DANDRIDGE, Tenn. — Consistency will be critical at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Southern Open on Douglas Lake, but Tennessee pro John Garrett says Mother Nature has been stirring the pot.
Fluctuations have been significant, but the long view shows a potential scenario that could work out well for competitors.
Competition days will be April 15-17 with daily takeoffs from Dandridge Boat Ramp at 6:45 a.m. ET. Weigh-ins Days 1 and 2 will take place at the ramp at 2:45 p.m., with the final-day weigh-in moving to the Bass Pro Shops in Kodak, Tenn., at 3:45 p.m.
“I’ve been keeping up with the water level, and it’s insane how much Douglas is changing day by day right now,” Garrett said about a week before the tournament. “We had a lot of rain (two weeks prior to the event) and it was coming up a foot a day for five days.
“It reached 990 feet, which is full pool, it remained stable for about two days and it’s been falling back about a foot a day for the past four days. It is projected to fall a foot a day for (several more days).”
As Garrett explains, muddy water is the immediate concern, while falling water also reduces the amount of fishable shoreline habitat. In Douglas’ case, a lot of the rock and wood that will soon be drained was only temporarily in play during the high water, so that may not have a dramatic impact.
The real story here is bass fishing 101: Spawning fish do not like fluctuations. They want to know it is safe to commit to a shallow-water move and if there’s any hint of significant depth and/or clarity changes, bass hit the pause button.
“The water’s still muddy, so we’re currently looking at prespawn conditions because the water level hasn’t stabilized yet,” Garrett said. “Those fish aren’t going to go into full-blown spawn mode until that water level stabilizes for a couple of days.
“If it stabilizes (soon), we could be looking at possibly a spawning movement by the time we’re there. Even if it’s not an all-out spawn, we’ll have enough color in the water where everything is going to be shallow. I’m thinking it’s going to be a pretty good tournament.”
Douglas Dam impounds Eastern Tennessee’s French Broad River — about 32 miles upstream from where its confluence with the Holston River creates the storied Tennessee River. The 30,400-acre Douglas Reservoir extends 43 miles upriver through the Smoky Mountain foothills.
The entire lake could be in play, with accessibility possibly dwindling in the extreme upper reaches based on water level. While the Tennessee Valley Authority manages Douglas, Garrett notes that this lake doesn’t resemble the more notable TVA reservoirs downstream.
“Douglas acts like a mix between a TVA lake and a highland reservoir,” Garrett said. “It fluctuates 45 feet from winter to full pool and that has a lot to do with it.
“Also, the current on Douglas is very, very minimal, so a lot of times, these fish don’t set up on current-oriented places like they do on Chickamauga, Pickwick or Kentucky Lake.”
Garrett said there’s an outside chance that could factor into the equation. Specifically, if the region’s mostly warm weather continues, a seasonal acceleration might see a postspawn movement to offshore structure.
In the more likely shallow scenario, Garrett points to water clarity as the key. If the tournament finds Douglas with a favorable level of visibility, sight fishing could become one of the dominant patterns, if not the winning deal.
“Also, a lot of smallmouth bass could come into play if that water cleans up,” Garrett said. “On lakes that don’t fluctuate a lot, the smallmouth normally spawn a little before; but on Douglas they all tend to push up at one time — when the water level stabilizes.”
With smallmouth spawning deeper on bluff banks, rocky humps, etc., this is more of a drop shot, swimbait, Ned rig or cranking strategy. For largemouth, Texas-rigged worms, lizards and creature baits handle the sight-fishing opportunities, while buzzbaits, shallow crankbaits and bladed jigs will tempt staging prespawners.
With conditions generally moving in the right direction, Garrett said he’s expecting Douglas to make a good showing. He thinks it will take 13 to 14 pounds a day to reach the Top 10, with the winner averaging 15 to 16.
“You’ll have to get a couple of good (kicker) bites; I think you’ll have to run into a couple of 3 1/2- to 4 1/2-pound bites. Also, you’ll have to have enough water to rotate for at least two days.
“The only way I can see a particular spot winning this tournament is if we get a big spawning wave (before the event) and we get an offshore bite. It won’t be eight of the Top 10 doing that. It might be one or two schools of fish that move out and one person might key in on it.”
The full field will compete the first two days before the boater side is cut to the Top 10 anglers for Championship Saturday. The co-angler champion will be crowned after the Day 2 weigh-in.