1st Place – Tim Smiley – 34 Pounds, 7 Ounces
Consistency is great, but with the fall transition scattering fish all over Lake Cherokee at the Oct. 9-11 Walmart Bass Fishing League Regional, Tim Smiley took a mix-it-up approach and sacked up a winning total of 34 pounds, 7 ounces. Topping competitors from the LBL, Mountain, North Carolina and Savannah River divisions, the boater from White Pine, Tenn., earned a Ranger boat with a 200-hp outboard and a Chevy 1500 Silverado.
“For the most part, the deep pattern was the one I relied on, but I did mix it up,” Smiley says. “I started the first day shallow, went deep and then later on came back shallow. The second day I started deep and then went shallow. On the third day I started deep on another part of the lake and then went shallow. Then, I changed ends of the lake and went shallow again.”
Smiley says his deep game was most productive, with eight of his 15 fish coming off a series of three humps in 25 feet. Offshore, he caught fish by mixing up his presentations with a 3/4-ounce football-head jig with a green pumpkin twin-tail trailer, a 5/16-ounce football-style shaky head with a green pumpkin finesse worm, a Strike King 6XD crankbait and a Rapala DT-16 crankbait.
Up shallow, Smiley flipped a homemade 9/16-ounce green pumpkin jig with a green pumpkin chunk trailer around cover in the Holston River. On the main lake and in backwater cuts, he threw a bone-colored Heddon Zara Spook. The latter proved most productive, especially under overcast skies on days two and three.
2nd Place – David Williams – 33 Pounds, 9 Ounces
David Williams of Maiden, N.C., relied on a “nothing” strategy. That is, he targeted “nothing banks” with very little obvious cover that many other anglers overlooked, and his strategy paid off with a second-place total of 33 pounds, 9 ounces.
“Everyone was fishing the pretty banks and bluff walls,” Williams says, “but I tried to get away from what everyone else was doing.”
Working the mid-lake region, Williams says that banks with overlooked rocks or stumps were most productive. Most of his fish came shallow in a foot or 2 of water, but he also spent some time offshore in as deep as 25 feet of water.
“There was a big variation; the fish were scattered everywhere,” Williams says. “The first day, the sun brought them up shallow, but on the next two days, the clouds and the rain scattered them.
“Some were out suspended, but it was trial and error,” he continues. “I’d start shallow every day, and if I didn’t get bit, I’d move out deeper.”
On the bank, Williams used a 1/2-ounce shad-colored spinnerbait with a split-tail trailer and a 2/0 trailer hook. He fished this bait from the surface down to 15 feet, depending on the position of bait schools in his areas.
Williams also caught shallow and deep fish on a 3/8-ounce white buzzbait and a 1/2-ounce Shooter jig with a green pumpkin Zoom Chunk trailer.
3rd Place – Todd Walters – 32 Pounds, 13 Ounces
After practicing from one end to the other on Lake Cherokee, Todd Walters determined that his best opportunities were waiting up the Holston River. There, he committed three days to the riverbanks to net a third-place finish with 32 pounds, 13 ounces.
Past experience told Walters, of Kernersville, N.C., that the main-lake bite would be inconsistent, so focusing on remaining shoreline cover in the river’s more narrow confines proved an effective strategy. He fished anywhere from 2 to 12 feet deep, staying about a boat’s length off the bank.
“The fish were positioning on whatever wood was still left in the water, but it had to have rock around it,” Walters says. “I think they had such limited cover that they were keying on those rocks.
“If you could find rock and wood on a 45-degree bank, you were almost guaranteed to catch fish,” he adds. “I’d fish some spots two to three times a day, and I caught fish on them multiple times.”
Noting that the action spiked when the current was flowing, Walters says he caught all of his fish on a homemade flipping jig with a killer craw Living Image skirt and a green pumpkin Zoom Super Chunk trailer. He used a 7/16- to 9/16-ounce head, depending on current strength.
Essential to his success, Walters says, was using 17-pound-test Sunline Shooter Fluorocarbon to resist rocky abrasion.