CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – On Lake Chickamauga on Day 1 of the Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. Central Division event Thursday, if you had looked at every angler’s front deck it would have looked like a tackle store. Most anglers had every imaginable lure on standby as they pursued bass shallow, deep and all points in between.
Some anglers sight fished for spawning bass, others worked deep humps and ledges for postspawn fish while others camped out in transition areas.
Andrew Johnson was one of those who focused on sight fishing and it worked for him. Johnson weighed in a total of 21 pounds, 12 ounces, anchored by a 9-13 beast. But Johnson admitted the spawning bite is fading, for him anyway. He predicted foul weather Friday is likely to make sight fishing difficult, if not impossible. He is hoping a backup flipping plan will allow him to hold his 2-7 lead.
Here’s how the rest of the top pros stacked up behind him.
Ken Vicchio admitted he was a bit surprised by his catch Thursday.
“It was tough,” he said. “It was a tough day.”
Vicchio said that despite the fact he had a limit of bass in the livewell by 8 a.m. Still, he said his better fish didn’t come until noon.
Vicchio was casting a swimbait and jig shallow and mid-depth all day long.
Vicchio said his boat is equipped with a full slate of electronics, including forward-facing sonar.
“But I didn’t use that today,” he said. “I was just casting where I thought they were with a slow presentation.”
He said when he found fish, they were hitting hard.
“Oh yeah, when you get it in front of one, they’ll take it,” he said.
Tied for second, Daniel Sepeck hails from Cincinnati but says he is no stranger to Chickamauga, having won a boat here in another tournament two years ago.
“I love this place,” he said. “I fished the places I’ve fished in the past and managed 14 keepers today. So, we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Like Johnson, Sepeck was fishing for spawners, although he wasn’t necessarily seeing the fish he caught.
“I was just making long casts in spawning pockets up into inches of water,” he said. “I was using a light hair jig and making long casts.”
Sepeck said he made about a 45-mile run upriver not far from Watts Bar Dam.
“We started catching right away,” he said. “I put a 4-8 in the boat in the first five minutes and just went on from there.”
He admits he is unsure how the predicted weather change will affect his fish, but he is not lacking in confidence.
“You don’t know on this lake,” he said. “But they’re going to bite tomorrow.”
Avry Thomason was clearly excited and happy when he crossed the weigh-in stage.
“I am excited,” he said with enthusiasm. “Practice was a little bit tough so I’m proud of what I got.”
He started his day hoping to target two spawning fish he spotted in practice, both he estimated in the s7-pound class. Unfortunately, when he got there Thursday morning, the big females were gone and he caught only the small males hanging around to protect the beds.
“I guess (the females) done their thing last night and got out of dodge. So, I just went fishing today,” he continued. “I’m a local here so I just went and ran what I knew looking for cruisers.”
Thomason routinely fishes the south end of Chickamauga and caught several of his fish today flipping. Tomorrow, he is not sure.
“I really don’t know, but if it’s raining tomorrow, I’ll throw a buzz bait,” he said. “But if it’s not raining, I’ll have to go with either a wacky rig or a jig.”
He also said that weather-permitting, he may lock through Chickamauga Dam and fish Nickajack Lake after having a good practice day there.
“I’ve won a lot of tournaments out of a place down there,” he said. “Spotting those two big fish (on the bed) caused me not to go down there today. Fortunately, I caught two other 6-pounders today. I just don’t know, I am kind of worried about tomorrow.”
After practice, Cody Nichols was primed and ready to catch fish early on a shad spawn bite.
“I really thought I could catch them first thing but I didn’t get a bite until 9,” he said. “I was very worried. I’ve been catching them the first 30 minutes.”
He was keying in on the early shad spawn bite using a BhatterBait, a lipless crankbait or a fluke. He said the shad were there, but the bass weren’t – or at least weren’t biting.
“There might have been too many shad,” he said. “You’d catch a shad once every few throws.”
He said he finally caught fish when the wind picked up slightly, but after that bite died he went running and junk fishing. He is hoping his shad spawn bite will be back on Friday with the change in weather.
“If we can get some wind and some clouds, I hope that (shad) bite picks up because the other bite is going to fall off. The other stuff I did (today), it’s not going to be good without the sun.”
Sitting high in the Central Division points, Pennsylvania pro Jonathan Dietz has only been to Chickamauga once before as a co-angler.
“But I know what this lake does,” he exclaimed. “I’m a bass nerd just like all my friends back home. Everybody who knows anything about bass fishing – especially in May and June – knows about Chickamauga. So, I knew to expect coming into it that guys were going to catch them.”
Dietz said he had one of his best practices ever, which is unusual since many anglers were crying the blues about lousy practice days.
“Unfortunately, some other guys also found the big fish that I had found,” he said. “But I also found some offshore stuff that those fish were setting up on that I knew was going to be something pretty special. So hopefully it holds up tomorrow even with the weather change.”
He lost a shallow fish he estimated at 7 pounds that he said, “stung a little bit.” Otherwise, Dietz only caught one shallow spawning fish Thursday.
“Everything else was just fishing transition areas where I knew those fish would be setting up on,” he said.
Dietz was throwing a plastic jig he preferred not to name yet. He is unsure about the impact of the changing weather Friday.
“I have some stuff that I found in practice that I think this (weather) will help. I really do,” said Dietz. “But you never know until you actually go out there and do it. It could be not so good or it could be one of those things that turns out to be magical.”