It’s been said of late that if an area is experiencing drought, just schedule a B.A.S.S. event.
When the 2019 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods was first announced in April 2018, the region around this year’s site, Knoxville, Tenn., was in moderate drought. Rains later that month might have been a portent of things to come. Recently, 10 inches of rain in 10 days has the Tennessee River system gushing for next week’s championship.
“The lakes above Fort Loudoun are at summer pool,” said Bassmaster Elite angler David Mullins, who lives in Mt. Carmel, Tenn. “Cherokee and Douglass both rose 30 feet. They don’t have much more room to put more water in those lakes. The lakes above them, water’s in the campgrounds and parking lots, so they’re in the process of dumping Cherokee and Douglas as much as they can to alleviate those two lakes upstream.
“And you’ve got more water coming. We had a half inch of rain (Friday) – another half inch coming Sunday. Seven out of 10 days it’s going to be an additional amounts of rain. They’re going to be ripping it. They’ve got to get them down because we usually get more rain this time of year.”
Skylar Hamilton, who lives in Dandridge, Tenn., said the region was swamped by the wettest February, the fourth wettest month ever recorded there.
“I’m probably about 30 minutes from the ramp,” he said. “The easiest road for me to get down there has been closed to flooding. Roads are just now starting to open back up. We had some roads collapse and some other crazy things.”
Although some communities downstream flooded, the Tennessee Valley Authority, which manages 49 dams in the region for hydroelectricity and flood control, proclaimed on their Facebook page that $1.6 billion in flood damages was averted by its timely water generation.
“Douglas and Cherokee are pretty crucial as far as the whole system goes for protecting against flooding,” said Hamilton, who spent three days recently on Douglas. “It’s about as high as I’ve ever seen it for this time of year. The fishing was good, but you couldn’t run anywhere it was so nasty.”
Mullins said the high water on the wooded rivers feeding Douglas and Cherokee has made boating trying, but he doesn’t think the Classic waters will be affected similarly. There’s not as much area for water to collect debris and most of the banks have been cleared out over the years, so he does not expect dangerous conditions, but anglers should remain cautious.
“Douglas and Cherokee look like a forest coming down the river,” he said. “One side to the other as far as you can see, just logs and trash.”
“I’m not sure if Loudoun is going to be that bad, but obviously there’s going to be some obstacles in the water when you’ve got that much high water and current rolling. I don’t see it totally being blown out and awful. I don’t think it’s going to be dangerous conditions, but it’s definitely going to have a lot of color and current.”
Both Hamilton and Mullins agree those conditions will help the fishing. At this time of year, Tennessee River bass want to get out of the current and go shallow, they said.
“They’ll still catch them – they’re the best guys in the world. They’re going to catch if they go to a 3-foot wide stream,” Mullins said.
“If there’s any dingy water at all, it pushes them to the bank,” Hamilton said. “They don’t want to out in the middle of the river in current regardless, but if you put any color into it, they can be in a foot of water, even if it is cold. The warmer it is, the easier they are to catch.”