College: Trying to conquer Cherokee Lake

img_9469.jpg

And for a crowd this size, you need a bunch of pizza!
Andrew Canulette
And for a crowd this size, you need a bunch of pizza!

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Another huge field of college anglers has gathered just west of Great Smoky Mountains National Park for what is sure to be a bass tournament with national implications.

The Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Eastern Tour presented by Bass Pro Shops began Thursday morning with more than 500 competitors blasting off from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Dam Ramp on Cherokee Lake in the northeast corner of the Volunteer State.

In all, 262 teams representing 125 different colleges and universities from around the U.S will compete in this three-day event. There are anglers from 31 different states in the field, as well, which displays the breadth of the group.

Those numbers are representative of how registration has grown since B.A.S.S. settled on a format that includes four college tour stops this year. College events already have been held in 2018 on Toledo Bend Reservoir in Louisiana (248 boats) and on Pickwick Lake in Alabama (266 boats.) There’s one more tour stop (on California’s Clear Lake on May 23-25) before the leading duos in the Team of the Year standings advance to the national championship tournament on Oklahoma’s Tenkiller Lake in late July.

But before that, the bevy of collegians will try to conquer Cherokee Lake – a 28,780-acre impoundment that long has been popular with bass anglers of all abilities. Early reports indicate that Cherokee has produced a good quantity of bites during practice, many of them in the 2-3 pound range.

Tournament director Hank Weldon said it’s anyone’s guess how anglers attack the lake this week, considering many (if not all teams) are angling for a shot not only at a win here, but also for one of at least 30 berths in the national championship tournament on Tenkiller.

“We’re in the second half of the season now, but it’s really hard to tell what the anglers are going to do, because we don’t have any history to draw off of (in this new format,)” Weldon said. “Is the Team of the Year going to be one that finished near the Top 10 of every event? Or it could be that it’s a team that wins one and finishes farther back in the field in the others.

“I think that’s what these teams are asking themselves right now,” Weldon said. “Do we go for the home run, or do we try to hit the singles? It really makes things interesting.”

So too does the extra competition on the water, Weldon said. B.A.S.S. went to a tour-style trail this year, with open registration. That tweak, along with a points system to determine Team of the Year, apparently has intrigued college anglers.

“Our biggest field in a college event before this year was at Lake Martin and we had 232 boats,” Weldon said. “Our smallest field this year has been 248 boats…We’ve hit Toledo in January, Pickwick in April and now Cherokee in May. We’re coming when they’re in their prime. People want to be a part of it.”

The full field will fish for the first two days of the Eastern Tour stop at Cherokee. The group will be trimmed to 32 boats on Saturday morning with the winning duo after Day 3 taking home $2,500 for their school’s fishing team.

The Carhartt Big Bass Award (a $500 gift card to Carhartt) will go to the duo that catches the biggest bass over the course of the three-day tournament. The Bass Pro/Nitro Big Bag of the Tournament Award ($250 certificate) will go to the team that has the heaviest one-day total weight of the tournament.

Launch begins at 6:30 a.m. EST daily from the TVA Dam Ramps in Jefferson City. The Day 1 and Day 2 weigh-in will be there, as well, and both will begin at 2:30 p.m. EST. The Day 3 weigh-in will take place at Carson-Newman University, also in Jefferson City. That weigh-in is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. on Saturday.