Insider: Everything you need to know for Dale Hollow - Major League Fishing Insider: Everything you need to know for Dale Hollow
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April 4, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • Fantasy Fishing

If you’re a bass fishing fan, you’ve probably heard of Dale Hollow Lake. The Kentucky-Tennessee border reservoir produced the world record smallmouth bass in 1955 — an 11-pound, 15-ounce brute.

But for the Bass Pro Tour anglers set to take on Dale Hollow for PowerStop Brakes Stage Three Presented by Mercury, the lake will represent a bit of a mystery.

Dale Hollow has hosted a handful of MLF5 events in recent years, but due to the lake’s slot limit, which prohibits anglers from possessing smallmouth between 16 and 21 inches and only allows for one over 21 inches to be kept per day, it’s been avoided by national tours. Thanks to the Bass Pro Tour’s catch-weigh-immediate release format, however, the slot limit won’t be an issue. Local anglers think the results could be explosive, with pre-tournament chatter suggesting 100-pound days could be possible.

Given the lack of a tournament track record on the fishery and the fact that smallmouth and largemouth will be in play, the competition should be wide open. Here’s everything you need to know to sift through the options and select a winning Phoenix Boats Fantasy Fishing roster. 

How it will go down 

Not only is the playing field a mystery for many of the competitors, but there doesn’t seem to be a consensus about how the event will be won. The slot limit has forced past tournament anglers to target largemouth, which are abundant. Reigning Fishing Clash Angler of the Year Matt Becker won a Phoenix Bass Fishing League event on the lake in March with 22 pounds, 12 ounces of largemouth. 

However, with the BPT format eliminating any concern about the slot limit, smallmouth should be well represented on SCORETRACKER®. Kentucky native John Hunter said the two bass species typically mix — however anglers choose to fish, they have a chance to catch a big bag of both. 

“You can catch good largemouth and good smallmouth both up the river and down the lake,” he said. “So it’s not like people are just going to get around one species. They both live everywhere.” 

Adding to the intrigue is the fact that just about every technique and depth range could produce fish. Dale Hollow’s deep, clear waters have proven particularly suitable for catching bass using forward-facing sonar and a jighead minnow in recent years, and while that seems to be a player in every tournament these days, the April timing of this event should mean plenty of bass are swimming in the shallows, too.  

Some of those fish could be on spawning beds, providing some sight-fishing action, but Hunter thinks most will still be in the prespawn mode, with springtime staples like crankbaits, jigs and shaky heads used to catch them. 

“I think you’ll see fish caught on a bed, and I think you’ll see fish caught in the middle of the lake and everywhere in between,” Becker said. “I think it’s going to be pretty much whatever you want to do.” 

The Usual Suspects 

Reigning Bass Pro Tour AOY Matt Becker has already shown that he can catch bass out of Dale Hollow, having won a BFL on the fishery in March. Photo by Phoenix Moore

A handful of anglers arrive at just about every Bass Pro Tour event as favorites to make the Championship Round. That won’t change at Dale Hollow. 

Jacob Wheeler is a Top 10 machine, and that hasn’t slowed down this year. He’s made the Championship Round in all three 2024 events, winning Stage Two at Santee Cooper. Dustin Connell has been similarly impressive, with two wins in the first three tournaments of the year, including REDCREST. Jesse Wiggins has also notched three consecutive Top 10s to start the year, bringing his streak to five BPT events in a row. As mentioned above, Becker is not only rolling to start 2024, he’s already shown an affinity for Dale Hollow. 

Other consistent performers who should be comfortable on Dale Hollow include Alton Jones Jr., who has proven to be among the best on tour using forward-facing sonar to target prespawn fish or his eyes to locate spawners and cruisers. Same goes for Drew Gill, although the 21-year-old phenom will use his forward-facing sonar to spot fish no matter their depth or spawning stage (and almost certainly do so effectively). Michael Neal has been one of the best smallmouth anglers on tour in recent years, including the BPT’s last trip to highland reservoirs in Tennessee — Douglas and Cherokee lakes in 2023, where Neal finished third. 

Local(ish) knowledge 

No Bass Pro Tour competitors live right on the shores of Dale Hollow, and while a few have tournament experience on the lake, that’s always been with the slot limit in place. As a result, local knowledge likely won’t play a huge role in this event. 

However, a handful of area natives bear monitoring. Tops on that list is Ott DeFoe. As noted above, Dale Hollow bears some similarity to Douglas and Cherokee lakes, and DeFoe lives on Douglas. Wesley Strader said he’s fished Dale Hollow his entire life, so he should have a good feel for what the fish are doing. Plus, Strader — always one of the best in the game winding a crankbait or spinnerbait in the shallows — showed at Stage One that he can hang with the best at forward-facing sonar, too. Hunter has fished four MLF events on Dale Hollow as a pro, including the March 2 BFL. 

Sneakier Selections 

Fresh off a Top-10 finish at REDCREST, Tennessee native Nick Hatfield could be one to watch on Dale Hollow. Photo by Jody White

Group A: 

Nick Hatfield — Hatfield has been on a heater since his win at the Potomac River last summer, and he’s another Tennessee native who should be comfortable on Dale Hollow, even if he hasn’t fished there much. Plus, Neal called his shot before the season, saying Hatfield will be a name to watch at Dale Hollow. What more expert analysis could you ask for? 

Jacob Wall — Wall did well at Douglas and Cherokee last year, narrowly missing the Championship Round and finishing 12th. He’s spent a lot of time honing his forward-facing sonar skills on Lake Guntersville, and I have a hunch ‘Scoping is going to be a big deal at this event (walking way out on a limb, I know). 

Group B:  

Justin Lucas — This might not really qualify as a sneaky selection, especially since Group B feels a bit less deep than Group A. However, Lucas can fly under the radar at times. And given his strong performance on Douglas and Cherokee last year (he finished fifth), and that he recently caught 42-6 on six bass using Lowrance ActiveTarget and a jighead minnow on Santee Cooper, he should be on the short list of favorites for this one. 

Jonathon VanDam — It’s been a tough start to the season for JVD, but he might have turned the tide by making the Knockout Round at REDCREST. He’s certainly no stranger to catching smallmouth out of clear water, and he’s simply better than his current 65th-place standing in the points.