While the FLW Tour event on Lake Chickamauga, which was presented by Evinrude, wasn’t quite the slugfest many expected, the “Lake of the Giants” still showed out. John Cox earned his third regular-season FLW Tour victory with an 83-pound, 9-ounce four-day total, and five other pros topped the 75-pound mark.
Being early May in southeastern Tennessee, the biggest fish in the lake hadn’t yet moved out to the ledges en masse. Some were still shallow and either spawning or moving up to spawn. Some had made it to transition points on the way out to deep water. There were ledge fish to be had, but not quite in the massive volume many expect from Tennessee River fisheries by the time summer rolls around.
The timing of this event was both a curse and a blessing for the top 10 finishers. There were plenty of fish to be had – and on a multitude of patterns – but the big double-digit females Chick is known for were hard to track down.
John Cox relied on sight-fishing for bedding bass at times throughout the tournament, but blind-casting both a swim jig and a stick bait did most of his damage over the weekend. He ran shallow water, stopping for some bedding fish along the way, while beating the banks and casting to a variety of shoreline cover.
Here’s a look at how the rest of the top 10 caught their fish.
Buddy Gross’ home lake is Chickamauga, and he knows what the fishery is capable of – both good and bad. He entered day four expecting to “swing hard” for big fish that might put him over the top, and while he didn’t quite weigh in enough to earn the victory, he sure gave it all he had.
Gross loves to fish grass, and he found some this week on grass flats that dropped off behind shell beds and pea gravel. Those patches were transition areas for postspawn bass, though he did better targeting shallow offshore bars with shell and gravel on them. Gross also fished some ledges (as most anglers familiar with Chick do this time of year).
“I was just fishing shallow shell beds, gravel bars to start with,” he explains. “That’s what I was doing every morning, trying to get some shad spawn action. Then after that I started fishing deep.”
It was a mix of all those patterns that earned Gross his second-place finish. For the most part, anglers really needed to have multiple game plans to get the job done, and he certainly did.
Gross relied on a handful of moving baits to land his best fish at Chickamauga. He employed Scottsboro Tackle 5-inch and 6-inch swimbaits as well as a Zoom Swimmer and a Lucky Craft SKT MR crankbait. He rigged the 5-inch Scottsboro on an Owner Flashy Swimmer (1/2 ounce) and the 6-inch on a Scottsboro 1-ounce head. He changed out the hooks on his crankbait to Owner treble hooks.
Tour rookie Ron Nelson notched a third-place finish at Chick by splitting his time out deep on ledges and searching the shallows for spawning females. While he spent more time out deep, Nelson caught the majority of his weight by targeting spawners up shallow.
“I started off in practice finding transition-type ledge stuff that some big fish were on,” he says. “There were definitely some big fish coming back to the banks and definitely some fish going out. I never did find any good outside ledges that weren’t community holes, so I decided to commit to the bank.
“The first day I didn’t spend as much time as I should [out deep], and I had a good bag the first day. The second day I spent about 65 percent out and should have spent more time in.”
It was a tournament of adjustments for the Berrien Springs, Mich., pro. For the most part, he made the right adjustments at the right time. It just wasn’t meant to be.
“I just tried to force it a little bit today [Sunday],” he admits. “I should have probably gone back outside looking for a feeding bite.
“Today, if I could have actually had the same water clarity as yesterday, I could have caught them up shallow as well.”
Nelson relied heavily on a Yamamoto Senko to do his damage. He rigged it both wacky style and Texas-rigged (with a 1/32-ounce weight in the wind) and used black and blue, black, and green pumpkin colors. He also used a Jewel Bait football jig with a Strike King Rage Tail Craw trailer and a 3/4-ounce XCalibur rattle bait (silver and black).
Day-four leader Matt Greenblatt fished one 150-by-150-yard area in the back of Washington Creek (up the river and south of the 30 Bridge) all four days of the tournament. For three days, that spot produced winning fish. It just didn’t happen on Championship Sunday.
“There’s a channel that runs through the middle of two grass beds,” he says. “The boats have pretty much cut into that grass with their props in low water. There are little channels. It’s a lot like Florida. I found that, and being the Florida guy I am, the lightbulb went off. I took a cast in there during practice and had about a 4 1/2-pounder. Went another 10 feet, made the same cast and caught another one. Same pattern. Same everything.
“I’m going to call it ‘the little spot that almost could.’ It gave me everything it had.”
While he ran out of fish – and subsequently missed out on his first Tour win as a boater – Greenblatt doesn’t regret a thing.
“Everything was just perfect,” he beams. “Win, lose, draw, that’s what it is.”
Greenblatt only used two baits on his one spot all week: a 5-inch Yamamoto Senko and a 5-inch Zoom Speed Worm, both in watermelon red with the tails dipped in Spike-It worm dye. He rigged the Senko weightless and wacky style on a VMC No. 2 hook with a weedguard. The Speed Worm was Texas-rigged with a 1/8-ounce weight.
FLW’s all-time leading money-winner put on a shallow-water-fishing clinic at Chickamauga. As he puts it, though, he wasn’t exactly on a pattern.
“Really, when it gets this time of year in May, it’s really not a pattern when you’re fishing shallow, because they could be anywhere from on a little stick to shade to a brush pile to a bush,” he explains. “You never know. [You’re] just fishing whatever is in front of you.”
Dudley also caught some fish on offshore flats with isolated rock piles on them, essentially targeting transitional areas where bass were either staging to spawn or moving back out after spawning.
He relied on two baits the first three days of the tournament: a wacky-rigged green pumpkin stick bait and a Texas-rigged Zoom Brush Hog (also green pumpkin) with a 1/4-ounce weight. On day four, he caught his entire bag on an OSP Blitz square-bill crankbait.
With the exception of a spinnerbait bite that turned on when it rained on day three, Ramie Colson Jr. spent all his time flipping cover north of Richland Creek. It worked, so he just stuck with it.
“Shallow grass, trees, whatever I could see laying off the bank,” he says, describing his targets. “That’s what I did all four days.”
Even when it rained on day three and Colson switched to the blade, he was still running the shoreline and targeting the outer edge of grass, as well as cypress trees and laydowns. He just got on the trolling motor and let it rip.
Colson flipped all four days with a Texas-rigged Zoom Z-Craw in the California 420 color. He used a pegged 1/4-ounce weight on that setup on 20-pound-test Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon. Colson culled out his entire bag on day three with a 1/2-ounce Accent gizzard shad and chartreuse double-willow-blade spinnerbait with a Zoom Split Tail Trailer (pearl white).
Alex Davis loves to fish offshore, and although it didn’t work as well as he’d have hoped on days one and two, the Albertville, Ala., pro hammered on some ledge fish on day three to the tune of 23 pounds, 5 ounces.
“One day I went and threw a line-thru swimbait in grass for like two hours,” he says. “It was a shallow bar offshore.”
That little foray into shallow water ended up saving Davis’ tournament, as he only caught five total fish that day and two of them came on that flat. Otherwise, it was all deep-water offshore fishing for Davis, who was targeting suspended bass in upward of 30 feet of water.
Davis relied on a homemade 3/4-ounce hair jig for some of his fish and some Scottsboro Tackle swimbaits and jigheads for the rest. He used a 5-inch Scottsboro Line Through (internally weighted), another Scottsboro swimbait on a 1-ounce head and yet another on a 1-ounce Scottsboro scrounger head.
Jared McMillan stayed within five miles of Richland Creek (up the river) all four days, flipping his way along shorelines littered with shallow cover to earn his third FLW Tour top 10.
“I was flipping to anything that was sticking out just a little bit farther off the bank, whether it be canes or cypress trees or a laydown,” he says. “Anything that kind of stuck out or made a point. Stuff they could spawn on. I was just running the bank 100 miles per hour.”
While the third-year pro targeted all kinds of shallow cover, he did find that cypress trees were especially productive, particularly when the sun came up and those trees offered some shade for bass hanging tight to the bank.
McMillan caught 17 of the 20 fish he weighed in on a Strike King Rage Tail Craw (black and blue), Texas-rigged with a pegged 1/4-ounce weight. He had that rigged on a 7-foot, 2-inch, medium-heavy Lew’s Custom Speed Stick and a Lew’s Pro-Ti 7.5:1 reel spooled with 20-pound-test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon. He caught the other three he weighed in on a 4-inch wacky-rigged Strike King KVD Perfect Plastic Ocho stick bait (green pumpkin), which produced two key fish on day four.
David Williams spent his mornings targeting the shad spawn on the lower end of the lake, mostly in marinas where he could flip docks. When the shad spawn quit, he stuck to the dock pattern, but he did more fishing on the bottom below the docks.
“I’d fish on the bottom, and the fish would kind of move down in the water column,” he says. “It’d be a little slow, but that’s how I caught all my big ones – on the bottom.”
While he mostly relied on jigs to do his damage, Williams also mixed in a couple other baits when the bite got slow or when he’d miss a fish and needed a follow-up bait.
Williams tied on a white 7/16-ounce TrueSouth Custom Lures jig with a Zoom Z-Craw trailer for his early morning shad spawn bite. He then switched to a 1/2-ounce Queen Tackle jig with a green pumpkin Z-Craw trailer. Williams also mixed in a TrueSouth V-Twin buzzbait and a Duo Realis 120 jerkbait as a follow-up bait.
Austin Felix wasn’t necessarily on a pattern at Chick; he did a little bit of everything, and he did it well.
The Eden Prairie, Minn., pro had to make some adjustments throughout the tournament, eventually getting on a ledge bite on day three and running around looking for new deep fish on day four.
“Day one and day two I did a combination of flipping, bed-fishing and just sight-fishing,” he says. “Day three, the weather was so bad that I went out deep the whole time and caught 16 pounds out deep. Today [Sunday] I just threw everything out the window because I was 9 pounds back, so I had to try to make something happen. I was doing some off-the-wall stuff, and it didn’t pan out.”