DAYTON, Tenn. — As B.A.S.S. tournament director Trip Weldon closed the anglers' meeting Tuesday evening, he said, "Everybody be friendly. You know what's going to happen out there."
What's going to happen is that this 36,000-acre reservoir on the Tennessee River is going to fish extremely small, especially with 140 anglers on it for BASSfest. The tournament field includes the 107 Elite Series anglers, plus some of the best bass fishermen competing in the Bassmaster Open circuits – a total field of 140 anglers.
Lake Chickamauga is noted for having a half-dozen to a dozen river ledge areas where huge schools of bass gather for the summer. Everyone knows where these "community holes" are located. If you plan on fishing there this week, you'll be fishing in a crowd.
Here are five things to watch as the BASSfest four-day tournament progresses:
1. To fish in a crowd, or not — Brandon Palaniuk abhors fishing amongst a bunch of other anglers. But he's found no alternatives during three days of practice prior to Day 1 Wednesday.
"It's really not my style," Palaniuk said. "I've always been one to try and get away from everyone. I spent pretty much three days trying to figure out something different than everybody else, and I couldn't do it."
Palaniuk said there are "probably eight really good schools of fish" located along the ledges along the Tennessee River channel. If you fish there, you won't be alone.
And it's not like just fishing those community holes will mean you'll catch a five-bass limit of bass.
"You could be three boats down and you're missing them, but the last two boats are smashing them," he said. "You can't do a thing about it but sit there and watch."
Well, you could move to one of the other community holes.
"That's going to be the hardest thing this week," Palaniuk said. "Deciding whether to leave a spot or stay there. It's definitely going to be mind games this week."
2. Must you fish in a crowd to win? — There are differing schools of thought on this, but most anglers believe you've got to be on one of the community holes to win this tournament.
"I think there's a good chance it will be won off a community hole," said Luke Clausen. "It will be something totally off the wall or it will be a community hole. From my experience, the vast majority of the tournaments here are won off the community holes. That's why they are community holes – there are tons of fish there."
Ott DeFoe, who is coming off an Open Series victory at nearby Douglas Lake, disagrees, saying, "I think you can't fish there and win. I don't like fishing in those kind of groups anyway. But I don't think the winner will be fishing those places more than one-third of his day, if at all."
DeFoe believes there are enough places on this lake that hold good-size bass that you shouldn't have to fish among a bunch of other anglers to be in contention here.
"There may not be as many fish there, but they are the right ones," DeFoe said. "And they aren't getting as much pressure. It will still be typical Tennessee River type stuff – ledges, points, humps, that kind of thing."