You better book it

You might want to go ahead and save these dates: March 15-17, 2019. Actually, you might want to go ahead and book a hotel. Search the best places to stay in Knoxville, Tenn. Downtown. In case you have not yet heard, this is going to be the host city of the next Bassmaster Classic. Based on the attendance from the 2018 world championship, you can’t plan the trip too early.

As you know by now, Jordan Lee made up a huge deficit on the final day to win the 2018 Classic held on Lake Hartwell. It was a nail-biter. Even those in the know didn’t have an idea who was going to win until the fish hit the scales. A record number of bass fishing fans were on hand to witness the dramatics. More than 143,000 people funneled through the launch site in Anderson, S.C., as well as the outdoors expo and the Bon Secours Wellness Arena where the weigh-in was held throughout the three-day event in Greenville. And looking at how Knoxville lays out, that record may not last long.

Before I go into the details, know that the anglers will not be fishing Lake Cherokee, which was the playing field last time the Elite Series visited Knoxville. Instead, the Tennessee River, as well as Fort Loudoun and Tellico lakes, will be where Classic qualifiers rattle rods for the trophy and $300,000 payday. 

This is a massive body of water. The tournament boundary will span from the confluence of the French and Broad rivers 5 miles upriver from the launch in Knoxville down to the Fort Loudoun Dam. This equates to about 55 miles of navigable water. Fort Loudoun Lake is 14,600 acres with 379 miles of shoreline. Tellico Lake has 15,560 surface acres and features 357 miles of shoreline. Yes, the 50 Classic qualifiers will certainly be able to spread out.

And these qualifiers should be excited. B.A.S.S. has never held a professional tournament on this fishery. (Two B.A.S.S. Nation Championships have been held here, one in 1998 and the most recent in 2000.) So, there is no historical edge for any angler. There’s no edge unless, of course, you look at local favorites. Ten current Elite Series anglers call the Volunteer State home. Brandon Card and Brandon Coulter hail from Knoxville, proper. And Ott DeFoe will be a fantasy favorite, assuming he qualifies.

But, how good is the fishery? Well, it is the Tennessee River. Some of the best big bass lakes in the South are a part of this system. Lake Guntersville comes to mind. But don’t be surprised if a record or two is broken at the 49th installment of the “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing,” as a 27 1/2-pound limit was weighed in at a recent tournament fished out of the Knoxville section of the river. One interesting aspect of this championship will be which type of fish anglers choose to target. Spotted bass played a huge role in Lee’s Lake Hartwell win. Size limits differ for all three species of bass available on this Tennessee fishery. Spotted bass have a 12-inch limit, largemouth have a 14-inch limit and smallmouth have an 18-inch limit. The angler mind games and ensuing decisions on which fish to target will be fascinating to watch.

But the most exciting aspect of this venue, at least from the fan perspective, is that the expo, weigh-in arena AND launch site are all within walking distance of downtown. For the past several years, each of these venues has been a car ride (sometimes a long car ride) away from each other. Not in Knoxville. Fans who stay downtown can wake up early and walk to the launch, jump back in bed for a power nap before heading to the expo, and then drop all their new gear off at the room before heading to the weigh-in. Which leads to my original statement. I’m not sure how many hotel rooms are available in downtown Knoxville, but it may be fewer than 143,000. So, I’d book now.