Eventful weather was the name of the game at the Costa FLW Series Southeastern Division finale on Lake Chickamauga presented by Lowrance. Day one was cancelled due to predicted high winds. The forecasted wind didn’t materialize, but torrential rain did. That led to even muddier conditions and rising water levels.
It’s hard to say exactly how that influenced anglers’ lure choices, and water conditions varied depending upon whether they went to the upper reaches of Chickamauga or 30 to 40 miles south to the lower end.
William Weidler from Bessemer, Ala., won the tournament with his go-to bait – a 1/2-ounce Dirty Jigs No-Jack Swim Jig with an H&H Swamp Frog trailer.
Like Weidler, most other anglers also picked some variety of jig as their preferred lure. But a couple of anglers threw the bass a curveball.
2. Wilson claims second place again
Barry Wilson from Birmingham, Ala., also ended up in second place in an April FLW Tour event on Lake Cumberland. On Lake Chickamauga he caught 22 pounds, 10 ounces Friday, ending the day in ninth place. He says he caught most of his fish that day 8 to 10 feet deep.
Wilson managed 21 pounds, 1 ounce on the final day to claim second place, but with changing weather and water conditions, he had to throw the bass a changeup.
“I started mid-depth,” he says. “I did have one big one, 8 pounds or better, hang me up. But otherwise it wasn’t really working, so I started a shallow pattern. I caught a 5-pounder, I lost another one about 8 or 9, some small ones, and then I caught an 8. After that I culled up two or three more times.”
“I bite a little bit off my trailer,” he says. “The thing about it is, it rotates and the tail will wiggle as well, so it’s going to give you incredible action.”
3. Merriman fishes pair of jig patterns for third
Brian Merriman from Falkville, Ala., is used to fishing the Tennessee River.
“My home lake is Wheeler, but I think this lake’s better than Wheeler,” he says.
Merriman is an FLW regular with 185 events under his belt and now seven top-10 finishes. On Lake Chickamauga Merriman mostly relied on a 1/2-ounce Tight Line Jigs Wood Thumper Jig tipped with a YUM Mighty Craw. He says the jigs help him feel out rocks on the bottom, and over the two days of fishing he caught four 4-pounders off of one rock.
He caught most of the rest of his fish swimming a white jig along the edges of heavy grass that lines many of the shallow shorelines in the upper end of Lake Chickamauga.
There was a torrential rain on Thursday and continuing drizzle Friday, when Merriman caught 21 pounds, 2 ounces. On Saturday Merriman lost some precious fishing time due to unexpected rising water and mud.
“I’d found a bunch of fish in practice,” he says. “There were 5-pounders stacked in all them pockets. But the water came up about a foot and a half up there, and it didn’t just get muddy; it turned yellow. We rebooted and came back down and started catching them again.”
Saturday he increased his weight to 22 pounds, 2 ounces, although the day started under blue skies and calm winds. Midday, however, another front came pushing into the area.
“They bit better when the storms would come through,” says Merriman.
4. Ashley executes a simple plan
Taylor Ashley from Warrior, Ala., is a soft-spoken young man without a lot to say, except when he’s got a fishing rod in hand and he’s talking to bass. He won the first Costa FLW Series Southeastern Division event of the year on Lake Okeechobee, becoming the third-youngest boater to ever win an FLW Series event.
Ashley is no stranger to Lake Chickamauga after attending school in the area and fishing the lake regularly. He says his plan was very simple.
“The pattern was covering as much water as I could. That was pretty much it,” he says.
On Friday, he had a limit in the livewell in 45 minutes.
On Saturday, because of other big tournaments scheduled on the lower end of Chickamauga, Ashley chose to stay north, close to Dayton.
“I didn’t have my limit until about 12, but I had more quality fish,” he says.
Nine out of his 10 fish weighed in came from 2 feet of water along reed beds where he was swimming a Dirty Jigs No-Jack Swim Jig on 65-pound-test PowerPro braid. It was the same lure he used to win the January event on Okeechobee.
5. Butler says it’s all about angles
Some anglers might say Brent Butler performed a miracle. He only had 12 pounds, 15 ounces on Friday, putting him far below 100th place. But Saturday he brought the biggest bag of the tournament to the scales – 28 pounds, 2 ounces – and that skyrocketed him all the way to fifth place.
He was the only top-10 angler who said a crankbait was a significant lure of choice. When a camera boat pulled up on him Saturday morning, he said, “I wish you’d been here five minutes ago.” That was when he put a 6 1/2-pounder in the livewell while casting his Strike King 6XD.
According to Butler, success was all about finding the right casting angle.
“If you did not present the bait at the right angle, you would not get bit,” he says. “It often depended on the way the current was hitting a certain spot. In some places they would be down-current, and other spots they would be on the upper side. It just varied.”
The crankbait wasn’t the only lure he threw, but regardless of lure, determining the best angle was always critical. He hit about 10 places Saturday, mostly submerged points.
Butler, from Vonore, Tenn., has spent a tremendous amount of time on Lake Chickamauga fishing local circuits. He says once he established a pattern, that knowledge of the lake helped him decide what places he wanted to hit.
He also capitalized on the front that arrived on Saturday.
“It was unbelievable. I mean, it was unbelievable,” he says. “You’d pull in there, and bam. Get the net, get the net, get the net.”
6. Frederick hits a sweet spot with a new lure
Tim Frederick of Leesburg, Fla., fished the B.A.S.S. Southern Open on Lake Chickamauga two weeks before and placed 29th. What he found in that tournament virtually eliminated his need for practice time at the FLW Series event.
“I found some fish upriver then,” he says. “I went back to them in practice this time. I made four casts and caught 21 pounds, and I didn’t practice anymore. That spot is responsible for all 40 pounds of fish I had.”
The best thing about the spot is that Frederick had it all to himself. He went farther upriver than most anglers, as most of the pack went downstream from Dayton.
“I stayed on the clean side of the mud line,” he says. “When the water muddied up [on Saturday] I just switched to a darker color. And I was alone, which was the best part. I didn’t have any company. It was great.”
He says the change in weather and water conditions forced some adjustments on Saturday. First thing in the morning under clear skies and calm winds, the fish just wouldn’t bite. He ran around some and caught a couple of small keepers. But things changed late in the morning.
“When the wind started picking up I went back to where I started, and I caught pretty much everything I had,” Frederick says. “They were there the whole time, but that wind activated them for some reason.”
7. Thompson relies on an under-spin
“It’s a herring spawn bait,” he says. “I brought it from Georgia, but the shad are spawning here so it works good. I had a blast. I wore out 30 of them today.”
One specific spot might have been what put him in the top 10. He caught two 7-pounders out of the exact same spot on the two consecutive days.
“I was throwing an under-spin, and I don’t think the Tennessee guys understand what it will do,” he says. “Everybody is throwing big baits here, and the shad are ‘this big.’”
“This big” is about 1 1/2 inches long, per Thompson’s estimates.
Thompson says he was fishing across from Chester Frost Park around spawning shad.
“I finally caught on to where they had moved to this [Saturday] morning,” he says. “The clear weather helped. I thought it would hurt, but the shad were spawning even more with the sun shining. I caught them all day long on it. I lost a 6-pounder or bigger at the net that would have given me over 30 [pounds on Saturday].”
He caught his bigger fish Saturday between 9 and 11 a.m. With other tournaments on the lake Saturday, Thompson says he was in the middle of a crowd.
“I had boats all over me all day long, and I was the only one catching fish,” he says. “They were throwing everything in the book, and I’m over here just setting the hook all the time. It was fun.”
8. Logan admits to junk-fishing
Wes Logan of Springville, Ala., didn’t have a great day Friday, only bringing 14 pounds, 5 ounces to the scale – about 12 pounds behind the leader. He made up a lot of lost ground Saturday, however, with a bag weighing 25 pounds, 13 ounces.
Logan expected to rely on flipping cover with his Dirty Jigs Scott Canterbury Flippin’ Jig. Under clear skies Saturday morning, however, he only managed one 4-pounder then went more than two hours without a bite.
“They bit it good during the sun in practice, and I really wanted the sun, or I thought I did,” he says. “But it just didn’t really pan out that way. When it got cloudy and started raining a little they bit good.”
At that time Logan had run down the lake and started fishing docks.
“There really wasn’t a key bait. I just kind of junk-fished,” he says. “I caught my big one on the last cast on a wacky worm. I guess she was on a bed. I’m not sure, but it really made the difference.”
9. Powell fishes “in between”
Hensley Powell lives just across the mountain from Dayton in Whitwell, Tenn., so he is obviously no stranger to Lake Chickamauga. But he admits he had a tough time establishing a solid pattern.
“I fished ledges, shallows, flats. I’ve run all over this lake,” he says. “I even caught one on a frog today.”
Powell says the high water seems to have the bass hung up following the peak of the spawn.
“The way the water has come up, it’s almost like they were headed out to the ledges, but they held up in that in-between stage. I just tried to focus in between the bedding and the ledge fishing,” he says. “When it was sunny I tried to stay deeper, and when the clouds came in I moved in to try and capitalize on a shallower bite. That’s when I caught that big one on a frog.”
Powell says his finish would have been much higher if he’d fished clean.
“I lost two big ones yesterday [Friday] and two big ones today that really hurt,” he says.
Like most anglers, for Powell there was a clear difference in the bite between the two days of fishing.
“I probably culled 30 fish Friday,” he says. “Today [Saturday] I only got five keeper bites, other than the two I lost.”
10. Ford falls from the top
Anthony Ford of New Smyrna, Fla., says that finishing in 10th place didn’t feel so good after leading on day one.
He was flying high after coming out on top of the leaderboard following Friday’s weigh-in with 26 pounds, 14 ounces. But on Saturday his fish ran out, and he only managed 11 pounds, 4 ounces. Ford didn’t blame it on the weather or water conditions.
“I’ve got to take the blame,” he says. “I ran out of fish today. I found the fish; I just didn’t find enough good ones.”
Ford was the only one among the top 10 who was depending on a true custom lure to catch more than 38 pounds of bass. He used a vibrating jig made by Soddy Custom Bait and Tackle.
“I believe they make them themselves,” he says. “They had some special tails [trailers]. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it or not, but they worked good.”