Chickamauga heating up

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Andy Crawford

DAYTON, Tenn. — Stay shallow or go deep? What could be perceived as a sideline conversation between a football coach and his players has similar meaning this week at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open.

There could be two game plans in play on Lake Chickamauga. In fishing terms those are taking advantage of the waning spawning bite, or betting on the come for postspawn largemouth migrating toward main river channel ledges.

At the April 2017 Open on Chickamauga the winning game plan evolved in shallow water. Sight fishing was in full swing. Limits of more than 20 pounds were common, as were tales of near double-digit largemouth taking swipes at baits. Other top finishers relied more on feel than sight to catch the shallow water bruisers cruising the banks.

This week the odds are tilting more towards the lake’s signature ledges. Those are favored by summertime bass for the cooler flowing water and current breaks that offer ambush cover for feeding on passing baitfish.

The truth shall be known this afternoon when the weigh-in begins at 2:15 p.m. ET at Dayton Boat Dock. Until then here is what some of the pros had to say about practice.

Carl Jocumsen

“Change has been the theme of the week so far. This tournament is shaping up to be the perfect storm like what you have when a big heat wave pushes bass in Florida up into the shallows to spawn. Here it’s the exact opposite. This 90-degree weather that we are having is pushing the fish out into deeper water. What has kept it interesting is that TVA has kept the water high and there is a bluegill and a shad spawn going on in shallow water. Some of the biggest bass, the Florida-strain largemouth, still are shallow. I think some of those fish live shallow year round. But on the opposite side there are literally hundreds and hundreds of fish moving offshore. There is still enough everywhere that you can get a lot of bites. It will be interesting to see how the offshore guys handle all the pressure on those spots and how those hold up for three days. What I think is the guy who can dial into a shallow and deep bite will do really well. Electronics are so good now that I think every little spot is marked. I spent my time offshore looking for really off the wall stuff. You waste a lot of time trying time trying to find the obscure spots but when you do it’s really good.”

Brandon Lester

“Practice was pretty good. I think it’s going to be won offshore. When I say offshore, I’ve caught them from six to 23 feet. I think there will be some caught shallow, the late spawners, but I do not think an angler could do that for three days in a row because it just won’t hold up. I have been reminding myself that on the Tennessee River this time of the year you want to be on the pattern that’s coming not going. I feel like that will be a key. Chickamauga has a reputation for fishing small on offshore holes. For me that means it’ll be important to have a couple of little sneaky places, hidey holes to get away from the pressure. You never know what everybody has already found because of the advancements in electronics. Everyone could have found the same thing and that will make it crowded.”

Chad Pipkens

“Practice was good. It was all about trying to get the bigger bites, because those are what will win the tournament. I think the big ones are setting up on the same offshore cover as the small ones. Timing will be really important. If you pull up on the right place, at the right time it can happen really quick. I am going to try and hit the high percentage places and hope the fish have moved out to them.”

Chad Smith

“It was pretty tough for me. That was because I spent all my time looking for bigger bites. But you must do that on Lake Chickamauga to be in contention to win a tournament during this time of the year. I tried shallow and deep. I think the fish are starting to move deep for the most part. I’ve heard it can happen overnight here. I really think that is about to happen here with the heat in the forecast.”

Charlie Hartley

“I think there will be some really big bags caught. Shallow, deep and in between. What that means is this is like the fifth 90-degree day in a row and it’s going to get hotter. That will flush those postspawn fish out of shallow water into deeper water out on the river channel where it is cooler. It’s just what they do here in the summertime.”