Anglers Expect To See Big Catches At Chickamauga
By John N. Felsher
ATHENS, Ala. – For tournament anglers, especially those fishing such a prestigious event as the Ray Scott Championship, preparation begin long before the blast off on the first competition day.
Many of the 148 boaters and 140 co-anglers fishing the 2021 Ray Scott Championship began practicing on Lake Chickamauga three days before the tournament began on April 14. Named for the Father of Competitive Bass fishing and a fishing legend, the tournament continues through April 17. The anglers run out of the Dayton Boat Ramp on Richland Creek in Dayton, Tenn.
The anglers fishing Lake Chickamauga, one of the best lakes in the nation for catching double-digit largemouth bass, represent 18 American Bass Anglers divisions stretching from New York to south Florida and west to Texas. They each earned the right to compete in the Ray Scott Championship by doing well in four divisional events and a two-division final qualifying tournament during the 2020 season.
A legendary bass lake, Lake Chickamauga spreads across 36,240 acres and runs about 60 miles along the Tennessee River. The lake produced the Tennessee state record largemouth, a 15-pound, 3-ounce bucketmouth, and the Tennessee record spotted bass, a 6-pound, 1-ounce fish. Every angler fishing the tournament would love to set a new record this week.
“The Florida-stain bass released in the lake makes it such a great lake,” explained Dillon Falardeau, a boater from nearby Hixson, Tenn. who took the 2020 Angler of the Year title in his East Tennessee Division. “It has a lot of structure in the water. A lot of grass made it through the winter. We didn’t have much rainfall this past winter so there’s plenty of structure that helps fish to grow.”
However, largemouth and spotted bass are not the only fish species populating this lake. The Tennessee River runs where the ranges of northern and more southern fish species overlap so anglers can potentially catch many species in one day. Besides the ones mentioned, the lake also contains giant smallmouth bass, Guadalupe bass, striped bass, hybrid striped bass, white bass, yellow bass, walleye, five species of catfish or bullheads, rainbow trout, freshwater drum, black and white crappie, several bream species, and other types of fish. Some of the competitors “introduced” themselves to the locals this week.
“I’ve been practicing every day on the lake,” said Buck Hilliard, a co-angler from Peachtree City, Ga. “The fishing has been tough. We haven’t had much luck, but we did catch a variety of fish. We caught largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. We also caught trout, a drum and a couple of 2.5-pound shad. That was interesting. It looked like a baby tarpon.”
Fishing all day for several straight days can take a toll on people and equipment. At practically every large bass tournament, someone suffers an equipment breakage or failure. Perhaps, one competitor got his bad luck out of the way early.
“On the first day of practice, I was running down the lake and threw a blade off my prop,” lamented Michael Smith, a boater from Andalusia, Ala. “That set me back four or five hours getting that straightened out. I had a spare, but getting the old one off and getting the hub out of the other one was quite an ordeal. I’ll be a little more prepared next time. Hopefully, I got all the bad luck out of my system and see nothing, but good ahead. This lake definitely has some big bass. It’s been hard to figure out the pattern, but I’ve caught some good fish and had good practice days. We’ll see some big bags caught this week.”
The anglers compete in two divisions -- boater and co-angler. Normally close-lipped during practice and especially in the middle of the tournament, bass anglers don’t like to say much until handed their prize after the final weigh-in. However, a few spoke about their experiences during the practice days.
Edmond Brown, boater from Trion, Ga.
“I’ve fished some tournaments at this lake, but haven’t fished it very often. We caught quite a few fish in practice, but most were small. We only caught one or two keepers. The water is about three feet from full pool and really clear where we were fishing. The fish are starting to move. We saw some bass cruising the shallows, but didn’t see any on the beds. I know some other anglers saw bedding fish.”
Kevin Culpepper, boater from Seminary, Miss.
“The first two days of practice were really good, but then it slacked off a bit. I was really impressed with the fishing on the lake and have a lot of confidence going into the competition. The bass have been aggressive and they’ll chase a lure. Put the bait close to them and they’ll hit it.”
Stephen English, co-angler from Longview, Texas and the South Texas Division Co-Angler of the Year
“As a co-angler, I was fortunate to draw a lot of good boaters during the 2020 tournament season so I can be here now. I’m happy to be able to fish it. I got out on the water one practice day as a backseater. Fishing was tough. We caught a bunch of small bass, but that’s about it. The water temperature was in the mid-60s in some of the areas we fished. We even found some warmer water. I understand the water level dropped about six to eight feet in the last week or two. It’s slowly coming back up. Looks like we might have rain later in the week. That could be a factor.”
“I’ve been practicing every day. It’s going to be a shootout. From what I’ve seen this week, the lake is so healthy right now. Some people are saying this lake is on a downfall, but what we’ve seen this week proves that completely wrong. Everyone has a chance to win this tournament. Where the fish are positioned, we can see them all. The winner will be the angler who stays consistent and doesn’t mess up.
Nick Kincaid, a boater from Coweta, Okla. and the Oklahoma Division Angler of the Year
“I’ve never fished Chickamauga before I came to practice. It’s been fun. I really didn’t know what to expect when I got here so I didn’t have a lot of preconceived notions. I’ve fished some of the other lakes on the Tennessee River. They all fish kind of similar. Chickamauga is a really good lake with many big fish in it. I think we’ll see a lot of big fish brought to the scales.”
The champion boater will receive $50,000 in cash plus a new fully-equipped Triton 21TRX bass boat powered by a Mercury outboard, a trailer, a T-H Marine Hot Foot and a certificate worth $1,000 toward the purchase of Garmin Electronics. The entire package retails for about $65,000. Bryan D. New of Belmont, N.C. won the 2019 Ray Scott Championship as a boater and now fishes the Bassmaster Elite Series.
The winning co-angler will receive $25,000 in cash plus a new fully-equipped Triton 19TRX bass boat with a Mercury outboard, a trailer, a T-H Marine Hot Foot and a certificate worth $1,000 toward the purchase of Garmin Electronics. The co-angler boat package retails for about $45,000.
The weigh-in begins at 2:30 p.m. each of the first three days at the Dayton Boat Ramp located at 175 Lakeshore Street. On the final day, the weigh-in begins at 2 p.m. The public is invited to each of the weigh-ins.
American Bass Anglers commitment is to provide low cost, close to home tournaments for the weekend angler and at the same time offer each competitor an upward path for individual angler progression. For more information about American Bass Anglers visit www.americanbassanglers.com or call (256) 232-0406.
American Bass Anglers is sponsored by Bass Pro Shops, Triton Boats, Mercury Motors, Motor Guide, Berkley, Abu Garcia, T-H Marine, Power Pole, Garmin, Monster Energy, Lucas Oil, Engel Coolers, OPTIMA Batteries, REKS Sunglasses, and HotelPlanner.com.
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