KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Although it was the first time Knoxville had hosted a Bassmaster event, the 2019 Bassmaster Classic was one of the most memorable Classics ever, particularly for sixth-place finisher Brandon Lester, who was floored by the support from his fellow Tennesseans.
“It was awesome. It made me proud to be from Tennessee, it really did,” the Elite Series veteran from Fayetteville, Tenn., said. “Putting in right next to Neyland Stadium was a really cool experience. We had massive crowds every morning cheering us on, and it was really a cool deal. I was excited when I saw Knoxville pop back up on the schedule this year, and I’m definitely looking forward to getting back up there.
“I’m hoping I can tap back into what I found in practice then and pick up where I left off a little bit.”
Competition for the Bassmaster Elite at Tennessee River will be Feb. 25-28 on the waters of Fort Loudoun Reservoir and Tellico Lake. Daily takeoffs will be at 7 a.m. ET from Calhoun’s On The River Boat Dock. Weigh-ins on Days 1 and 2 will be held at 3 p.m. at Volunteer Landing Marina before shifting to World’s Fair Park Performance Lawn for Days 3 and 4.
With the exception of this week’s frigid weather, Lester said Eastern Tennessee has had a fairly mild winter and the Tennessee River has avoided any major flooding. He said that should set up for a tournament similar to that 2019 Classic, which Knoxville resident Ott DeFoe won with a three-day total of 49-3.
“Most of the fish caught were caught in less than 6 or 7 feet, which is typical of the Tennessee River this time of the year, and I don’t see it being any different,” Lester said. “I figure it will be another late winter to early spring prespawn. I think it will still be won shallow, predominantly with largemouth.”
Current plays a key role on this section of the Tennessee River, Lester said, and it provides several different options for anglers to target, including flats, creeks, bluff walls and rock transitions. He said bridges could also come into play, along with boat docks. Shallow-running crankbaits, jigs, bladed jigs and spinnerbaits will be productive lures, with jerkbaits coming into play if the water clarity is right.
Largemouth and smallmouth are the dominant species, but a keeper smallmouth bass must measure at least 18 inches. Lester said while very few anglers went to Tellico in the 2019 Classic, the lake has big smallmouth and anglers that figure out the bite in that lake have a chance to excel.
“Tellico is kind of the X factor. In that Classic last time, I think there were only a couple of guys who fished on Tellico Lake. It is a lot clearer and it has some big smallmouth, but nobody really tapped into that,” Lester said. “If somebody ever does, smallmouth may be a bigger player than they were in that Classic. There is a good population of them on Loudoun as well, and you will see them show up.
“There will be some mixed bags, just like last time. As a matter of fact, on the third day of the Classic, I think I had 18 pounds and had two big smallmouth in my bag. There is always that chance of catching a big smallmouth.”
While 8- to 10-pound fish are a rarity on Loudoun and Tellico, Lester said there could be a couple of bags over 20 pounds weighed, and a four-day total of 64 pounds will likely be hard to beat.
The full field of anglers will fish the first two days, with only the Top 50 advancing to the semifinal round on Saturday. The Top 10 remaining anglers will fish Championship Sunday with a $100,000 first-place prize on the line.
Live coverage for all four days of the event can be streamed on Bassmaster.com and the FOX Sports digital platforms. FS1 will also broadcast live from the tournament beginning at 8 a.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday.
The tournament is being hosted by the Visit Knoxville Sports Commission.