The various impoundments of the Tennessee River have long been stopping points for all of the major bass tours and with good reason – not only do they hold monstrous bass, but they also test the anglers’ abilities to decipher multiple patterns over the course of a week. If you can’t deal with changing conditions, the full gamut of techniques, and occasionally heavy fishing pressure, you’ll at best be an also-ran on any of them.
For many years, Lake Guntersville and Kentucky Lake were the jewels of the system, but in recent years, others, like Pickwick, have come on strong. Perhaps none has come on stronger that Chickamauga. Thanks to an aggressive stocking program by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the population of F1 hybrid largemouths has exploded. Several years ago, a guide and his client produced a legitimate 49-pound, 5-fish limit.
When the Elite Series last visited the lake in the fall of 2020 under trying conditions, it took 58 pounds 2 ounces to win over four days of competition. Even with inclement weather this time around, there was no doubt that it would take much more.
Mossy Oak Fishing Lake Breakdown
- Host: Dayton, Tennessee
- Launch Site: Dayton Boat Dock
- Lake Description: Lake Chickamauga, an impoundment of the Tennessee River, is relatively small by tour-level standards, only about 36,000 acres, and the water was low for this event. There are numerous backwaters in the lower end while the upper end of the lake is more like a river. It is heavily-developed with boat docks and there are sections of aquatic vegetation, as well as a variety of shoreline and offshore cover.
- Navigation: Unlike the prior Elite stop at Santee Cooper, Chickamauga is comparatively hazard-free and easy to run. Most of the competitors had been there previously and knew their way around.
- Bass Species Present: While there are populations of spotted and smallmouth bass in Chickamauga, largemouths – and particularly the hybrid Florida-strain largemouths – are the key to winning a multi-day tournament there. That’s especially true in the spring.
- Forage Species: There are of course bluegills, white bass and crawfish, among other species in Chickamauga, but these bass grown monstrous by eating protein-packed shad. Many of the competitors tried to match the oversized gizzard shad by fishing large swimbaits and glide baits.
- Weather: Springtime is a season of change in the mid-south, and the competitors arguably got the worst end of the deal this week in Tennessee. Unusually chilly temperatures were mixed with all sorts of precipitation – rain, sleet and snow – and insulated clothing and rain gear were the name of the clothing game. There was wind, too, as a series of storms swept across the country. The fourth and final day of competition started with heavy fog and then transitioned to sunny skies without a breath of wind – and the fishing got tougher for the ten pros who remained.
How to Fish Chickamauga in April
If there was ever a tournament where we saw the whole tackle box emptied, this was it. It was eventually won with a combination of an old-school spinnerbait and a vibrating jig, but the incredible extremes that the anglers used successfully. At least one used 4-pound test line and ultra-finesse techniques to make the top ten while others uses 7-, 8- and 9-inch swimbaits to tempt the giants. The former risks losing a hooked fish to line breakage, while the latter often results in a “hero or zero” situation.
If you’re headed to Chickamauga this month, you’ll want to pack good polarized glasses and make sure your trolling motor batteries are fully charged for sight fishing. If that’s not your game, or you need to throw something in between the beds, think about a spinnerbait and a vibrating jig – and don’t sleep on a buzzbait, which can produce some of the most heart-stopping strikes this time of year.
Top Mossy Oak Performer
It was another great event for the Mossy Oak fishing team, with six of our seven anglers finishing in the money. Indeed, all of those six were in the top 30. Drew Benton was the best of the bunch – he qualified to fish Sunday and ended up 10th.
The three Brandons had a great showing: Palaniuk was 12th, Cobb was 22nd, and Lester was 23rd. Bill Lowen was 26th and the G-Man Gerald Swindle earned a 30th place check.
This event marked Benton’s third straight top ten finish, and moved him up into 5th place in the Angler of the Year standings. Palaniuk (2nd), Lester (7th) and Cobb (9th) are also in the top 10 as the season nears the turn, and it promises to be a thrilling horse race down the stretch. Currently, all seven Mossy Oak pros are inside the cut for the 2023 Bassmaster Classic.
What They’ve Been Wearing
The pros were expecting to wear shorts in Tennessee in April as the yellow flowers that signify springtime threatened to bloom, but they were fortunate to bring truckloads of heavier clothing. They needed just about every ounce of it this week. Many of them came from or headed to turkey hunts around this tournament, so they had the appropriate Mossy Oak apparel for that and pressed it into service on the water.