UPCOMING EVENT: PHOENIX BASS FISHING LEAGUE - 2020 - Ohio River

2020 Cherokee Lake Preview

2020 Cherokee Lake Preview

Cherokee Lake

Jefferson City, Tenn.

April 2-5, 2020

Hosted by Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce

 

Cherokee Lake

About the fishery

Built in the 1940s by the Tennessee Valley Authority, Cherokee Lake is nestled in the hills of east Tennessee. The Holston River impoundment lies roughly between Norris Lake to the northwest and Douglas Lake to the southeast. The clear waters of Cherokee can fluctuate about 30 feet between winter pool and spring flooding, which sounds like a lot, but isn’t out of the ordinary for the average east Tennessee reservoir. So, depending on the water level, Cherokee has about 400 miles of shoreline and 28,780 surface acres.

Because Cherokee fluctuates so much, there’s no grass and not much wood cover to speak of, but there are some fishable bushes and laydowns depending on the water level. There are also fair numbers of docks and miles of pockets, humps, points and islands with about every kind of rock and gravel you could dream of.

We learned last year during the FLW Pro Circuit event that Cherokee is a phenomenal place to catch smallmouth bass, but it also touts a solid population of largemouth and spotted bass. The overall bass numbers can be attributed to the excellent forage base found in the lake, which includes shad, alewives, crappie, bluegills and crawfish.

 

Andrew Upshaw

Last time

Last fall, Bill Humbard mixed in all three species to win the Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine Super Tournament on Cherokee with a two-day total of 26 pounds, 9 ounces. He targeted scattered brush, points and humps throughout the event and caught them on anything from a topwater to a shaky head.

A better gauge of what to expect was last year’s FLW Pro Circuit event on Cherokee in mid-April, which was possibly one of the best tournaments on the lake ever. A perfect storm of falling water followed by stabilizing water levels and warm weather had nearly every smallmouth in the lake rushing to the bank. Almost every pro had some of the best tournament fishing of his life, seemingly catching 2 3/4- to 3 1/2-pound smallmouths at will. Andrew Upshaw did it the best, catching 67 pounds, 10 ounces of mostly spawning smallmouths on a Ned rig throughout the four-day tournament.

 

Cherokee Lake

What to expect this time

While last year was a spectacle to behold, we’ll have to get lucky for lightning to strike twice.

“I think we’ll see a totally different lake this year,” says Jason Abram of Piney Flats, Tenn. “Last year we saw the best Cherokee has ever fished and the best I’ve ever seen it fish. Everything was perfect.

“But we’ve had a super warm winter, like a lot of people have, and I think people will be surprised how much tougher the lake will be this time. There just won’t be the volume of fish up shallow. I think we’ll see all three phases of the spawn, with maybe the second wave of the smallmouth spawn happening during our event. I think the weights may show the fishing is as good as last year because there are so many 2 3/4- to 3 1/2-pound-class fish, but there won’t be the same number of bites as guys got last year.”

Abram does believe targeting smallmouths will once again be more popular than focusing on largemouths.

“Chasing largemouths can bite you in the butt on Cherokee,” Abram says. “You can catch a good bag of them one day, and they can be ghosts the next. No doubt we’ll see some big bags of largemouths, but I don’t think they’ll hold up. The smallmouths are actually more reliable. And I think that there are more 3-pound smallmouths in the lake than largemouths.”

Instead of being a full-blown spawnfest, this tournament will be a little more dynamic than 2019. Abram believes you’ll see plenty of guys running points and humps – like there was last year –with the likelihood of people camping on schools of prespawn and postspawn smallmouths much higher this time around.

 

Baits and techniques

Abram’s years of experience on Cherokee make him think this will be more of a “dragging” tournament, with Ned rigs, shaky heads and Carolina rigs getting a lot of attention.

Swimbaits, both big and small, will also factor for largemouths and smallmouths. A spinnerbait will probably produce, too.

Abram also predicts a solid topwater bite, which made an appearance last year, but could certainly be a bigger player this time.

 

Joey Cifuentes

3 critical factors

1. Pressure – With bass in prespawn and postspawn patterns as well as spawning, we could expect to see fished grouped up more in certain areas of the lake than we did last year, when it seemed like you could catch a 3-pounder almost anywhere on the bank. With bass clustered together and the focus on smallmouths, the lower end of the reservoir could receive a lot of attention, and it doesn’t take a field with this kind of talent long to find the same stuff. Fishing pressure could add up. Dylan Hays made a run at the title last year by running up the river, and that might be a good strategy again this time. Finding something off the wall could be important.

2. The spawn – The smallmouths in Cherokee typically spawn before the largemouths, and they’re easy targets. With kicker bites tough to come by on Cherokee, a 4-pound-plus bite can go a long way, so capitalizing on a few big spawners the first two days could carry an angler all the way to the top.

3. Water level – Locals say the water level on Cherokee can really impact the fishing. Depending on if the water is falling or rising, new patterns could easily develop during the tournament, and the conditions could have a big impact on the spawn.

 

Corey Neece

Pros to watch

In the spring, it’s hard to beat John Cox anywhere. Though, because of the smallmouths, expect Ron Nelson, Matt Becker, Matt Stefan, Andy Young and Josh Douglas – all smallmouth experts – to have an edge as well. There are also quite a few locals in the field, including Abram, Chris Whitson, Derrick Snavely and Corey Neece, who has a BFL win on Cherokee. Plus, Tom Monsoor has made a career with a swim jig – he made the top 10 on Cherokee with it last year – and it’d be hard to bet against him again.

Tags: kyle-wood  pre-tournament 

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