Coming full circle at Cherokee

Brandon Card practicing on Cherokee Lake before the lake went off-limits.

The first Elite Series tournament this year at Cherokee Lake will be a homecoming for me on several levels. I grew up in Caryville, a small east Tennessee town that overlooks the Cove Creek arm of Norris Lake. It’s where I learned how to fish for bass.

Norris is about 45 minutes from Cherokee. Through high school and college I fished a lot of tournaments on Norris and Cherokee and the other lakes in the region. I haven’t been able to fish them as much since I started traveling all over the country on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour in 2012.

I live in Knoxville now and the final two weigh-ins for the Cherokee tournament will take place in Knoxville’s Convention Center. I will be returning to my hometown, fishing familiar water and my family and friends will be there.

But this event has an even deeper meaning for me.

Seventeen years ago my dad took my brother, Jordan, and I to a B.A.S.S. Nation Championship in Knoxville. I was 13 and my brother was 15. It was at the same Convention Center where weigh-ins will take place for the upcoming Cherokee tournament.

That experience changed my life.

I vividly remember being blown away by the weigh-ins, the fans and the fishing expo that was going on there. We gawked at the amazing boats and cheered on the anglers as they weighed their fish. It was like a mini Bassmaster Classic.

The late Bryan Kerchal’s parents were there with his Bassmaster Classic trophy. They talked to my brother and me about Bryan and how he grew up fishing. It was so inspirational.

When we left for home after that event, my heart was set on becoming a professional bass fisherman.

This Cherokee Elite will be a full circle experience for me because the weigh-ins for Days 3 and 4 (Saturday and Sunday) of the four-day event will be at that same convention center. Hopefully, I will make the Top 50 cut, because weighing in at the same place 17 years later where I was inspired to fish professionally would be a surreal experience.

My home field advantage should help me at Cherokee, but I know that it can also be a detriment sometimes. I’ve had it go both ways. I have fished two pro level events on my home waters since becoming a bass pro.

The first was the Bassmaster Elite on Douglas Lake in 2012 where I landed my first Elite top 10. Pretty sweet doing that in front of my friends and family my first year on tour. The second was an FLW event on Norris Lake this past fall. The Norris event didn’t go so well as I embarrassed myself with a lousy showing. 

I’m hoping that the nightmare tournament on Norris will help me keep an open mind at Cherokee. I can’t let myself get sucked into fishing places where I’ve caught bass in the past.

Norris and Cherokee are alike in that they both have good populations of smallmouth and largemouth. With past wintertime tournaments at Cherokee, everybody in the top 10 would have a limit of smallmouth. In the winter of 2015 it was a smallmouth whack fest there. You needed at a limit weighing 19 pounds to even get a sniff at a check.

But things have changed. For some reason, Cherokee’s smallmouth are not as heavy this year. Last winter an 18-19 inch bass would easily weigh 4 pounds, but now a bass that length only weighs 3 pounds on a good day.

This winter has also been unseasonably warm, so all the bass won’t be as deep as they usually are at Cherokee in early February. I think the fish will be scattered from 2 to 50 feet deep. That will make things challenging for sure. It also means that largemouth may be a big factor for the top finishers.

If I can stay focused and make good decisions at Cherokee, I will be weighing in at Knoxville’s Convention Center. That will carry me back full circle to where my dream of becoming a bass pro started.

Chase your dreams!