Starting to see a pattern here

Day 3 is following the same script we’ve seen the previous two days. It goes something like this: 1) Jeff Gustafson jumps out to a big lead with smallmouth bass early, then 2) the largemouth guys start chipping away at the lead.

Brandon Card and Brock Mosley cut into Gustafson’s lead late yesterday. Both caught key fish, including Mosley’s 6-10, after 4 o’clock.

Today, Steve Kennedy has landed a 6-pounder and John Cox caught a 4-pounder in the last hour. Kennedy now has 18-pound limit that has plenty of room to upgrade, as it includes a 1-7 and a 2-4.

Cox turns a corner

John Cox started the day in 5th on the leaderboard with 23 pounds, 14 ounces. Now, BassTrakk shows him in 4th with a weight of 9-4, for 4 keepers. This morning at the dock he told me that a rising water temperature was key to his success. He, along with the other largemouth anglers, are getting that as the temp reaches 50 degrees and higher.

"I'm waiting for the migration to begin," he said. "Yesterday, some fish began coming up, gradually, and it got better as the day went on."

He continued, "I caught a lot of non-keeper male largemouth, thinking maybe the females would run the same track."

After Steve Kennedy just caught a 6-pounder, there might be hope for the largemouth guys. After all, they are all competing against one angler. A smallmouth angler whose name is Jeff Gustafson.

Weather watch

Going into the weekend the forecast called for between a 60% and 90% chance of rain for Saturday and Sunday, respectively, and throughout the day and night.

That has changed and so might the fishing. The rain chances have decreased, with the temperatures increasing, both day and night.

A warm rain would be the ideal setup for the largemouth anglers. They'll get the warm air temp, but without the needed rain to stimulate the bite.

"At least the nighttime lows will not result in a net loss for the water temperature during the day," said Mark Menendez.

Earlier in the week, nighttime lows dipped into the 40s and then the daytime highs reached the mid-60s. So what was gained with the clear, sunny skies and water warmup, was lost at night when the temperature dipped and cooled down the water again.

The patterns in play for the largemouth guys are best described as random. Random, as in betting on the come. Those anglers are waiting on the narrow windows of feeding activity when largemouth move into shallow water to feed on shad. It's a roll of the dice.

Meanwhile, and all alone both in the standings and his pattern, is Jeff Gustafson. Gussy is exploiting a wintertime pattern of fishing for smallmouth in deep water. That pattern is unaffected by any of the conditions needed for the largemouth bite.

Mosley swinging and missing, so far

Brock Mosley has had a frustrating morning so far. Lots of swings and misses, especially one big miss. If you’re watching “Bassmaster LIVE,” you saw Mosley miss on what was estimated to be a 4-pound smallmouth bass that came unhooked near the boat. Steve Bowman is following Mosley today. He reports that was the same place where Mosley caught a big smallmouth on Day 1 and the 6-pound, 10-ounce largemouth on Day 2. Mosley undoubtedly will hit that spot again today.

But the morning hasn’t been all bad for Mosley, who entered the day in third place, 5-14 behind leader Jeff Gustafson. He’s got one in the boat that Bowman estimates to be bigger than it’s listed on BassTrakk and another keeper. Most importantly, Mosley is getting lots of bites.

Menendez has decision to make

Mark Menenedez has just two areas that are producing his catches. One is in Fort Loudoun and the other is 35 miles away in Tellico Lake. Menendez is 9th on the Leaderboard with 23 pounds, 14 ounces, and now 19th in BassTrakk with nothing in his livewell. 

This morning, Menendez told me that he hoped to only visit one of the areas, to keep the other for a potential Championship Sunday outing. Now, he's not so sure. 
"I've got a decision to make about whether to stay here or make the run," he said.
Making the run would be to Tellico. His Loudoun spot is similar, though. It's a rocky shoreline with rocky depressions and veins extending from the bank. The setup is ideal for the Strike King 1.5 square bill crankbait that he is using. 
Hooking baitfish with the crankbaits is a hindrance but also a good sign. 
"There is plenty of bait; I just need the warmer water to bring more bass into the shallow water," he added. 
At this point, making the run might be the only option. 

Slow go for Martin

That Blog title is actually a play on words. Scott Martin is 6th on the Leaderboard and 5th in BassTrakk. His score so far is 2 bass for 4 pounds, bringing his cumulative weight to 27 pounds, 14 ounces.

This morning Martin told me the key to his presentation is slowing his cadence.

"I'm seeing guys go over my area, my fish, and they are fishing way too fast," he said. "Thorough is the best word to describe how I am fishing."

Being thorough means methodically going through his areas. And he is doing that with a jerkbait and crankbait. Martin is targeting specific types of banks. In this photo, that bank is a textbook prespawn setup with riprap along a road and bridge with a culvert.

"The best part of the day is the high of 66 degrees in the forecast," he continued.

Martin's strike zone could expand if the water temperature continues to rise.

"Wherever I can find 50-degree water then I know there will be active largemouth."

Photo by Andy Crawford

Canterbury ready for a move

After fishing several different pockets on the northern section of this expansive fishery, Canterbury has not hooked a fish so far today.

Now, he is ready for a move.

“I’d rather catch them up here, but you don’t get as many bites,” he said. “I’m going to fish one more pocket and then head down the lake.”

With the wind blowing at a decent clip this morning, Canterbury said he hopes another area of the lake will produce better.

Gustafson with a limit at 8:25

Jeff Gustafson put his fifth keeper smallmouth in the boat at 8:25 a.m. Yes, his spot has definitely loaded up again overnight, after he struggled for hours to catch No. 5 there yesterday. He’s basically got a limit of 3-pounders in his livewell. However, the last one he’d like to cull eventually. It barely met the 18-inch minimum for smallmouths on the Tennessee River. It took repeated measurements for it to touch the 18-inch mark.

It’s hard to imagine a more comfortable spot for the two-day tournament leader to be in: Ninety minutes into Day 3 and his biggest problem is culling a barely-keeper smallmouth.

Walters' lucky cast

Andy Crawford just sent in this two-photo sequence that's worth a fish story.

In the first photo, you see three anglers on a dock next to their boat. Another boat is not pictured.

Patrick Walters made a cast to the corner of the dock, nearest to the angler wearing the red rain suit.

You can see what happened next in the other photo. Walters caught a bass from the corner of the dock, resulting in cheers from the anglers on the dock.

Walters' lucky cast put him on the board with 2 pounds.

Gussy hooks up No. 5

Jeff Gustafson now has 4 keepers in the boat as he gives the smallmouth a beat down in his area. His deep water spot bottoms out at 24 feet, and it features a mixed rubble of rocks and boulders--ideal for smallmouth.

The question is what will he do when he limits out? Which could have already happened when I sent this post.

Will he stay and guard the area, knowing this is Saturday? Or will he let it rest?

Gussy has no other back up areas. He's not needed to leave the area. Looking for new water would consume fishing time, and he lacks past experience here.

"All I know about it is what I watched on the Classic show in 2019," he said.

Gussy also found this spot late in the afternoon on the final day of practice, when he didn't have anything else going.

So answers to those questions will be interesting to find out.

Photo by Seigo Saito