HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. — As a general rule, the Bassmaster Elite Series pros will tell it like it is going into a tournament. Alabama's Wheeler Lake produced higher than predicted weights earlier this month, but that's the exception rather than the rule.
"I don't think there's much sand-bagging on this one," said Paul Elias, as he prepared for Thursday's 6 a.m. CT launch on Day One of the Tennessee Triumph presented by Longhorn.
Old Hickory Lake's 22,500 acres have produced lots of bass in three days of practice this week. However, there have been very few caught that met the 14-inch minimum length limit for largemouths.
"I would think it's going to take 8 or 9 pounds a day to get a (top 50) check," Elias said. "Probably 12 pounds a day will make the (top 12 cut after Saturday). And 12 pounds a day might win it, if you can average that for four days."
The temperature at take-off Thursday from Sanders Ferry Park was in the low 70s under partly cloudy skies. The high is predicted to be 90 degrees with a southwest wind at 5 to 10 miles per hour. There's a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms. A short but powerful storm moved through the area during the anglers' meeting Wednesday evening.
Fred Roumbanis probably best summarized the feelings of the 107 pros in this field Thursday morning when he said, "It might be a good tournament; it might be a disaster. I really have no idea going into this one."
But it does promise to be interesting. Old Hickory, located near Nashville, is heavily pressured, as in 50-boat tournaments almost every night during the week and 100-boat events on the weekend.
As Elias stated it, "Most of these fish, when you put them in the livewell, they feel at home."
Gary Klein has found plenty of proof during practice this week that catch-and-release does work.
"These fish have seen everything, more than once," Klein said. "It's surprising the number of fish I've caught that have hook marks in them."
Therefore, creativity is going to be a key in the Tennessee Triumph.
"I feel like the better quality fish are mixed in with those short ones," Klein said. "But when you start catching those little fish, I think it wards off the big fish.
"So I've been trying to come up with something that I can throw in there and the big fish will hit it first. I haven't really figured that one out yet."
The 50-year-old Weatherford, Texas, resident has managed to catch a couple of 4-plus pound bass every day in practice.
"If you catch a 4-pounder here, it's huge," Klein said. "It really means something.
"This is going to be a fun tournament."
The other factor that will make this one intriguing is how scattered the bass are here. Every depth, from the shallow banks to the deep structure, is holding fish.
"I'm not going to sit on any one spot and die," Klein said. "There's a lot of fish in this lake. It's fishing really good. I think it's going to be an interesting competition."
The Elite Series pros will probably be relying heavily on their bass measuring boards this week. There are all three species of bass in the lake and in the Cumberland River below Old Hickory Lock & Dam, which is also available to the anglers. And there are three minimum length limits in effect — 14 inches for largemouths, 18 inches for smallmouths and 12 inches for spotted bass.
Elias noted that he'd caught a limit of keeper-size spotted bass two days in practice, without really targeting them.
But the largemouths are really going to get a workout on the measuring boards.
"A lot of these fish are 13 7/8ths, and I can't get them to touch (the 14-inch mark)," Klein said. "They've got these real short, broad tails."
The weigh-ins begin each day at 3:30 p.m. ET at Sanders Ferry Park.