Tunnel hull culture

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Craig Lamb
Mike Walker’s namesake boat is what the name implies. The hull and bottom are fabricated of heavy-duty 3/16-inch thick aluminum.

DANDRIDGE, Tenn. — In East Tennessee some anglers speak a peculiar language. It has nothing to do with fishing and everything to do with boating.

"Running the chute," and "finding the seam" are common phrases spoken by this cult of anglers. The language, their boats and the style of bass fishing are unique.

Call it the tunnel hull culture of East Tennessee.

A different breed of angler belongs in this cult. One of them leads going into Championship Saturday at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open. That angler is native East Tennessean Ott DeFoe, whose total weight is 34 pounds, 10 ounces.

Running across the lake is a necessary means of getting to the final destination. That is far upstream to the headwaters. Swift water runs through tight, meandering channels so narrow you could cast from end to end. Unpressured smallmouth fishing awaits those daring to make the run. There is plenty of it around, thanks to the Tennessee Valley Authority's system of dams in the region.

Boat handling takes a special breed of angler. Turns are judged on missing by inches boulders eager to impale an aluminum boat hull. Coming off plane is not an option. Do that and get stuck on the rocks.

"Running the chute," means throttling up and steering through narrow channels only inches deep, bordered by shoreline rocks. Some chutes are only slightly wider than an average boat beam.

What possesses this bunch of daredevils to risk boat and gear with every trip?

Let Mike Watson answer that question. He owns and operates Mike Watson Welding. People near and far seek him out when needing the right boat for this style of fishing.

"It's not a dare but more necessity," said Watson, of Bluff City. "We have phenomenal smallmouth fishing in our rivers and it goes unpressured most of the time."

The reason is limited access to fiberglass boats. Rock and glass don't mix and neither does the high performance handling of a conventional bass rig.