from his 26th Day #1 contention spot, into an overall 38th place finish on Day #2. (www.MercuryMarine.com)
While most bass enthusiast concentrated on the Classic Leaderboard, where the Top-10 Contenders pursuit of largemouth bass averaged 3-4 lbs, savvy bass enthusiast turned to actual on-the-water performances, dissecting techniques and tactics!
Strike King Pro Staff Anglers Mark Menendez and James Niggemeyer may not be two names remembered for their overall 2010 Bassmaster Classic finish. (www.StrikeKing.com)
However, bass enthusiasts who utilize Menendez and Niggemeyer’s daily strategies will certainly improve their bass angling results.
Rewinding back to their Day#1 Practice, Menendez and Niggemeyer provided contrasting results. Working the middle section of Lay Lake, James Niggemeyer’s surface temperature gauge registered 39-40 degrees. “I was extremely sick, the day was terrible! It was cold, windy and snowed. I managed only one bite all day long!” This would be Niggemeyer’s only day of practice until the Official Classic Practice Day, as James was diagnosed with ‘Walking Pneumonia’.
“I agree with James, the weather was indeed blistery,” says Menendez. Turning to Lay Lake’s lower sections spotted bass population, Menendez found an area with 46 degree. “I had 2-3 inches of snow on the deck of my Skeeter, as I maneuvered to an inside creek channel working a Strike King Citrus Shad colored wooden crankbait!” By the end of the first practice day Mark Menendez was able to locate several areas surrendering spotted bass averaging over 3 lbs, and a backwater spring ‘Honey Hole’ registering 64 degrees loaded with largemouths.
For the next two-days, Menendez’s Power Tackle rods worked a variety of Strike King crankbaits Red Eye Shad lipless crankbaits, as well as Strike King jigs, all coated with a BioEdge semi-solid Crayfish scent. “I felt it was imperative for me to cover as much water as possible, especially areas containing thicker vegetation growth,” recalls Menendez. With water temperatures continuing to idle in the 40 degree range, Mark Menendez’s Largemouth-Mafia wrapped Skeeter was loaded unto his trailer. (www.PowerTackleRods.com)
“Going into the one and only ‘Official Practice Day’, I decided to venture up river to an area I had done very well in back in December,” says Menendez. With a water current of 4-5 MPH, 40-42 degree water temperatures, Menendez concentrated his efforts within an eddy. “I managed to attain 5-6 bites on a 7 inch finesse worm by smearing my Shakey Head Worm and line with BioEdge Crayfish scent.” Unfortunately for Menendez all of these spotted bass were only 13 inches!
Meanwhile, Power Pole sponsored Elite Angler James Niggemeyer could have used a little hydraulic lift himself, as the first day of the 2010 Classic started! (www.PowerPole.com) “Having struggled in what little practice I did have, I decided to fish some areas I discovered previously.” Still extremely weak and not yet over his ‘Walking Pneumonia’, Niggemeyer’s fellow competitor Alton Jones came to check on his physical condition. “Alton is a wonderful Christian. Knowing that I hadn’t practice much, he revealed to me an area he had found holding smaller spotted bass!” Adding with a smile, “This is the type of character and persona that lives within the ranks of the Bassmaster Elite Series Anglers!”
Steering his Bass Cat in the direction of Jones’s spotted bass area, Niggemeyer rigged his St Croix Legend Elite spinning rod, an Ardent Spinning reel spooled with 7 lb Sun Fluorocarbon line tied to a Strike King finesse worm coated with BioEdge Crayfish scent. “In cold water, it is extremely imperative to utilize BioEdge scent, since it is made from real crayfish it really encourages the bass to eat your bait! And not just nibble at it”
Within a short period of time the BassTackleDepot.com Texas Pro made a 5-Spotted Bass deposit in his livewell, before heading to his next area. Turning to his St Croix Legend Tournament Bass Flipping Stick, a 1oz Texas rigged Strike King Rodent coated with BioEdge Crayfish scent in a Bama Bug color, paired with 56 lb Sun Braided line, James Niggemeyer culled his limit by adding a 4 lb and 3 lb largemouth, pumping his total official weight to 13lb 3 oz.
Menendez drew Boat#50, and watch several of his fellow competitors head back into Beeswax Creek. “I new there were only about 4 areas in Beeswax that would hold a consistent amount of bass to win the Classic! So, I decided to make the 20 mile run to my Strike King wooden crankbait spotted bass!”
Upon arrival Menendez, noticed the water clarity had improved, and immediately rigged a Strike King Wild Shiner Gizzard Shad colored jerkbait to 10 lb line on a Power Tackle 6’6” Paragon Crankin Rod. “Within 40 minutes I had my limit and culled several times. However, the retrieve
cadence and coating my Gizzard Shad jerkbait with a BioEdge Shad Wand scent was the only way I could entice these bass to eat my jerkbait!” Menendez’s hunt for a kicker largemouth in heavy cover failed to produce, ending his day with a 5-bass 7lb 9oz lb limit.
“I knew that there was only one way to stay in contention to win the Classic and that was to come in with a big bag of largemouth’s”, said Menendez. Running down river the Stay-N-Charge Pro only needed one hour to decipher his areas conditions had depleted. “My sonar revealed the few schools of shad remaining were no longer suspended. With that the school of spotted bass disappeared. To make matters worst the lake level was lowered!” Menendez would manage only one bite and a small keeper bass, ending his bid for a Classic Championship.
Still battling his weakness and the effects of ‘Walking Pneumonia’, Niggemeyer stuck with his Day #1 game plan. “Conditions changed drastically! “The spotted bass were mouthing the bait, making the bite extremely difficult to detect. In order for me to get them to eat my bait, I kept applying BioEdge Crayfish semi-solid attractant every 5-minutes! I believe the bass through their olfactory glands registered my artificial bait as real and that’s the only reason I had 5-bites and caught all 5-bass.” James Niggemeyer’s 7 lb 4 oz kept him in 10th place making the final day cut!
With only 25 Classic Contenders scanning Lay Lake, it still proved be the toughest day of competition by far. Fourteen anglers watched their weighs drop, and one-third of the field failed to establish a 5-bass limit! “
“Although, I was indeed exhausted physically, mentally I kept myself in the game,” reflects James Niggemeyer. “In my situation, there were several factors that helped in detecting the few very subtle bites I actually had. My St Croix Legend rods lightness and sensitivity, coupled with Sun line fluorocarbon’s instinct characteristics for detecting every minute bottom detail. (www.StCroixRods.com) These were tools aiding me in my presentations and techniques, and when I applied BioEdge All-Natural Crayfish scent to my Strike King plastic baits, BioEdge maximized my angling potential!” www.BioEdgeFishing.com
God Bless and Best Bassin’