UPCOMING EVENT: Costa FLW Series - 2019 - Santee Cooper

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Big Bags on Horizon at Chickamauga

Big Bags on Horizon at Chickamauga

If there’s a Disneyland for bass anglers, it’s Lake Chickamauga in mid-March. With untold numbers of huge fish moving shallow in preparation of the spawn, there might not be a lake in the country as on fire as Chick is right now.

Day one of the Costa FLW Series Southeastern Division event presented by T-H Marine is underway, and by all indications, the fishery is set up to churn out some mega-bags throughout the event. Even during practice, with the water falling well below normal levels, 7-, 8- and 9-pounders weren’t uncommon. Now, with the best anglers in the southeast hard at it, you can expect fireworks.

 

ABOUT THE FISHERY

With the introduction of Florida-strain bass less than 10 years ago, Chickamauga has gotten a reputation for churning out some monstrous largemouths, including the Tennessee State record of 15.2 pounds caught by Gabe Keen in 2015.

Compared to lakes like Kentucky and Pickwick, Chickamauga is a bit smaller, but the consistent abundance of grass really sets it apart. Paired with ledges and sometimes-ripping current (as it has been this week), there’s more than enough variety to allow anglers to employ a multitude of approaches.

 

CURRENT CONDITIONS

Earlier this week, anglers were reporting water levels up to 8 feet below summer pool. But as FLW Tour pro and Chickamauga local Buddy Gross indicated, water levels might be on the rise as early as today.

“I keep hearing [the water] is going to come up a foot and a half before tomorrow, and if it does, the bite will get better,” he explains. “The water coming down is kind of repositioning them a bit. All the good grass everybody is looking for to fish is in less than a foot of water, so it’s made it kind of hard to fish, but they’ve slowed the water down. I think the water’s coming up.”

Per the TVA, the water level did rise a little, but it’s projected to fall a bit more during the tournament. Barring anything too extreme, the look of the lake shouldn’t change too much between takeoff on day one and weigh-in on day three.

Water level aside, this time of year is prime time on any Tennessee River reservoir. The water temperature has been in the mid-to-high 50s all week, which is exactly the trigger the bass want to keep pushing shallow.  

“I think it’s anybody’s game at this point,” Gross adds. “I don’t think anybody’s going to have a cast where they’re just going to sit there and catch them. It just depends on who gets on the right place at the right time. It’s going to be a timing deal tomorrow.

“I have not figured out the timing. I just know I’ve caught good fish all week, but I’m not catching multiples in one place. It’s going to happen. Somebody is going to find that place, and it’s going to happen fast, and it’s probably going to happen before 10 o’clock.”

There’s a small chance of rain today and tomorrow, but it’s probably nothing to worry about. In fact, with some cloudy skies and the possibility of a steady wind today (10 to 15 miles per hour), the conditions might be setting up perfectly for an incredible day of fishing.

 

TACTICS IN PLAY

Because it isn’t a summertime ledge fishing event, anglers aren’t expected to camp on spots quite as much as you would normally see on the Tennessee River. Instead, anglers might be able to fish around a bit more and sit on Spot-Lock a bit less.

Gross agrees that getting on the trolling motor and fishing areas (as opposed to specific spots) is going to be key this week. He anticipates a handful of tactics to play best, though.

“Grass is going to play, hard spots are going to play, and current is going to play,” he says. “But, a lot of it has been random. Just put the trolling motor down and go.”

As for baits, you can expect the usual stable of power-fishing baits to play. With the size of the fish involved and the time of the year, there’s not likely to be a need for finesse.

 

CRITICAL FACTORS

  • Water levels – With the reservoir well below summer pool during practice, fishing was great. If the water continues to rise throughout the tournament, fishing could be truly exceptional. The trick will be figuring out how fish are repositioning as the water levels change.
  • Wind – A little wind goes a long way on Chick, especially this time of year. Slick calm is bad news, but it doesn’t look like there’s going to be a ton of that this week.
  • Fish management – Any spot holding multiple big fish is going to be worth its weight in gold in this event. But with a full field of nearly 200 boats, it’s going to be hard to protect those spots, especially day to day. Having multiple spots and a quality pattern to run anywhere on the lake is likely to be essential to stringing together multiple big bags.

 

DOCK TALK

“It’s one of those deals that if it hits on all cylinders, we’ll wreck them,” says Gross. “Three weeks ago, these boys were catching 100 in a couple hours and they were all big.”

Gross would know. He’s caught some big fish in practice this week, including a near-12-pounder. All things considered, it’s hard to discount anything he says about his home lake.

As for weights, he expects the winning three-day weight to be in the mid-60-pound range with 17 or 18 pounds a day making the top-10 cut.

Thrift has even loftier expectations. He says he’s had a couple decent days and a couple “not so good days” of practice, but he’s seen enough to expect absolutely crazy weights this week.

“To fish the final day, I’m going to say it’s got to be in the 21 to 22 a day range at a minimum,” he estimates. “To win it, I’m going to say 81 [pounds].”

Any way you slice it, even a happy medium between Gross’ and Thrift’s estimates means monster bags across the tournament field. The dock talk, at least this time around, is overwhelmingly positive.

 

Tournament details

Format: All boaters and co-anglers will compete for two days. The top 10 boaters and co-anglers based on cumulative weight after two days of competition will advance to the third and final round, with the winner determined by the heaviest cumulative three-day weight.

Takeoff Time: 7:30 a.m. ET

Takeoff Location: Dayton Boat Dock, 175 Lakeshore Street, Dayton, TN 37321

Weigh-In Time: Days one and two: 3:30 p.m. ET; day three: 4:30 p.m. ET

Weigh-In Location: Dayton Boat Dock on days one and two; Bass Pro Shops at 1000 Bass Pro Drive, Chattanooga, TN 37412 on day three

Complete details

Tags: justin-onslow  morning-story  2019-03-21-lake-chickamauga 

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