How I will fish Chickamauga Open

For Bassmaster Elite Series events I send this article in as practice is unfolding (and often ending) and even then it seems like conditions change during the event and I end up fishing differently than I do even in practice. This week I’m sending it as I head out the door to the lake so there’s no telling how I will end up catching my fish. Nonetheless, here are my thoughts as we visit Chickamauga.

This week is the second stop of the 2017 Bassmaster Southern Open from Dayton, Tenn. Being as this tournament is in my home state you probably think I know this place like the back of my hand, but to be honest the only reasonable amount of time I've ever spent on the lake was for BASSfest back in 2014. I do however have a good bit of experience on several of the other Tennessee River lakes and there's no doubt that experience will come in handy next week. At least I'm hoping so!

Chickamauga has really exploded the last few years with many giant stringers of tournament limits weighted in, several 30-plus pound bags, and it even kicked out the new Volunteer State record last year with a bass of more than 15 pounds. I know for sure of two over 13 being caught there this Spring already, and I'm sure there have probably been more that I don't know about. Naturally with all the giant fish that have been caught in the lake the last few years it has quickly become one of the bass fishing "bucket list" lakes and is receiving an immense amount of pressure these days. If a person looks at the results of the local tournaments it looks like catching fish in a barrel, but I know better and I don't expect it to be easy this week.

Chickamauga is roughly two hours from my house in Fayetteville so I feel like the spawn there should be pretty much on pace with the spawn on my local lakes. The fish here have been spawning for nearly three weeks now so I expect there to be a lot of postspawn fish caught. Don't get me wrong I believe the spawn is far from over but I'm not so sure it will be an all-out sight fishing slugfest. As with any other lake with a big population of fish though there will be some caught that have not spawned yet as well.

I believe the person who wins this tournament will be doing something a little different than everyone else. It's easy enough to go down the bank with a wacky worm this time of year and catch plenty of fish, but that won't win this derby. Another thing I expect is for somebody to find an offshore hole that is loaded up with postspawn fish that are filtering out to them. These Tenn. river fish know the drill, and it seems like they move out to the ledges quicker than any other fish in the country after the spawn. I think if a person can find a couple good offshore holes to mix in with his shallow fishing he will stand a whole lot better chance of holding the trophy at the end of the week.

Another pattern that will play a big role this week is the shad spawn. It's as simple as pulling up on the right stretch at the right time and you can load the boat in a hurry. Probably one of my absolute favorite ways to catch them during the shad spawn is on a swim jig. It is perfect for mimicking a fleeing shad, and you can also fish it in some pretty heavy cover which is where the shad like to be. The best way to fish it when the shad are spawning is to put your trolling motor on high and just cover water. When you get around some active fish they will absolutely bite.

The setup for a swim jig is critical so here is mine. I start with a 7-foot, 2-inch rod that I build with components from Mud Hole Custom Tackle. The blank is EPS86HF. A high-speed reel is a must so I use a 7:51 reel so I can take up line easily. For clear water with little cover throw it on 20-pound Vicious fluorocarbon. In heavy cover I like 50 pound Vicious No-Fade braid. I fish a 3/8 oz. swim jig probably 85 percent of the time but will tie it to braid if the need arises. 

I’d love to know I can find hungry fish this week feasting on shad but only time will tell. I’ll keep you guys posted on my Facebook page (@proanglerbrandonlester) and here on Bassmaster.com.

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