The Bassmaster Elite Series event at Lake Chickamauga originally scheduled for February 14-17, and then later for March 19-22, saw both set of dates postponed, and a final makeup date has yet to be determined. For Elite Series rookie Buddy Gross, who learned his craft on the TVA system, the events would have given him a good shot at adding to his already impressive collection of accolades from the Tennessee River. Gross has collected numerous local and national wins on the TVA lakes – including Guntersville, Pickwick, Nickajack, and of course, Chickamauga – as well as several Top 10s between FLW and B.A.S.S.
“The TVA System and the three main lakes – Chickamauga, Nickajack, and Guntersville – taught me how to do pretty much everything it takes to catch largemouth bass. It helped me tremendously while trying to achieve my goal of fishing for a living. The competition around here is incredible, and it drove me to be a better angler, weekly. I watched the guys who beat me (in those days) fish an eight-hour tournament, weigh in and go back out fishing until dark to make themselves better. That pushed me to fish daylight to dark when the opportunity arose. It also taught me that in order to be successful on the Tennessee River it was going to take dedication, persistence and hard work.”
Gross may have the TVA lakes mastered, but he certainly isn’t done learning and evolving his skills. Staying fresh even on a body of water that you know well is key to being a better angler all over the country. With the unexpected time off, Gross has been fishing local events to keep working on skills and stay ahead of the game.
“On the Tennessee River, as the Florida strain get its roots, you have to learn how to catch the bigger fish – you have to catch 25-pound bags. You need to learn to find where bigger fish tend to set up; it’s the only way to stay ahead of the game.”
Gross’ example of catching bigger fish is quite simple. Weighing in a respectable 24 pounds at a local tournament recently, with a legit chance to have a 30-pound bag, he finished in fourth place – to a 41-pound bag.
“The winner and I saw each other pretty much all day; I was just fishing ahead of the fish a little. The Tennessee River system is a changing system with the emergence of new vegetation, which changes how fish relate to everything. With that being said, nothing replaces time on the water.”
With many northern fisheries on the Elite Series schedule every year, his main focus now is the brown fish. With a massive amount of fish that seemingly always like to eat, Gross has no problem getting a smaller limit, but mentions to be a player, he needs to step it up.
“I am learning more and more what smallmouth bass do during the spawn and prespawn, which has helped me tremendously. We will have some tourneys this year during the postspawn – I hope I can learn where they go after the spawn. My main focus now is learning the northern smallmouth lakes to be a better-rounded angler.”
With the COVID-19 virus seemingly locking down most of the country, several professional fishing events have been canceled, forcing anglers to wonder when and where the Elite Series may resume. Although Gross has been working on his craft, fishing virtually every day since word came that the schedule was on hold, the pause gave him an opportunity to think about how those events would have played out – if fished as scheduled – right there on his home body of water.
Original schedule: February 14-17
Coming off an 11th-place finish at the season opener at the St. John’s River, Gross would have gone back home to high water, flooding conditions and forecasts calling for continued rainfall. The Elite Series anglers were sure to figure out how to catch big ones, but it was a safety decision, and B.A.S.S. made the right call.
“With all the high water and muddy conditions at the Chick that week, I feel like the winning bag would have been in current breaks – specifically on or close to the main river. The fishing at that time got really good because the fish got positioned in small, but specific places. I feel like it would have taken around 76 pounds to win.”
Postponed date: March 19-22
The new scheduled date was setting up to be a slugfest, according to Gross. With water warming, cleaner and getting to the right level, it may have been one to remember. Conditions would have favored the anglers as compared to the original date, and fans would have seen some bigger fish at the scales. And then, here comes COVID-19. Due to worldwide concerns, B.A.S.S. yet again has to make a tough call to keep the anglers and fans safe.
“This one might have been the perfect storm for everyone involved. The water had cleaned up a lot and is back to normal winter pool. With a few 70-degree days recently, the water temperature climbed up in the 60s and the fish are headed to the hill – the weights would’ve been big. I feel like it would’ve taken a lot more to win, probably closer to 90 pounds, or better. The fish are fat, healthy and headed shallow, getting ready to do their deal.”
Makeup date: TBD
Although Gross was ready to fish regardless of the high water, mud and forecasted weather conditions, he realized that the makeup date will make it easier and more consistent for everyone. With lots of success in the spring on the Chick, it had to be hard to swallow even more of a wait to fish in his back yard.
“I was ready to fish either event, but both dates were early in the year and it may not have been as consistent. A later date will certainly make the fishing much more consistent as long as the schedule doesn’t push to far into the later summer months where fishing gets tough on all of the Tennessee River. I am excited anytime I get to fish on my home waters.”