The Bassmaster Elite Series anglers are going to make a very difficult transition from fishing the spawn in Florida to fishing an early prespawn event on the Tennessee River. Fishing in shorts and flip flops on the Tennessee River won’t be quite as appealing as the sunny St. Johns River just two weeks prior.
Over the past few weeks, the temperatures in Knoxville, Tenn., have been extremely cold, but luckily the extended forecast is calling for warmer weather by the time official practice starts and moving into the tournament. Surely this will only help the fishing in East Tennessee.
Selecting a Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team for this event is tricky. Most anglers in the field have little to no experience fishing this portion of the Tennessee River. The most recent Bassmaster event held on the Tennessee River out of Knoxville was the 2019 Bassmaster Classic. Only 16 of the current Bassmaster Elite Series anglers fished that Classic.
In my opinion, the two most important factors that will play at the Tennessee River are water temperature and water clarity. Two baits that I think will recieve an abundance of playing time regardless of those factors are a crankbait and a jig. When selecting my team, I tried to focus on anglers who are historically good fishing those lures.
BUCKET A: HERREN
Matt Herren is a true veteran of the Bassmaster Elite Series, so the prospect of fishing a cold weather event is not going to intimidate Herren. The Alabama pro has a great track record on other pools of the Tennessee River, and I think that could translate to fishing Fort Louden or Tellico. Herren is historically one of the best jig fisherman on the Elite Series, and I believe he’ll find a way to make that work in Knoxville. If not, Herren is also very good with a balsa crankbait in his hands.
Solid secondary choice: You wouldn’t be going out on a limb to pick Brandon Lester in Bucket A, this event truly does set up perfectly in his wheelhouse. Lester finished sixth in the 2019 Bassmaster Classsic on the Tennessee River. The Tennessee native will inevitably have a very high player percentage.
BUCKET B: SNOWDEN
Brian Snowden may not be the first name that comes to mind when you think about the Tennessee River, but if there’s one thing to be learned from the 2019 Bassmaster Classic, it’s that this portion of the river can fish very similar to fisheries on the White River system that Snowden calls home. Snowden is no stranger to wintertime cranking or jig fishing. The Missouri pro got off to a great start at the St. Johns with a 22nd-place finish. Look for Snowden to carry that momentum into Knoxville.
Solid secondary choice: Buddy Gross is a Tennessee River hammer. Gross may not have the tournament history on this section of the river, but I think his general knowledge of the river will play to his advantage.
BUCKET C: WELCHER
Based on Kyle Welcher’s fishing style, this event could set up perfectly for him. The Southern Alabama pro made a mention on stage at the St. Johns River that he couldn’t wait to get to Tennessee and skip his jig around docks. I think Welcher will do just that and have a great event. I recently shot a photo gallery of Welcher’s boat, and he was secretive of a lure that he believes he will catch them on at the Tennessee River. That’s just one more reason I think Welcher will catch them in Knoxville.
Solid secondary choice: Brad Whatley fished his first Bassmaster Classic on the Tennessee River in 2019. Although the East Texan didn’t have a great showing, I have a gut feeling that he will have a great event his second time around on the river.
BUCKET D: CHRISTIE
It’s not very often that you see Jason Christie in Bucket D. Surprisingly, the Oklahoma pro did not have a great event at the 2019 Bassmaster Classic on the Tennessee River, but the style of fishing that is expected to play on the Tennessee River is exactly what Christie loves to do. Between fishing a spinnerbait, crankbait or a jig, look for Christie to bounce back in Knoxville.
Solid secondary choice: David Mullins has the highest player percentage of anyone in Bucket D, but it’s easy to understand why. The East Tennessee native is one of the best crankbait fisherman on the Elite Series. After a tough event at the St. Johns River, look for Mullins get back on track in Knoxville.
BUCKET E: AUTEN
Don’t get used to seeing Todd Auten in Bucket E. The South Carolina native is a tremendous dock fisherman, and I fully expect Auten to find a way to catch them around docks on the Tennessee River. Auten always seems extremely comfortable when he is chunking and winding a bait like a spinnerbait, ChatterBait or crankbait which should play in Knoxville.
Solid secondary choice: Jake Whitaker is another angler who fished his first Bassmaster Classic on the Tennessee River in 2019. The North Carolina pro finished in the middle of the pack in that event, but look for him to build on his knowledge and have a good event. Whitaker got off to an uncharacteristically bad start in 2021, but I don’t expect that to last in Knoxville.