UPCOMING EVENT: PHOENIX BASS FISHING LEAGUE - 2020 - Sam Rayburn Reservoir

Cold Front Greets Anglers on Chickamauga

Cold Front Greets Anglers on Chickamauga
Bryan Thrift

Temperatures in the low 50s greeted anglers as they headed out of Dayton Boat Dock Friday for the Costa FLW Series Southeastern Division finale, which is presented by Lowrance on Lake Chickamauga. Temperatures aren’t expected to get out of the 50s throughout the day.

Today is day one of competition, although it was supposed to be day two. Thursday fishing was cancelled due to predicted high winds as a cold front blasted into the area. However, 394 anglers are still hoping to find that magical 30-pound bag of five bass that Lake Chickamauga is known to produce.

FLW pro Micheal Neal, from Dayton, says the cold front might affect the fishing; he’s just not sure how much.

“It’s probably going to hurt things a little bit,” says Neal. “I know there was a big shad spawn going on halfway down the lake. A lot of times those shad spawn fish will turn off because the shad quit spawning. The cold isn’t going to help them for sure, but I don’t know if it’ll hurt them that bad.”

Well-known local angler Rogne Brown knows the potential of Lake Chickamauga better than most. He and a partner once won a tournament at Chickamauga with 44 pounds caught in a single day. On another occasion, outside a tournament, he and a partner caught five bass in a day that weighed more than 49 pounds on the lake.

“A 30-pound bag is always possible on this lake,” Brown says. “Conditions aren’t really right for several 30-pound bags, but somebody could always bring one in.”

 

About the fishery

Covering about 36,000 acres with 784 miles of shoreline, Lake Chickamauga on the Tennessee River stretches 59 miles upriver from the Chickamauga Dam to Watts Bar Dam. Chickamauga is named for a tribe of Native Americans that broke away from the Cherokee Nation in the 1700s. They lived in villages along North Chickamauga Creek, which joins the Tennessee River just below Chickamauga Dam. Before the Tennessee Valley Authority created Chickamauga and other reservoirs above Chattanooga, the city had one of the most serious flooding problems in the nation.

The lake has gained national fame in recent years as one of the better largemouth bass fisheries in the country. In the year 2000 the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency began an experimental program, annually stocking Florida-strain largemouth bass fry. It took several years for the program to take hold, but now hard-core bass anglers are routinely catching 10-pound-class largemouths. In February 2015, Gabe Keen broke the 60-year-old Tennessee state record for largemouth when he boated a fish that weighed 15 pounds, 2 ounces. Now, based on DNA analysis of tournament-caught fish, TWRA biologists say virtually every largemouth caught weighing more than 8 pounds is a hybrid fish with genes gleaned from the Florida-strain bass stockings.

The minimum length limit for largemouth bass is 15 inches. The lake contains a few smallmouth bass. Minimum length limit on smallmouths is 18 inches with a one-fish-per-angler creel limit. It commonly requires a five-bass limit (usually largemouths) weighing at least 20 pounds per day to win any Chickamauga tournament. Since the tournament has been cut to two days, most predict it will take a cumulative total of 40 to 50 pounds to wind up in the winner’s circle this week.

 

Current conditions

Lake Chickamauga’s level currently sits at about 681.5 feet above sea level, very near its normal summer level. However, just over a week ago the lake flooded to nearly 684 following massive rains. The flow through Chickamauga Dam will be about 48,000 cubic feet per second for the next two days, which is considered above-average flow by most area anglers.

Water color is very stained due to the flooding and more recent rain, including drenching rains Thursday.

“The creeks were starting to clear up, at least the mountain-fed ones,” says Neal. “But with the additional rain we’ve had there’s no clean water anywhere.”

 

Tactics in play

Lake Chickamauga is a dynamic fishery that welcomes a variety of fishing styles. Just prior to those flooding rains, the top weights in the B.A.S.S. Southern Open on Chickamauga were caught by anglers sight-fishing for spawning bass. FLW Tour pro John Cox won that tournament with 68 pounds, 3 ounces for three days. But with the change in water levels and the stained or muddy conditions, there is likely to be very little sight-fishing. Most anglers expect bass to be in an offshore, postspawn pattern.

The most popular postspawn techniques include throwing big swimbaits or jigs along deep river-channel ledges. Those deep ledges are usually Neal’s forte, however, he says he’ll be taking a different approach in this event.

“I’m going to be fishing offshore, but I’m not going to be fishing as deep as I was [two weeks ago],” he says. “The current is going really hard compared to normal. It’s going to push the fish up a little shallower, so I’m going to start fishing in that 5- to 10-foot range where you can’t really graph. You have to fish to find them.”

Brown, Neal’s uncle, says after a good practice week, he won’t be starting on the deep ledges either.

“I’m starting shallow,” confirms Brown. “I feel pretty good. I’ve got a pretty good area. There’s some big fish in there if I can just get them to bite.”

With his reputation on the lake, Brown knows that he’ll be watched closely.

“Of course, when you’re on your home lake you always want to do good and are expected to do good,” he says. “But all you can do is go out there and give it your best shot.”

 

Critical factors

1. Muddy or stained water – Finding clear water will be virtually impossible. The key for anglers will be in unlocking the secret to get bass to bite in the stained conditions.

2. Current – While flows are slacking off a great deal from a week ago, there is still more current than normal. Usually current is a good thing because it concentrates schools of deep ledge fish in key spots. But you can have too much of a good thing. Figuring out how the fish are adjusting to the heavier flow will be critical.

3. Crowds – Since the tournament was pared to two days, there won’t be a top-10 cut. The full field will fish on Friday and Saturday. There is at least one other major tournament on the lake Saturday, and potentially some smaller events, as well. There will be a lot of competition for key spots.

“You’re looking easy at 300 or 350 boats on the water Saturday fishing tournaments,” says Neal.

 

Tournament details

This tournament is the final regular-season event of 2017 scheduled in the Southeastern Division. Pros are competing for a top award of up to $50,000 in cash and a new Ranger Z518C boat with a 200-hp Evinrude outboard if Ranger Cup qualified. Co-anglers will cast for a Ranger Z175 boat with a 90-hp Evinrude outboard and an additional $1,250 if Ranger Cup qualified. The top 40 pros and co-anglers in the final point standings in each U.S. division advance to the 2017 Costa FLW Series Championship, provided they fished all three qualifiers in a division.

Currently, Buddy Gross from Chickamauga, Ga., leads the standings in the Southeastern Division with 493 points. Mike Keyso Jr. is in the No. 40 bubble position with 377 points. A total of 394 anglers – boaters and co-anglers – are registered in the Lake Chickamauga event.

With one day of the event cancelled there will not be a cut to the top 10 for the final day. The full field will fish Friday and Saturday. Boats will take off from the Dayton Boat Dock, located at 175 Lakeshore St. in Dayton, beginning at 6:45 a.m. ET. Weigh-ins will be held at the marina beginning at 3 p.m. each day. Takeoffs and weigh-ins are free and open to the public. The event is hosted by the Rhea Economic & Tourism Council.

Complete details

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