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THURSDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2007
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$50,000 in prizes on busiest fishhook
Bassmaster event starts here Thursday

By Paul Stackhouse
sports@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

The winner of this week’s Bassmaster Southern Open on Wheeler Lake will receive $6,000 in cash and a Triton boat with a Mercury engine worth $50,000 combined.

For many bass anglers, that is reason enough to compete their hardest in the Southern Open, which begins Thursday morning at safe light at Ingalls Harbor. But for many of the serious professionals competing in this event, which is the finale of the Southern Open circuit, it’s all about points and earning invitations.

The top three points leaders receive bids to the 2008 Bassmaster Classic in South Carolina in February. The top five in overall points get a shot at the 2008 Elite Series, which is the biggest and most famous trail that BASS offers.

North Alabama pro Timmy Horton said he expects to see some good bags come to the scales. Horton already has qualified for the Classic and Elite Series, but he will still be fishing this week’s tournament.

“I look for about 15 pounds a day — 45 pounds to win the tournament,” said Horton, who admits he hasn’t fished competitively on Wheeler in a couple of years. “I’ve heard the fishing is improving on Wheeler. I fished on Pickwick this week and saw how much better things have gotten there. I hope that all of our lakes on the Tennessee River here are going to get a lot better.”

Horton said there should be a lot of different bass-catching patterns utilized in the event.

“I do see a variety of techniques being used,” Horton said. “Some will probably go into the creeks and flip wood, and some will work the Decatur flats. Others might consider working docks and, if we keep having these cool nights, the topwater bite for smallmouth on the lower lake should improve.”

Going down the top 10 list in the Southern Open’s professional division after two of three events finds Florida’s Terry Scroggins on top of the leaderboard. Finishing out the top 10 who are trying to knock Scroggins off the mountain top are Charlie Hartley of Ohio, Mark Davis of Arkansas, Scott Sills of Georgia, Brett Mitchell of South Carolina, Paul Kimball of Connecticut, Todd Auten of South Carolina, Bobby Lane of Florida, Rodney Chastain of South Carolina and Preston Henson of Florida.

Sills says he can’t wait to fish the event on Wheeler, which is such a large lake (67,100 acres) that anglers won’t be shoulder-to-shoulder.

Sills took a vacation from his professional jeweler job to pre-fish and scout Wheeler Lake for a week.

“The water level is normal,” Sills said. “The conditions are good and getting better. Wheeler has the types of water I like to fish. And there’s plenty of water, so everyone can spread out and not pile up in one area. I’m going to stick to my strengths, which is shallow-water power fishing.”

Wheeler Lake is home to largemouth bass, spotted bass and smallmouth bass, which means multiple patterns could be working on any particular day. Normally, the smallmouth bass bite is found from the Decatur area to Wheeler Dam. But lately, the entire lake has been producing some nice bags of bronzebacks. Most anglers will go after a largemouth bass bite, but if that doesn’t work, there’s always a different strategy to be used.

Auten, a full-time professional bass fisherman, has earned a berth into the 1999 and 2003 Bassmaster Classics. He certainly wants to add 2008 to his list.

“If the hot weather continues, Wheeler might be a deeper-water bite than I’d like,” Auten said. “I’m hoping the water will be cool enough so I can fish shallow.

“Terry Scroggins has been so strong, he can just about coast into it (the 2008 Classic). And, I sure can’t count Mark Davis out.”

The pros will fish with a co-angler draw partner each day until the field on each side is cut to the top 30 after Friday’s weigh-in. Those who have enough weight to fish Saturday are assured a check as 30 places will be paid.

On the pro side, second place is worth $15,000 with third place paying $12,000.

On the co-angler (must fish from the back of the boat) side, first place is $2,000 and a Triton boat and Mercury engine package valued at $32,000. The second-place co-angler will receive a $5,000 check, while the third-place finisher goes home with $4,000.

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