Elite

Big bass of Chickamauga Lake

Big bass were expected to be caught left and right at the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Chickamauga Lake, but conditions put a crimp in those hopes. Oh, there were bona fide beasts hooked, but only a handful made it in boats and to the weigh-in. In the end, 2022 Bassmaster Classic champ Jason Christie won with 73 pounds, 7 ounces, with his biggest fish just topping 6 pounds. Let’s take a look at what the big bass of Chickamauga meant for the anglers in Jack Link’s Hook the Beast.
Alex Redwine got off to a great start, landing a 6-pounder early on Day 1. When his second fish put him over 10 pounds, the rookie was on pace for a Century Belt, just needing 18 more to average 5 pounds. Alas, these were Redwine’s only fish of the day. He wasn’t alone as 32 others in the field of 94 failed to limit on the first day, when the average bass weighed a touch over 3 pounds. Not having the 6-pounder would have knocked Redwine close to 30 spots down the standings, while one more fish of 14 ounces would have earned a check — a limit of average fish would have placed him inside or close to the Top 10. Big fish matter. Limits matter. Discuss.
Luke Palmer, fresh off a sixth-place finish at the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic, was on the big bite again at Chick. He landed a 6-pounder early on his way to 20-1, one of seven bags eclipsing 20 pounds on Day 1. A slower second day dropped Palmer on the fickle fishery, and he finished 13th. Several others, Matt Herren (20-3), Caleb Kuphall (20-14) and Jacob Powroznik (21-0), were sitting pretty after the first day, but only Kuphall finished in the Top 10. The anglers were affected by morning lows in the 30s, fluctuating winds and water levels and post-front bluebird conditions.
With a 6-4 bolstering his bag of 19-6, Brock Mosley started eighth and moved up to third with a solid 18-11 on Friday. Mosley was off to a subpar start on the season, never finishing above 63rd and standing 82nd in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
Before the event, local favorite Buddy Gross, who finished 61st, said he thought several double-digit bass would be caught during the Chickamauga Elite. Pat Schlapper triggered the Skeeter Boats Big Fish Alert early with a 10-0 on BassTrakk. Schlapper, who had the big fish at Santee Cooper Lakes in late March with a 9-10, took the prohibited lead at Chick when this fish tipped the scales at 10-5. Schlapper weighed in four for 18-7 on Day 1.
Matt Robertson’s fish weren’t registering on BassTrakk, but he also was doing some damage early on Day 1. When his weights popped into the unofficial scoreboard, he had two 5-pounders, which on the scales were closer to 6 and gave him a third-place start of 21-13. His 18-8 on Friday gave him an ounce lead, but his big fish bite dried up. The Kuttawa, Ky., pro finished fourth with 66-1.
One big’un is good, but two are better. Japanese angler Daisuke Aoki followed that plan on Day 1 with two early 7-pounders that had him atop the BassTrakk leaderboard much of the day. Aoki, an Opens winner who suffered through a difficult start in his first three Elite events, showed what he can do, weighing 23-12 to stand second. Both these fish were weighed for big bass by tournament director Lisa Talmadge, the larger being a 7-5.
Australian pro Carl Jocumsen also had a 7-pounder to top 20 pounds on BassTrakk, then a late 6-pounder culled to the day’s best bag of 24-12. Jocumsen, who won the 2019 Elite on Oklahoma’s Lake Tenkiller, is known for throwing glide baits, which come with great reward and great risk. The latter was displayed on Day 2 when Jocumsen suffered through lost and missed fish that would have given him a huge lead. He recovered with 18-3 on Semifinal Saturday, including a 7-0 and a 6-0 on BassTrakk, and he went on to take seventh.
There was a big hit parade on Day 2, started off by Cody Huff of Ava, Mo. The former College Classic winner landed this 8-13 early Friday. Huff, the pick of many pundits for Falcon Rods Bassmaster Rookie of the Year, weighed 16-5 on four fish to make the cut by half a pound. Never getting a limit on Chick, Huff finished 34th — the highest finisher with 10 fish — but without this lunker he would not have cashed a check and dropped into the 80s.
On Day 2, six anglers busted bags topping 20 pounds, but none were the same anglers who did it on the first day. Gerald Swindle, one shy of a limit on Thursday, blasted 23-4 to climb from 67th to 13th. Swindle had two 5-0 fish on BassTrakk, the biggest of which weighed 8-4. Swindle finished 30th but kept alive his hopes for a 20th Classic qualification as he’s 30th in AOY points.
Cliff Prince brought in an 8-pounder on Day 2, which was almost half of his 18-10 that propelled him inside the cut. With 14 fish weighing 41-13, Prince finished 24th at Chickamauga, but without his large bass it would have been well short of the 25-10 needed to make the two-day cut at 47th place.
Helped by this 7-6 on Day 2, Brandon Palaniuk was among the more consistent anglers at Chickamauga, weighing bags of 16-2, 16-0 and 15-14 to finish 12th with 48-8. He missed the Top 10 cut by 5 ounces, but he made a move in the AOY standings, jumping from fourth, 31 points out of the lead, to second just 10 points back. Palaniuk won the 2017 AOY title.
Rookie Matty Wong of Collinsville, Texas, made the hyper jump from 64th to eighth with the biggest bag on Day 2. Wong was making noise on BassTrakk, posting a pair of 7-pounders, the biggest of which weighed 7-4.
No stranger to bringing in big bass, John Crews avoided disaster with his lunker. Crews caught this 9-3 that might have been able to eat one of the other three in his Day 2 bag of 15-9. He missed the cut at 58th and did drop from 42nd to 47th in the AOY standings, but his lunker helped him avoid what might have been a 25-spot fall in the event and around 20 places in AOY.
Could he do it again? That was the question after Rick Clunn, who famously rallied to win two Elite events on the St. Johns River, weighed in Friday with 23-3 and jumped into sixth place. Clunn had a 9-8 in his limit, saying his back quit hurting once he caught it as his adrenaline got pumping. Day 3 was not as kind, as Clunn caught just two to drop to 25th, and his back hurt again, he said.
Scott Martin, in his second Elite season, was thrilled to finally record a Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day. Martin weighed this 9-12 — better than his three fish going 7-13 on Day 1 — in a limit of 21-3. That propelled the Florida pro from 79th to 30th, but another three-fish day saw him fall to 32nd.
Jason Williamson went in to Semifinal Saturday in 27th place, and he continued his good season by landing a couple dandies in his limit of 22-10 that pushed him to seventh. Although he dropped a spot Sunday, Williamson stands 12th in the AOY standings and is looking to qualify for his third consecutive Classic and sixth overall.
Rookie Jacob Foutz, who attended Bryan College on the shores of Chickamauga, had decent days on his home water with 15-4 and 17-1, but he found the juice on Day 3. Foutz brought in the biggest bag of the day, 23-8, to jump up to fourth place. His 7-12 also earned $1,000 as the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day, and Foutz scored his biggest Elite payday at $31,000 for finishing third.
Christie, who catapulted from 26th to seventh with 20-15 on Day 2, wasn’t making much noise Saturday on BassTrakk. On what he said was his last cast, Christie landed a 6-4 to push his total to 20-12, good for third place. He was the only angler to top 20 pounds on two days at Chick.
Mosley was close, following his Day 1 weight of 19-6 with 20-0, including a biggest of 5-6, for a three-day total of 58-1. He led Aoki by 3 ounces and Christie by 6 heading into Championship Sunday. Mosley brought in one of only four limits on the day — he, Christie and Foutz were the only ones to limit each day — but he couldn’t find any kickers in his 11-14. He totaled 69-15 and finished second for the fifth time, the third time to Christie. Mosley did dig out of a hole, rising 28 spots to 54th in the AOY standings.
Wong enjoyed his first appearance on Bassmaster LIVE Saturday, but he couldn’t recapture the magic of rolling a pair of sevens. Wong caught a small limit to fall to 14th, but his 25-13 earned him a $2,000 bonus as VMC Monster Bag of the Chickamauga Lake event.
Schlapper said he’s starting to enjoy the Happy Gilmore oversized checks he’s been getting. The second-year Elite from Eleva, Wis., has now won back-to-back Phoenix Boats Big Bass. His 10-5 took the daily and overall honors at Chickamauga, earning another $2,000 bonus. The big fish are keeping Schlapper in events and AOY. He totaled 46-5 to finish 18th, and he stands 20th in the point standings.
With only 10 fishing Championship Sunday, the bigs didn’t really show, allowing Clifford Pirch to slip away with the Phoenix Boats daily bonus with a 5-4. With three fish going 9-3, Pirch tied Williamson with 58-0 but took the tiebreaker with 18 fish to Williamson’s 17. Pirch also moved up to third in AOY, just 15 points from leader John Cox.
Christie was running to his spot but a fog bank interrupted his run, so he stopped to fish, and the area produced his biggest fish of the day at just under 5 pounds. Christie culled to the heaviest bag of the day, 15-12, to total 73-7 and top Mosley by 3-8 for his eighth title with B.A.S.S., which is second to Clunn’s 16 among active Elites.
Christie won the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk on Lake Hartwell in early March, finishing some business after coming up one fish short of winning the 2018 Classic. Christie said it was inexplicable he was second-to-last on Santee Cooper Lakes in late March. The win on Chickamauga moves Christie into a tie for ninth all-time with five others. Astonishingly, Christie has won once every 12 tournaments with B.A.S.S.