Just over 300 teams are set to compete in the 2021 Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School National Championship presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors at Lake Chickamauga starting July 29, and Georgia pro Buddy Gross believes there will be a multitude of ways for anglers to catch a big bag.
“There are a lot of ways for these guys to catch them, and they should be able to get spread out and make it work,” Gross said.
Lake Chickamauga has taken center stage in the bass fishing world for the last several years, including the 2020 Bassmaster Elite, a tournament won by Lee Livesay in mid-October, and the 2019 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship. The Tennessee River reservoir spans nearly 60 miles, but anglers will also be able to lock into Lake Nickajack and Watts Bar for this event.
For the last several years, Kentucky Lake played host to the High School Championship, with Briarwood Christian winning the last three championships, two with the team of Tucker Smith and Grayson Morris and the third with Tucker Smith and Hayden Marbut. While Kentucky Lake is on the opposite side of the Tennessee River, Gross says there are plenty of similarities between Chickamauga and Kentucky Lake.
“Kentucky Lake is so big, but you have the same underwater islands, ditch mouths, deep water in front of spawning bays. Those places are all the same,” Gross said. “The Tennessee River is the Tennessee River. I’ve fished Pickwick very little, but I’ve had three great tournaments because it sets up exactly like the rest of the Tennessee River chain.”
The northern end of Lake Chickamauga is dominated by grass, Gross said, while the southern end has less grass, but more options for offshore fishing.
“There’s been a lot of rain and a lot of current this year,” Gross said. “The upper end has a lot of grass growing which is helping, and the lower end is suffering on the grass a little. If you can find grass on the lower end, it tends to be more isolated and that typically tends to have fish in it. The ledges are still going to have fish on them. They are going to be on brush piles.”
In years past, Gross added, the ledges have been more of a factor, but with so much pressure during the week they tend to be tougher to catch.
“If somebody can find a way to catch fish suspended off the ledges that aren’t in the current, that’s where the bigger bags tend to come from this time of year,” he said. “But a lot of these fish aren’t moving deep anymore. They are staying closer to the banks and in the grass. More of the Florida Strain has taken over. The fishing has changed a lot in the last five years.”
If current is running, the tail race below Watts Bar Dam and the tailrace below Chickamauga Dam will play, but Gross said he would expect more anglers to lock into Watts Bar than into Nickajack.
“It’s a good hour and 15 minute run to get to Chickamauga Dam. To go to Nickajack, you eliminate a lot of the day,” Gross said. “Watts Bar is really coming on strong. It has grass now, and it has Florida Strain. You aren’t hearing about it, but you are going to start hearing about it. It’s going to start showing out.”
For offshore fishing, Gross expects swimbaits like a Scottsboro Tackle swimbait and big worms to play as well as some topwater action in the morning. The big worm will also produce around the grass, Gross said, and depending on how thick the grass is, a frog could also become a factor.
“It’s getting to be that time of year. It should be a really good tournament,” Gross said.
Teams will begin competition July 29 and launch from Dayton Boat Dock at 6:45 a.m. ET and return for weigh-in at 2:45 p.m. at Point Park. Anglers will only be allowed to bring in three fish per day, with only one 18-inch smallmouth permitted a day. The full field will compete for two days with only the Top 12 moving on to Championship Saturday.
The tournament is being hosted by Fish Dayton and Bryan College.
National Championship Fast Facts
Playing field: Lake Chickamauga, Watts Bar Lake, Lake Nickajack
Number of states represented: 37
State with the most teams: Tennessee (48)
Previous champions: Tucker Smith and Hayden Marbut from Briarwood Christian