It’s official. Jeff Gustafson has done what no one thought possible on the Tennessee River. He has caught a five-bass limit of smallmouth bass measuring at least 18 inches long four days in a row. Gustafson caught his fifth keeper at 11:39. It barely touched the 18-inch mark on his measuring board. He’s got another one like that in his livewell. He mentioned that he’d like to cull those with bigger fish. But that’s about the only drama left in this event. It has simply been an incredible performance over four days by Gustafson.
After fishing through a stretch of unproductive water, Jake Whitaker has made a move to a stretch of docks in a different creek.
The has paid off so far, as he landed his first keeper of the day with a Z-Man JackHammer ChatterBait.
The water has fallen on Lake Tellico, and Whitaker thinks the bigger fish have moved with the water into different areas.
“In a few weeks, when the water stabilizes, this place should be on fire,” he said.
The wind has picked up significantly since the start of Championship Sunday.
After three days of practice on the Tennessee River this week, some of the anglers who competed in the 2019 Bassmaster Classic were asked to make a comparison. The unanimous opinion was that this week would be tougher. The ’19 Classic was held March 15-17, and here we were in late February after a major cold front.
Generally, that prediction has come true. This has been a bear of a bass tournament for most of the field. Only 29 of the 100 anglers caught a five-bass limit on the first day, 39 of 100 the second day and 16 of 50 (32%) on Day 3.
It is interesting to compare the top 10 final weights of the three-day ’19 Classic and Day 3 on the Tennessee River this week: Ott Defoe won that Classic with 49 pounds, 3 ounces; Jeff Gustafson led after three days this week with 48-13. Fifth place in the Classic was 41-12; yesterday’s Day 3 fifth-place weight was 34-11. Tenth-place in the Classic was 34-15; 10th place yesterday was 32-5.
Finally, kudos to Brandon Card for his ability as a prognosticator. Here’s what he said Wednesday evening: “Somebody in this tournament is going to catch a 20-pound bag one day. I think it will take 60 pounds to win.”
Steve Kennedy caught a 20-pound, 14-ounce bag yesterday. Tournament leader Jeff Gustafson unofficially has 61-3 with four keepers so far today.
While he doesn’t have a keeper to show for it, Jake Whitaker has caught plenty of fish on Tellico Lake this morning.
He has fished a crankbait around shallow rocks and lay downs around secondary points and in the backs of little pockets.
A herring on the bank snagged a 5 or 6-inch gizzard shad as well, swallowing it whole as Whitaker worked his way down the bank.
According to BassTrakk, Whitaker has fallen to eighth-place, but he still has plenty of time to make a move up the leaderboard.
Jeff Gustafson put his third keeper in the boat at 10:30. It wasn’t a textbook landing, as he fumbled it two or three times as waves crashed against the side of his boat. But the 19 1/2-inch smallmouth looked beautiful on the scoreboard for the Canadian in quest of his first Elite Series title.
“That might have been the ugliest fish catch of all-time,” laughed Gustafson.
The wind has really picked up. It’s one more factor that should help the other nine finalists today and hamper Gustafson, who is fishing vertically in open water. But with three keepers weighing almost 10 pounds now, Gustafson may have done all he needs to do for a victory today.
Hunter Shryock has steadily advanced up the leaderboard this week. He was 31st after Day 1, moved up to 16th on Day 2 and started today in 8th place. Photographer Andy Crawford reports Shryock has his first keeper of the day. He caught it on a jerkbait thrown near an old roadbed.
After an hour and a half fog delay followed by a 50-minute run, Jake Whitaker has arrived at his starting spot in Lake Tellico.
He entered Championship Sunday in fifth place with a three-day total of 34 pounds, 11 ounces.
Whitaker said most of his fish yesterday were in two feet of water or less. The North Carolina native is fishing secondary points in the creeks and is currently fishing a bridge.
He has landed three non-keepers so far, two of them on back-to-back cast off the bridge. The area he is fishing has a lot of baitfish activity near the surface as well.
John Cox has already put four keepers in the boat. He said he’s had more bites in the first 20 minutes than any other day this week. Cox started the day in third place, 10-12, behind leader Jeff Gustafson. He’s got one 3 1/2-pounder. He’ll need to cull the others to catch Gustafson. But the important thing is the largemouth Cox is targeting with a variety of Berkley Frittside crankbaits are chomping today.
Jeff Gustafson immediately began taking the drama out of this fog-delayed final day. He arrived at 9:15 after his 35-mile run to the canal between lakes Loudoun and Tellico, and he put a keeper in the livewell at 9:20.
“That takes the pressure off,” Gustafson yelled. Even more encouraging was what he saw on his graph, noting, “When I set the hook, there were four more with it."
Photo by Seigo Saito
With today’s 90-minute fog delay, some drama has been added to this final day. Jeff Gustafson has built his 7-pound, 14-ounce lead over second-place Steve Kennedy by catching most of his fish early. The warming conditions yesterday sparked the largemouth bite for a couple of the 10 finalists today, particularly Kennedy. He caught the big bag of the tournament of 20 pounds, 14 ounces, yesterday. It stayed warm overnight and the temperature is forecast to rise into the 70s today.
So, yes, we’ve got some drama. The leader may have been handicapped by the fog delay, and the other contenders may have been helped by the warming weather.