On the second tournament day at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Open at Neely Henry Lake, I was in one of the first flights, so I basically had my pick of where to start fishing. By lunch time I had a limit of small keeper bass and decided to start trying to catch a larger “kicker” bass to increase my total weight for the day. I began focusing on key pieces of structure along previously productive shorelines and flipped and pitched soft plastic baits into the cover. I felt that I would need at least a 10-pound or larger bag at the end of the day to get close to making the final 12 who would fish on Saturday for the championship.
As I was working along the shoreline, I noticed a tree that had fallen into the lake, and it still had green leaves on it, so this tree had fallen into the water recently. I pitched a Strike King Game Hog creature bait rigged Texas style into the outside edges but did not get a bite. Then I pitched it directly into the center of the limbs and green leaves along the trunk of the tree, and as it fell toward the bottom, I felt a strike. I reared back to set the hook and realized I had a really big bass on, but it was hung up in the limbs. It sawed my line back and forth, and I used my trolling motor to get as close to the bass as I could. I was finally able to get the bass out of the hang-ups and moving towards me, and my heart was thumping wildly. As the bass got close to the boat, I leaned over to grab its lower lip and the line broke about 2 feet from the bass, just out of reach. My line broke exactly where it had been rubbing on the limbs when the bass had me all hung up in the middle of the submerged tree. So close, yet so far away.
That shook me up for several minutes, but I gathered myself and started back fishing again. I never found that “kicker” bass the rest of the afternoon, and I ended up with a small limit that weighed 7 pounds and 4 ounces. For the tournament, I ended up in 49th place with a total of 15 pounds and 5 ounces. Greg Hackney ended up in 40th place with 16 pounds, which is the last position to win a check. So I ended up 12 ounces out of the money. It took 20 pounds and 7 ounces to get into 12th place which is the lowest position to get to fish on Saturday, so I missed that by 5 pounds and 3 ounces. I think the big one that got away was large enough if landed to have gotten me into the Top 12, but it certainly would have allowed me to get a nice check. But that is fishing, especially at the professional levels. I had to accept it and move on because the Open at Lake Cherokee is set for Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 29-31.
On the positive side, not making the Top 12 cut at Neely Henry Lake in Gadsden, Ala., allowed me to pack up early and head to East Tennessee for the Open at Cherokee Lake. I always like going home before the next event, but it would have ended up costing a lot of money and time to drive home in West Tennessee and then turn around and drive back to Cherokee Lake. A University of Bethel alumnus hooked me up with a relative who has a house on the shores of Cherokee, and they are providing free rent for us during the Eastern Open. This is much appreciated help and support as hotel rooms get expensive even when you double up with a friend fishing the same event. This also allows me extra practice time on the lake before the tournament starts on Thursday.
I have fished Cherokee Lake tournaments in the past, but they were held in the springtime and nothing is the same in the fall. This is one of a network of TVA-controlled lakes in Eastern Tennessee that all feed into the Tennessee River and almost all of these lakes have a drastic winter drawdown to provide protection against flooding up and down the Tennessee River. Currently Cherokee is about 15 feet below summer pool and will drop another 30 feet or so until winter pool is reached. So, no grass-beds or flooded bushes along the shoreline to fish, and I’ll have to transition to fishing gravel and rock banks and any cover I can find still in the water. What a difference in the fishing environment between last week and this week. Also, Cherokee has a minimum 15-inch length limit for largemouth and smallmouth bass and a 12-inch minimum length limit for spotted bass.
I have a plan in my mind for how to begin practice. I will go into details in my next article about the adventures of a young touring bass angling professional and provide an update on the results of the first tournament day.