Stop No. 2 of the top B.A.S.S. circuit takes the pros back to the Tennessee River and Knoxville, site of the 2019 Bassmaster Classic, for the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Tennessee River.
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Coming out of a cold freeze that affected much of the country, the Elites hope to warm things up as they take on the Tennessee River, which includes Fort Loudoun and Tellico lakes. The lakes comprise 30,000 surfaces acres combined and are connected by a canal near the dams, about a 45-minute boat run southwest of Knoxville.
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The anglers may not lock but can fish all waters connected to the lakes, with eastern boundaries the I-40 bridge on the Holston River and Highway 168 on the French Broad River.
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The boats will put in at Ned McWhorter Park and idle a short way for 7 a.m. ET takeoffs from Volunteer Landing. Weigh-ins will be held there the first two days at 3 p.m. ET.
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For Semifinal Saturday and Championship Sunday, the weigh-ins will be held at World’s Fair Park Performance Lawn, also at 3 p.m. ET.
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The 2019 Classic set attendance records with 153,809 visiting the championship venues, including a record 6,500 who attended the Day 2 launch at Volunteer Landing. B.A.S.S. events are free but the organization asks attendees to follow local social distancing protocols.
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The full field fishes Days 1 and 2, with the top 50 advancing to Saturday and the Top 10 vying for the $100,000 top prize on Sunday. Drew Benton displays this nice largemouth caught during the Classic there.
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The Tennessee River also holds smallmouth, like Derek Hudnall shows. Expect some mixed bags as the anglers can bring in their best five fish. Largemouth and spotted bass must measure at least 14 inches and smallmouth must be a minimum of 18 inches.
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Chris Zaldain shows his nice cull with a smallmouth en route to his 12-place finish at the Classic. Tellico is reported to have bigger smallmouth, but they can be difficult to entice from the abundance of standing timber.
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Among the anglers in this year’s field, Brandon Lester, who lives three hours away in Fayetteville, Tenn., was the highest finisher at the Tennessee River Classic, taking sixth. He said the fishery sets up similarly to that mid-March championship.
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“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.”
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Lester said current plays a key role, and primary targets include flats, creeks, bluff walls and rock transitions.
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Also, bridges and docks will be in play where anglers will most likely throw shallow crankbaits, jigs, bladed jigs, spinnerbaits and, if conditions are right, jerkbaits.
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One of the main bass forage are gizzard shad, shown between a pair of Zaldain’s swimbaits he used to finish 12th in the Tennessee River Classic.
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After winter gripped much of the country last week, the Elites will be treated to some warming. Sunny days could warm up the action while there’s rain forecast for several competition days, which are Thursday through Sunday.
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The Elites got off to a rousing start earlier this month in the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River, where rookie Bryan New topped the field. New, the 2020 Basspro.com Opens champion, climbed from sixth on the final day with the big bag of 26-4 to win with 79-7. He’s off to a great start in his goal to win Bassmaster Angler of the Year.
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Bassmaster LIVE will be on the water with anglers all four days. The shows can be streamed on Bassmaster.com and FOX Sports digital platforms. FS1 will also broadcast live from the tournament beginning at 8 a.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday.
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Tennessee, the state with the third-most B.A.S.S. memberships, should show out as it did two years ago. “It was awesome. It made me proud to be from Tennessee, it really did,” Lester said. “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.”