How's the bite at Old Hickory? That depends on who you talk to. One thing's for sure though: It hasn't been as hot as the weather.
The Gallatin, Tenn. area has seen temperatures in the mid-90s every day since late last week. It was the first extended heat wave it's experienced this year, and water temperatures have been on a steady upward climb as anglers have practiced for the third stop on the FLW Series.
Some fish are shallow and others have moved off the banks, but concentrations have been tough to find at any depth. And, like always at Old Hickory, you'll likely throw back several short ones between keeper bites.
The lake, with its close proximity to Nashville, is one of the most heavily pressured fisheries in the country, and what these fish lack in size, they make up for in education. They're coming off an extended weekend – one of the busiest of the year – so their discriminating palettes are tuned to the highest setting.
Some anglers will find groups of good fish, and bags weighing in the high teens will come to the scales. How they'll be amassed, though, remains to be seen. Right now, just about any pattern has a chance to boom or bust.
The weather should cool off over the next few days, and some clouds (and perhaps even a thunderstorm or two) could loosen things up.
Before getting into more bite information, here are some specifics about the lake:
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake Name: Old Hickory
> Type of Water: Lowland reservoir on Tennessee's Cumberland River
> Surface Acres (full pool): 22,500 (97 miles long)
> Primary structure/cover: Grass, stump flats, laydowns, river channel, creeks, rocks and docks
> Primary forage: Shad (threadfin, gizzard), crawdads, bluegill.
> Average depth: 15 feet
> Species: Mostly largemouths, but some smallmouths and spotted bass
> Minimum length: 14 inches
> Reputation: Fertile lake with lots of fish, but keepers can be tough to come by
> Weather: Variable after major heat wave
> Water temp: 78-85 degrees
> Water visibility/color: 0-2 feet visibility/stained
> Water level: Normal
> Fish in: 0-12 feet
> Fish phase: Primarily post-spawn, but a few still on the beds
> Primary patterns: Jigs, topwater, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, Carolina-rigs, flipping, soft plastics (just about anything)
> Winning weight: 48 pounds (4 days)
> Cut weight (Top 10 after 3 days): 32 pounds
> Check weight (75th): 22-25 pounds
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 3 for Old Hickory
> Biggest factors: Hot weather, weary fish
> Biggest decision: Whether to fish shallow or deep
> Wildcard: Will the deep crankbait bite improve as the event progresses?
Pattern-wise, there was very little that could be ruled out after the final practice day.
"There are so many things that could work right now that it's ridiculous," said Dave Lefebre, who won the 2004 Old Hickory FLW Tour and finished 3rd at the 2002 EverStart (now Stren) Championship held here. "Some fish are still spawning, but most are post-spawn, and they're everywhere from a foot of water out to the ledges."
Some anglers have yet to make their call about whether to focus shallow or deep, but Lefebre's not among them.
"I'm staying shallow," he said. "I spent part of (Monday) looking deep, and I found one thing that has potential. But everything else I've caught has been shallow – just picking them off one at a time.
"The water just looks right for fishing shallow and flipping a jig. There's something about this place I like. It feels like I've been coming here for years, even though I've only been here a couple of times."
Clark Wendlandt will start shallow, but will go deep if it's not productive.
Don't Fish Memories
Clark Wendlandt also has a solid record here, including a 3rd in the 1999 Bassmaster Megabucks. When judged against the past, his practice has been satisfactory.
"Knowing what the weights here normally are, I haven't had that bad of a practice," he said. "The key for me will be just going fishing and not going back to places where I've gotten bit before, thinking I'm going to get bit again.
"This lake gets more local fishing pressure that any body of water I've ever been to, and over the weekend there were just tons of people. That pressure has to be taken into account."
He'll start shallow, but he knows he might have to change his focus.
"I haven't fished deep that much, but I have a feeling that most of the fish are going that way," he said. "We've had perfect conditions for the water to warm up quickly, and I think they might be swimming out just as fast as they can go."
Curt Lytle, who's coming off a 5th-place finish at the Kentucky Lake FLW Tour, is a shallow-water specialist. His practice was a mixed bag.
"This happens a couple times a year, but I'm pretty confused right now," he said. "One day I can go out and figure something out, and the next day I can't.
"I'd have to say the shallow bite is spotty. I'm not saying that someone isn't going to catch them, but I'm using the word spotty because it's the best one I know for something that's been really terribly inconsistent."
He said clear thinking will be critical.
"This will probably be more of a mental tournament than most. If you can stay solid mentally, you'll probably make the right decisions. But if you get off your mental game at all, you're really going to be hurting."
Ledges not a Sure Bet
According to the guy who might be the best deep cranker in the business, the ledges aren't any more of a sure thing right now than the shallows.
"It's getting there, but it's not there yet," said David Fritts. "The thing about Old Hickory is there's so many little fish, and I just don't think a lot of good ones have gotten out there yet. You can see them busting on the top and you can see them around where you're fishing, but you can't catch them.
"I don't know what the shallow guys are catching and (the deep bite) could get better. But I'll have to catch bigger ones than I've been catching to have a chance."
David Walker described his practice as "pitiful."
Something Has to Give
David Walker is a versatile angler who's keeping all his options open. He has little choice, because he hasn't found anything to point him in one direction or the other.
"It's been pitiful," he said. "My practice started off weak and just got worse and worse. I keep going back and forth (from shallow to deep), but I haven't figured out where they're at because I can't get any bites.
"I'm just going to pick a creek and start fishing and however it ends up, it ends up. I don't feel I have any idea what the fish are doing. It's not the position you want to be in going into a tournament, but it happens."
Top 10 to Watch
In no particular order, here are BassFan's Top 10 to watch for this event.
1) Dave Lefebre – He's been here twice and has a 1st and a 3rd to show for it, so his comfort level is top-shelf. Plus, his last 2 practice days were his best, so he'll start with some serious momentum.
2) Sam Newby – He's had a tough first half of the year, but he's coming off a 43rd at the Kentucky Lake FLW Tour, and this was about the time last year when he shifted into a higher gear.
3) Mike Hawkes – There's no particular reason to pick him to do well here, but there was no reason to think he'd win at Cumberland either. He's just fishing well all-around.
4) David Fritts – He's coming off a 4th at Kentucky Lake, a finish that might have been higher if not for fierce winds, and this is his time of year. Conditions could be ripe for him by the weekend.
5) Ron Shuffield – He had great success here on the Bassmaster Tour in the 1990s (won the '99 Megabucks and finished 9th in the '96 Tennessee Top 100). Coming back might be the inspiration he needs to get untracked.
6) Andy Morgan – He's quietly put together an excellent year (three Top 20s) and would love to notch his initial tour victory in his home state.
7) Jay Yelas – He's been here many times and knows the lake's idiosyncracies. He's not afraid to try something different, and that could pay off.
8) Clark Wendlandt – Another guy who's fared well here in the past and who stands a good chance to make the right adjustments.
9) Gary Yamamoto – He fished both deep and shallow at Kentucky Lake, wasn't afraid to pound the ugly stuff that others had overlooked, and ended up 3rd. That type of mindset might bode well here.
10) Luke Clausen – Appears to be back on track after a post-Bassmaster Classic lull. He's only 27, but has proven that his decision-making abilities rank among the best.
Anglers will take off at 7 each morning from Bull Creek Marina. Wednesday's, Thursday's and Friday’s weigh-ins will be held at the marina beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday’s weigh-in will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 1112 Nashville Pike in Gallatin beginning at 4 p.m.
Children will be treated to the Fujifilm trout pond and rides in the Kellogg’s Ranger boat simulator beginning at noon Saturday prior to the final weigh-in at Wal-Mart. All events are free and open to the public.
Here's the Weather Channel's forecast for the tournament days.
> Wed, May 31 – Isolated T-Storms – 86°/69°
- Wind: From the S at 5 mph
> Thur, June 1 – Scattered T-Storms – 79°/65°
- Wind: From the W/SW at 6 mph
> Fri, June 2 – Partly Cloudy – 80°/62°
- Wind: From the N at 9 mph
> Sat, June 3 – Sunny – 82°/62°
- Wind: From the N/NE at 7 mph
> BassFan Big Stick Jay Yelas caught a lot of fish during practice, but the average size wasn't what he would have preferred. To read his practice report, click here to go On Tour With the BassFan Big Sticks.
> How crowded was the lake over the weekend? "There was an incredible number of boats," Walker said. "It was difficult to move from place to place because of the waves and all of the boats. It was just like driving in city traffic."
> This is the third event in the five-tournament Series. The next event – at Lake of the Ozarks – won't be held until mid-October.