FLORENCE, Ala. —More than 100 of the best grass-roots anglers in the world will converge at Pickwick Lake Nov. 9-11 for the 2022 TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. According to Bassmaster Elite Series pro Justin Hamner of Northport, Ala., they’ll be hitting the fishery at one of the best times of the year.
The field will include 2021 B.A.S.S. Nation champion and current Elite Series pro Matty Wong along with representatives from nine foreign countries, 48 states and Paralyzed Veterans of America Angler of the Year Kurt Glass. All of the boaters will have one goal during the three-day event: land in the Top 3 to qualify for the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic, scheduled for March 24-26 in Knoxville, Tenn.
The B.A.S.S. Nation champion will earn the title of “Nation’s Best,” which includes an Elite Series berth and the use of a fully-rigged Nation’s Best tournament boat for a year. The second- and third-place finishers and the nonboater champion will each earn paid entry fees for all divisions of the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens Series presented by Mossy Oak Fishing.
Pickwick Lake hosted the Nation Championship back in 2020 and since then it has been the site of two Bassmaster Elite Series events, with Brandon Lester hoisting a blue trophy earlier in 2022 with a four-day total of 86 pounds, 1 ounce.
While the famous ledges of the Tennessee River impoundment won’t likely play a factor, there will be plenty of water for anglers to explore. The biggest key, Hamner said, will be finding the bait.
“The bait is going to be pushed up shallow and you are going to see a lot in the backs of pockets and in the little bays, but the tailrace is going to be huge,” Hamner said. “Topwater around the current and some of the main-river bars and stumps on the flats. The topwater action should be bananas.”
With major flooding during the 2021 Elite, the tailrace at the Wilson Dam was a major factor. For the Nation Championship, Pickwick Lake will be in a drawdown phase as the Corp of Engineers tries to get the lake to winter pool, and that will allow for awesome tailrace fishing.
Look for anglers to target eddies behind boulders, logs and little islands with a variety of different baits including walking topwater baits, bigger swimbaits and spinnerbaits.
That also means smallmouth will once again be a factor, and Hamner said an angler could potentially win with only smallmouth.
“This time of year, the smallmouth start playing a role again,” he said. “In the summer, they turn into ghosts for some reason. But now they are up there feeding and getting ready. They know what is about to happen. They could absolutely win on just smallmouth. You can have 22 or 23 pounds of smallmouth. It is very possible.”
The last few years, hydrilla and milfoil have played a big factor on Pickwick, but Hamner has noticed there isn’t a vast amount of either grass in the lake this year. If he has caught bass around grass, it has been eelgrass.
That will make flats with stumps and shallow, hard-bottom river bars more productive as long as there’s bait present.
“Anytime there is grass it is a big deal,” Hamner said. “But there isn’t as much grass as there has been, and with the drawdown it will be a question of finding grass in deep enough water. If you find a magic little spot with grass that has depth on it, it can get nasty.”
Competitors will launch from McFarland Park each day at 6 a.m. CT and return for weigh-in at 2 p.m.
The full field will compete the first two days. The nonboater champion will be crowned after Day 2 and the Top 10 boaters, Top 2 boaters from each of the five regions (if not already in the Top 10), the nonboater champion and any nonboaters that have enough weight to be in the Top 10 boaters overall will advance to the championship round.
The 2022 TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship is being hosted by Florence-Lauderdale Tourism.
2022 B.A.S.S. Nation Title Sponsor: TNT Fireworks
2022 B.A.S.S. Nation Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2022 B.A.S.S. Nation Premier Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Progressive Insurance, Ranger Boats, Rapala, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha
2022 B.A.S.S. Nation Supporting Sponsors: AFTCO, Daiwa, Garmin, Huk Performance Fishing, Marathon, Strike King, Triton Boats, VMC