AOY Championship and spotted bass

Even though I got that smallmouth monkey off my back with a second-place finish at Lake Oahe, I’ll be honest with you. I’m pretty excited that this year’s Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship is on a lake that’s known for its spotted bass.

I’m confident that this week on Lake Chatuge, spots are going to play 90 percent of the time. Some guys will go largemouth fishing on Day 1 and jump out to a big lead, but it’s going to be really hard to do that more than one day. 

Ideally, I’m going to be looking for something where I can catch a limit of spotted bass and then spend the rest of the day trying for one big largemouth. Whoever can do that and figure that out is going to win. In other words, get yourself a little bucket of rocks, but you have to have something to anchor it.

The lake’s size will be one of the biggest challenges this week. Yes, it’s only 50 boats, but you put 50 of the best anglers in the world on a lake the size of Chatuge and there won’t be a rock unturned. I think this will be a highly competitive event with a very tight leaderboard. I wouldn’t be surprised if ounces separated the top 10.

What we have to consider is that September is the worst month for fishing in the Southeast. You can catch ‘em, but it’s tough. The fish are really scattered.

Spotted bass are the anchor to this lake, and they follow the thermocline. Some of them always live deep; some of them always live shallow. You can catch spotted bass year-round, but the largemouth get really lethargic this time of year.

So, while catching plenty of spots shouldn’t be too difficult, those big largemouth will be the difference makers. The guy who can catch a 3- to 4-pound largemouth every day will have an advantage.

And that’s going to be hard to do because it’s going to be a gamble. You might have a point where you can run out and catch 10-11 pounds of spots, which I think will be good here, but I know the only way I’m going to catch that largemouth is to start on it in the first hour.

The problem there is that you run the risk of someone being on your spotted bass spot. But if you go out and fish your spotted bass stuff early, you run the risk of not getting a largemouth bite. So, whoever can make the right decision and get it done quickly will be way ahead of the game here. 

I’m going into this event in 14th in the points, so I really can’t win AOY, but I can finish a little higher and earn some more money. I really don’t have much to lose or gain, other than to try and win the tournament. I think as long as I catch a couple of fish, I probably won’t be at risk of falling out of the Classic, but all this might end up affecting where guys fish.

See, you have a handful of guys who are fighting for Angler of the Year, you have a handful of guys at the bottom who are fighting to get into the Classic. So, if I pull up on my best spot and the guy who’s sitting on it is in 42 place, it would do me no good to pull up there and fish it with him, or try to beat him to the spot the next day.

We are all very competitive and we want to win, until it comes to a situation like this where some guys, like me, have nothing to lose or gain. But we realize the stakes are much higher for some of the anglers. That may mean we try to stay out of their way as much as we can.

It’s weird to see how competitive and cutthroat fishing is throughout the year, but then a tournament like this comes up and you see how much anglers respect one another. That’s true sportsmanship, and that will be on display this week.