Fantasy Fishing: Bank on records at Chickamauga

There's still time to sign up for Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing. This year there are more opportunities to win, even if you missed the first two tournaments of the year.

As I’m writing this, it is the day following the conclusion of the most iconic event in the entire world of bass fishing, the 50th anniversary of the 2020 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. Hank Cherry brought home the trophy after kicking off the tournament with a massive 29-pound bag that helped him cruise (or so it would seem from the comfort of my couch at home) to the victory with an impressive margin of nearly seven pounds.

I ended up having a solid fantasy fishing event despite a few buckets that hurt me badly. I’ve got to give a slight, albeit very slight, nod to Mr. Lindgren for reminding me how much of a dummy I was for overlooking Brandon Lester in Bucket A. I made a change to him about four days before the event that helped me finish with three in the Top 10. Lester and Livesay brought me solid points, but it was Auten and his big bass bonus of 40 points that really bolstered my team. I’m sitting in 146th place overall, which puts me in the 99.5% going into the third event at Chickamauga.

If you woke up and thought to yourself how sad it was that the Classic was over, B.A.S.S. has just flipped the proverbial record over and now we get Tennessee River- Side B with the second regular season Elite event on this famed body of water. **I have a full breakdown with a more in depth look at recent tournament finishes along with my picks here.** The lake is very similar to its downstream relative, Lake Guntersville, and given what we saw at the Classic from those top finishers, we can gauge with some confidence what we might be in for at this event.

Chickamauga is about 40 miles, as the crow flies, from the upper end of Guntersville and it was in full blown prespawn madness by the end of the Classic. Bladed jigs, jerkbaits, lipless crankbaits and jigs used in transition areas were the key players. I feel like we may have hit Guntersville about a week before it really busted wide open, so it would not surprise me if the fish at Chickamauga were primed and ready for a full out spawning event. I definitely think the main features that played at the Classic will show up here. Docks, rocks, drains and points around spawning flats will all be factors, but you will probably see more guys fishing for spawning fish this time around.

That said, I’m banking on shallow-water power-fisherman and flippers to bring it home. Let’s check out some picks.

BUCKET A: GROSS

There is no one more “local” than the guy who lives in the city that is the name-sake for Chickamauga Lake. Buddy Gross calls this place home and has a record that would prove why he is by far the best pick in this bucket. He may be a rookie in the Elites, but he is far from a true rookie. He posted a second-place finish on the FLW tour and finished third in the Open here, both in 2019. He finished in 63rd out of nearly 200 boats in 2017 here as well.  Aside from those, he could probably buy a few boats with the dollars he has won in tournaments on this body of water.

Don’t Forget About: Auten

There are several sticks in this bucket, but the one who is in tune with this river system at the moment is none other than the Classic runner-up, Todd Auten. He threw bladed jigs for basically three days straight. That bait will most certainly show up again and he is one of the best. His record didn’t slow him down at the last event, and even though his Alabama finishes aren’t necessarily strong, it might be worth banking on his confidence and momentum. 

BUCKET B: COX

This is absolutely the hardest bucket for me. My heart says to go with Lester again, but John Cox is hard to beat when it comes to shallow, springtime fishing. He has two B.A.S.S. Opens wins here in both 2017 and 2019. Last year, he won fishing shallow, running around looking for one bite at a time. He had a few magic bushes that produced some giants for him and he took it down by over four pounds. Thus far this year, in six fishing days, he has only brought in 18 bass out of a possible 30, but he has been targeting giants and finished strong in both events. He’s swinging for it and this one could set up perfectly for him to knock it out of the park.

Don’t Forget About: Lester

It’s tough for me to leave him out of Bucket B because he excels at this time of year and in these conditions. There are far fewer docks on Chick, which were a staple for him on Guntersville, but he will find a way to put some big fish on the scales. He had a rough event in 2014, but that was in June and was won mostly fishing offshore. Color me surprised if he isn’t fishing on Championship Sunday.

BUCKET C: SWINDLE

Gerald Swindle just had to sit on his back porch and watch Hank Cherry win a Classic in his backyard. He knew exactly what and who would win, even going so far as posting a video several days before calling his shot. That said, he likely missed his best chance of his career at a Classic title and you can bet that is running through his head. That will make him hungry, if not ravenous to get back out there and compete. This tournament should be won locking into an area of the lake and catching every bass that will give him a sniff. He will have 37 rods on his deck and will probably put them all to use.

Don’t Forget About: Herren

Matt Herren also put up a valiant effort on the final day of the Classic. He flipped jigs in grass and on docks and made a great run, eventually finishing in tenth place. As I stated earlier, there aren’t many docks here, but there is a ton of flooded brush to pick apart. There isn’t a more meticulous flipper than Herren. He is also unbelievably patient, and that will prove very handy when he’s blind-bed fishing for finicky spawning fish.

BUCKET D: FEIDER

The Llama is hard to read sometimes. I think when he isn’t competing, he is cutting up and having a good time, but when it’s game time he is like the front part of his haircut: all business. Seth Feider was one of the favorites for the Classic, and had it not been for a lackluster day one, he may have been more in contention. He posted a giant bag on day three that rocketed him all the way to a fourth-place finish. Despite the fact that his two trophies have come from deep, clear, smallmouth fisheries, his first love is fishing shallow grass. He’ll come out firing this time around. He doesn’t have any recorded finishes on Chick, but I’m going to lean more on his fishing strengths than his history here.

Don’t Forget About: Hamilton

Skylar Hamilton came to play in a big way at the Classic last week. He finished in 39th in an Open here in 2017 and came in 52nd in Bassfest back in 2014. He has shown everyone that he knows how to fish for prespawn grass bass and his momentum could see him through to another solid finish.

BUCKET E: LIVESAY

You can call it whatever you want to Rich Lindgren, but my bromance with Lee Livesay helped to increase my Fantasy Fishing points lead by a fair margin at the Classic. I’m going to double down at Chick because I think his special bladed jig is going to trick some tanks again. It took him a minute to get the ball rolling, but once he was in his groove, he made a massive charge and finished eighth at the Classic.

Don’t Forget About: Zaldain

This goes without saying, but Chris Zaldain will be…dain-gerous…in this event. You can mark my words; this will be the last time you will see either of these guys’ names in Bucket E. I know Chris was frustrated that he couldn’t get the swimbait bite to work for him at the Classic. He’ll be slinging around that bait around again and it he can get it to fire, he’ll be hard to beat.