HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. — One Bassmaster Elite Series angler summed up the fishing conditions at Old Hickory Lake this way: "You might catch 40 fish and zero."
That's "zero" as in not catch one that meets the minimum 14-inch length limit on largemouth bass at this 22,500-acre Cumberland River impoundment.
And that seemed to be the concensus before the Bassmaster Elite Series Tennessee Triumph presented by Longhorn begins Thursday.
"Twelve pounds a day will win here any time of the year," said Kevin VanDam, who moved into the lead in Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points after his victory June 15 at Kentucky Lake. "Somebody might find something a little better, but I'd be shocked.
"If you have 30 pounds after three days, you're probably going to be in the top 12 (for Sunday's final)."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-built lock-and-dam that forms Old Hickory Lake is located about 25 miles from Nashville, so this reservoir gets lots of fishing pressure. That pressure doesn't seem to have affected the number of bass in Old Hickory as much as it has the number of big bass.
"There's a ton of fish in here," VanDam said. "But there aren't many 14-inchers. You can catch a jillion 12-inchers."
And the fact that you can catch them both shallow and deep has made this tournament as wide open to any of the 107 Elite Series anglers as any tournament this year. It's hard to figure out who has an advantage going into this four-day event that pays $100,000 to the winner.
"I have never seen as many fish shallow as there are deep," said Timmy Horton, who finished second to VanDam by 17 ounces at Kentucky Lake. "Usually it's mostly one way or the other.
"But here there are just as many shallow as there are deep. It makes it hard to know which way to go.
"There's really been a lack of current flow, and the lake is a little bit high. When a lake back-fills a little bit — in other words, when there's more water coming in than going out — it will move the fish shallower because there's more cover on the bank."
No matter what your strength in bass fishing techniques, you can fish to your strength this week on Old Hickory Lake.
"You can catch them frogging the bank and real deep and everything in between," VanDam said. "Any way you want to fish, you can catch them here. There's a lot of options."
Last Saturday, Dianna Clark of Bumpus Mills, Tenn., won the Women's Bassmaster Tour event here with a three-day total of 36 pounds, 5 ounces. And she had nearly an 8-pound margin over the second-place finisher.
Horton thinks that same pace will be what it takes to make the 12-man final Sunday in this event. He predicted that 9 1/2 pounds-a-day will get you in the top 50 cut — made after Friday's weigh-in — and 12 pounds-a-day over three days will have you in the hunt for the championship Sunday.
"Catching 12 pounds a day for three days isn't going to be easy here," said the Muscle Shoals, Ala., pro.
There's another factor that makes the Tennessee Triumph unpredictable. Very few Elite Series anglers have fished Old Hickory Lake this time of year. This tournament was originally scheduled for the Mississippi River at Ft. Madison, Iowa, but the catastrophic flood conditions there forced a venue change, which was announced almost two weeks ago.
There have been four major BASS tournaments at Old Hickory, but the last one was in 1999, and it was held in May.
"We don't really have much history here this time of year," Horton said. "That's another thing that should make this tournament pretty interesting."
Daily 7 a.m. ET launches and 3:30 p.m. ET weigh-ins will be held at Sanders Ferry Park.