Central Division finale takes off on Chickamauga - Major League Fishing

Central Division finale takes off on Chickamauga

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Lake Chickamauga is a storied fishery, both as a tournament lake and a big bass factory. Photo by Rob Matsuura.
May 2, 2024 • Jody White • Toyota Series

DAYTON, Tenn. – An annual stop for the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats, and any other trail worth its salt, this year the Central Division wraps up the season at Lake Chickamauga. With 193 pros and Strike King co-anglers gunning for the win, points to make the Toyota Series Championship and the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year title up for grabs, it’s a tournament with lots of potential.

Practice reports range from gloomy to great, which should make for an interesting event.

Austin Swindle heads into the event with the lead for Fishing Clash Angler of the Year. Photo by Rob Matsuura.

Angler of the Year on the line

For the Central Division, Fishing Clash Angler of the Year could come down to the final weigh-in, as the top pros are packed tight. The award to the winner is $5,000, which is always welcome, and Austin Swindle has the lead with 513 points going into the event.

“I’m a competitor,” Swindle said. “Anytime there’s something out there to win, I want to win it. Whether it be the tournament, a wild cat, AOY, a championship. Anybody that’s doing this, yeah, you want to make as much money as you can, but the money’s not why we do this. The money is just there to help us keep doing it. We do it to win. We do it to get the trophy.”

It’s a great mentality, but so far, Swindle has had a hard time cashing that in at the Toyota Series level. With close call after close call, he’s ready to finish it off.

“I’ve been so close so many times, and I haven’t been able to close the door yet,” he said. “That’s got a bitter taste in my mouth.”

Behind Swindle, Matt O’Connell and Jeremy Gordon are basically tied with 505 points, and 2023 AOY Jordan Wiggins is in fourth with 504 points. Of the group, Gordon is maybe on the biggest tear, as he’s in the midst of six Toyota Series Top-25 finishes in a row.

“A lot of tournaments have lined up for me,” he said. “‘Scopin’ is definitely a strength of mine. But, I can still put it on the bank old-school. I’m 40 years old, I learned how to fish with a Lowrance 520c with 20-foot contour lines. That’s still in the repertoire, and I keep that knife sharp.”

This week, Gordon and the others know that a great finish will likely be needed to come out on top.

“I feel like I need to Top 10 it,” said the Tennessee pro. “Austin, he’ll catch them, and the rest of the guys are going to catch them. The ultimate goal is to win the thing. I’d like for that door to open, we’ve been knocking on it pretty heavy, hopefully, that door flies open and we can win them both.”

On the Strike King Co-Angler of the Year side, the winner takes home $2,000. Chris Bensel currently leads Johnny Suratt by 18 points, which is a sizable lead. Still, co-angler finishes tend to be more volatile, so that race is far from over.

Pros will have plenty of options this week. Photo by Rob Matsuura.

The game plan is all over the board

Practice success for this one seems to have varied widely angler to angler and day to day. So, while Chickamauga is in roughly a late spring or early summer situation, it looks like we could see anything from spawning bass to ledge fish come to weigh-in.

“There’s a shad spawn going on if you land on the right area first thing,“ Gordon said. “I had a 6 1/2 yesterday and a 5 1/2, but if you don’t, it’s a short window. You’ve got most that have spawned already, and they’re working their way out there. The shad spawn is holding them up, and there’s a bit of a bluegill spawn. There’s a lot to keep them shallow. They seem to be in a pretty big transition.”

While some have reported catching fish offshore, Gordon isn’t seeing it yet.

“The deep game, for me, it’s not there,” added Gordon. “Traditionally, that’s how I fish this lake, and each year the deep bite has been later and later and worse and worse. Offshore, some midrange stuff, they won’t be out on their summer places. Used to, when May hit, we could come down here and catch a pretty good bag in that 12- to 15-foot range, and it’s just not there for me.”

Though he also has found fish doing a lot of things, last year’s winner, Brody Campbell, seems to have seen more than Gordon.

“It’s gonna be a great tournament — you’re gonna see them get caught out on ledges, up on beds, and everything in between,” Campbell said. “Expectations are high. I’ve had over 20 pounds both days of practice, and I’ve just been feeling it out. Last year there wasn’t many on beds, but this year there’s a lot on beds. I found like 30 on beds today. But, there’s fish doing everything. Yesterday I caught a 5 and a 4 on a main-river ledge, and today I caught a 9 on a bed. Lots of fry guarders too – they’re in all stages.”

Campbell is often confident, and he usually backs it up. And, even though Gordon may not have had quite as good a practice, his guess for the tournament outcome still sounds pretty fun.

“They’re gonna catch them, this warmer weather is going to help for sure,” Gordon said. “I think close to 60 pounds total, 58 to 60 pounds. Somebody can crack 30 out here, but the majority of the tournaments are taking low-20s. But, there have been some 10s and 11s caught, if somebody busts the megabag, it could be upwards of 70, if they can do it multiple days.”

So, shad spawn, spawn, offshore, or in-between, we’ll see how it plays out. Chickamauga has a knack for producing drama of some sort, so we ought to be in for a fun tournament.