Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series profiling 2014 Elite Series locations.
The Bassmaster Elite Series will celebrate bass fishing in a big way when BASSfest comes to Dayton, Tenn., June 11-15. This event combines a tournament with a festival that is sure to attract throngs of bass fans from across the country.
“Other than the Bassmaster Classic, this could be the biggest tournament there has ever been,” said B.A.S.S. co-owner Jerry McKinnis. “It is truly a festival around our sport.”
The heart of BASSfest is a unique tournament at Chickamauga Lake. Besides the Elite Series pros, the top 20 anglers from each of the three Bassmaster Open tours will be invited to compete against the likes of Kevin VanDam, Edwin Evers and Aaron Martens.
The competition will be keen and the catches should be heavy. The bass fishing at Chickamauga has exploded over the past few seasons. Giant largemouths have become commonplace, points out Tennessee Elite Series pro Ott DeFoe.
“It’s been taking five-bass limits weighing over 40 pounds to win spring, prespawn tournaments at Chickamauga the past few years,” DeFoe said.
One reason for Chickamauga’s bass bonanza is that lush, aquatic grass has returned, including milfoil, hydrilla and several other species, DeFoe explains. Bass thrive in the greenery.
Another key big-bass factor is the 2 million Florida strain largemouth bass that the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has turned loose in Chickamauga since the year 2000. The Florida bass have crossed with the native largemouths, resulting in a greater abundance of bigger bass than this reservoir has ever supported.
“Our goal was to have 15 percent of Chickamauga’s bass population with Florida genes,” said Mike Jolley, a Region 3 Reservoir Fisheries biologist. “Our 2012 study shows that 45 percent of the bass now have Florida genes.”
Jolley is currently working on a study of fins clipped from 50 Chickamauga bass that weighed over 8 pounds. The clippings were collected at bass tournaments in 2012.
Jolley calls Chickamauga’s giant bass surge a “perfect storm.” It’s a combination of Florida bass, abundant grass, a good shad forage base, a 15-inch minimum length limit and strong year classes of bass showing up.