2014 Bassmaster Elite Series — Bass Fest
56th Place / 10 fish, 28-13
After the win at Douglas, I had a little bit of time to relax and enjoy my family before heading over to Chickamauga. It’s in Tennessee, so people assume I have a lot of history there, but in truth I’ve barely spent any time on the lake. I think the last time I was there was to film a television show for Bass Pro Shops a few years back and the only tournament I’ve fished there in the last decade was a fall two-day championship. I’d never been there in the summertime, although I had experience in the summer on the other Tennessee River lakes.
Heading into practice I expected it to be a ledge deal and I certainly planned to fish deep, but I also intended to look around shallow a little bit. In fact, on the first day of practice I started up shallow, figuring that if I could get some bites I might not have to go play bumper boats on the obvious deep structure. I caught a few fish quickly, including some 3- and 4-pounders, which gave me some options in case the deep bite didn’t materialize. Unlike Kentucky Lake, there aren’t miles of ledges on Chickamauga. Most of the key deep spots are small community holes, and I do not enjoy fishing in crowds, so I worked as hard as I could with square bills, swimbaits and a flipping stick to make something happen. All of them produced a few decent fish.
On the second day I headed down the lake to the community hole areas, where I marked a lot of fish but found it to be extremely difficult to get them to bite. With all of that pressure they were tough to catch and I didn’t stay too long. It just wasn’t right for me. On the last day, I bounced back and forth between deep and shallow and got a few bites on both.
There was one place where on the second day of practice I caught a 4-pounder, a 3 ½ pounder and had one more bite, and it wasn’t a community hole, so I elected to start there on the first day of the tournament. Unfortunately, it never produced a fish for me during the event itself. I quickly left and hit another deep spot where I hooked and landed a 3-pounder. Then I caught one off of a ridge and another off of a ledge. By 9:30 I had three fish in the boat and they were all at least 3-pounders. At that point I went up river and didn’t get a bite for a long time.
Finally I caught number four, a solid 4-pounder which gave me four for 13-plus-pounds with an hour and a half to go. At the mouth of one little creek, right where it dumped out into the river channel, there was a red channel marker pole. I pitched my shakey head over there and the line got tight. It was a fish, but it quickly got off, so I pitched back. This time I hooked up, but the fish was only 14 inches. They had to be 15 inches. Finally I caught a 15-incher there with 30 minutes left to fish. That gave me five keepers total, which is what I ended up with. Luckily those first four were chunks which helped me up to my final weight of 14-15.
At the start of Day Two I knew that my chances of jumping up into the top 12 were slim. I wasn’t on that kind of quality or quantity. Still, with a decent day I could get paid. I went up the Hiwassee where the water color had a little bit of stain and quickly caught three on a buzzbait and missed a few more. Then I caught one flipping and missed a few that way, too.
I headed back down the lake to a place where I caught one the first day and finished out my limit, then added a 4-pounder and a 3-pounder. I figured I’d made the cut, especially when I caught a 2 ½ at the end of the day to cull up by about a half a pound to 13-14. Indeed, I finished Day Two in 40th, which gave me Friday off to work at BASSfest. I gave seminars on crankbaits, electronics and prop baits and the crowd was great.
After the off day I knew that I needed to catch somewhere in the mid-twenties to have a shot at the top 12. Since it was a no points event and 13th through 60th earned the same money, I just went fishing. There certainly wasn’t 25 pounds on the stuff I had been fishing, so it was time to take a risk. I ended up with one keeper that was hooked deep and didn’t survive, so I had nothing to show for my day and came home a little bit earlier than I would’ve liked. I suppose the way my practice went I was fortunate to fish the third day on Chickamauga. It was a tough tournament, as you can see by the fact that the winner, Jacob Wheeler, only had four fish one day. How often does that happen?
On the first day, I caught two fish on a Rapala DT16 in Helsinki Shad, fished on a 7’8” medium-heavy Fenwick Elite Tech Bass rod, a 5.4:1 gear ratio Pflueger Supreme and 10 lb. test Trilene 100% fluorocarbon. The other three fish all came on different baits.
My other key lure was a 1/8 ounce VMC shakey head with a Berkley Havoc Bottom Hopper (watermelon candy), fished on a 7’ medium-action Fenwick Aetos spinning rod and a size 40 Pflueger Patriarch reel. I used 10 lb. test Trilene braid with a leader of 8 lb. test Trilene 100% fluorocarbon.
It feels like a long time since we fished a “regular” Elite Series tournament but the break before the Delaware River will be nice. By the time we leave I’ll be ready to go. At 28th in the AOY race, I’m anxious to fish for points again. On the one hand, no points equals no stress, but on the other that’s the reason we fish. I’m in good position to double-qualify for the Classic and I also have to make sure I get into the top 50 AOY championship in Michigan. There are lots of casts left to make this year.