I’d fished Chickamauga twice before in FLW Tour competition, once in the early spring when the fish were pre-spawn and once in the post-spawn period, about the same time of year as this event. In BASSFest all Elite Series contestants would get the same number of points so I had nothing to lose. If I had the opportunity to take a chance I was fully prepared to do so.
I strongly suspected that the tournament would be won deep, and I found a lot of good deep structure to fish – both subtle places and the community holes – but it seemed like there were 10 or 15 boats on each of them. That makes a tough situation even harder, because I don’t do well when you have to mix it up with a crowd and then wait out a bite here and there. The schools didn’t seem to fire up reliably, either.
Knowing that the harsh winter had everything behind schedule, on the final day of practice I slid up shallow and in the last three or four hours found some groups of quality fish. I knew they’d probably be depleted pretty quickly by other people who’d found the same fish, so I committed to starting on them and riding them as long as I could.
On Day One, the weather threw us a curveball, with heavy winds and clouds, but I got off to a great start, with a 7 pound 11 ounce bass in the first 10 minutes, exactly where I’d shook her off during practice. After that I pieced a limit together pretty quickly, primarily off of some docks, but with the cloud cover, it scattered the fish out, and I had to work a little bit harder than I would’ve liked. Still, I ended up with 16-13, which had me in 24th place.
Heading into the second day, I felt that in order to duplicate or better my first day weight I’d have to fish a little deeper, so I started in an offshore spot where I’d caught some fish in previous years. From what I could tell, the crankbait bite was pretty much dead, so I left that rod in the locker most of the time and primarily fished two lures: A ½ ounce Lunker Lure Shakey Head with a plum Missile Baits Tomahawk, and a Lunker Lure Football Jig. I also threw a ¾ ounce Biffle Bug a bit. During the first two hours of the day, I didn’t have a bite, so I moved out a little bit deeper and caught two pretty quickly. I was still concerned that my shallow fish had left me, and I felt that I had a good chance to catch a big one out deep, but, with the day passing by quickly, I really never settled on doing one thing. I flip-flopped between shallow and deep and that was my demise.
Even worse, it was Friday the 13th, which has been my nemesis for a long time. At 11 o’clock, I jumped off a 5-pounder at the boat on the same bait and in the same place where I jumped off a 6-pounder in one of the FLWs that cost me making the cut. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. It took me about a half hour to shake that off, giving me just enough time to head to the docks and catch two more. If I had it to do over again, I might’ve slowed down or stayed deep the entire time. The guys who won had to grind it out deep, but that’s tough for me to do in a crowd. I guess I have to work on it.
My four keepers totaled 8-07, causing me to just miss the cut. Instead I was relegated to the “second chance” tournament on Nickajack. I launched there on Day Three and simply didn’t fish well. I thought I needed to go right and instead I turned left and ran 45 minutes in that direction. It just didn’t pan out.
In terms of tackle, I fished the big shakey head on a 7’ Denali Noirwood medium-heavy rod paired with a high-speed Shimano Chronarch CI4 casting reel (7.6:1 gear ratio). I fished the Lunker Lure football jig on a 7’ heavy action Noirwood paired with the same reel. Both were spooled up with 15 pound test fluorocarbon. The other equipment that played a key role in my fish catches were my dual Humminbird 1198s. With the two of them and side-imaging, it’s possible to cover more water in a tournament than I ever thought possible. I also had the new Lakemaster chip, which is absolutely phenomenal. It’s amazing how far this technology has come in just a few years.
Now we have a few weeks off before the next Elite Series event. I’m working a tournament for Phoenix Boats, and then I’ll spend time with some JASPER clients before heading up to Philadelphia and the Delaware River, a body of water that’s totally new to me. I’m sitting in 4th in the Angler of the Year race and I’d love to make up some ground on the three guys ahead of me.