ABN Smith Lake qualifier

By Greg McCain

About mid-morning Saturday (April 13) on Smith Lake, Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation member Joel Smith told fishing partner Alan Cantrell, “It’s just not meant to be for me today.”

Smith, who blew up his engine about a week ago practicing for the ABN qualifying tournament, continued to have difficulties in the opening hours of the tournament. Three good Smith Lake spots had come unbuttoned.“I couldn’t get them into the boat,” Smith said.

His fortunes turned about 9 a.m., however, and Smith executed well the remainder of the day. Fishing in Cantrell’s aluminum boat, Smith boxed five solid Smith Lake spotted bass, including the big fish of the tournament, and won the boater division with 14.89.

Smith edged fellow Winfield Bassmaster member Jennings Earnest for the win. Earnest boated 14.19. Billy Black (Monroe County B.A.S.S. Anglers, 14.11) finished third on the boater side.

Trey Mitchell, of Florence and Shoals Fishers of Men, took top honors among co-anglers with a 9.61 three-fish limit. He barely edged William Wood (Pro Line Bassmasters), who caught 9.60.

Spotted bass catches made up the majority of the fish brought to the scales in the tournament. Only five largemouth were weighed among the 100-plus competitors.

Smith’s performance highlighted a dominating day by Winfield fishermen. In addition to Smith and Earnest, ABN veteran Kyle Glasgow finished fourth among boaters with 14.03. On the co-angler side, Terrell Pennington took third with 9.01, and McCain Merchant was fourth with 8.43.

After his early difficulties, Smith said he culled four times. He caught the Academy Sports + Outdoors Big Fish – which weighed 4.40 – on a Carolina rig with a pumpkin/chartreuse U-tail worm. Smith said he also caught fish through the later stages of the tournament on a shaky head and fluke. Other than the big fish, the other spots that he weighed came on a shaky head.

Smith and Cantrell ran all the way past Duncan Bridge in the BassTracker, but their key area was in the Ryan Creek arm closer to the Smith Lake Dam take-off area.

“We caught some males earlier and came back later in the day, Smith said. “That female had probably moved up looking for a place to spawn. She was definitely pre-spawn. I caught her in about 10 foot of water.”

Smith completed his good day as the highest finisher among Fishin’ 4 A Cure (F4AC) participants. Competitors pay an optional $25 per tournament to F4AC, and the money goes to help combat childhood diseases at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham. Airport Marine and Office Partners are the F4AC sponsors.

“I’ve been trying to win (an ABN qualifier) for 10-15 years,” Smith said. “I’ve won a few tournaments here. It’s my favorite lake. But I wasn’t too sure after my boat troubles and after the start I had.”

Earnest, who recently started fishing with the Winfield club, worked an unusual pattern in finishing second behind Smith. Although his biggest fish hit a Spook when schoolers came up on a point, Earnest caught the majority of his limit on an “inside-the-cables” pattern.

The floating boat docks on Smith are secured with metal cables extended from either the front or rear corners to the bank.

“I caught most of my fish on a morning dawn drop shot behind docks and trying to fight them around the cables,” Earnest said. “I didn’t catch any outside the cables. I had to be inside the cables to get them to bite.”

On the co-angler side, Mitchell, who also paired with his father, Mike Mitchell, to win the team title, fished the Rock Creek area most of the day.

“I got the right bites,” he said. “We didn’t have anything specific we intended to be doing. We just tied on a few confidence baits and went down the bank. It happened to work out.”

Some culls in the closing hours of the tournament were a key for Mitchell, especially when Wood was among the final anglers to weigh in and had a good sack of spots. Both Mitchell and Wood said they caught their best keepers on shaky heads.

“With everything being so cookie-cutter on Smith Lake, every little bit helps obviously,” Mitchell said.

Rounding out the top 10 in the boater division were Jeff Warren (Belgreen Bass Club, 13.81); Mike Mitchell (Shoals Fishers of Men, 13.58); Myles Palmer (Pro Line B.A.S.S. Anglers, 13.29); Don Hill (Shotgun Sports Supply, 13.10);  Derek Jackson (Belgreen Bass Club, 13.02); and Brent Crow (Marathon Bassmasters, 12.95).

The remainder of the top 10 among co-anglers included John Calhoun (Neely Henry Bassmasters, 8.24); Ramon Quick (Birmingham Bass Club, 7.85); Randall Wiggins (Shotgun Sports Supply, 7.82); Jonathan Trowbridge (Birmingham Bass Club, 7.71); Francis Beard (Neely Henry Bassmasters, 7.52); and Dale Norred (Lake Tuscaloosa Bassmasters, 7.42).

The Mitchells boated a combined 23.19 to win the team competition and qualified for the team competition at the state championship in November. The top team finishers from each ABN qualifying tournament will be eligible for the state championship, scheduled for Nov. 1-2 on Lake Guntersville. Last year, the top four teams out of the state championship advanced to the Toyota Bonus Bucks Team Championship, which was fished on the Harris Chain in Florida.

Other teams qualifying at Smith Lake were Smith and Cantrell, Greg Bearden and Wiggins, Ed Payne and Pennington, and Black and Donald Henderson. The second-place team at Smith, Palmer and Wood, had previously qualified at the Lake Martin tournament in February as had the fifth-place team, Keith Glasgow and Merchant.


ABN president Eddie Plemons thanked all sponsors during the pre-tournament meeting Friday night and also during the weigh-in. New sponsors for 2019 include Davis Baits Co., of Sylacauga, and George Paint and Body, of Leeds. Returning sponsors include Academy, Airport Marina, Office Partners, Triton Boats, Mercury, Motor Guide, Lowrance, NetBait, Shell, Hammer Rods, Daiwa, Shelby County, StrikeZone Lure Co., and Charlie’s BBQ.

The ABN’s next stop is Lay Lake on May 11. Plemons and other ABN officials are working to re-schedule the Mobile Delta qualifier, which was postponed in March due to flooding. However, a definite tournament date has yet to be established. Qualifiers, both team and individuals, from the four events will be eligible for the state championship on Guntersville.

Greg McCain is a freelance writer with current credits in Alabama Outdoor News, Great Days Outdoors, Alabama Game & Fish, and CrappieNOW online magazine in addition to producing content and photos for this website. He is a member of the Belgreen Bass Club, an ABN chapter near Russellville.