Changes at Douglas Lake will impact final Bassmaster Southern Open

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James Overstreet
Bassmaster Elite Series angler and Opens champion Ott DeFoe will be one of 148 pro anglers competing at the final Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open on Douglas Lake out of Dandridge, Tenn., May 19-21.

DANDRIDGE, Tenn. — Douglas Lake won’t be like its old self when the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open is held May 19-21. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
 
First, the water is low. Due to various construction projects around the lake, the water level has been held several feet below full pool — 990 feet above sea level.
 
But the most significant change is a thriving smallmouth bass population that now permits a seasonal daily limit until June 1 of five smallmouth over 15 inches in length. In previous B.A.S.S. tournaments on Douglas Lake, anglers were allowed to weigh in only one smallmouth measuring at least 20 inches.
 
“There’s a lot of 3-pound smallmouth in the lake,” said Bassmaster Elite Series pro Ott DeFoe. “You’re going to see that in this tournament. They’re going to be a factor.”
 
DeFoe of Knoxville, Tenn., won the last time B.A.S.S. came to Douglas Lake. He took the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open title in May 2014, with a three-day total of 62 pounds, 5 ounces.
 
That total weight points to one factor unlikely to change at Douglas Lake: It will take an average of more than 20 pounds a day to win. Patrick Bone of Cleveland, Ga., won a three-day Southern Open on Douglas Lake in April 2013 with 65-04. Jeremy Starks of Charleston, W.V., won a four-day Elite Series tournament in May 2012 with 81-02.  And, Bobby Ferguson of Chuckey, Tenn., won a three-day Southern Open in June 2011 with 61-09.
 
“In nearly every event held here in recent years, it has taken about 20 pounds a day to win, and I expect it to be about the same this time,” DeFoe said.
 
This marks the third and final Southern Open event of the year. Wesley Strader of Spring City, Tenn., won the first Southern Open in January on Florida’s Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. Jesse Wiggins of Cullman, Ala., won at Alabama’s Smith Lake last month.
 
An Opens victory provides a berth in the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro March 24-26 in Houston, Texas, provided the winner fishes all three tournaments in the division.
 
DeFoe readily admits his decision to add the Southern Opens to his busy Elite season schedule was because of the tournament at Douglas Lake, which he’s fished most of his life.
 
He said there are still lots of fish shallow, maybe more than usual for this late in the spring. “But I don’t see how it won’t be won deep,” he added. “Several guys will make the Top 12 by fishing shallow, but winning at Douglas is almost always about the deep bite.”
 
Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens angler Skylar Hamilton of Dandridge, Tenn., lives on Douglas Lake. He noted that bass are just starting to move into a late-spring/early summer pattern.
 
“I was catching them on spawning beds two weeks ago,” Hamilton said. “They’re not grouping up deep yet.”
 
Hamilton agrees with DeFoe about the smallmouth bass factor.
 
“This lake has changed so much from the way it has fished in the past,” Hamilton said. “Now it’s full of smallmouth. You can catch a 17- to 18-pound bag of smallmouth pretty regularly.”
 
Finally, there’s one other factor that could affect the tournament at Lake Douglas: fishing pressure. Hamilton said large tournament fields will have been on the lake both of the previous weekends before the Southern Open.
 
“I don’t remember it ever being pressured this hard this early in the year,” Hamilton said.
 
Anglers will take off each day at 6:15 a.m. at the Point Marina. Weigh-ins will be held at 2:30 p.m. at the Point Marina the first two days, with the final weigh-in on Saturday taking place at the Bass Pro Shops in Kodak, Tenn., at 3:15 p.m.

The local host for the event is the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.