This is it! This is the week we work all year for. This is the biggest tournament in professional bass fishing, period. This is the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods. To say I’m excited about this tournament, especially with it being in my home state of Tennessee, is an understatement. Knoxville is a beautiful city, and I expect this to be a wonderful event all the way around.
Like I said before, Tennessee is where I get my mail, but make no mistake, I’m far from a local on Fort Loudon and Tellico Lakes. In fact, I spent three days here prepracticing back in December and that was the only time I’ve ever spent here fishing. I’m from the middle part of the state, about three hours west of Knoxville, and I have never made it over here to fish these lakes in the past. With that being said, we are on the Tennessee River so I feel comfortable fishing here, I just don’t have an in-depth knowledge of the place like you may think.
There are a lot of changes happening on these lakes right now, and I think the key word for this tournament will be adapting. Changing water levels from recent rains, water temperatures, water color, it all is something to take into consideration this time of year especially. It’s basically mid-March and these fish have spawning heavily on their minds. I’m not saying they’re going to pull up and start spawning during the tournament, but they definitely have it on their minds right now and are preparing for it. The guy who can dial into an area or a pattern and keep up with those fish daily will be the guy who wins the trophy this week, in my opinion.
The so called X-factor this week that I see is smallmouth. They live here, and big ones too. Both Fort Loudon and Tellico are known for producing nice stringers of smallmouth. The only downside to targeting them in tournaments is they must measure 18 inches to be a legal fish, and it can certainly be hard to catch five 18-plus-inch smallies a day. Still it wouldn’t surprise me if someone in this group figured out how to do it and did really well with predominantly smallmouth. I definitely think the winner will have a few smallies mixed in their bag though. For me the smallmouth bites I’ve had in practice we’re pretty random and hard to pattern, but the two biggest bites I had in practice were both smallmouth so I’m definitely hoping to run across a few.
As far as how I plan to fish this tournament, I’m going to fish what I know. I feel like growing up fishing the Tennessee River a lot I have a decent understanding of what these fish are doing right now. Although I don’t know these lakes really well, I’ve been able to take things I’ve learned fishing other Tennessee River impoundments and relate them. I believe this tournament will be won shallow, I’m talking 8 feet or less, so that’s where I’ll spend my time. I could get proven wrong, and if I do it wouldn’t surprise me nor would it be the first time. These are some of the best fishermen in the game here this week; they will leave no stone left unturned.
We’ll go into fine detail about all the baits I use after the tournament, but I don’t think I’m giving any secrets away when I say I’ll have a flipping stick rigged up this week. I prefer a jig when the fish are still prespawn so that’s what I’ll flip and pitch mostly. Nothing special just a 1/2-ounce hand-tied jig with a brown living rubber skirt and an X Zone Lures Muscle Back Craw for a trailer. I use an MHX NEPS90HF 7-foot, 6-inch heavy for this setup and 20-pound Vicious fluorocarbon. I’ll mix in a few reaction baits as well.
If you’re in or around the Knoxville area this week come see us. Stop by the Bassmaster Classic Expo presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods, then come check out the weigh in. This truly is a great show, and it makes me proud that it’s in my home state this year. Hopefully I can represent well and catch a few fish this week.