SHELBY COUNTY, Ala. — Temperatures are warming up around central Alabama just in time for the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Lay Lake, and for Sylacauga, Ala., rookie Will Davis Jr., that means the bass on the Coosa River impoundment should be feeding up after a tough spawning season.
“It is setting up to be a catch fest I believe,” Davis said.
Although it has hosted four Bassmaster Classics in the past, this will be the first Elite Series tournament ever on Lay Lake. Since 2010, the last time Lay Lake hosted the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota, there have been several Bassmaster events here, including a St. Croix Bassmaster Open won by Keith Carson in 2020 and a Strike King College Series Wild Card presented by Bass Pro Shops tournament in 2021.
Tournament days are scheduled for May 11-14. The full field of 104 anglers will compete the first two days before the field is cut to 50 for Semifinal Saturday. The Top 10 anglers will compete on Championship Sunday for the top prize of $100,000 and a blue trophy. Anglers will launch from Beeswax Creek Park starting at 6:30 a.m. CT every day and return to the park for weigh-in at 3 p.m. Full coverage will be available on Bassmaster.com.
Lay Lake isn’t the biggest fishery, covering just 12,000 acres, but Davis believes anglers will be able to spread out and find spotted and largemouth bass throughout the system. While there may be some lingering spawners, Davis anticipates most of the bass will be postspawn and moving toward their summer feeding areas.
“The fish down the lake usually do their deal quicker. They spawn in late February and March,” he said. “(The spawn) works its way up the lake. Around midlake, (the bass) are more in a funk this time of year. But any part of the lake can play a factor. It won’t be just one section.”
The threadfin shad and the bream spawn, meanwhile, will likely be in full swing, with the full moon arriving a few days ahead of official practice. The gizzard shad spawn will also be in play, and anglers who are able to dial in on that bite will be one step ahead of the game.
“The shad will be spawning for sure and there will be bream beds,” he said. “In the morning, you really have to capitalize on that, because after that, it can be a grinder.”
The top end of the lake features a little dirtier water, and current will be a dominant factor. On the bottom end, anglers will find clearer water, standing timber and brushpiles. Forward-facing sonar will be an important tool for fishing those pieces of cover, and jerkbaits and crankbaits will be key baits.
Much of the shallow bite revolves around the willow and bank grass, Davis said. There is a little bit of milfoil growing in the lake too. Swim jigs, frogs, buzzbaits and soft plastics are some of the more productive presentations for anglers fishing around vegetation.
Davis said the key to the grass bite will be finding areas that have not been sprayed by lake management.
“If they go in an area and spray, you can hang it up for a long time,” Davis said. “They don’t live in that dead stuff.”
Along with the shallow grass, docks will come into play, especially if sunny skies and high pressure prevail. But looking ahead at the forecast, for what it’s worth, there is a chance of showers and storms each day leading up to and during the tournament.
“If it muddies it up, that will make it a little tougher,” Davis said. “But current always helps on the Coosa River.”
While Davis believes there will be several 20-pound bags caught, he thinks it will take around 17 pounds per day to have a chance at taking home the blue trophy. He added that the winner will almost certainly have to catch both spotted bass and largemouth.
“I don’t think you will be able to win on all largemouth,” he said. “I think you will have to weigh in one or two spots a day. Or, maybe catch 20 pounds of largemouth one day and 17 pounds of a mixed bag the rest of the tournament. I don’t think a guy can weigh in strictly largemouth for four days and win. That’s just me, but they might surprise me.”
After a stellar swing in his home state, Greenwood, S.C., pro Brandon Cobb leads the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 387 points. Georgia pro Drew Cook is second with 369 points, followed by Louisiana’s Tyler Rivet with 349. Australia’s Carl Jocumsen sits in fourth with 335, and Alabama’s Kyle Welcher is fifth with 333.
California pro Bryant Smith vaulted to the top of the Dakota Lithium Rookie of the Year standings with 300 points after back-to-back Top 15 finishes at Lake Murray and Santee Cooper Lakes. He is followed by Alabama’s David Gaston in second with 299 points, with Davis sitting in third with 279.
New for 2023, fans can enjoy predictions, conditions and live hits from the lake as part of the LIVE Preview show streaming on Bassmaster.com Wednesday, May 10 at 8 a.m. CT. Bassmaster LIVE kicks off tournament coverage Thursday and Friday mornings at 7 a.m. on Bassmaster.com, Tubi and the FOX Sports platforms while FS1 will broadcast live with the tournament leaders on Saturday and Sunday.
Discover Shelby is hosting the tournament
2023 Bassmaster Elite Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2023 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops, Dakota Lithium, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Progressive Insurance, Ranger Boats, Rapala, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha
2023 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: AFTCO, Daiwa, Garmin, Lew’s, Marathon, Triton Boats, VMC
2023 Bassmaster Conservation Partners: AFTCO, Yamaha Rightwaters