DAYTON, Tenn. — Buddy Gross is hoping everything’s cool at the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Chickamauga Lake; but not for any concern over camaraderie or sportsmanship. Rather, the Elite Series rookie from Chickamauga, Ga., is eager for a healthy dose of the seasonal chill.
Competition days will be Oct. 16-19 with daily takeoffs from Dayton Boat Dock at 7:30 a.m. ET and weigh-ins each day at Point Park at 3:30 p.m.
As Gross explained, this Tennessee River reservoir could be on the verge of breaking loose, or it could play coy. It all depends on the weather.
“The fish go through that transition when they don’t want to bite until the water cools,” Gross said. “Then they go on a feeding frenzy until the water turns cold. I think we’re going to be in that window where we’re just a little early for a great bite; we’re probably going to have a good bite.”
It is possible that a recent cooling trend in the eastern U.S. might favorably influence Chickamauga’s bass. The key factor will be sustained periods of cooler weather, particularly the overnight lows that leave mornings brisk and the fish active.
“I’m hoping we get a piece of that while we’re there,” Gross said. “Chickamauga’s a great place to fish when it cools down. We’re going to have some 40-degree nights so we should get some water temperatures in the 60s, so it should be good.”
The lake stretches 58.9 miles from Watts Bar Dam to its namesake dam, completed in 1940. Covering 36,240 surface acres with a maximum depth of 72 feet, Chickamauga is feeling the effects of the fall drawdown — but not as drastically as usual.
“By Oct. 15, the water level is supposed to be down (to winter pool), but I don’t think we’ll quite be there this year,” Gross said. “I’m figuring we’re only going to be a foot and a half low.”
Gross, who placed third at last year’s Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open at Chickamauga Lake, said the drawdown positively impacts the fishing scene by pulling fish into tighter groups. The downside is the navigational challenge.
“A lot of the backwater becomes harder to access; you have to actually know how to get in,” Gross said. “Instead of just running across a bar, you’re going to have to figure out how to get in there on the deeper side.”
That’s a key point, as Gross said he expects a primarily shallow-water event — 15 feet or less. This will bring a range of fall standards like spinnerbaits, bladed jigs, lipless crankbaits and topwater lures to the forefront.
Gross also believes that Chickamauga will offer flipping, punching and frogging opportunities wherever grass avails. As he explains, despite significant water management fluctuation, the lake’s shallower upper end sees longer periods during which sunlight reaches the bottom. Therefore, it typically holds significantly more grass than the deeper lower end.
“Shellbeds are also good this time of year,” he said. “Also, anything contour-related that has something going back like ditch mouths can be good. A lot of those (smaller) creeks don’t have much water in them, so when the water draws down, it puts them out there in mouths.”
While a large percentage of the field will likely focus on the shallow game, Gross said there will still be some fish out deep. Anglers throwing swimbaits, jerkbaits and drop shots around brush, rockpiles and underwater islands in about 20 feet could find themselves weighing competitive bags, but this option probably won’t offer the consistency of the shallow zone.
“The entire lake will be in play, dam to dam and even some of the tributary rivers and creeks,” Gross said. “There’s really not a bad place to fish on Chickamauga right now.”
It’s good to have options, but fall usually finds bass on the move, chasing bait. That means the notion of camping on one spot for multiple days rarely works, especially not during a year that has seen atypically high fishing pressure.
“I think it will take at least three or four places, more than likely,” Gross said. “I don’t think one spot is going to last that long. Every time I’ve done well in the fall, I’ve had multiple places.
“COVID-19 has changed fishing because more people have fished all year and the fish have seen so many baits. You’re really going to have to fish this time around. There won’t be any gimmes.”
Gross estimated it will take 15 to 16 pounds a day to make the final cut, while 18 a day could earn the blue trophy and the $100,000 first-place prize. But factoring in the big Florida-strain largemouth bass stocked in Chickamauga, he wouldn’t be surprised to see a four-day winning weight of 90 pounds.
“The key will be to find the food source; and not just shad, it could also be a bream deal,” Gross said. “They’re going to start eating in the next couple of weeks for sure.
“It could turn on. It’s really a matter of the weather.”
Bassmaster LIVE will cover the event each day on Bassmaster.com and ESPN3. Semifinal Sunday will feature additional live coverage on ESPN2. Check local listings for details.
The tournament is being hosted by the Rhea County Economic Development & Tourism Council.