Jake Whitaker may have caught a $5,000 bass on one of his last casts of the day. It filled his five-bass limit, finally. Whitaker made only a few more casts before pulling up his trolling motor and heading to the check-in point.
The bass might have been worth $5,000 because it moved him from fourth place to third in the BASSTrakk standings. Third place pays $20,000 and fourth through 10th places pay $15,000.
Amazingly, Whitaker caught a limit each day from the same marina. Lee Livesay is the only other angler to catch a limit each day.
"I may not win this tournament, but I am proud of what I've done," said the 28-year-old Whitaker, the 2018 Elite Series Rookie of the Year.
With about 30 minutes left in his fishing day, Austin Felix came into Championship Monday of the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Chickamauga Lake in 10th place. There were many storylines surrounding the Minnesota rookie on the final day of the event.
Felix leads fellow rookie, Kyle Welcher, by 20 points in the Bassmaster Elite Series Rookie of the Year race. Welcher went out one spot ahead of Felix today.
Felix is second to David Mullins by 10 points in the Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year standings. As we noted in an earlier blog, Mullins is not fishing today; therefore, today served as a great opportunity for Felix to make up a little ground on Mullins with one event remaining in the year.
At this point, the Siteline Pro isn’t likely to have one of those storybook afternoons of an epic bag coming all the way from 10th to hoist the blue trophy, but today may be looked back on as the day that Felix was able to make great strides in locking up the Rookie of the Year and pushing Mullins for the Angler of the Year.
Don’t get lost on the fact that with two fish to his credit, Felix stood behind the weigh-in stage on Sunday waiting for Gerald Swindle as the G-Man was the final angler to weigh in on Sunday. With Felix sitting tied for 10th with Kyle Welcher (29-6), Swindle needed 9-12 to bump Felix from the Top 10 (Welcher was ninth as a result of t tiebreaker with Felix) but only weighed in 9-10.
In a game of ounces, Felix was able to punch his ticket for Championship Monday where he’s gone out today, boated seven fish (roughly 12 pounds) and potentially improved his positioning where a mere two ounces could be the difference in driving home to Minnesota today or winning the Rookie of the Year and perhaps the Angler of the Year.
Elite Series anglers often get accused of "sand-bagging" after the days of pre-tournament practice. They'll predict a tough bite and then have big days once the tournament begins. However, no one was sand-bagging before this one. Carl Jocumsen, who has lived near Chickamauga Lake for over a year now, said it best.
"If anyone catches 15 pounds a day, we should bow down to him. He's a fishing god," Jocumsen said after practice.
We don't have a fishing god to bow down to in this tournament yet. But Lee Livesay is getting awfully close. He's got 12-14 on BASSTrakk, which usually equates to about 2 pounds more than that when the bag hits the official scales. So Livesay's getting real close to 60 pounds — right at the god-like status of a 15-pounds-per-day average.
Lee Livesay has kept a frog rod in his hands almost exclusively four days in a row. And it's paying off. Livesay culled a 2-pounder with a 4-pounder at 1:38.
"Finally, got a good one today," Livesay said. "That's a beautiful Chickamauga bass."
The key to Livesay's frog bite this week is staying shallow. He's using a push pole to get in shallow areas, and he's casting to matted vegetation that's even shallower.
"That mat is in 10 inches of water," said Livesay, after culling up another estimated 1/4- to 1/2- a pound with second bass where the 4-pounder came.
Austin Felix has managed to cull once after stopping on an offshore place that, as he described it, is an old place he had from a previous visit here.
So far this week, this spot has rendered Felix a drum, a cull fish when we first arrived today and moments ago, this Tennessee River catfish.
Felix is alternating between a finesse presentation here and a swimbait which seems to be working out for the leader in the race for Bassmaster Rookie of the Year.
Mike Huff caught his fourth keeper at 12:38. It came out of a tree along a bank of the Tennessee River. It was a 2 1/2-pounder.
"I know there's another one in there," said Huff.
Another cast into the treetop proved him right. It was a 3-pounder. Huff and Lee Livesay have limits, and they are just ounces apart atop the BASSTrakk leaderboard.
Austin Felix has put a limit of Chickamauga Lake bass in his Phoenix livewell by noon using a pocket of docks to sort out his limit. He’s had to mine through some nonkeepers along the way but as we mentioned earlier, having a limit today could be a bonus when it’s time to weigh in.
From best as I can tell, Felix is the only angler at noon with a limit according to BASSTrakk and while Felix doesn’t know that, it’ll certainly give him the opportunity to move up the leaderboard as we head into the afternoon, especially if the guys in from of him fail to catch fish.
Felix is making the run back up the lake to the area he started in this morning to chase the big bite with the frog, but made a quick stop to hit an offshore place he marked in practice.
Mike Huff has three bass weighing approximately 10 pounds, including the 7-pounds-plus "heart attack" bass. He's near the tournament lead, unofficially. But he undoubtedly needs to finish with a heavy 5-bass limit today after starting five pounds behind Day 3 leader Lee Livesay.
Largemouth and spotted bass must be a minimum 15 inches long, and smallmouth must be 18 inches at Chickamauga Lake. When Huff landed a bass that measured 17 inches at 11 a.m., he was in a quandary. It looked somewhat like a spotted bass and somewhat like a smallmouth.
So Huff did the right thing. He settled the issue on the spot, first calling tournament director Lisa Talmadge, who directed Huff to a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officer. Through a FaceTime cell phone call, the officer determined it was a smallmouth. Actually, it was probably a "mean-mouth" cross between a spot and a smallmouth. But that's a smallmouth under the regulations, so it had to be released. With that problem solved, Huff could get on to the task at hand - filling out his limit.
By the way, there are some big smallmouth bass, well over 18 inches, in Chickamauga Lake. Koby Kreiger weighed-in a 5-14 smallmouth on Day 2.
“Look at how fat them shad fish are,” says Austin Felix laughing as he puts his fifth fish in the boat.
The Minnesota pro is now looking to cull and continue working to move up the leaderboard. There’s one special dock in this pocket that has produced for him each time he’s been here.
Smooth work with the wacky worm and magic wand haven’t hurt him either.