DAYTON, Tenn. — When a major professional bass tournament is held on Chickamauga Lake, there’s no question big bass will be caught.
But how they’ll be caught — and where — is always a question of timing.
That will be the interesting theme for the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open scheduled for May 23-25 on the 36,240-acre Tennessee River fishery.
Have enough bass moved out for the lake’s famed deep-water crankbait bite to dominate the standings? Or will anglers be forced to look shallower for the giant largemouth “The Chick” is known for?
“If somebody gets on a school that has just moved out deep, they could certainly win it,” said Scott Canterbury, a Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Odenville, Ala., who has extensive experience on Chickamauga. “But I’m not sure enough fish are really out there yet. Plus, the lake gets a lot of pressure this time of year, and a lot of those offshore places are already covered up with boats.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s won by somebody doing something a little different.”
The tournament will have daily takeoffs at 6:15 a.m. ET from Dayton Boat Dock. Weigh-ins on Days 1 and 2 will be held at 2:15 p.m. at Dayton Boat Dock, and the championship weigh-in on Day 3 will be held at 3:15 p.m. at the Bass Pro Shops in East Ridge, Tenn.
Canterbury, who currently ranks fifth in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, was planning to fish the event himself if it seemed like the offshore bite was in full swing. But he elected not to fish because he believes the winning pattern will be centered more around aquatic vegetation.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see it won over some grass in that 4- to 8-foot range,” he said. “It’ll be fish that have spawned and have already moved out, but they haven’t made it all the way out to the ledges yet.”
During the 2017 Bassmaster Open held on Chickamauga in late April, Florida pro John Cox won with a three-day total of 68 pounds, 3 ounces, and the Top 4 anglers averaged more than 20 pounds per day. Spawning bass were the talk of the week for that tournament.
Canterbury said sight fishing for bedding bass could play a small role in this event, but not the vital one it played in 2017.
“There’s a bunch that haven’t spawned yet,” he said. “A lot of those fish on Chickamauga usually hold off every year — and it hasn’t been hot this year. It’s been in the 40s there the last two mornings.
“I think a lot of the fish that haven’t spawned will pull up to spawn, and you could see a few big fish caught that way — but not enough to win it.”
The Chattanooga Bass Association held a team tournament on the lake May 11, and the Top 2 teams had 30.1 and 27.03 pounds, respectively.
“In that CBA tournament, the talk was that the first- and second-place teams shared one deep hole all day,” Canterbury said. “So, they’re starting to get out there a little bit. But I don’t know if they’re out there enough.”
With fishing pressure increasing on Chickamauga, it’s also hard to predict how long bass will stay on the ledges once they make the move.
“For a week or two last year, tournaments were being won out deep there,” Canterbury said. “But those fish stayed out there a couple of weeks and then moved back shallow.
“Fishing pressure and timing always play a role on Chickamauga — and really all the lakes of the Tennessee River.”
The Chickamauga event is the second of four Eastern Opens being held this season. The Eastern and Central Opens are the main routes to qualify for the prestigious Bassmaster Elite Series. In addition, the winning boater in each Open is invited to compete in the 2020 Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, provided he or she competes in all four events in the division in which the victory occurred.
Local host is Fish Dayton.