As the sun rose on Volunteer Landing Wednesday morning, the 52 competitors lined up at the dock for the final day of practice for the 2019 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.
The prevailing thoughts of anglers were to check the change in conditions on the Tennessee River since Sunday’s practice and gather more intel to finalize plans for Friday’s first day of competition.
“I’ve been going back and forth with my plan,” said Jordan Lee, looking to become the first to ever win three consecutive Classics. “Looks like I’m going to run a good bit in Tellico this morning, looking for a winning spot. I’m just still kind of looking for that winning area.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be a pattern tournament or an area. I’m still trying to figure that out. Are you going to have to run a gun or sit in an area all day and let them come to you. It’s hard to say.”
Most all the anglers agreed anything over 15 pounds a day will get them into the Championship Sunday’s Top 25 cut. In winning the past two Classics, Lee rallied from way back on the final days. He’s hoping to again find that magic to three-peat.
Anglers said being able to figure out the fish in changing conditions as well as fish new areas will be key.
“It’s just adjust daily, that’s the biggest thing,” said Justin Lucas, who as 2018 Toyota Angler of the Year winner has a speech later Wednesday at Classic Night. “This place doesn’t replenish very well. You can’t go back to the same stuff and keep catching them.”
Wesley Strader lives nearby and is among the favorites. He injured his ankle this morning unloading his boat but had the mission to find more areas.
“I practiced way down so I want to use this day to cover the upper half,” he said. “I didn’t fish any of the stuff I usually fish up towards this way. That’s what I’m going to do, practice it, see what that water’s done to it, if they’re where they should be up this way. If not, then I’m going to go back and rely on what I did in pre-practice. Little bit of Tellico, a little bit of the lower end of Fort Loudoun.”
Strader said the winner will be fluid and fish loose. Anglers reported that one section of the lake is fishing really well and most all of them know it. He does think someone will have a lightbulb moment.
“Everybody is going to be fishing behind everybody a little bit,” he said. “The deal is being there at the right time. Somebody could go through there right before you and not catch one. You just have to stay tough, mentally focus, there could be a fish move up.
“It’s changing by the day, by the hour. Don’t get down if you see somebody ahead of you, just fish. If you can find something that’s off the wall to yourself, then you’re good.”
Chris Zaldain is of the belief that the winner will need several of the bigger smallmouth in their bags. The length limit is 18 inches on smallmouth, 14 on largemouth. The issue is finding a place where both can be caught. Targeting smallmouth only might be a frustrating as anglers have noted many good ones they’ve caught have been just under the length required.
“You need to establish a solid pattern that not everyone is doing, and mix it up and fish new water,” Zaldain said. “There’s 70 miles of river. If you establish a pattern, you can run it all the back up to the ramp. It just seems like the conditions are positioning fish but they’re only up there for a while. It’s almost like tidal water fishing.”