Fantasy Fishing: Fishing in the fall

Just a few more short weeks before the longest Bassmaster Elite Series season in history comes to an end. We kicked it if off back in February at the St. Johns River, and now here we are in October on famed Chickamauga Lake in Tennessee. This will round out a three-week stretch of solid tournament fishing, and I’m exhausted just following the exciting action. I can’t even imagine how the guys are feeling right now, but you can bet they’ll get after it and put on an amazing show. 

Chickamauga is known for having exceptionally large bass in similar fashion to the last two events on Guntersville and the Santee Cooper Lakes. During the last event on Santee Cooper, I think we got a glimpse of things to come. “Chick” is just a bit north of our playing field last week. Even though it’s just one lake upriver from Guntersville, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the time span between this week’s event and the one two weeks ago make a decent difference in results. 

The tournament results on Chick have been lackluster. There was a BFL about a month ago which yielded a few bags of more than 20-pounds scattered down through the standings, but it only took 29 pounds and change to win a two-day event. That tells me that the fishing was quite unpredictable from day to day. Even though that was a full month ago, fall fishing is fall fishing. It will likely be tough for some, but given the cooler nights and cooler water temps, it could have those fish pushing to the creeks which will make them easier to track down and more likely to bite.

There should be fish both deep and shallow, similar to last week. You’ll probably see a handful of anglers fishing deeper brush piles and ledges, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see a big bag as a result of those efforts. Look for anglers who aren’t afraid to throw a dropshot. Shad patterns like crankbaits and hair jigs could also play if they’re starting to think about putting on the feedbag. 

In contrast, the shallow bite will probably be the most consistent. Punching grass, frogging, topwaters and swimbaits around the grass edges will be a great way to find bites. The guys that lock into areas with fish and follow them as the tournament progresses should have high finishes. 

I managed to trickle back into the lead by a slim six-point margin over the other Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing pundit guys. Gotta make a strong showing here this week so I can keep my seat on the throne.

Let’s check out some picks.

BUCKET A: CORY JOHNSTON

Cory Johnston has had a stellar second half of the season. If he could have just averaged up a bit in each of the first three events of the season, he would have a commanding lead in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. As it is, he is sitting just 37 points behind leader Clark Wendlandt. He hasn’t finished worse than 13th in the last five events and has stacked up four final-day finishes. I don’t see him letting off the gas for this one. I’m playing the momentum card over his technique-specific strengths. 

Nearly picked: David Mullins

I would be remiss not to mention David Mullins in bucket A. It’s no secret that he has been on a tear recently as well. He finished eighth last week at Santee Cooper and had two great finishes up north. He also finished 35th on Guntersville a few weeks ago. Chickamauga could fit his strengths in a big way. He may just keep his vibrating jig and crankbait tied on and go to work.

BUCKET B: LESTER 

Brandon Lester has not had the season he wanted. He started off strong down south but struggled up north. Maybe now that he is back in green fish country, he can get the ship back on track. He bounced back after a rough start on Day 1 on Santee Cooper to finish 21st. There’s a good chance he will find some good fish a little deeper than most. If he can start off strong, he may be able to carry it to a Championship Sunday. He struggled in the 2014 BASSFest event but figured something out about the fishery in recent years. In 2017 and 2019 Southern Opens there, he had single-digit finishes. Although these events were in the spring, he may be more dialed in now than he was back in then.

Nearly picked: Buddy Gross

I have no doubt that hometown hero Buddy Gross could throw a dart on a map of Chickamauga blindfolded and hit a spot where he has caught a big bass. He lives on the lake and knows every corner of it. The problem is that sometimes that much history can be a curse just as much as it is a benefit. His results are mixed here, but mostly positive. He finished 63rd and third in the aforementioned Opens events. He also finished second here in an FLW event last year in May. He goes home to this lake when the season is over and likely fishes it during the fall and winter months more than most, and that could certainly give him an edge. However, that was my logic with Gerald Swindle at Guntersville, and it bit me which is why I’m shying away here. 

BUCKET C: COX 

I hate to let the secret out here, but John Cox is pretty good on Chickamauga. And by “pretty good” I mean he has two Opens wins. Yes, this guy won both of the tournaments I mentioned before. He also fishes for five big bites. You won’t see him with a 10-pound limit unless he “lucks” into some keepers. He will live shallow, and if he can manage to catch a limit each day, he could be dangerous. One of his wins was throwing a wacky worm stick bait against cypress trees. Sound familiar? He should be fairly in tune with how this lake is fishing since he just did that on Santee Cooper. 

Nearly picked: Bill Lowen

Bill Lowen found something at Santee Cooper that he had been missing for a while. He has had a really rough year by his standards, but he managed to find his typical 15-pounds a day to finish sixth. That could win him a trophy in this event. He is a grinder and this could very well be a grinder’s tournament. He threw a buzzbait last week and will probably just cast it right back out with little more than a fresh knot. 

BUCKET D: HUDNALL 

Lousiana angler Derek Hudnall flipped his way to a fantastic finish and reminded us all that he belongs here. He hasn’t had a great season and has spent most events at or below the check cutline. But he found his groove last week and brought some true giants to the scales. He loves flipping heavy cover and throwing a frog, so this one should fit his M.O. He has one tournament finish here that I can find from 2017 where he finished 54th in an Open field of almost 200. 

Nearly picked: Gerald Swindle

I put a ton of stock in the hometown advantage back at Guntersville, and it lead to my worst finish of the year up to that point. I have to avoid dropping any further, so I’m not going to play that game here. Chick should be a hair further along than Guntersville, but it will still be a junk fishing deal more than likely. There’s not a better junker in the Elites than Gerald when he’s on his game. He has had a rough season, but he absolutely has the skill to make it happen here. He did finish fourth here in 2014 and definitely knows enough about the lake to be dangerous. That leads me to label him a safe bet for a Day-3 finish at least.

BUCKET E: CREWS 

Like Lowen, John Crews busted out of his slump at Santee Cooper right when I decided to jump off his bandwagon. My loss. Bucket E has been a tough one for me. It seems like if I pick an angler who is stuck in this bucket they struggle, and when I avoid them they do great. Hopefully that voodoo bites the dust here. John loves this style of fishing. He can fish deep or shallow, but he will probably spend his time in the grass with a big punch bait, bladed jig and a frog. He has a knack for catching giants too. John, if you read this, fish like I ain’t picking you. You got it, buddy.

Nearly picked: Bill Weidler 

The curse of the Bucket E pick struck at Santee Cooper where I finally put my hopes and dreams into Bill Weidler and sure enough, he struggled to catch them, ultimately finishing near the bottom. Despite that, there is certainly still a case to be made for him here. He won a trophy this year, and that is not something you luck into. He clearly has the skills. Given his love for flipping and the Tennessee River system of lakes, he should do well here. I certainly wouldn’t count him out because he had a rough event last week. He also has two solid finishes here in the 2017 and 2019 Opens finishing sixth and 38th respectively.

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