Chickamauga practice double tough


John Bamber

DAYTON, Tenn. — Buddy Gross is by far the favorite to win this week as the Bassmaster Elite Series moves to Lake Chickamauga. The 48-year-old Chickamauga, Ga., pro has a long history here. Gross is considered “The Hammer” at this Tennessee River impoundment. However, Gross sounded like every other Elite Series angler polled after three days of practice.

“Awful, absolutely awful,” said Gross in describing his practice days. “I told my wife we might want to wear masks that cover our whole head because this might be embarrassing before it’s all over.”

The four-day Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Chickamauga begins with a 7:30 a.m. ET takeoff Friday. Let’s just say there wasn’t a lot of optimism – from anyone – after practice. 

“This one is going to be tougher than the last two,” said David Mullins, the Mt. Carmel, Tenn., angler, who is in third place in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, 47 points behind leader Clark Wendlandt. “It’s been tough catching five. 

“The water temperature is getting right, but it’s not there yet. We’ve got a cold front coming in. I don’t know what that’s going to do to it. But I can’t imagine it getting any tougher.” 

Mullins noted that fall fishing gets good when the water surface temperature is in the mid 60s, and it gets even better when it drops into the 50s. The water temperature at Chickamauga has been warming from the high 60s to the low 70s during practice days. 

Brandon Palaniuk is coming off a win Sunday at Santee Cooper Lakes in which he caught a 7-pound, 12-ounce bass on the last day. 

“Let’s just say this, the total weight of the bass I’ve caught the last three days is smaller than the big fish I caught the last day at Santee,” Palaniuk said. “Hands down, this will be the toughest of the three (back to back to back) tournaments.”

Frank Talley won at Alabama’s Lake Guntersville on Oct. 3 with a four-day total of 64 pounds, 3 ounces. Palaniuk won Sunday at Santee Cooper Lakes with 72-2, and he had an 8-pound margin of victory over second-place Carl Jocumsen, who finished with 64-2. You can see the trend here: 15 pounds a day is stellar during this fall transition period on lakes that it would take 20 to 25 pounds a day to win in the spring. 

“It will probably take, maybe 57 pounds, maybe 60, to win here,” Palaniuk said. “The majority of guys who finish in the top 40 after two days won’t have a limit both days.” 

John Cox of DeBary, Fla., loves this 36,240-acre lake. He’s won two Bassmaster Opens and an FLW tour event at Chickamauga in the last three years. But those were springtime events. 

“It’s tough,” Cox said. “The bass are really on the shad. I usually try to target the bluegill eaters. I don’t know why they’re on the shad so much, and it’s the really tiny threadfin shad.”

Cox did sound a note of optimism, saying, “I think the guys are going to catch fish. So much is going to change with the weather. The lake looks like it’s getting right. It’s starting to change where it looks more like fall.”

Having said that, Cox agrees that an average of 15 pounds a day is going to be hard to beat.

“Somebody is going to catch a big bag, like mid 20s, but I don’t think anybody can do that more than once this week,” he said.

Gross is the one angler in this field who has years of fall fishing experience on Chickamauga, and he’s done it with great success. That’s why he was particularly stumped about what he’s found in practice this week. 

“I know what should be happening,” he said. “I’m going to force feed them. I’m going to do what I’ve done successfully for 15 years when fishing here in October. Maybe I just missed it in practice. Maybe I just went too fast.”