By Sean Ostruszka
Special to BassFan
For at least one week, Bassmaster Elite Series anglers will need to forget everything they know about Lake Chickamauga.
The Tennessee Valley Authority impoundment has become synonymous with 10-pounders and 30-pound bags. After all, it’s one of the top big-bass factories in the country, and tournaments there are always highlighted with giant fish crossing the weigh-in stage.
Yet, those big tournaments are typically held in the spring and summer. Fall, though, is an entirely different story.
Will there still be big fish brought in when the Elite Series rolls through this week? Of course. But anyone expecting massive weights and fun fishing is probably going to be disappointed.
“It’s going to be tough to generate bites,” said Bass Pro Tour competitor and local Michael Neal. “Not just limits, but bites.”
Before diving deeper into the bite (or lack thereof), here's some intel on the fishery:
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake Name: Lake Chickamauga
> Type of Water: Tennessee Valley Authority impoundment
> Surface Acres (full pool): 36,240 acres
> Primary structure/cover: Ledges, humps, sunken islands, docks, brush piles, points, grass flats
> Primary forage: Gizzard shad, threadfin shad, various shiners, panfish
> Average depth: 18 feet
> Species: Largemouth, smallmouth, spotted bass
> Length limit: 15 inches for largemouth, 18 inches for smallmouth (1 per angler), 12 inches for spots
> Reputation: Arguably the top TVA fishery and one of the best in the country for producing double-digit fish.
> Weather: Cooling trend in practice, with scattered storms and a dip in temperatures predicted throughout the event
> Water temperature: 70-72 degrees
> Water visibility: Lightly stained
> Water level: Roughly 2 feet below summer pool
> Fish in: All depths
> Fish phase: Fall transition
> Primary patterns: Grass flats
> Winning weight: 65 pounds
> Cut weights: 20 pounds (Top 40); 40 pounds (Top 10)
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 1 for Chickamauga
> Biggest factors: Giant kickers, as one 8- or 9-pounder might amount to more than what some pros bring in for their entire day.
> Biggest decision: How much time to devote in practice to trying to find something different
'It Has To Break Sometime'
There’s not a ton of fall multi-day tournament history on Chickamauga, but what there is doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
There have been three BFL Regionals there in 2016, 2018 and just this past weekend. The winning weight for 3 days has never cracked 50 pounds, and even 30 pounds (just 10 pounds a day) has put anglers in contention to finish in the Top 10.
Again, 10 pounds a day – as much as one big kicker in that lake in a spring or summer tournament – may get a guy in the Top 10. And look at last weekend’s Regional – more than 40 anglers caught zero fish the first day of the event, while only 24 brought in limits.
“As great as this year has been on Chickamauga in the spring and fall, it’s been as tough as I’ve ever seen in September and October,” said Neal. “It’s just been brutal, and it has to break sometime.”
Fortunately, Mother Nature may be coming to the rescue in the form of rain in practice and some slightly cooler temperatures come the tournament. If both can combine to drop the water temperatures from the low 70s into the mid 60s, the Elite Series pros may actually have a little easier time catching limits.
On the plus side, with the fish in their fall transition, Neal says they’re everywhere and no one area will outperform the other. That’s a plus on a lake that notoriously can fish quite small. On the downside, he’s still expecting it to fish pretty small for a key reason – the lack of grass.
“Chickamauga is not like Pickwick or Kentucky Lake, where even in the fall the fish relate to offshore stuff,” says Neal. “Here in the fall, it’s all about the grass, and there’s not as much as usual. Or, at least it’s not matted up yet like it should.”
With grass and bites at a premium, Neal expects pros to do one of four things. The first is to pole down in an area and toss a frog all day. Option two is to wind around a vibrating jig in submergent grass. Another possibility is to pick an area and go punching, with Neal figuring plenty of pros will do a combination of all three.
Option four, though, will be the wildcard in his mind.
“Someone is going to find something different,” said Neal. “Like fishing rocks or docks or something most guys wouldn’t figure the fish should be doing. There’s always a chance in a tough tournament where something different is what wins.”
> Thurs., October 15 – Mostly sunny – 75°/53°
- Wind: From the SW at 6 mph
> Fri., October 16 – Partly cloudy – 72°/46°
- Wind: From the NNW at 6 mph
> Sat., October 17 – Sunny – 67°/48°
- Wind: From the N at 6 mph
> Sun., October 18 – Partly cloudy – 66°/45°
- Wind: From the SW at 6 mph