Don’t overload on ledge crankers for Chickamauga

DAYTON, Tenn. — Although pundits pretty much agree that BASSfest on Chickamauga will be won on offshore ledges, resist the urge to go all in on deep crankers. Balance your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing roster with some anglers likely to fish shallow or in mid-depths.

While Chickamauga's deeper ledges do hold good populations of big bass, there aren’t nearly as many ledges here as there are on other TVA lakes known for ledge fishing, like Kentucky Lake. So Chickamauga’s ledges are going to be crowded this week, especially with the expanded BASSfest field of Opens anglers.

There’s always some summer fish shallow, and on Chickamauga, they’re likely to be around grass. Chickamauga has been described recently as a “mini Guntersville,” based on a resurgence of grass — aquatic vegetation like hydrilla and milfoil. Some good shallower bags might be caught also in manner similar to how Greg Hackney won an FLW tournament last week on Pickwick, another Tennessee River reservoir known for summer ledge fishing. He caught prespawn and postspawn bass cranking a shallow shellbed in a backwater.

Weather could be a factor also. It’s supposed to rain a lot prior to, and during, the tournament, which launches Wednesday morning (a day earlier than usual). That could muddy up the main-river ledge bite, sending anglers looking for clearer water in shallower pockets and cuts.

Because Bassmaster has not visited Chickamauga in the Elite Series era, I researched summer FLW tournaments there, May and June Guntersville Elite Series tournaments, and other June Elite Series and FLW tournaments won fishing ledges on riverine reservoirs like Kentucky Lake, Wheeler and Old Hickory.

Bucket A: Reese or Combs

Anytime and anywhere bass can be caught deep on a crankbait, I’m considering picking Keith Combs (7.8 percent Fantasy Fishing ownership). He doesn’t have a long history of success in summer ledge tournaments as do some others in Bucket A, but the highlights in his young career are impressive: fifth onGuntersville in a June 2010 tournament and 15th on Wheeler in a June 2011 Elites Series event.

Although Skeet Reese (2.3 percent) wasn’t the first name that popped into my mind when I started my research for this tournament, I kept coming back to the notes I took on him. Call it a hunch, but I think Reese gets back in the headlines this week.

Reese certainly has the history on summer ledge tournaments to justify picking him — a win onGuntersville in a May 2010 Elite Series event in which the winner cranked ledges; fourth in two Kentucky Lake tournaments in June (2006 and 2009); and 14th in a June 2008 event on Wheeler.

Bucket B: VanDam

Even at 21.9 percent ownership, Kevin VanDam is a bargain in Bucket B. No one in the field has a résumé this impressive for major summer ledge-fishing tournaments: two wins, a runner-up and a third on Kentucky Lake, all in early to mid-June; two runners-up and a fourth on Wheeler, all in early to mid-June; and ninth place in an early May tournament on Guntersville that was won not in the grass, but by cranking ledges.

Bucket C: Jordon, Lester or Mullins

Rookies Brandon Lester (5.6 percent) of Fayetteville, Tenn., and David Mullins (10.6 percent) of Mount Carmel, Tenn., are getting more Fantasy Fishing attention this week than ever before, owing to their home-state status. Which one to choose?

Lester categorizes himself a shallow-water angler, but he went to college for a few years in Chattanooga, the closest city to Chickamauga. Mullins cut his teeth on Douglas and Cherokee lakes in Tennessee, and travels with Aaron Martens, whom he became friends with as a high schooler when he met Martens at a Douglas Lake boat ramp. I give the edge to Lester.

If you’d rather base your pick on Elite Series history in summer ledge tournaments, however, consider Kelly Jordon, who is a pretty good value at 2.9 percent. In 10 summer ledge-fishing tournaments between 2003 and 2011, he scored three Top 12s, two more Top 20s and finished out of the money only twice. Only Edwin Evers has a better résumé in this bucket than Jordon, but at 42.1 percent ownership, it makes more sense to pick against Evers if your player percentage is below 95 percent.

Bucket D: Biffle

Tommy Biffle (9.5 percent) is too good a value in Bucket D to not take him. While others elbow for position on the ledges, Biffle will likely find shallow to mid-depth water of his own and throw his Biffle Bug/Biffle Hardhead combo to shellbeds and other small hard spots to make the Top 12.

A lesser owned option would be Jason Williamson (1.9 percent). Based on his history in summer ledge tournaments, Williamson is likely to finish about 25th. In seven such tournaments between 2008 and 2011, his in-the-money finishes were 21st, 23rd, 30th, 31st and 36th; his out-of-the-cut finishes were 56th and 74th.

Bucket E: Remitz or Reed

In 2010, Derek Remitz (5.9 percent) racked up three Top 12s on riverine reservoirs known for ledge fishing, one of which was an eighth-place showing in an FLW event. That one, however, was held in mid-September. Still, in June of that summer, he placed fifth on Kentucky Lake in an Elite tournament won by cranking ledges. In May of that year, he placed 12th on Guntersville in an event also won by cranking ledges.

In five June ledge-cranking tournaments between 2008 and 2009, however, Remitz did not fare as well: 34th, 43rd, 67th, 69th and 83rd. That said, few others in this bucket have any Top 12s to go along with out-of-the money finishes.

The other angler in this bucket who has had a modicum of success in summer ledge-fishing tournaments is Matt Reed, who’s a decent value this week at 1.2 percent ownership. In early June 2008, Reed finished eighth on Wheeler; in mid-June 2008, he finished 16th on Kentucky Lake. In five more June tournaments on ledge-fishing riverine reservoirs between 2006 and 2011, he finished in the money three times (29th, 39th and 40th).

Be sure to set your team before launch tomorrow. Remember, this tournament is an out-of-the-ordinary Wednesday start rather than the traditional Thursday.

Listen to the podcast below to hear me and Rich Lindgren make and defend our Fantasy Fishing roster picks.

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