DRAGONFLY - RAYMARINE

BASSfest PREVIEW: LAKE CHICKAMAUGA

Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 06/10/2014

Story by Matt Pangrac

Dayton, TN – Since the release of the 2014 Elite Series schedule, there has been much anticipation and speculation about this week’s stop on Lake Chickamauga, a fertile TVA fishery noted for pumping out massive stringers of largemouth in recent years.  

There are several major differences in the tournament format this week that separates it from a regular season Elite Series event:

Joining the 107 Elite Series anglers this week at BASSfest are 33 additional competitors who accepted an invitation based on how they finished in the 2013 Bassmaster Open standings.     

Bassmaster Open anglers competing this week on Chickamauga:
James Biggerstaff
Jamie Caldwell
Brian Clark
Luke Clausen
Jeff Cloud
Gary Clouse
Jim Dillard
Tommy Durham
Mike Elsea
Charlie Evans
Al Farace
Derek Fulps
Skylar Hamilton
Rich Howes
Powell Kemp
JT Kenney
David Kilgore
Jared Knuth
Matt Lee
Dave Lefebre
Brock Mosley
Steve Mui
Michael Murphy
Kendall Newson
Paul Pagnato
Patrick Pierce
Brian Potter
Lucas Ragusa
Steve Sennikoff
Gerald Spohrer
Bill Weidler
Jacob Wheeler
Chad Wiley

The next major difference is the fact that, as far as Toyota Angler Of the Year points are concerned, all current Bassmaster Elite Series anglers will receive 100 TAOY points for competing this week at BASSfest on Chickamauga, assuming that they fulfill all responsibilities and obligations.  

That means that regardless of who wins this week, Mark Davis will maintain his slim one point lead over Greg Hackney in the TAOY race when the next regular season Elite Series tournament begins in early August on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  While the TAOY standings won’t shuffle this week, the winner this week will still earn a spot in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.

The schedule this week is also a bit quirky, as there will be five days of competition instead of the standard four days, and there will also be a “second-chance shootout” for the anglers who finish outside the Top 50 after the first two days of competition.   

Here’s how the schedule will shake out this week:
Wednesday & Thursday – The entire field of 140 anglers compete on Chickamauga.  The Top 50 in the standings after Thursday’s weigh-in will automatically qualify to fish on Saturday and will attend the BASSfest Expo on Friday.    
Friday – The 90 anglers who finished outside the Top 50 on Chickamauga will compete on Nickajack Lake in what B.A.S.S. is calling the “second-chance shootout”.   The Top 10 finishers on Nickajack will move on to Saturday while the remaining 80 anglers will be eliminated from BASSfest.   
Saturday – The remaining 60 anglers will compete on Chickamauga.  After Saturday, the Top 12 will continue on to the final day.   
Sunday – The 12 remaining anglers will compete on Chickamauga for the BASSfest title.   

One of the main storylines entering the week is the fact that even though the lake is over 36,000 acres, it is expected to fish extremely small on the ledges where most pros believe the tournament will be won.   “I think that everyone understands that you’ll most likely be fishing boat to boat and right next to another guy on the first day.  The problems will arise on Day Two when some of the leaders pull up to a spot and another guy is already there because he had a better boat draw,” explained one veteran Elite Series pro at the pre-tournament meeting.  

“Guys need to understand that there’s a reason why B.A.S.S. reverses the take-off numbers on Day Two.  There really won’t be much to bitch about on Day One, but there will be some disagreements on Day Two and plenty of scuffles out there.  I’d say that there will be at least a dozen knock-down, drag-outs and shouting matches on the water on Friday, for sure,” he continued.  

Over the past several years, Chickamauga has gained a reputation for coughing up some giant stringers, including several five bass limits surpassing the 45-pound mark.  When the FLW Tour visited the fishery in June of 2013, Casey Martin won with a four-day total weight of 103-3. The majority the massive limits on Chickamauga in recent years have come on an umbrella rig, which is not allowed in Bassmaster Elite Series competition.   As a result, many of the pros that The BASS ZONE spoke with at the pre-tournament meeting on Tuesday evening believed that the winning weight would be less than 90-pounds.   

Here's what some of the competitors told The BASS ZONE on Tuesday evening:

Kevin VanDam
VanDam on fishing a tournament where there are no AOY points on the line:
“I really don’t remember the last time that I fished a tournament like this with the exception of the Classic.  I’ve fished a lot of tournaments over the years, but this one is going to be crazy in a lot of ways.  

“The tournament weights that have come from this lake over the last couple of years can be really deceiving.  It really fishes small - smaller than Wheeler Lake and smaller than Pickwick fished last week in the FLW Tournament.   There will be a lot of guys who catch them one day and then zero the next.  

“You’re going to either have to get in the mix and hope for the best or find something magical that you have to yourself, which is possible.”   

VanDam on how he is approaching the week:
“Because there are no AOY points on the line, I’m taking a different approach.  This is an all or nothing deal for me, so I definitely practiced a lot differently than I would have if it was a points event.  Every event requires a different strategy depending on the lake.  If this was a points event, I would have practiced much more conservatively and tried to find some type of backup pattern.  The thing about this tournament is that there’s still a Classic spot on the line and it’s a big payday.  

“The smart thing would have been to spend a day of practice on Nickajack, because if you miss the cut you have to go over there and fish the last chance qualifier.  I didn’t do that, though.  When you’re fishing to win, you don’t do that.”

Brandon Lester
Have you approached this event any differently than you would a regular Elite Series tournament?
"During a regular season event, I would have played it a lot safer and practiced to make sure I could have caught a limit.  This week, I have just spent my entire practice offshore looking for those big schools of fish that it’s going to take to win."

How many other competitors do you expect to be on your starting spot in the morning?
"I don't expect there to be any other guys on my starting spot, but after I leave it I will be playing bumper boats the rest of the day."

Will the winning weight be over or under 90-pounds?
"Dude, it is way off right now.  I am definitely predicting it will take less than 90-pounds to win this event."

Have you prepared for, practiced on, or even thought about Nickajack?
"No, I did not.  I am from Tennessee, but haven’t spent that much time at all on this lake, so I just focused my efforts here.  I have actually spent quite a bit of time on Nickajack, so if I have to go there I know my way around."

Gary Klein
Have you approached this event any differently than you would a regular Elite Series tournament?
"Mentally, the way I have tried to prepare myself for this event is with the mindset that I don't want to go fish Nickajack.  I don't fish well in crowds, and even on my best practice day I know I am not on the type of fish to win this event.  It is sort of disheartening honestly, but it is what it is and I am just going to do the best I can with the format."

How many other competitors do you expect to be on your starting spot in the morning?
"I'm planning on starting on the bank, so I don't think anyone will be around me.  I don't even plan on getting on the outside in all the crowds."

Will the winning weight be over or under 90-pounds?
"Under, for sure."

Have you prepared for, practiced on, or even thought about Nickajack?
"Now that we are talking about it, let’s hope that it is the first and last time that Nickajack enters my mind."

Ott DeFoe
Have you approached this event any differently than you would a regular Elite Series tournament?
"Being a no point event, I really haven't put that much pressure on myself at all.  So in that way it has freed me up to fish a little differently."

How many other competitors do you expect to be on your starting spot in the morning?
"None.  Well actually maybe one - and that would be Andy Montgomery."

Will the winning weight be over or under 90-pounds?
"Under. Certainly under just based on what I have seen, but I really don't have that much experience here.  I probably have only fished it seven or eight times."

Have you prepared for, practiced on, or even thought about Nickajack?
"None of the above."

Keith Combs
Have you approached this event any differently than you would a regular Elite Series tournament?
"If this was a normal event based on points, I would have already gone shallow and tried to figure out how to catch a limit.  It has been a struggle for me out deep, but I know I need to be out there to put myself in a position to win."

How many other competitors do you expect to be on your starting spot in the morning?
"I wouldn't be surprised if there were five or six boats on every spot I will want to fish tomorrow."

Will the winning weight be over or under 90-pounds?
"Under."

Have you prepared for, practiced on, or even thought about Nickajack?
"I actually came and rode around Nickajack before the off limits period, and did some research on the internet about some tournaments that have been held there."

David Walker
Have you approached this event any differently than you would a regular Elite Series tournament?
"I have been fishing for points for 15 years, so I have been fighting the urge to go fish for a limit all week.  Having to change my mentality has been the most difficult aspect thus far."

How many other competitors do you expect to be on your starting spot in the morning?
"That is going to depend a lot on my boat number, but I would guess 10% of the field."

Will the winning weight be over or under 90-pounds?
"I think right at 90-pounds is actually a good number."

Have you prepared for, practiced on, or even thought about Nickajack?
"Everyday when the fishing sucked for me I was thinking about going to Nickajack, but I never went and am not prepared for it at all."

Cliff Pirch
Have you approached this event any differently than you would a regular Elite Series tournament?
"From my perspective, it is more like a Classic approach than anything else.  I am just going all-in and not worrying about figuring out something just to slide by."

How many other competitors do you expect to be on your starting spot in the morning?
"I'm hoping none.  I have tried not to fish much of the super obvious stuff, so I hope that pays off."

Will the winning weight be over or under 90-pounds?
"Even when I won here and they were spawning, I only had around 80-pounds, so I have to say under."

Have you prepared for, practiced on, or even thought about Nickajack?
"No, I didn't even think about it.  I'm not planning on going there."

Cliff Crochet
Have you approached this event any differently than you would a regular Elite Series tournament?
"I actually have spent more time out deep than I normally would this tournament in an effort to get better at fishing that way."

How many other competitors do you expect to be on your starting spot in the morning?
"None. It is too shallow for most of the guys."

Will the winning weight be over or under 90-pounds?
"From what I have seen, definitely under."

Have you prepared for, practiced on, or even thought about Nickajack?
"No. If I have to go over there I will just have to shoot from the hip."

Mark Davis
Have you approached this event any differently than you would a regular Elite Series tournament?
“I haven't been catching any fish out there, so it hasn't been much fun for me.  Obviously this is the type of deal that you just go out and try to win and swing for the fence, but from where I am sitting right now, I can't even see the fence."

How many other competitors do you expect to be on your starting spot in the morning?
"The place I would like to start there is absolutely no chance of me getting on it.  There will probably be at least five or six boats there when I get to it."

Will the winning weight be over or under 90-pounds?
"That's hard to say.  I don't think the weights overall will be very good, but there will be some good limits.  With that being said, I think it will be under 90."

Have you prepared for, practiced on, or even thought about Nickajack?
"None whatsoever.  I don't even want to think about that unless I have to go there, and I am hoping that isn't the case."