Some of the 200 boaters in the Open field will be kicking off the three-tournament season on familiar waters. The Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers were also the site of the Bassmaster Elite 50 series-finale this past June.
At stake in this event is the $50,000 top prize and valuable points toward the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship, where five spots will be awarded to the coveted CITGO Bassmaster Classic next summer in Pittsburgh.
"I don't think the guys who fished here in the Elite 50 will have much of an advantage," said Mark Menendez, an Elite-50 pro from Paducah who is skipping this tournament while awaiting the birth of his first child. "Not unless they spent all their time at Smithland (Pool of the Ohio River), which was actually a little bit lower when we fished the Elite 50.
"I don't think they'll have much of an advantage other than knowing the lay of the land because everything that we fished in the Elite 50 is 20 feet up the bank now. It's pretty funny to see where we fished."
When the pros arrived in Paducah in June, they found the Tennessee, Ohio and Cumberland rivers to be at flood stage. Still, winner Alton Jones managed to catch 43 pounds, 4 ounces in the four-day contest. He did it by fishing soft-plastics in a magical spot in the Tennessee River where rocks created an eddy about 25 yards in length located about 300 yards below the Kentucky Dam.
"Where Alton won, he was lucky to have caught what he caught," Menendez said. "You never catch a fish there that's over 4 pounds - never. It's usually only good for 9 or 10 pounds a day. So I don't think the Open anglers will rush to his spot."
The Southern Open season-opener finds the three rivers at or near normal pool. As a result, Menendez expects the bass to be plentiful, particularly the smaller largemouth bass.
"The fishing's going to be better than the Elite 50," he said. "The water conditions are much more stable. I was on the river a week ago or so, and I caught them really well. I had a 15-pound bag of largemouth and smallmouth pretty easily.
"The Cumberland and Tennessee have been stable for so long it will probably be won on one of those two. If I were a betting man, I'd say the Tennessee. The fish, on average, are bigger there. It's easier to catch a 4 1/2- to 6-pounder on the Tennessee than it is on the Cumberland.
"Smithland is the wild card. Fishing in the pool has been very poor in the summer months, as hot as it's been. It's only been taking 9 or 10 pounds to win one-day tournaments there. But it would be the easiest place to find some unmolested fish."
Without the flood conditions, the most productive bass-catching patterns will likely differ significantly from those in the Elite 50 event.
"I think the patterns will be a different this time around," Menendez said. "Cover, wood cover in particular, will be a little bigger factor than it was for the Elite 50. Then the fact that the smallmouth did not bite in the Elite 50 as they should have, I think that will be the other darkhorse.
"There will be a lot of fish caught on small crankbaits like a Bandit 200 Series or Strike King Series 3. I think a topwater bait or buzzbait will be a good way to catch a good fish. If the smallmouth bite, it will be a Carolina rig and a jig out deep.
"I think you'll see good numbers. I think it will take 38 to 40 pounds to win. And if you can catch 7 pounds a day you'll make the top-50 cut."
Anglers will have their choice of pursuing three species of legal fish - largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. And they will have about 100 miles of fishable water to catch them.
The Tennessee flows north into the Ohio River near Paducah after coming out of Kentucky Lake. The Cumberland is located about 20 miles downstream after coming out of Barkley Lake. The tournament launch and weigh-in takes place in Smithland Pool at Paducah.
The daily launch will take place at 6 a.m. at the downtown Paducah Riverfront with weigh ins starting at 3 p.m.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer, which includes the all-new Bassmaster Elite 50 series, is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Central Open include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Toyota, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Local Sponsors include JR's Executive Inn.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.