Jim Leary

Capt. Jim Leary shows off a couple of bass that helped him to the ABA championship last Saturday. 

The tournament fishing season is off to a pretty good season for Capt. Jim Leary of Guntersville Bass Guides:

• He got a runner-up finish in the BFL two weeks ago in Pickwick.

• Last Saturday, he won the ABA (American Bass Anglers) tournament out of Goosepond.

“It was not a huge field, but there were some good fishermen in it,” Jim said of the ABA. He was actually pretty surprised he won it.

If you recall, the weather wasn’t real conducive to fishing last weekend. The storms earlier in the week had muddied up the lake and there was a stout wind blowing the day of the tournament.

“I was definitely fishing by the seat of my pants,” Jim said. “Almost all of my guide trips the week before had canceled because of the storms. I stayed home most of the week and vegged. I did nothing.”

He actually debated even fishing the ABA and didn’t decide to enter until the afternoon before.

Jim said he pretty much caught fish all day long, but the fish were a bit skittish if he got too close to them with his boat.

He has a new weapon in his arsenal, Lowrance ActiveTarget. It’s like some of the other sonars, but it’s live. You can see fish in real time and see how they react to a bait.

“I’m learning a lot from it,” Jim said. “If they fish sense you are close, you can see them dive down in the grass. You’ve always heard people talking about your chances being better the further you throw out. I am seeing that. It makes sense.”

Jim ended up catching 19.44 pounds in the ABA.

“What I wanted to do wasn’t working,” he said of his first hour of fishing. “They just weren’t there.”

But he went to another spot and caught 4 keepers pretty quickly.

“I thought about staying there and trying to get my 5th,” he said. (5 fish are a tournament limit.) But he decided there were other places to check and that paid off.

“The second spot, I didn’t catch any,” he said. “But on the 3rd spot, I caught a really good one.”

So it went the rest of the day. He’d catch a good one and be able to cull up.

Catching the 4 quick ones in the second spot that morning was the blessing.

“It opened me up,” he said, enabling him to check more spots.

Most of his fish were caught on a 4x4 black & blue jig.

“Almost every fish I caught, I saw on the ActiveTarget first,” he said. He noticed the fish going to the bottom, so he worked the jig along the bottom and they would go down and pick it up.

Jim didn’t weigh any of them, but used a cull beam to decide what to keep and what to cull. You just put one fish on either end of the beam to determine the heaviest. The beam doesn't give you the weight.

“I thought I had 15 or 16 pounds and I thought it would take 25 to win it,” Jim said.

At the weigh-in, noted pro Jimmy Mason was in front of him.

“I thought, ‘His fish look really big,’” Jim said. He ended up beating Mason by more than 2 pounds.

“People were congratulating me and I couldn’t believe I’d won,” he said.

For his effort, the tournament paid him $2,200. But the bonus contingency money from having a Mercury motor, a Phoenix boat, a Tundra truck etc. pushed his winnings to $3,950, not a bad payday for a windy Saturday on the water.

“The tournament would’ve paid out $5,000 if there had been 60 boats,” he said. “But I’m not complaining. I won $3 grand the week before for finishing 2nd in the BFL.”

He returns to Pickwick for another tournament this weekend.

As for what Guntersville’s bass are doing right now, Jim said it’s definitely still the pre-spawn even though he has seen water temps of 60 and heard reports of the temp as high as 65 in some pockets. The widely fluctuating water level is keeping the fish just out staging.

“On Sunday, I launched my boat and I had to step up to get in it,” Jim said. “When I came back, you had to step down to get into it. TVA had dropped the water level 2 feet in 10 hours because of these storms.”

He caught most of his tournament fish in 8 feet of water.

“A few fish are roaming up into the shallow flats, but the bigger ones are still holding out in a little deeper water,” he said. “They’re not wasting a whole lot of energy. They’re waiting for the right time.”

He doesn’t think a whole lot of people were dragging a jig in the tournament. Right now, with boat ramps packed and so many people out fishing, doing something a little different just might be the ticket.

The pressure – and the number of tournaments large and small – are something of a concern for Jim. Like a lot of other local anglers, he said the lake is just beat up from it.

“This lake is a 3-ring circus and there’s not one ringleader,” he said. “It’s not good for the fish.”

He said both Scottsboro and Guntersville get a lot out of fishing as far as their local economies, but neither city is doing anything to help the resource.

“We are going to have our first re-stocking this spring, thanks to Chris Lane,” he said. “What is sad is that neither town contributes anything to the lake, but they are benefitting from it.”

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