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/2015-05-20-mdj-fitzgerald-battle-for-aoy

MDJ, Fitzgerald Battle for AOY

The Southeast Division of the Rayovac FLW Series will wrap up this week on Lake Seminole after what has been an action-packed season complete with record fields and 30-pound stringers. On top of battling for the $40,000 top prize for winning the event, anglers will also be competing to claim the Strike King Angler of the Year award and its $2,000 prize package, which includes deposits into the 2016 FLW Series. The AOY finale is likely to be a two-man race between Mark Daniels Jr. and Trevor Fitzgerald, but several other pros are within range of stealing away the title. Here’s how it breaks down. READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-14-shallow-deep-and-in-between-at-eufaula

Shallow, Deep and in Between at Eufaula

A couple of weeks ago Eufaula was high and off-color, and the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Quaker State that begins this morning was shaping up to be a shallow-water showdown. The lake has fallen by a couple of inches since then, however, and now the odds are even that both inshore and offshore patterns will be in play. In fact, one Eufaula expert who isn’t fishing the tournament expects it will take a mixture of patterns to make it to Sunday’s championship round and claim the $100,000 that goes to the winner. READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-12-shad-spawn-grass-could-be-a-factor

Shad Spawn, Grass Could be a Factor

While the offshore specialists have discounted the ability to win the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Quaker State on Lake Eufaula on a shallow pattern, their quickness to count out the shallows might be premature. Eufaula’s shallow bite is nearly always strong, and it has only gotten better in recent years. READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-12-practice-with-clayton-batts-

Practice with Clayton Batts

Of the locals in the field for the Walmart FLW Tour event on Lake Eufaula, sophomore pro Clayton Batts is about as local as they come. He has roots all around Eufaula and has about as much experience as anyone on the lake. Typically he competes out of a Ranger wrapped by Mid-State RV Center, but motor troubles had forced him to miss some practice time and borrow a boat from FLW Tour co-angler Josh Weaver. Luckily, he is well-equipped will local knowledge to make up for lost time. I joined him for a few hours the last morning of official practice to see how he approached the lake. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-05-12-strader-maintains-lead-at-halfway-mark

Strader Maintains Lead At Halfway Mark

Midway through the 2015 Walmart FLW Tour, Tennessee pro Wes Strader is in first place in the Angler of the Year race, and his prospects for winning it are as good as anyone’s. Two upcoming events, at lakes Eufaula and Chickamauga, “fish” in a way that suits his style, and he has a good track record on the Potomac River, the last Tour stop of 2015. A good finishing kick could earn the veteran his first AOY title. READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-11-eufaula-s-offshore-bite-could-be-hot

Eufaula’s Offshore Bite Could be Hot

When the Walmart FLW Tour stopped at Lake Eufaula in 2013, Randy Haynes plied a handful of offshore spots for his winning limits, and he did it without much company. That figures to change this time around as the offshore pattern will be on everyone’s radar when the fourth stop of the 2015 Tour kicks off on Lake Eufaula on Thursday in an event presented by Quaker State. READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-10-top-10-patterns-from-kentucky-lake

Top 10 Patterns From Kentucky Lake

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/news/2015-05-09-redington-rallies-at-kentucky-lake

Redington Rallies at Kentucky Lake

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/news/2015-05-09-readhimer-goes-one-for-one-at-kentucky-lake

Readhimer Goes One for One at Kentucky Lake

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/news/2015-05-09-kentucky-lake-rayovac-day-three-midday-report

Kentucky Lake Rayovac Day Three Midday Report

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/news/2015-05-08-top-5-patterns-from-day-2-at-kentucky-lake

Top 5 Patterns From Day 2 at Kentucky Lake

Randy Haynes hasn’t won yet, but his leapfrogging from fifth to first on day two of the Rayovac FLW Series Central Division event presented by Evinrude on Kentucky Lake was more than a little reminiscent of his victory in 2014. In that tournament, which took place in late May, Haynes was third after the second round behind Jason Lambert and Brandon Hunter, respectively. READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-08-haynes-leads-on-kentucky

Haynes Leads on Kentucky

This time last year, Randy Haynes was poised to win the Rayovac FLW Series tournament on Kentucky Lake, which took place out of Kenlake State Park. This year, the event is headquartered at Moors Resort & Marina farther up the lake, but otherwise everything else is pretty much the same. READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-08-kentucky-lake-rayovac-midday-report-day-two

Kentucky Lake Rayovac Midday Report: Day Two

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/news/2015-05-07-redington-leads-on-kentucky-lake

Redington Leads On Kentucky Lake

Tom Redington of Royse City, Texas grabbed the day-one lead in the Rayovac FLW Series Central Division event presented by Evinrude on Kentucky Lake with a five-fish limit that totaled 24 pounds, 13 ounces. Redington has a 1-ounce lead over Chris Blackwell of Clarksville, Tenn., while Brandon Hunter of Benton, Ky., is third with 22-10. READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-07-kentucky-lake-top-5-patterns

Kentucky Lake Top 5 Patterns

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/news/2015-05-07-kentucky-lake-rayovac-midday-report-day-one

Kentucky Lake Rayovac Midday Report: Day One

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/news/2015-05-07-in-or-out-on-kentucky-lake

In or Out on Kentucky Lake

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/tips/2015-05-06-tornadoes-sweep-across-oklahoma

Tornadoes Sweep Across Oklahoma

2014 Rayovac FLW Series Champion Zack Birge, whose appears in the Central Division Tournament on Kentucky Lake was cut short by tornados at his home town in Oklahoma, characterized the damage to his house as “a near miss.” READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-06-big-weights-likely-at-the-cal-delta

Big Weights Likely at the Cal Delta

This week’s California Delta stop of the Rayovac FLW Series Western Division is setting up to be a typical Cal Delta derby – that’s a very good thing. READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-05-kentucky-lake-could-be-tough

Kentucky Lake Could be Tough

Bass at the center of everyone’s attention in the Rayovac FLW Series event on Kentucky Lake next weekend might not know whether they’re coming or going when the tournament kicks off. READ MORE »