KINGSTON, Tenn. – There will be opportunities to be had, but absolutely none to be squandered. As Elite Series pro Mark Menendez said, the Bassmaster Open at Watts Bar Reservoir will likely test competitors’ patience and persistence.
Competition days will be today through Saturday with daily takeoffs from Kingston Boat Ramp at 7:15 a.m. ET and weigh-ins each day back at the ramp at 3:15 p.m.
“You’ll have to be a very clever angler to do well (in this event),” said Menendez, who hails from Paducah, Ky. “As a general rule, in September, the Tennessee River is a very difficult place to fish.
“We’re not really in fall yet, and we’re not really in summer still. We’re in those in-between dog days, so you’re going to have those fish that are lingering because of those warmer water temperatures. But we’ve also had a few cool nights so that early push of baitfish is going to pull some fish shallow.”
Menendez attributes the challenging circumstances to the dynamics of a pre-transitional period that’s typically short on consistency. With no one pattern likely to dominate, the weigh-ins might feature many talking of “junk fishing” their way to limits.
“You have fish that will be scattered from 12 inches to 30 feet. The only advantage to Watts Bar is that river section,” Menendez said. “It may hold the quantity of fish a little shallower, as rivers tend to do.
“It’s going to be stingy. I think a limit will be a prize possession. A 3 1/2-pounder is good quality on that lake. You get a 3 1/2-pounder and fill out with 2-pounders, that’s going to be a solid bag. Five-pounders are gold on that lake.”
The final event in Division 3 will take place on the second reservoir on the Tennessee River – one down from Fort Loudoun, where the 2023 Bassmaster Classic was held last March. With 39,090 surface acres, Watts Bar stood a couple of inches below full pool a week before the event.
As Menendez points out, the entirety of tournament waters will be in play, so competitors can scatter from creeks and major tributaries like the Clinch and Emory rivers to the river and main-lake waters. Fortunately, water level should remain fairly stable throughout the event.
Menendez said anglers will likely find visibility of 18 to 24 inches on the upper end of Watts Bar, with clear waters – possibly as much as 36 inches – on the deeper, lower end. Rainfall can always impact this, but with good numbers of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, competitors will have options.
Notably, the tournament’s 15-inch minimum size limit will keep all three species in play, but the latter two will play secondary roles. Someone could always boost their bag with a hefty smallmouth, but Menendez doesn’t expect to see the brown fish make as prominent a showing as they did when Canadian standout Jeff Gustafson earned his first Classic title back in March.
“I have seen tournaments on Watts Bar where the spotted bass have shown up, so there is a smattering population,” Menendez said. “I would say the smallmouth would be between 20 percent and 30 percent of the catches, and the rest will be largemouth."
Productive baits will range from topwaters in the early mornings, to crankbaits, Flukes and lots of bottom-contact presentations such as jigs, shaky-heads, Carolina rigs and big Texas-rigged worms. Whatever the choice, success will hinge on execution.
“You’re going to have a tournament where the anglers are going to have to be resourceful,” Menendez said. “This is not going to be one of those where you’re going to get a lot of spare bites this time of year.”
Expecting 23 to 24 pounds to make the Top 10 cut and 43 to 45 for the win, Menendez believes mobility could be one of the key strategy points. Fishing pressure plus summer’s slim pickings tends to dispel the one-spot notion.
“I think you’re going to need to have a milk run of 25 to 40 bass condominiums,” Menendez said. “And if you get an opportunity, you’d better make the most of it."