Open: Cox on a roll

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Andy Crawford

DAYTON, Tenn.— Call what John Cox is doing on Lake Chickamauga right now as an end-around play in football terms. In fishing terms, he is pulling a trick play by scoring big in shallow water, while nearly everyone else is betting on the come offshore for migrating postspawn fish. That is the scenario in play at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open.

Cox, who won the last Open held here in April 2017, is doing exactly what he did then. Photographer Andy Crawford confirmed that Cox is sight fishing, as proven by the photograph above of an 8-pounder caught from a bed.

What makes this significant is the difference in conditions between now and then. The daytime temperatures are in the 90s — well beyond the seasonal norm — and the heat is driving the largemouth toward the lake’s signature main channel river ledges. In 2017 it was much cooler and the largemouth were fully engaged in the spawn. It was a sight fisherman’s dream come true. 

The spawning cycle is practically over with exception of the stragglers discovered by Cox. He dislikes fishing offshore. So much, in fact, that he fishes from a tough-as-nails aluminum boat.

“I just don’t like to fish deep and here there are what I believe to be year-round largemouth in shallow water,” he said.

A reason why is this lake is loaded with Florida-strain largemouth, which can adapt to living in shallow water in the summer heat. Put the two together and Cox, of Debary, Fla., knows exactly what to do.

The odds of his pattern holding up are showing promise. Yesterday Cox took the lead with 26 pounds, 11 ounces. As of 10 a.m. local time, Cox estimates there is 18 pounds of largemouth in his livewell.

What else is supporting the cause is the lack of current. The Tennessee Valley Authority ceased hydroelectric generation from Chickamauga Dam on Thursday, and it looks like more of the same today. When the current is on the offshore bite gets hot. When it’s off the fish scatter and are difficult to catch.

“Yeah, I do think this no current deal has a lot to do with how well my pattern is working,” he said yesterday. “The more guys who are out on the offshore areas, the better it will be for me." 

In other words, Cox isn’t going to budge. He will keep cruising the shoreline, all eyes on the lookout for bedding fish. Some he can see, others he cannot. The key is putting his lure in the right place. The timing is good for that, considering how well he is doing going into the second day of the competition.