DAYTON, Tenn. — Mike Iaconelli, with 25 pounds, 12 ounces, headlined a group of 14 anglers who caught 20 pounds or more on Day 1 of BASSfest. But not one man in the group expressed confidence in being able to repeat it on Thursday at Lake Chickamauga.
And that includes Iaconelli, who caught all his fish in a one-hour period.
"If you take away that hour, I had a really tough day," he said.
That was the word of the day – tough – even for the leaders, but particularly for the 25 anglers who weighed two bass or less. And that group included some big sticks, like Mike McClelland, who won the Elite Series tournament at Table Rock Lake in April and has seven first-place finishes in his illustrious B.A.S.S. career.
"You've got to work really hard to get a bite here," said Kevin VanDam, who is in fifth place with 22-9. "You've really got to trick them to get them to bite."
And what's so frustrating about that is knowing how many big bass are in this Tennessee River impoundment.
"There are probably a dozen mega-schools, where you pull up and your graph lights up like a video game," said Iaconelli.
It's so frustrating that seeing wasn't always believing on Lake Chickamauga, where huge schools of bass tend to stack up on rock ledges around the Tennessee River channel.
"Looking at them on the graph, you'd think I was on the motherload," said Keith Combs, who is 66th with 11-11.
"I'm actually wondering if my graphs are even working," said Billy McCaghren, who is 86th with 9-11.
So if you were expecting anyone to be confident going into Day 2 of the four-day BASSfest, apparently this week at Lake Chickamauga is the wrong time and the wrong place.
"I didn't have many bites today, so I'm a little bit worried," said Tommy Biffle, who is 3rd with 24-1.
Echoed Jason Christie, who is 8th with 22-5, "The weight looks good, but it was a pretty frustrating day. I caught six fish all day. I don't know what's in store for tomorrow. It could be a good day or a bad day."
Here's why it could be a really, really good day: current. Every angler knows that a strong current flowing through the lake is the key for turning on these huge schools of bass. Suddenly Lake Chickamauga's "smart" bass, which you have to trick in order to coax a bite, become, well, stupid.
If you can rely on the Tennessee Valley Authority's website, the current should be rolling through Chickamauga on Thursday. After over an inch of rain fell on much of this area Tuesday, the TVA started rolling the river Wednesday. The discharge from Chickamauga Dam jumped to 28,000 cubic feet per second at 11 a.m. Then came a big bump – up to 47,000 cfs – the remainder of the afternoon. But it takes awhile to establish a strong current in this 59-mile-long lake.
Thursday's forecast from the TVA is for more of the same – two or more generators running from 8 a.m. until midnight. One lake above Chickamauga, Watts Bar is discharging heavily, and one lake below Chickamauga, Nickajack is releasing water in a big way.
As Jason Christie noted, Wednesday's current flowing through Chickamauga was offset by a strong southerly wind.
"It's hard to catch 'em when the current is going one way and the wind is pushing you the other way," he said.
Thursday's forecast is for a slight (5, 6 mph) wind from the west for most of the day.
That might turn Chickamauga's finicky fish into ravenous feeders.
But for now, the 140 anglers in BASSfest will believe that only when they see it.
"I've got more rods ready than in any tournament in a long time," said VanDam, THE bass master, who has seven Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles and four Bassmaster Classic crowns to his credit. "Everything from ultimate finesse to great big baits, just trying to get them to react to something."
If the current flows through Chickamauga on Thursday and the wind doesn't blow in the opposite direction, everyone's game plan will become much simpler.