Big doings in 2020

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Courtesy of Jake Whitaker
Jake Whitaker with his fiancé Haley Laughter.

Competing on Bassmaster Elite Series tour the past two seasons has been a life-changing experience for me. An even more important event will take place sometime next summer when I wed my fiancé Haley Laughter. I presented her with a ring and popped the big question just a few days ago. Thankfully, she said yes.

We haven’t set a date for the wedding. We’ll have to pencil it in between the Elite tournaments. As always, B.A.S.S. has presented us with a challenging Elite schedule that will force us to stay on our toes. Here’s how I see it playing out:

St. Johns River, Palatka, Fla., Feb. 6-9

I foresee a lot of similarities from last year’s tournament on the St. Johns, which was won by Rick Clunn. That means a lot of big bags. Florida can be tricky, because cold fronts throw those fish for a loop. If there’s a warming trend like we had last year, there will be a lot of prespawn and spawning bass willing to bite. It will slugfest for sure.

Last year was my first time ever being there. It’s a very confusing place. Lake George will definitely be a player. The weather will be the biggest factor.

Chickamauga Lake, Dayton, Tenn., Feb. 14-17

This will definitely be a prespawn tournament with, maybe, some wintertime patterns thrown in if we get cold weather. If the weather is warm, the bass could be well along in their prespawn movements. Spinnerbaits, ChatterBaits and crankbaits will all be players.

There are massive amounts of big bass in Chickamauga, and a 30- to 40-pound bag is a possibility.

Lake Eufaula, Eufaula, Ala., April 2-5

When we visit Eufaula after the Bassmaster Classic, spawning bass will be the deal with a little topwater mixed in. Pockets and bays will produce heavy bags of spawners. I expect to be looking at bedding bass and, hopefully, picking them off with a wacky rigged Bizz Baits Sassy Stick. 

Santee Cooper Lakes, Manning, S.C., April 16-19

This tournament could produce the heaviest weights of the year. The Santee Cooper Lakes have giant bass in them, and we will be fishing there at the perfect time. We could see five-bass limits in the high 20s to high 30s.

It will be mainly a postspawn tournament with a few spawning fish left over. If it’s warm enough, we’ll hit it right for the first part of the shad spawn. Shad love to spawn on the many stumps and cypress trees in these lakes. There will be a lot of flipping and pitching going on. Spinnerbaits, ChatterBaits and squarebills will also sack them.

Sabine River, Orange, Texas, May 29-June 1

The Sabine is the wildcard tournament for the 2020 Elite season. I finished fifth there in my rookie year, which was my best showing that season. That doesn’t mean I will necessarily do well this time around.

There are a lot of bass in the Sabine. They’re just not very big. A 10-pound sack will be a huge day, but 6 or 7 pounds will have you behind the 8-ball. That suits me. I like fishing tough tournaments.

Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest, Lake Fork, Quitman, Texas, June 5-9

Texas Fest at Lake Fork in 2020 happens a little later than it did last year. There will still be some shallow fish to be caught, but I predict that guys slinging big crankbaits and swimbaits offshore will win it. A winning weight of 110 to 120 pounds is possible.

Things didn’t go my way on the first day of Texas Fest last year. I came back with a strong catch on my second day. I’ll be looking for redemption. 

St. Lawrence River, Waddington, N.Y., July 23-26

Fishing a drop shot and the Ned rig will yield lots of smallmouth limits of more than 20 pounds, just as they did last year. I’ll be playing that game, too. I’m also going to experiment in the shallows with other lures, including the spybait. Not every smallmouth there feeds in deep water. It should take 90 to 100 pounds to win this one.

Lake Champlain, Plattsburgh, N.Y., July 30-Aug. 2

You can pick your poison at Champlain. Guys will be doing everything from fishing deep for smallmouth up north with a drop shot and Ned rigs to flipping and frogging grass down south in the Ticonderoga area. The largemouth tend to run a little larger than the smallmouth there. It will likely be won with mixed bags of both species that weigh 18 to 20 pounds a day. 

Lake St. Clair, Macomb County, Mich., Aug. 20-23

Crankbaits won here last year, and they will account for a good number of St. Clair’s big smallmouth again. Since we’re going there earlier this year, I suspect that the winner is more likely to be fishing things like a drop shot, Ned rig and a tube. Whatever baits the smallies prefer, we could see a winning total of more than 100 pounds.