B.A.S.S. visited the section of the Tennessee River in and around Knoxville for the 2019 Bassmaster Classic and again in 2021 for a regular season Elite Series event. While the entire river system – including famous fisheries like Guntersville, Pickwick and Kentucky Lake – is known to be a prolific producer of big bags, this area has proven tricky, even for the best pros in the world.
Not only is there a decision as to whether to fish for largemouths or smallmouths, but there are multiple lakes and a wealth of different types of cover. Anglers had to deal with constantly changing conditions, and combinations of the “perfect” water clarity, temperature and current were at a premium. Nevertheless, plenty of fish were brought to the weigh-in at the Thompson-Boling Arena, and B.A.S.S. set yet another attendance record.
The last time the event was held there, in 2019, Mossy Oak showed up big as Tennessee pro Ott DeFoe claimed the trophy and cemented his place as one of the all-time greats. Pundits questioned whether this event would be won the same way or if that pattern would be overpressured or expired.
As is almost always the case, the Mossy Oak Fishing Team was right in the thick of it up until the end.
Brandon Lester came in 6th place at the Bassmaster Classic.
Bassmaster Classic 2023 Breakdown:
Host: Knoxville, Tennessee
Launch Site: Volunteer Landing in Downtown Knoxville
Fishery Description: This may be the most riverine section of the Tennessee River system that is available to bass competition. The waters included Lake Tellico and Ft. Loudoun.
Bass Species Present: This tournament was billed as a competition between the more numerous largemouths and the fewer but often heavier smallmouths, which have to be 18 inches or longer to weigh in. There are also “meanmouths” (smallmouth hybrids) and spotted bass.
Forage Species: The bass of the Tennessee River have a wealth of options to eat regularly, including shad, bluegills and of course crawdads. Several competitors commented that the presence of bait was critical to finding populations of fish, even super-shallow.
Weather: Warming temperatures moved many fish to the bank. On the second day of competition, heavy overnight rains and storms brought strong wind to the water.
Read More: BASSMASTER ELITE SERIES LAKE CHICKAMAUGA
How to Fish The Tennessee River in March
As noted above, the fish were generally moving shallow with the warming temperatures. Yes, it’s possible to target deeper smallmouths, as the winner did, but even they are on the move. A better strategy for most anglers is to look for largemouths on transition banks and in backwater areas. Moving baits like square bills, vibrating jigs, and the East Tennessee staple the flat side, can be deadly, but anglers should carefully ply isolated cover with jigs and soft plastics.
Top Mossy Oak Performers
The Mossy Oak Fishing team had six competitors in the event, and four of them finished in the top ten, and another in 15th. Here were their final positions:
· Drew Benton 4th
· Brandon Lester 6th
· Brandon Cobb 8th
· Greg Hackney 10th
· Lee Livesay 15th
· Gerald Swindle 44th
That last spot was occupied by one of the greatest anglers of this era – a two-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year. His low position in the standings does not necessarily represent a failure to find fish. Indeed, the Classic is one tournament where, with no points at stake, it often pays to take a risk.
Benton took home an additional $7,500 for being the highest-placing entrant in the Toyota Bonus Bucks program.
Greg Hackney in front of his boat decorated in Mossy Oak Elements.
2023 Angler of the Year
Because the Classic doesn’t involve any points toward the year-long standings, the AOY rankings remain the same. The Mossy Oak Fishing Team sits as follows:
· Brandon Cobb 4th
· Greg Hackney 11th
· Lee Livesay 12th
· Bill Lowen 13th
· Gerald Swindle 14th
· Drew Benton 39th
· Brandon Lester 64th
With the bulk of the season left to fish, six of them are inside the cut for next year’s Bassmaster Classic and the other one – a perennial qualifier – will likely be there before long.
What They’ve Been Wearing
With the warming temperatures and occasional doses of sunshine, the Mossy Oak pros were rocking their signature gear throughout the week, layering it as appropriate to stay flexible.
Some of the most popular items included the Fishing Tech shirts, which kept them protected and yet camouflaged against spooky shallow water fish. For the same reasons, the Mossy Oak Fishing Neck Gaiter, with its cooling technology, and 40+ UPF protection, was wrapped around just about every team member’s neck.