DAYTON, Tenn. — The top 50 Bassmaster BASSfest anglers will have a day off to think about it. But three performances Thursday highlighted the possibility that this four-day tournament on Chickamauga Lake could be won fishing shallow.
That didn't seem possible two days ago. In mid-June this 36,000-acre lake on the Tennessee River seemed to be set up for a classic summertime pattern: Catching big bags of bass while dropping a lure right on top of their heads in 20 feet of water, with a half-dozen or more other anglers doing the same thing a short cast from your boat.
Even the guys that don't like to fish in a crowd acknowledged it would be the winning pattern this week, much to their displeasure.
"It's really not my style," Brandon Palaniuk said before the tournament. "I've always been one to try and get away from everyone. I spent pretty much three days trying to figure out something different than everybody else, and I couldn't do it."
Palaniuk was one of many who felt the same way. They wanted to fish any possible way except dropping a bait down on a big school of bass in a community hole. Anything but that.
Greg Hackney got to Dayton, Tenn., a little late this week. He was busy earning a $100,000 check with a victory in the four-day FLW event at Pickwick Lake that ended Sunday.
"I really didn't have any expectations coming into this tournament because I didn't fish enough to know how it was," Hackney said.
The expectations were deep schools; Hackney is, apparently, picking off shallow singles, doing what he likes to do best – flipping.
"I'll tell you this," Hackney said. "The lake is full of grass, and that's the way I like to fish."
Hank Cherry had the best shallow-water story. He found some big fish shallow during practice. They followed a big swimbait. Once the tournament began, he got them to follow again. It wasn't until today that he understood why the fish were in such shallow water.
"When I went in there today, they were locked tight," Cherry said. "I've been watching them follow my bait. I thought they were (feeding) on the bream beds. Today they were paired up."
Yes, here we are in the middle of June and Cherry found bass on spawning beds, including one very, very big one – the biggest fish Cherry has caught in his life. It weighed 10 pounds, 11 ounces. There had been a tie for big bass this Elite Series season between Bernie Schultz, who caught a 10-10 at Lake Seminole, and Greg Hackney, who caught a 10-10 at the St. Johns River.
"It took five flips," Cherry said.
After the big girl hit a 9/16ths-ounce ER Lures jig and a Dimiki Knockout trailer on 20-pound test P-Line, Cherry's toughest job was getting her in the boat. He missed with one hand twice.
"She shook out of my hand both times," he said. "I've never caught anything that big. I finally grabbed her with both hands."
Cherry's previous personal best, he said, was an 8-pounder from Florida's Kissimmee Chain.
Poor Kelly Jordon. He came in with an 8-pound, 14-ounce bass and didn't even get big bass of the day, much less the tournament.
Jordon made the decision to quit fishing among the crowds on the ledges pretty quickly Thursday. He'd caught only three fish weighing 7-4 doing it the day before.
"I hate it," Jordon said. "It's no fun, so I just went fishing today."
That would be the best story of BASSfest, if someone could "just go fishing" and stay off the maddening, crowded river ledges and win this tournament.
On Thursday, Hackney, Cherry and Jordon provided some clues that it could be done.