One spot plus two lures plus 92 pounds, 4 ounces of Lake Chickamauga bass equals a $125,000 Walmart FLW Tour win for Michael Wooley.
Wooley, a second-year pro on the FLW Tour who hails from Collierville, Tenn., spends most of his fishing time somewhere on the Tennessee River, mostly on either Pickwick or Kentucky Lake.
Despite his deep knowledge of Tennessee River bass, Wooley’s win on Lake Chickamauga was about as straightforward as it gets. There were no big flashy spoons, secret hair jigs or new must-have crankbaits involved in his victory. There were no mega-schools or timing of tricky rotations.
Instead, Wooley dragged just two lures – a Zoom Magnum Trick Worm on a 1/2-ounce hand-poured shaky head and a 3/4-ounce Strike King football-head jig teamed with a Strike King Rage Lobster trailer – across a shell bar located in Dallas Bay for the win in the Tour event presented by Igloo Coolers on Lake Chickamauga.
Wooley found the fish on Sunday afternoon, the first official day of practice.
“I was idling along in Dallas Bay looking with the Lowrance DownScan when I found them,” Wooley says of the winning fish. “It was by no means a mega-school, but the size of the dots [sonar returns] was thick, which told me they were better quality fish.”
Another pass with regular sonar confirmed his suspicions.
“I keep the color palette setting on my units on green, and these arches were on the bottom and had that really dense green color to them,” he adds.
With no one around, Wooley investigated the school with a rod and reel. He hooked four fish, and each weighed 4 to 5 pounds. He knew then that he had a starting spot.
When Wooley returned to the area on the first day of the tournament, he was stunned to see that no one else had found the mother lode. He was also encouraged by the sight of gizzard shad skipping out of the water, fleeing for their lives from something big chasing them from beneath.
By 8 a.m. the first day, Wooley had sacked 26-02 to start the event in second place behind Billy McDonald (eighth place), who weighed a tournament-best 29-12. During the week, Wooley learned that the bass were putting on an early feedbag up on top of the shell bar in about 13 feet of water. Once they were done feeding, the fish would slide back and lumber around in a 20-foot ditch that kissed the tip of the bar.
On day two, the sophomore pro sacked up 23-05 to take over the lead from McDonald. On day three, Wooley padded his lead even more with a 23-07 limit and entered the final day with more than a 6-pound advantage over Stetson Blaylock, who hauled in the biggest limit of day three with more than 25 pounds. Yet just when it looked like Wooley would coast into victory lane, his honey hole went dry on day four.
“I only caught two off that place this morning,” Wooley says. “At that point I had to scramble around on some main-river schools to finish a limit.”
As Wooley struggled, Blaylock was closing the gap quickly. The Benton, Ark., pro slashed Wooley’s lead with a single fish – a 9-pound, 9-ounce Chick brute – that fell for an 8-inch Nichols Magnum Spoon.
By weigh-in time, only the scales would determine the winner.
“Stetson and I had been at the tanks comparing our fish for an hour,” Wooley says of the stressful weigh-in. “We swapped the win between us a dozen times as we calculated and recalculated our weights. It’s been a nerve-wracking deal.”
Blaylock’s final charge of 24-01 looked like it was enough for the upset, as estimates of Wooley’s weight ranged from 16 to 17 1/2 pounds. When Wooley walked to the scale, he needed 17-15 to win.
As it turned out, the estimates were wrong. Wooley battled back with a closing effort of 19-06 for the win.
“Those couple of schools out on the river really ended up sealing the deal for me,” Wooley says. “It’s funny because on the first three days I ran those schools, and nothing I caught from them really helped me. But when the Dallas Bay hole dried up today, I was glad to have something to fall back on out on the river.”
Top 10 Pros
1. Michael Wooley – Collierville, Tenn. – 92-04 (20) – $125,000
2. Stetson Blaylock – Benton, Ark. – 90-13 (20) – $29,154
3. David Dudley – Lynchburg, Va. – 85-09 (20) – $24,288
4. Darrell Davis – Dover, Fla. – 77-12 (20) – $19,421
5. Larry Nixon – Bee Branch, Ark. – 72-08 (20) – $18,448
6. Terry Bolton – Paducah, Ky. – 71-12 (20) – $17,474
7. Richard Peek – Centre, Ala. – 70-03 (20) – $16,501
8. Bill McDonald – Greenwood, Ind. – 68-11 (19) – $15,528
9. Bryan Thrift – Shelby, N.C. – 68-01 (18) – $14,554
10. Michael Neal – Dayton, Tenn. – 62-08 (16) – $13,581