June 27, 2013 by David A. Brown
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - With the country's top 49 boaters and co-anglers actively picking apart Nickajack Lake, it's only a matter of time until options and opportunities start to dwindle. However, strategic thinking and diligent effort may just be the winning combination for the Walmart BFL All-American presented by Chevy.
Nickajack spans approximately 46 miles from its namesake dam upstream to Chickamauga Dam. The vast majority of this Tennessee River reservoir lies downstream from Chattanooga and that's where the majority of anglers will be fishing. (Notably, only a handful of boats headed upriver at the morning takeoff.)
Local pro Corey Bradley said that while anglers should be able catch fish shallow and deep, he's planning to stick with the offshore stuff. Staying off the bank, he said, should minimize his exposure to crowded waters.
"You can catch them from 3 feet to 30 feet but I'm going to stay deep and chuck a big swimbait and a jig," Bradley said. "I'm starting off throwing a 1-ounce Choo-Choo Lures jig and then the swimbait has been better for me in the afternoon. The key will be fishing (the baits) very slowly. You just get it down there in front of a fish and they hammer it."
Last year, David Williams of Maiden, N.C., placed third at the All-American on the Potomac River. This week, he has a game plan to avoid a lot of the traffic and congestion.
"I think I'm fishing a little bit different than everybody else," he said. "In practice, it looked like they were going downriver and fishing the grass, road beds and stuff like that. I'm going to stay up (close to downtown Chattanooga), flipping, throwing a topwater and stuff like that."
Williams said his pre-fishing proved productive, with several days that could have produced 20-pound bags. Yesterday's official practice day, however, was much slower - possibly due to the hot, still conditions. The tournament forecast includes cloudy skies with isolated thunderstorms, so Williams is hoping this will stimulate the fish.
"We have a front moving through, so maybe that will make them bite," he said. "Yesterday, it was pretty dead but we got some wind later in the day and the bite turned on - it made it 100 times better."
Robbie Walser, who won the 2006 All-American, also thinks he has a pattern that will give him an edge. Understandably, he did not want to divulge too much about what he's fishing, but Walser noted that his depth and habitat preference should keep him away from the crowds.
"The lake is going to fish extremely small," Walser noted. "There are only 49 of us, but there's going to be a lot of company everywhere we stop. I've tried to practice so that I didn't have to fish with everyone else and just fish some stuff that nobody else wanted to fish. It worked in prefishing and I had some 18- to 19-pound days by fishing stuff that everybody else would just drive by and not even stop on."
Walser noted that the lake level had declined about 9 inches since yesterday and he's hoping this contraction further concentrates fish on his isolated spots. He'll throw a mix of crankbaits and soft plastics.
Wisconsin boater Mike Brueggen has a dialed-in plan that will depend greatly on his ability to access certain spots. He's hoping the day's traffic will enable him to take advantage of a numbers game.
"I think there are a lot of fish in this river system and they're kind of grouped up," he said. "Boat pressure is going to be an issue, but if you get on the right group of fish, it's pretty easy. I have four groups of fish and if I make my rotations right, I hope to get a lot of bites. Time management will be a big key and boat pressure, because when you make your rotation, if there's a boat on your spot, it can hurt you."
Tournament regulations allow anglers to keep one smallmouth bass within their 5-fish aggregate limit. Williams said he might take advantage of that one brown fish to fatten up his limit.
"If I can get a good limit (of largemouth), I might go up the river behind the (Chickamuaga Dam) and fish for that one smallmouth," he said. "There are 5- and 6-pound smallmouth in here. If you can find one of them, it will boost your bag."
Anglers will take off from Ross's Landing located at 200 Riverfront Pkwy. in Chattanooga at 7 a.m. each morning. Weigh-ins will also be at Ross's Landing the first two days of competition beginning at 3 p.m. and at the Walmart located at 3034 Rhea County Highway in Dayton, Tenn., the final day of competition beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Fans will be treated to the FLW Outdoors Expo at the Walmart in Dayton on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. which includes Ranger boat simulators, the opportunity to interact with professional anglers, enjoy interactive games, activities and giveaways provided by sponsors, and fans can learn more about the sport of fishing and other outdoor activities. All activities are free and open to the public.
Coverage of the BFL All-American will be broadcast in high-definition (HD) on NBC Sports Network when "FLW" airs Aug. 18 from 3:30-4:30 p.m. ET. The Emmy-nominated "FLW" television show is hosted by Jason Harper and is broadcast to more than 564 million households worldwide, making it the most widely distributed weekly outdoors-sports television show in the world.
For complete details and updated information visit FLWOutdoors.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/FLWFishing and on Twitter atTwitter.com/FLWFishing.
Sunrise: 6:29 a.m.
Temperature at takeoff: 72 degrees
Expected high temperature: 85 degrees
Wind: WSW 5-10 mph, switching ESE 5-10
Humidity: 73 percent
Day's outlook: Partly cloudy, isolated thunderstorms possible