Considering the complexity of catching summertime bass on highly pressured Tennessee River impoundments, Michael Wooley’s winning baits at the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Igloo Coolers on Lake Chickamauga were pretty simplistic. His win came on a Zoom Magnum Trick Worm fished on a 1/2-ounce hand-poured shaky head with a 5/0 hook as well as a 3/4-ounce Strike King football jig teamed with a Rage Lobster. Both lures were fished on 17-pound-test Seaguar fluorocarbon.
Wooley dragged his baits on a shell bed in about 13 feet of water that dropped off to a channel some 20 feet deep.
Here is a look at some of the other patterns that were working at Lake Chickamauga.
2. Blaylock Made the Cut with a Drop-Shot then Switched to Big Baits
Stetson Blaylock was a 1 pound, 7 ounces short of raining on Michael Wooley’s victory parade on the final day when Blaylock toted 24-01 to the scale, including a 9-09 behemoth that mauled a Nichols Magnum Spoon. His tournament total was 90-13.
While others struggled with Chickamauga’s finicky river ledge fish, Blaylock seemed to find a successful rhythm on the river.
During the first two days, when the full field pounded the ledges, Blaylock used a drop-shot to make the cut. Once all but 20 boats were eliminated, Blaylock was able to find better access to river ledge hot spots and find a better timing with bigger baits for bigger fish.
The key element in his timing was to pick up and move after he caught a fish from a spot.
“Normally, catching a fish from a school gets the school fired up and I can catch more,” he says. “What I discovered was that if I caught a fish, that was it – there weren’t going to be any more. I wasted a lot of time the first couple of days fishing a place for too long after I caught one. On day three it finally dawned on me that I was only catching one fish per spot, no matter how long I stayed around. So I trained myself not to get hung up on a spot after I caught one and to keep moving. That got easier to do on the final two days with far fewer boats.”
Blaylock’s big-fish arsenal included a Magnum Spoon, a Livingston Lures Deep Impact 18 and a Howeller Deep+. He fished the spoon on 20-pound-test Seaguar InvisX fluorocarbon and the crankbaits on 10-pound-test InvisX. He says he long-lined a bit in the tournament as well and caught one that stayed in his bag the final day with the technique.
3. Dudley Dominated the Shallows
Walmart pro David Dudley received the unofficial award as the highest finisher from the shallowest water.
“Most of my weigh fish came from 2 feet of water or less,” Dudley claims. “In my opinion there is just too much pressure on too few ledges on this lake. There were plenty of big ones still shallow here.”
Dudley proved it, bringing in 23-04, 20-00 and 23-07 on the final three days of competition. His primary shallow-water sling was a wacky-rigged stick worm (green pumpkin) fished on a spinning rod with 15-pound-test Gamma braid tied to a 10-pound-test Gamma fluorocarbon leader.
In addition, he flipped a jig and a Texas-rigged creature bait on a 4/0 Easy2Hook hook.
Dudley says bream beds were a key component to his shallow strategy, but he also caught fish off shallow docks, laydowns and anything else that created shade.
4. Bream Beds Worked for Davis Too
Darrel Davis successfully mixed a deep and shallow game plan at Chickamauga for a four-day total of 77 pounds, 12 ounces and a top-five finish.
“I had two pretty good spots out deep that I would hit in the mornings with a Magnum Spoon, and then I fished the bank the rest of the day,” Davis says.
Between the two patterns, Davis says the shallow bank pattern produced most of his weigh fish, including a couple of Chickamauga giants.
“I was fishing anything shallow: docks, laydowns, grass,” he adds. “I always had an eye out for bream beds, too. If there were bream around, there were bass around.”
Davis’ shallow success came on a Revenge Swim Jig and a new worm from Reaction Innovations called a Pocket Rocket. He rigged the Pocket Rocket on a wobble head so he could swim it through the grass, and on a Texas-rig so he could pitch it.
5. Bays Better than the River for Nixon
The General was the most opinionated about the bay fish versus the river fish at Chickamauga. Nixon’s total weight was 72 pounds, 8 ounces.
“I spent two days of practice out there on the river catching ‘just keepers,’” he says. “But once I moved inside the bays on the final day of practice, my quality went up substantially. There was no question about where I was going to fish the tournament.”
For that reason, Nixon spent most of his tournament camped in Dallas Bay just several hundred yards from tournament winner Michael Wooley. In the bay, Nixon focused on humps and ditches with a Carolina-rigged green pumpkin Yamamoto Senko.
After fishing Dallas Bay in the mornings, Nixon would sample a couple of places on the main river with a 6th Sense Custom Lures Crush 500DD crankbait. The river bite treated Nixon a little better on day three when he weighed 22-11, thanks to a few upgrades from the main channel.
“I even tried long-lining this week and caught a nice one doing that,” he adds.
6. Bolton Wormed the Ledges
Structure specialist Terry Bolton put his offshore skills to work at Chickamauga for his best finish of the season. He caught 71 pounds, 12 ounces.
The Kentucky pro spent time on the main river and in the bays and says that by the end of the week he liked being off the river better.
“Those river schools were a lot more fickle to me,” Bolton says. “You could see a lot of them down there, but getting them to bite was a different story. I found the consistency to be better back in the bays.”
Bolton’s primary lures for the week included plum Zoom Ol’ Monster and Mag II worms Texas-rigged with 3/8-ounce VMC tungsten weights and 4/0 VMC offset hooks on 12-pound-test Sufix fluorocarbon.
He also tried long-lining a Rapala DT20, which produced a couple of keepers. For a more finesse presentation, Bolton went to a Zoom Magnum Swamp Crawler on a 1/4-ounce VMC Shaky Head tied to an 8-pound-test fluorocarbon leader.
7. Peek Pestered with the Drop-Shot, Followed with the Spoon
Richard Peek plied the currents of the main river with a one-two combo involving a drop-shot and a Nichols Magnum Spoon.
Peek’s strategy was to use the drop-shot to fool a fish from the finicky school into biting. In hopes that the drop-shot fish had activated the school, he would follow up immediately by heaving in the big. The one-two trick worked for several of Peek’s better fish.
8. Billy Mac Tossed Deep Cranks and Structure Heads
Billy Mac caught 29 pounds, 12 ounces for his personal best five-fish limit on day one of the event to take the early lead. But it was all downhill after that as his weights fell off each day.
McDonald’s big bag was helped by a couple of brutes from the shallows that fell for a 1/2-ounce Strike King Knucklehead jig teamed with a Rage Craw tied to 17-pound-test Seaguar fluorocarbon.
After sampling the shallows, McDonald would move out to the mid-depths to fish shell bars, points, depressions and creek channels back in bays. Several of his best spots featured stump-laden shell points in about 13 feet of water that fell off into drains. The points were attached to spawning flats, and McDonald notes that several of his fish were true postspawners with bloody tails.
When fishing in the bays he used a Strike King Structure Jig tipped with a Rage Craw (green pumpkin) tied to 17-pound-test Seaguar fluorocarbon and a deep-running crankbait.
9. One Ledge Key for Thrift
Bryan Thrift estimates that 15 of his weigh fish came from one river ledge that he had mostly to himself for the week. After fishing deep, he would head to the bank to “junk it up” shallow where he could catch a bonus cull fish or two.
On day three, Thrift got the best out of both patterns, catching several big ones from his offshore spot and then several more quality fish from the bank for a 25-pound, 1-ounce limit. He finished the event with 68-01.
On the ledge, Thrift fished a 5-inch swimbait on a 1/2-ounce head tied to 20-pound-test P-Line fluorocarbon. In the shallows, he skipped a 1/2-ounce jig under docks and tricked some on a floating frog.
10. Neal Started Strong
Chickamauga favorite Michael Neal started out on top of his game with a catch of 23 pounds, 6 ounces on day one, but things dwindled quickly after that. His tournament total was 62-08.
“I have no idea what was happening to those schools,” he says. “It’s like they were shrinking by the day.”
Neal’s primary lures on the week included the Nichols Magnum Spoon fished on 20-pound-test Sunline FC Sniper line, a 3/4-ounce Kustom Kickers 2K Red Zone Jig paired with a Big Bite Baits creature bait and a drop-shot.