Yet, even when not fishing its best, the big-fish factory still showed what it can do with numerous giants brought to the scales and a near 30-pound bag by winner Brody Campbell.
Here’s a look at the lures that helped the Top 10 anglers.
When you crack a megabag, you’re doing something right, and Campbell certainly was, even if it was obvious. Fishing three community holes near Chester Frost, the 26-year-old used forward-facing sonar to spy out isolated stumps and a lone grass patch that other anglers seemed to miss or weren’t being as precise when hitting. Either way, Campbell used a Carolina rig with a Strike King Rage Bug and a Neko rig to catch keepers, while a drop-shot with a morning dawn-colored Roboworm Straight Tail Worm caught his kickers, including the 9-pounder and two 7-pounders that anchored his Day 2 megabag.
One of these days, Seth Davis is going to win a Toyota Series on his home waters. For now, he’ll have to settle for his second runner-up finish in three years. This week he did it running 100 “high-percentage spots” over the course of the tournament, often only making a cast or two to isolated pieces of cover before moving to the next. Needless to say, he had a handful of rods on his deck, but his biggest players were a drop-shot and crankbait. The finesse offering entailed a Zoom Trick Worm on a 3/0 Owner Cover Shot Worm Hook, with a ¼-ounce weight rigged on 20-pound-test Seaguar Smackdown braid to a 12-pound-test Seaguar Blue Label fluorocarbon leader. The crankbait was a Rapala DT20 thrown on 12-pound test Seaguar Red Label fluorocarbon.
The “60 Flat” near the Highway 60 bridge is the only place on Lake Chickamauga that keeps grass year-round, which means there’s always a population of fish there. Hence, why more than 50 boats started on the flat the first day, with Ethan Shaw among them. What he figured out that others didn’t, though, was he could catch fish slow-rolling a Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait JackHammer with a Lake Fork Live Magic Shad trailer. He also caught a few on a Carolina rig with a Zoom Brush Hog.
Lake Chickamauga may have been the host lake, but Donny Beck felt far more at home locking down and fishing the tailrace below the dam like he does on Pickwick Lake. Down there, he threw a Zoom Boot Tail Fluke on a Johnson Lures Swimbait Head in the current breaks. Then he’d lock back up and fish chunk rock near the dam with a Johnson Lures Swim Jig and a Keitech Swing Impact FAT trailer.
Taylor Parker figures he burned more miles on his trolling motor this week than he did running his big motor. Hanging around Hiwassee Island, the pro hit every little cut off the main river he could find, never deviating from throwing a white Nichols Reflex Buzzbait with a Zoom Z-Craw Worm trailer that he’d cut in half.
Emil Wagner made the jump from 21st to the Top 10 the final day by rotating through a dozen spots he’d found after spending the entire practice graphing. The spots were either shallow bars, brush piles or stumps, and each day one was better than the rest, including Day 2 when he caught all his weight from one brush pile. In terms of offerings, he caught his bigger fish burning a 6th Sense Crush 300DD, but his workhorse was a drop-shot with a morning dawn-colored Roboworm Straight Tail Worm on a 1/0 hook and ¼-ounce tungsten weight.
Casey Martin made headlines a decade ago cracking the 100-pound mark en route to winning an FLW Tour event on Lake Chickamauga. It seems he still knows plenty about the lake (which is a good thing since his graphs were stolen off his boat the night before the final day). He initially focused on a shad spawn throwing a spinnerbait, which produced his 9-pounder on Day 1. Unfortunately, when the rain came in, his shad-spawn bite went away. Then he focused on laydowns on rocky banks, using a Ned rig to fill his limit and the spinnerbait to catch his bigger fish.
Beck had company down below the dam by fellow Pickwick local Jade Keeton. The two have spent considerable time together below the Pickwick Dam and replicated it this week, and Keeton said it was great having a friend down there with him. Though, while Beck went with a swimbait, Keeton opted for a Scottsboro Tackle Glide.
He didn’t win the battle, but Jordan Wiggins won the war. By making the Top 10, he took home Angler of the Year in the Central Division. To make it happen, the Alabama pro had to abandon his main-lake grass pattern and simply go flip as much wood as possible on any channel swing bank. He found plenty of bass willing to eat his homemade 3/16-ounce shaky head rigged with a Reaction Innovations Flirt Worm, including an 8-pounder on Day 2 that got him to the final day.
The conditions were pretty terrible for sight fishing. Yet, that’s all Greg Pugh did, using his experience and multiple pairs of sunglasses with different lenses to find enough fish to grind his way into the Top 10. When he saw “a bright light” under the water, he was able to catch his fish with a ¼-ounce shaky head rigged with a Zoom Trick Worm.