DAYTON, Tenn. — College anglers preparing for the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Eastern Regional June 12-13 might have to spend a little more time researching the remote Watts Bar Reservoir.
“I don’t think I have talked to a single person yet who has fished there before,” said Zach Blalock, an East Carolina University angler who finished second in last year’s Eastern Regional at Lake Norman, N.C. “They definitely picked one that is off-the-beaten path, so it will level everything out.”
Blalock said he believes the competitors from the Tennessee schools will have an advantage in this event even if they have never fished Watts Bar before because it is a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) lake. “They are used to fishing TVA lakes that are going to be very similar to Watts Bar,” Blalock said.
An angler who has spent some time on Watts Bar is Jackson Minnich, the vice president of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville bass club.
“Honestly, it is kind of out there in the middle of nowhere,” Minnich said. “It is one of my favorite lakes to fish. I just wish I got to go there more often. The fishing stays pretty constant for me. Every time I go, I usually catch quite a few bass.”
The region has experienced a dry spring, but the lake level at Watts Bar is close to summer pool, according to Minnich. He described the water clarity as “somewhat stained,” and he predicts Watts Bar bass will be in a transition stage.
“We have had kind of a late winter and cold spring, so it will be somewhere between postspawn and summertime,” Minnich said. “We have had some rain events, but the cold fronts more than anything have kind of messed up the fishing.” Temperatures at the beginning of May had risen into the 90s, but by the second week of the month, the temperatures had dipped into the upper 30s for the lows and only mid 60s for the highs.
The collegiate contenders should be able to find bass in both deep and shallow water during the regional. “A lot of people think Watts Bar is really a deep lake, but there is usually a consistent shallow bite too,” Minnich said. Flipping jigs or Texas rigged soft plastics in shallow cover should be productive during the regional.
“There are a lot of humps and quite a few ledges too, so there is a lot of opportunity to fish offshore there,” Minnich said. The best offshore patterns will be deep cranking and dragging football jigs or Carolina rigged creature baits and plastic worms.
The Tennessee angler claims Watts Bar compares favorably to other TVA lakes in numbers of bass available. “There are big fish there, but you are not going to catch them with the same consistency as you would at Chickamauga or Kentucky Lake or somewhere like that,” said Minnich, who noted the lake is full of 2- to 3-pound largemouth.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see it take 20 pounds a day to win,” Minnich predicted. “To make the Top 10, you are probably going to have to get at least 15 pounds a day.”
B.A.S.S. College Tournament Manager Hank Weldon expects as many as 100 teams will compete in the regional tournament. The Top 11 teams from the event will advance to the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship to be held on Chatuge Reservoir out of Young Harris, Ga.
Top contenders, according to Weldon, are teams from Mitchell Community College, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and Bethel University.
The Carhartt Eastern regional will be held concurrent with BASSfest, a five-day tournament featuring 107 Elite Series pros and 33 top anglers from the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Series presented by Allstate.
Competition begins June 12 at Watts Bar Dam in Decatur, Tenn., when the anglers take off at 6:05 a.m. ET. Teams will weigh in at the same location at 2 p.m. ET on Thursday. On Friday, college anglers will weigh in on the Elite stage at BASSfest in Dayton, Tenn., at 3:30 p.m. ET.