Chickamauga Promises True Double Digit Opportunities

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Chickamauga Promises True Double Digit Opportunities

By Pete Robbins

Three-time FLW Angler of the Year Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tennessee, knows as much about bass fishing as anyone to ever wet a line, so when he talks about his home waters – Lake Chickamauga, just a long cast from his house – it makes sense to listen. Right now, he said, Chickamauga is a lake that’s better than it’s ever been.

That’s saying a lot, because while Kentucky Lake and Guntersville were the big bass gems of the TVA chain for decades, in recent years there can be no doubt that Chickamauga has eclipsed them in terms of providing true monsters. The past two BBT events there have made the case definitively, and while we haven’t weighed a double digit yet – John Rader’s 9.98 last year came up about one digested shad short – every hour offers that opportunity. Indeed, in addition to Rader’s beast, last year we weighed in two more over 9 pounds and three more between 8 and 9. In 2016, Rocky Sutherland’s 8.98 pounder was top dog, and there were five more that weighed 8 or more pounds. Over the course of those two tournaments it took 7.89 and 7.46 pounds, respectively, to crack the top ten, and the lowest hourly top prize winners were 6.42 and 6.59 pounds respectively. Five pounders may collect some hourly cash, but they likely won’t raise an eyebrow.

Morgan caught his personal best Chickamauga bass, a 13 pound trophy of a lifetime, this March, one of a handful over 10 he’s caught there over the years, but he’s aware of many more 2018 giants.

“It’s been better this year than the past few years,” he said. “There have been some absolute monsters. It’s all because of the habitat – all of that good hydrilla and milfoil, and we have a heck of a stocking program.”

Some of that peaking is evident in local tournament results, but there’s a quiet subculture of giant hunters who aren’t publicizing their incredible catches. “It’s starting to be a lake that the headhunters frequent,” he explained. “If you’re real quiet about it, they’ll show you a few pictures. A big swimbait is all those boys throw. They don’t say a lot about it, but the fish definitely bite it. You can fish this lake just like you’d fish Clear Lake if you’re just headhunting. You might not catch one for two days, but when you do it’s likely to be a monster.”

There will likely still be a small group of spawning fish when the BBT is held at Dayton Boat Dock on May 19 and 20, but Morgan is convinced that if you want to consistently catch bigger fish at Chickamauga, you have to turn the other way. “It has turned into an offshore type fishery, even during the winter. They don’t catch many big ones on the bank.”

He’d focus on the lower end of the lake, which is where the better grass is located, and while bumping rubrails is not his favorite way to fish, he wouldn’t necessarily hesitate to get in with the crowds.

“The old big community holes will be loaded up with boats and they’ll be loaded up with bass,” he said. As a result of the cold and extended winter, the grass is growing decently in some areas, but it’s still a little bit behind its normal condition for May. Morgan said that the fish tend to bunch up in small areas, so the key to excelling won’t be to pattern them, but rather to “figure out which stretches they’re in.” A ½ ounce War Eagle spinnerbait is one of his favorite tools this time of year, and a Chatterbait would also be on the front deck of his boat at all times. Another category of lure that might not garner huge numbers of strikes, but could easily produce a heart-stopping strike from the bass of a lifetime, is topwaters. Morgan does his damage with a big Zara Spook-style lure, and said that the ever-popular Whopper Plopper is another recipe for success.

There may be opportunities for sub-5 pound fish to claim prizes, but not many. In 2016, fish below 4 pounds claimed money during only two hourly prize periods. In 2017, it only happened during one period. Conversely, there were multiple hours where if you didn’t have at least a 5-pounder, there was no reason to come back to the dock at all – it was a complete waste of time and gas. Anglers with fish over 4 but under 5 pounds will have to monitor the real-time leaderboard exceptionally carefully to find out whether it’s worth it to take time out of key feeding periods to run back and weigh in.