Roark on a roll

Josh Roark has climbed to the top of the leader board on Championship Saturday, with BASSTrakk showing him as the only anger with a limit halfway through the day.

He’s at about 11 1/2 pounds, and he’s culled twice.

If things don’t change drastically for the rest of the field, Roark will run away with the win and cash his ticket to the 2021 Bassmaster Classic.

Thompkins needs the right line

Timmy Thompkins, who entered Championship Saturday in fifth place, is making headway this morning on Cherokee Lake. The key, he said, is the right lineup.

After boating his second keeper, the pro from Myrtle Beach, S.C. explained that the fish he’s targeting are positioning in a specific manner, relevant to bottom composition.

“There’s a sand/pea gravel transition and I think they’re sitting on it,” Thompkins said. “I knew if I got the right lineup, I’d get ‘em.”

Thompkins is catching his fish on a Ned rig. He noted that he had to go to a lighter head size because his starting rig kept getting hung in the boulders dotting his area.

He’s trying to drift his bait just over the tops of these big rocks, but Thompkins noted that the wind is making it challenging to do so. He’s locked in on what he needs to do, so focus and consistency will be his allies.

Good sportsmanship

All week, Matt Robertson has fished a very small 60-foot stretch of water that produced all of his weight thus far. He rolled up on the spot first thing this morning to find a boat on the honey hole, as you can see in this photo taken by Andy Crawford.

It's public water and Saturday on Cherokee Lake. Just a reminder that bass aren't the only competition in tournament fishing. The anglers pulled up the trolling motor and departed the spot. Robertson thanked them for their sportsmanship.

Robertson is looking to win the tournament and hopefully gain an invitation to the 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series.

Fourth quarter wrap-up

Andy Crawford, my on-the-water connection, just returned to process his photo gallery. 

What we both observed is this takeaway. There are guys searching for the textbook, roaming schools of baitfish that are common here during fall. The pattern is setting up on an ambush point where the bass can feed on the bait when it passes nearby. It's part waiting game, part game on. Leaving the spot during idle activity is not an option, because you never know when the bait might arrive. 

Championship Saturday might be a different story. Should the sun come out, the video game fishing might warm up. Here, the bass reposition on the shady sides of rocky cover, be that a ledge, individual rock, or a point, using it all as an ambush point. 

No word on what came down, if it did at all, with the Holston River crowd exclusively targeting largemouth. 

Scan or not to scan?

With technology being such an important part of tournament fishing these days, there are times when it's not necessarily a helper. This morning we covered Denny Feidler as he fished a bank in 1 to 3 feet of water, which doesn’t require the use of electronics. Feidler is unofficially sitting in first on BASSTrakk with 11-8 today.

This afternoon we are on Andy Hribar, who was in fourth place as of this morning. Today he has only one fish so far. Hribar has spent the entire day scanning his deep water spot, using a drop shot with very little action. He has not abandoned his pattern or done anything different because he can see the fish are still there. So the question is, do you keep scanning and pray they finally decide to bite; or do you cover more water and try to catch fish on the bank?

Watch the leaderboard today to see which strategy paid off. 

On 'em!

Matt Robertson is literally living what is inscribed on his cap. The "On 'Em" angler has a limit that includes a 4-pound smallmouth. 

"Don't tell anybody I'm using a spinning reel," he told Andy Crawford. "My buddies back home would take away my man card." 

Robertson, of western Kentucky, is also using a Ned rig, a big violation of his man card. He should get a pass from his buds, considering the locally-born Ned rig is proven here as a legit fish catcher. 

What he is also doing, against his own rules, is video game fishing, with a twist. Rather than seek isolated rocks used by bass as ambush points, he is watching his screen for baitfish activity.

"It's a random deal, and the bass are here, but they won't bite until the bait comes around," he said. "When the bass move in they feed like sharks, then leave."

Andy said Robertson is rotating back and forth along a 60-foot stretch to catch his mixed bag of largemouth and smallmouth. 

May catches a 'full house'

Davey May (37th, 6 - 8)

Prior to the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open on Cherokee Lake, most agreed that we’d see a mix of smallmouth and largemouth bass. Spotted bass were likely to play little to no role because they typically lack the size of their two black bass cousins.

As expected, the larger two species dominated Day 1, but pro angler Davey May scored a full house — all three species in his Day-1 catch of 6 pounds, 8 ounces. In his view, bait diversity is what facilitated the diverse bag.

“I hadn’t caught a lot of spotted bass in practice; it was mostly largemouth and smallmouth,” May said. “I think that picking up a swimbait is what opened the options. 

“I was fishing brush, and I knew all three species were in there. I was throwing crankbaits and topwaters, but the spots weren’t hitting those.” 

May caught his keeper largemouth and smallmouth on topwater baits. His spotted bass ate a 4-inch swimbait, Texas-rigged on a 3/0 hook with a 1/4-ounce bullet weight.

“All three were within 50 yards,” May said. “This was a little cove off the main river channel so it could have been the bait that was in there.”

Co-angler heeds Elite advice

Eric Talley, co-angler (4th, 6 - 13)

When Eric Talley brought in the first co-angler limit of Day 1 — three bass for 6 pounds, 13 ounces — we asked him the usual where-when-how questions. His responses exemplified one of this sport’s most endearing elements — the sharing of knowledge.

Talley said he caught all of his fish on a Damiki rig — a tiny shad or fluke style body on a small jig head. The rig is fished nearly motionless in vertical presentation for suspended bass, or those hugging bottom structure. 

Turns out Talley had never fished the rig before this event, but a solid piece of advice from a highly credible advisor convinced him to go for it. Doing so led to a fourth-place tie with Don Bible II.

“(Bassmaster Elite) Carl Jocumsen set up the rig for me,” Talley said. “I spent the week with him, and he’s taught me a million things. 

“I came in on Sunday and hung out with him and (wife) Kayla and practiced Monday and Tuesday with him. He set me up with tackle and sent me out there and said, ‘Get out there and try.’”

Jocumsen, who became the first Australian to win an Elite event with his 2019 victory on Lake Tenkiller, is known for educating and encouraging. Great to see his selfless investment paying big dividends.

(Note: Although they live about an hour apart, Eric Talley is not related to Bassmaster Elite Frank Talley.)

Video game fishing

In 2017, right here at Cherokee Lake, we coined the term "video game fishing" after practically the entire field of Bassmaster Elite Series anglers were doing just that during the derby. 

It was February, and the smallmouth were offshore relating to very specific isolated rocks on the bottom. Boat positioning and casting angles were key, and the only way to put all the pieces of the puzzle together was using the front deck mounted electronics. Those have come a long way in three years. 

And here we are again. Andy Crawford discovered Brandon Palaniuk doing it yesterday; now he's on Matt Robinson, who is keeping one eye focused on the screen and the other on his line. 

Could smallmouth become the front runner at the weigh-in today? If so, you can bet video fishing got them to the scales. 

In the photo, Robinson is holding up three fingers to signal the number of keepers in his livewell. 

Martin out, Stracner in

Joshua Stracner (1st, 14 - 12)

A shakeup is in the works in the points race for the Bassmaster Eastern Opens Angler of the Year. 

After catching only one keeper on Thursday, Scott Martin dropped from the lead to ninth place in the standings. Thursday leader Josh Stracner took first on the strength of his overall lead in the tournament underway at Cherokee Lake Martin is also ninth in the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year overall standings. 

Martin now has one final shot here at gaining points, unless he rebounds and makes it into Championship Saturday. The final Eastern Open is in early December at Lay Lake. 

Here is how the Eastern points stack up as of yesterday, keeping in mind the top four anglers are eligible for invitations to the 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series. 

1. Josh Stracner
2. Patrick Walters [already qualified]
3. Pat Schlapper
4. Timmy Thompkins
5. Bryan New
6. Andy Hribar [fourth in the tournament after Thursday]

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