PARIS, Tenn. – The rain here in northwestern Tennessee has come and gone, and what remains are partly cloudy skies, temperatures in the low 50s and light winds from the west.
In other words, it’s typical late November weather in the mid-South.
But Michigan anglers Chris Risner and Timothy Eaton said they wouldn’t mind if Mother Nature brought extreme cold and whipping winds to the Kentucky Lake area during the Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship being held here Wednesday and Thursday. After all, those are the wintry conditions Risner and Eaton sometimes fish in the Grand Rapids area, and it doesn’t bother them one bit.
“We break ice sometimes on the lakes back home to fish,” Risner said. “Not a lot of other people in this tournament do that.”
He’s right, but it looks as if the bitter cold weather predicted yesterday will be tempered ever so slightly. Highs are not expected to exceed 51 degrees all week, but if the wind and rain hold off, there should be no advantage to any of the northern anglers among the 186 two-man teams in the field.
Not that Risner and Eaton need any. They traveled from Michigan to Guntersville, Ala., last fall and won the 2015 team championship on that fabled fishery. Moving a couple hours north to Kentucky Lake, the duo (who fishes with Team D & R Sports Center back home on the team trail) said they are fishing some of the same techniques they employed last year in their victorious outing.
“Guntersville has a lot of grass, and here it’s sand and rocks,” Risner said. “But it’s not totally different. The tough thing is the water is drawn down to winter pool right now, so there’s not a lot of water.”
Practice wasn’t particularly kind to the Michigan duo either, as Monday’s foul weather hindered their bite (and likely that of nearly every competitor in the team championship).
“We got here on Saturday night, and we prepped all day Sunday,” Risner said. “On Monday, the weather was really bad. It was a rough day, but it was good to be able to take a look around. This is a really big place.”
Indeed it is.
Kentucky Lake, at a sprawling 160,000 acres, dwarfs the 4,000-acre Hardy Dam Pond in Michigan, which is where Risner and Eaton won a team trail event and qualified for the 2015 national team championship. Last year’s win in Guntersville guaranteed their spot in the 2016 event.
Both men are comfortable in their role of defending champion, though it’s a bit more high profile than their usual jobs back home. Risner is a finance manager for his family’s construction company, and Eaton is a foreman at a pre-stressed concrete plant.
“Last year we had such a good tournament on Guntersville, it was a magical experience,” Eaton said. “They were pulling water and we got on some good schools and it just happened.”
And this year?
“This is going to be Cold Weather Fishing 101,” Eaton said. “It’s still about the shad (bite). I think the usual swimbaits and square bills should be good to go catch them in about 3 to 12 feet of water. You just have to find the place that replenishes them. If you do, you have a chance.”
“There are some really good fishermen in this field,” Risner said. “Whatever the weather does, somebody’s going to sack them.”
The top three teams (six anglers total) will advance to the Bassmaster Team Championship Classic Fish-Off on Friday and Saturday. The individual angler who catches the most weight on those two days will earn the final spot in the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic on Lake Conroe near Houston, Texas, next March.
Wednesday’s launch for the Toyota Bonus Bucks Team Championship began at 6:30 a.m. CST at Paris Landing State Park. Weigh-in is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. CST.
The Henry County Alliance is hosting.