The Tennessee River grand finale begins

The Tennessee River System offers prime fishing locations for bass both shallow and deep.

By this time of the season, reality has set in on the Walmart FLW Tour. The 167 pros still in the chase know the score: Most of them will be fishing for checks at Pickwick this weekend and at Kentucky Lake June 26-29. Only a handful will be fishing for a ticket to the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Murray in August. Of this latter group, some already have a fairly good idea that their future travel plans include a summer trip to Columbia, S.C. Several more on the cusp will be disappointed, and a few will be happy. One of them might be the guy the confetti gets dumped on at the final weigh-in of the Forrest Wood Cup. A fitting finale It's fitting that the final two qualifying tournaments in the 2014 season are on Tennessee River impoundments. All things considered, that river system's TVA lakes have been the historic epicenter for game-changing events in bass fishing, and the proving grounds for so many great pros. Tennessee River impoundments collectively rank as the finest bass fishery in the nation, with ample supplies of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted subspecies. The abundance of bass suggests another Tennessee River trait that makes its lakes such popular tournament destinations: Every possible pattern, from flipping jigs into shoreline weed mats, or plumbing the offshore depths for schooling fish, comes into play - sometimes all at once during an early summer day. That's likely to be the case during the coming events, though nobody reasonably expects them to be much more than offshore duels among the Tour's best ledge fishermen. It's logical to assume that the "local guys" with their secret spots have the upper hand, but that's seldom the case. Fishing skill almost always trumps familiarity when an angler who knows what he's doing locates fish anywhere. Kellogg's Frosted Flakes pro Dave Lefebre of Pennsylvania, in 2012, and Keystone Light pro Chad Grigsby of Minnesota, in 2011, proved that most recently at Kentucky Lake where they won Walmart FLW Tour summer events. The fish surges one last time. Pro winner Chad Grigsby holds up part of his 22-pound, 13-ounce final-day stringer. "Both Pickwick and Kentucky Lake were hit hard by the long cold winter and are fishing about two weeks behind at this point," notes Bill Taylor, FLW's director of tournament operations. "But both lakes are at full pool and in good shape. Catches in local tournaments are right up there where one would expect these two fine Tennessee River lakes to produce. I predict 75 pounds will win each Walmart FLW Tour event with a top-20 cut at 28 pounds." The early favorites Pickwick has been famous for its jumbo smallmouths for years, but when Lance Walker caught and subsequently released a largemouth that weighed more than 14 1/2 pounds there in early 2012, the fishing focus shifted a bit. Walker's catch put the lake on the map as a solid largemouth destination, and anglers accustomed to targeting Pickwick's smallmouths turned some of their attention to bigmouths. In the process, the lake was transformed into more of a multi-dimensional fishery. Pickwick's hydrilla should produce at least a few eye-popping big largemouths in the coming days. That's the observation of well-known local guide Roger Stegall, who notes that as hydrilla has proliferated in the lake during the past few years, the largemouth bass population seems to have profited. Last winter's cold weather knocked back the hydrilla, but scattered pockets hold enough grass to invite shallow-water presentations. "We've got a tremendous amount of 6- to 10-pound largemouths now, and a lot of those fish are coming out of the hydrilla," says Stegall. "So I wouldn't count out the guys who know how to fish the weed mats, especially if they have some ledge spots going for them too." Mark Rose also caught the big bass in the Pro Division weighing in at 7-9. It's doubtful that the eventual winner at Pickwick will spend a lot of time fishing grass, however. Ledge master Mark Rose, the Walmart pro, won at Pickwick in 2011, the last time the Tour visited there, by more than 5 pounds over runner-up Kevin Snider of Kentucky. The latter isn't fishing the Tour this season, but Randy Haynes is, and he's another west Tennessee ledge expert who's a wizard with electronics. Haynes joined the Walmart FLW Tour last year, and his win at Lake Eufaula provided strong evidence that he belonged in the top tier. A Strike King 10XD, Profound Outdoors Z-Boss 20 crankbait and a football jig were Randy Haynes If anyone needed additional proof of Haynes' ledge-fishing ability, it came at the Rayovac FLW Series Central Division tournament on Kentucky Lake last weekend, which Haynes won with a three-day stringer that topped 75 pounds. That event was considered a tune-up for both Pickwick and the last 2014 Tour stop on Kentucky Lake. Haynes, Jason Lambert (who finished second in the Rayovac competition with 73-7), Rose (third, 71-3), Barry Wilson (fourth, 70-2) and Brandon Hunter (fifth, 69-13) are all offshore journeyman and will be among the pre-tournament frontrunners at either event. Forrest Wood Cup implications A lot of things are going to get settled in June besides who gets the six-figure paychecks at the last weigh-ins. There's also the matter of the pros who are going to the Forrest Wood Cup. Pickwick will provide some good clues, and Kentucky Lake will settle all bets. Among the contenders to watch are Haynes, who's in 70th place heading into Pickwick; Lambert, in 63rd place; and Chevy pro Anthony Gagliardi, currently in 44th place despite having missed the first Tour event of the season at Lake Okeechobee. Haynes and Lambert will have to put together two extraordinary finishes each to reach the championship - but it's possible. Anthony Gagliardi culls late in the day. Gagliardi, of Prosperity, S.C., will be one of the favorites to win the Cup if he can qualify for it. That would require a pair of solid performances. Just ahead of him, in 43rd place, is Andy Montgomery. Another South Carolina pro who seems to be flying under everyone's radar screen now, Montgomery will be tough to beat on Lake Murray ¬- providing Pickwick and Kentucky Lake are kind to him. AOY contenders Andy Morgan and Cody Meyer are the top contenders in the 2014 AOY race. It's purely coincidental, but the 2014 Angler of the Year race is shaping up as an East-West test of sorts that pits current leader and defending AOY Andy Morgan and Rose (currently fourth) against Californians Cody Meyer (second) and Brent Ehrler (fifth). Of course, Rayovac pro Jacob Wheeler (third), Shin Fukae (sixth) or Jason Christie (seventh) have something to say about it as well, but the nod has to go either to Morgan because of his consistency, Rose because of his mastery of the Tennessee Valley Authority's western impoundments, Ehrler because he's a proven winner on any body of water and Meyer because he's had a red-hot season with three top-10 finishes. So how does this quartet size up against the likely factors that will come into play at Pickwick and Kentucky Lake? Consider a couple of probabilities that will play big factors in both tournaments: • Likely patterns - It's summer on the Tennessee River, the water is hot and the shad schools are bunching up offshore. Sure, it's possible to pick up some kind of limit early inshore on topwaters or by flipping, but the big sacks at Pickwick and Kentucky Lake will be caught offshore. The ledges are going to get worked over with crankbaits, jigs, big soft plastics and jigging spoons. Among this group, Rose is the shoo-in on both lakes. • Hot weather and angler performance - In June, the average air temperature in Florence, Ala., is 88 degrees. By late June, the average air temperature in Aurora, Ky., is hitting 90 or so. Last year, nearby Paducah recorded a high of 94 on June 27. In 2012, the air temperature hit a record 108 degrees on June 29. Kentucky Lake, in particular, is going to be an endurance test. The advantage goes to Andy Morgan and Rose, who grew up spending sultry days on Southern lakes, rivers and oxbows. It gets hot in California, too, especially this year, but as the old saying goes, it's not the heat, but the humidity that gets you and affects your game. There's more at stake Rookie pro Shane Lehew holds up two Lake Okeechobee bass. Beyond the AOY, there are other issues at stake in the final two events. The Rookie of the Year race on the pro side is shaping up to be a neck-and-neck finish among current leader Shane Lehew (586 points and 31st overall) of North Carolina, Jeff Sprague (578 points, 35th) of Texas and Keith Amerson (558 points, 42nd) of Tennessee. The smart money is on Amerson, who lives in Selmer, Tenn., near Pickwick Lake and not so far from the southern end of Kentucky Lake. Five of his top-10 finishes in Walmart Bass Fishing League tournaments have come on Kentucky Lake. Co-angler Nick Loeffelman Jr. finished the Lake Okeechobee event in fifth place. Even the Co-Angler of the Year race is tight, in part because of the vagaries of the pro partner draw, but also because the fishermen at the top balance each other in talent. Missourian Nick Loeffelman Jr. is the current leader by 36 points over Ken Coats of Oklahoma, and he's 41 points ahead of Brian New of North Carolina. Loeffelman claimed the fifth spot at Okeechobee in the season-opener, followed by finishes of 19th, 11th and fifth at Lake Hartwell, Sam Rayburn and Beaver Lake, respectively. Looking at the stats, New has been the most consistent of the trio since a 68th-place trainwreck at Okeechobee. A traveling companion of Chevy pro and fellow Tarheel Bryan Thrift, New had finishes of third, seventh and third, respectively, in the last three tournaments.

Tags: pre-tournament  colin-moore 

/news/2015-04-20-spawn-looming-at-beaver-lake

Spawn Looming at Beaver Lake

As the pros who fish the Walmart FLW Tour begin practice on Beaver Lake, this jewel of northwestern Arkansas could be setting up for another spring spawn showdown. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-19-top-10-patterns-from-lake-murray

Top 10 Patterns from Lake Murray

As contestants in the FLW College Fishing National Championship on Lake Murray discovered last week, fishing the blueback herring spawn can be backbreaking work. All that stooping over to grab a different rig to cast at bass busting their favorite forage, and then quickly straightening, is hard on the old spinal column. Flexing up and down is what it took to contend in the championship, however, as bass couldn’t make up their minds whether they wanted their grub served on the surface or closer to the bottom. Typically, the collegians were fan-casting Carolina rigs, umbrella rigs, hard jerkbaits and even crankbaits to likely looking points and broad flats. Sometimes they caught fish with such random prospecting, but perhaps more bass were taken when anglers found themselves within casting distance of blowups and were quick enough to grab a soft jerkbait rig or topwater lure and virtually spoon-feed it to the fish. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-18-gamecocks-win-college-title

Gamecocks Win College Title

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/news/2015-04-18-gamecocks-win-national-title

Gamecocks Win National Title

As any good Palmetto State bass fisherman will tell you, home lake advantage only works if you’re consistent in your catches from day to day. Anthony Gagliardi proved it here on Lake Murray last summer in the Forrest Wood Cup, and the University of South Carolina proved it again in the FLW College Fishing National Championship that concluded Saturday. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-18-lake-murray-midday-update-day-3

Lake Murray Midday Update Day 3

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/news/2015-04-17-college-championship-race-tightens

College Championship Race Tightens

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/news/2015-04-17-lake-murray-midday-update-day-2

Lake Murray Midday Update Day 2

The air temperature reached a high of 53 degrees here yesterday, which tied a record for the coolest high temperature for that date. Apparently, the short-lived cold snap also had a chilling effect on the fishing at Lake Murray this morning, as several competitors in the FLW College Fishing National Championship presented by Lowrance Insight Genesis College Cup reported meager results. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-16-liberty-leads-college-championship

Liberty Leads College Championship

A 22-pound, 2-ounce stringer anchored by a 7-pound, 9-ounce largemouth boosted Liberty University’s Travis Rulle and Caleb Eppler into the opening-round lead of the FLW College Fishing National Championship presented by Lowrance Insight Genesis College Cup here on Lake Murray. Rulle and Eppler were the last anglers to weigh in on day one, and their five-fish limit gave them a lead of more than 3 pounds ahead of Eastern Kentucky University veterans Kyler Raymer and Ethan Snyder, who had 18-15. The surprise team of the tournament so far is Colorado Mesa University’s Josh Worth and Kennedy Kinkade, who brought in 18-10 despite never having fished east of the Mississippi River before. Worth and Kinkade are in third place, followed by Cade Laufenberg and Wyatt Stout of Winona State University, and Benn Curry and Tim Ward of Auburn University, both teams with 17-8. Lamar University’s Cameron Lafleur and Justin Royal in 10th place set the cut mark at 16-8. The entire field will fish again tomorrow, and only the top 10 based on two-day cumulative weight will fish in Saturday’s final round. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-16-lake-murray-midday-update-day-1

Lake Murray Midday Update Day 1

With precipitation ranging from an incessant mist to torrential downpours sweeping the area throughout the morning, the odds favored a slow start to the FLW College Fishing National Championship being presented by the Lowrance Insight Genesis College Cup here on Lake Murray. As it turns out, however, the bass apparently liked the extra water and reacted accordingly. A number of the teams that found prime spawning areas for blueback herring in practice earlier this week returned on day one and were rewarded with limit catches of largemouths and spots by midmorning. Among them was the local favorite, the University of South Carolina, which reportedly had culled up to about 13 pounds by 11 a.m. Likewise, the Oregon State University was sitting on about 15 pounds and had culled five times. Tanner Masters and Wyatt Ryan of East Central University (of Oklahoma) caught their limit fishing seawalls and riprapped banks during the sporadic herring spawns that fired up as soon as boats reached their first fishing destinations. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-16-weather-woes-greet-college-anglers

Weather Woes Greet College Anglers

It was supposed to be a shallow-water bassfest, with largemouths and spots roaming Lake Murray’s shoreline to feast on spawning blueback herring. That still might happen as the FLW College Fishing National Championship plays out the next three days here, but the fishing is more likely to be ad lib than follow any script. The dreary, damp weather that settled over the region Wednesday during the last day of practice is the culprit. Not only did it hamper the efforts of contestants looking for the last bedding fish of the season, but also those depending on a consistent blueback herring bite to gin up the action. Still, the consensus of opinion is that one pattern or the other will prevail, and settle the question of college bragging rights for the next year as well as send the winning team to the 2015 Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Ouachita in August. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-15-the-spawn-is-on-at-grand-lake

The Spawn is on at Grand Lake

When the Rayovac FLW Series Central Division competitors arrived in Grove, Okla., to start practice for the 2015 opener on Grand Lake this week, they didn’t have to look far to figure out the predominant pattern. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-14-college-championship-preview

College Championship Preview

Anthony Gagliardi won the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Murray last August with a combination of patterns that included fishing soft-plastic jerkbaits and topwaters for schooling bass. A variation of that theme is likely to work this week when the 50 teams that qualified for the FLW College Fishing National Championship convene on Murray to contest the 2015 title. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-07-high-water-rayburn-

High-Water Rayburn

When the Rayovac FLW Series hits Sam Rayburn April 9-11 for the second stop of the Texas Division, the story won’t be solely based on the giants that the lake is known for – it will also be about the extremely high water level. For the first time in years, Rayburn is topping her banks in a big way. Currently, the lake is about 5 feet above full pool, which is even more remarkable when you consider that the lake has been well below full pool most of the last few years. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-25-5-pros-to-watch-at-lewis-smith

5 Pros to Watch at Lewis Smith

The second stop of the Walmart FLW Tour season rolls to Lewis Smith Lake – or “Smith” as most refer to it – which is located in northern Alabama. It offers a stark contrast to the first event held on Toho, as the fishery is a clear, deep impoundment with little grass to speak of. Traditionally spotted bass have dominated this tournament due to their abundance and better average size. That will likely be the case again this week, however, largemouth may surprise some people since water temperatures are prime for them to swarm the bank. Smith Lake is often overshadowed by its neighboring lakes of Guntersville and Wheeler but has pumped out several world-class spotted bass over the years. In fact, back in the 1970s and 1980s several world record spots were produced in Smith, and the current 8-pound, 15-ounce Alabama state record was caught from here. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-24-lewis-smith-4-factors-to-consider

Lewis Smith: 4 Factors to Consider

The Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Evinrude on Lewis Smith Lake will give the 154 pros in the field the first multi-species test of the season. Though the pros who made the top 10 at the opener on Lake Toho showcased a wide variety of techniques, everyone was looking for largemouth. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-24-spotted-bass-reign-supreme-at-smith

Spotted Bass Reign Supreme at Smith

When the Walmart FLW Tour visited Alabama’s Lewis Smith Lake in March 2013, Brent Ehrler dominated wire-to-wire by amassing a hefty 60 pound, 9 ounces over four days and besting runner-up Jacob Powroznik by more than 7 pounds. Catching 60 pounds over four days is a pretty stout performance on most bodies of water, but the fact that Ehrler was targeting spotted bass more or less exclusively makes it truly special. In general, spotted bass are a whole lot of fun to catch, but usually don’t grow shoulders thick enough to produce tournament stringers that can rival their cousins, largemouth bass. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-23-last-time-at-lewis-smith

Last Time at Lewis Smith

It’s been two seasons since the Walmart FLW Tour visited Lewis Smith Lake in Jasper, Ala. Now that the Tour has rolled back into town for the start of official practice on “Smith,” as most pros prefer to call this deep, clear reservoir, there’s an important change that could have a real impact on the tournament’s outcome: The umbrella rig is no longer allowed in Tour competition. Last time, a number of top pros relied on the multi-lure rig for the bulk of their catches, and winner Brent Ehrler caught a key kicker with one on the final day. This year’s event will be held a couple of weeks later in the month, which could mean the fish will be a little farther along in their prespawn-to-spawn transition and shallower patterns could be in play (possibly bed-fishing among them; see 2008: Spawners and Spots below). Still, the 2013 event is the best, most current preview of what we can expect to see this week, so we dug a little deeper into the most productive patterns from the last bout on Smith. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-23-what-went-down-at-kentucky-lake

What Went Down at Kentucky Lake

Save for the contrarian crankbaits used by the eventual winning team from the University of Arkansas-Fayettville, it seemed that the vast majority of teams in the FLW College Fishing Open on Kentucky Lake relied on umbrella rigs. Here’s a rundown on what the top 10 used to catch most of their bass. Each of these teams is now pre-qualified for the 2016 FLW College Fishing National Championship. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-22-arkansas-anglers-win-college-open

Arkansas Anglers Win College Open

Consistency was the key for the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville here in the FLW College Fishing Kentucky Lake Open as Zachary Pickle and Drew Porto won the event with a two-day total of 43 pounds, 12 ounces. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-21-top-patterns-from-kentucky-lake-

Top Patterns from Kentucky Lake

Thanks to nearly identical bags from days one and two, the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville netted the title in the FLW College Fishing Open held on Kentucky Lake. While the top prize of a Ranger Z117 with a 90-horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard was at stake, teams were also battling to make the top 10 in order to punch their ticket for the 2016 FLW College Fishing National Championship. READ MORE »