The Bassmaster Southern Swing continues with a move from South Carolina to Tennessee for the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Chickamauga Lake, the eighth of nine events for B.A.S.S.’s top professional series.
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Originally second on the Elite schedule in mid-February, Chickamauga was rescheduled because of dangerously high water then postponed a second time by the COVID-19 pandemic. B.A.S.S. worked with local officials to reset the tournament for Oct. 16-19 as the third of back-to-back-to-back events.
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Ranked among the top 10 in Bassmaster Magazine’s Best Bass Lakes the past several years, Chickamauga Lake is a 59-mile long reservoir along the Tennessee River. Chick, as it’s known, covers 36,240 acres and has 810 miles of shoreline with a maximum depth of 78 feet.
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The Rhea County Economic Development and Tourism Council will serve as host, and the Point Park/Dayton Boat Dock is tournament central. Daily takeoffs will be held at 7:30 a.m. ET at the facility with weigh-ins set for 3:30 p.m. ET. Visitors are welcome to attend but asked to follow social distancing protocol. Mammoth sanitizing stations will be on-site.
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The Elites are coming off an enthralling event on the Santee Cooper Lakes in South Carolina, where cousins-in-law Brandon Palaniuk and Carl Jocumsen seesawed for the lead with Palaniuk winning with another final day charge. His 72-2 total, 8 pounds better than Jocumsen, gave Palaniuk his fifth Elite Series title, which ties him for second-most victories among active Elite anglers.
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Clark Wendlandt finished 17th at Santee Cooper to build on his lead in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. Wendlandt, who won three FLW AOY titles, has 587 points through seven tournaments to lead Cory Johnston by 37, which he knows can be made up with one bad day. Before the swing, Wendlandt said it was too early to really consider the title, but with two events left and his prospects increasing, Wendlandt said the pressure is ramping up.
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At Santee Cooper, there were only five bags weighing more than 20 pounds, although a number of big fish were caught. Jeff Gustafson won the Phoenix Boats Big Bass award with this 9-7, and it helped him reach Championship Sunday with only 12 bass. Palaniuk, who had two bags over 20 pounds, also had one day under 10 pounds. The disparity of daily weights, a product of finicky fall fishing, is also expected at Chickamauga.
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There have been five previous pro level Bassmaster events on Chickamauga Lake, beginning in 1990 with Denny Brauer’s win in a Top 100. Larry Nixon won a Megabucks there the following year. The most recent event was an Eastern Open in spring of 2019. Chad Pipkens was among the top finishers, aided by the Phoenix Boats Big Bass, a 9-8.
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But it is John Cox who has owned Chick, winning three events there over the past four years.
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Cox won a Basspro.com Eastern Open title there in April of 2017 with 68-3 over three days. In 2019, he won the FLW event there in early May, averaging more than 20 pounds a day, then followed it up with a win in the Southern Open later that month, weighing 66-5.
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That May was quite a month for the Cox family, with almost $150,000 in winnings from Chickamauga Lake.
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While he was flying high, Cox and the rest of the field realize it’s a different time of year. The Southern Swing has hit the fisheries during the fall transition, when bass are spread out and trickier to catch. Anglers say cooler temps might improve fishing, and a front is forecast to drop highs into the uppers 50s for Friday’s first day of competition.
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On the line is the title, its $100,000 first-place prize and AOY points to decide that race as well as berths to the Bassmaster Classic. Bassmaster LIVE coverage begins Friday, and check local listings for Sunday’s action featured on ESPN2.
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The 85 anglers will work to bring in their best five-fish limits of 15-inch largemouth and spotted bass while smallmouth must be 18 inches. The penultimate event of the Elite season should offer plenty of drama, and its results will have major implications for a season-ending showdown at Texas Fest on Lake Fork in early November.