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BASSfest has that “Classic” feel

This week’s Bassmaster BASSfest might be the most unique tournament format I’ve ever fished.

There are about 140 anglers in this tournament, to include all Elite anglers and some Bassmaster Open competitors. We fished two days on Lake Chickamauga and the top 50 got the day off to work with sponsors and conduct seminars at the event.

The remaining field competed in a consolation event on Lake Nickajack today and the top 10 finishers there will rejoin us back on Chickamauga Saturday for a semi-final round. On Sunday, the top 12 advance.

In this tournament, there are Toyota Angler of Year points, but there’s a big payday and a Classic berth awaiting the winner.

For that reason, I laid a different strategy that is similar to how I prepare for a Bassmaster Classic.

This is something that a lot of newcomers to our sport don’t understand. You have to have a different mentality for each individual event based on the rules and format, regardless of whether you are fishing an Elite points tournament, a Bassmaster Open, a three-hour weeknight contest or something like this.

The practice period for this was critical. Some guys spent some of their practice period on Nickajack, but I chose to spend all of my time on the Chick. I haven’t fished here since about 1992 – the year I won my first Angler of Year title – so I needed to bone up on the lake.

And I’m fishing to win.

It didn’t take long to figure out that the lake would fish small because of the summer pattern and more importantly, that the new Lakemaster mapping chip is stellar on this lake. That chip reveals every little ditch, creek bend in the flats, all the channel ridges and the kind of stuff that older mapping chips often overlook. That told me that the points, ditch mouths and stuff on the map was going to get pressured. They would hold fish, but this group of anglers would find them.

I practiced from pre-dawn to dark every day, scouring the main lake areas for more subtle offshore structure that held fish in between the obvious areas that I thought others would hammer.

As good as our electronics are at spotting structure and fish, you still have to work them. I quickly discovered that these are some of the smartest ledge bass I’ve ever fished. In addition to being wary, you can sit on a school and never get a bite, but if you time it right, it’s game on.

I managed to find a few things that put me in striking distance, but as expected, a couple of other guys found the same fish. Jeff Kreit and Russ Lane are working the same area, but we’re managing it together.

We all know the lake fishes small. Instead of bickering, we’re roaming around the area and talking to each other about what we’re seeing and using, sort of like working as a team for the betterment of all of us. On this lake, if one guy gets a school fired up, it helps when everyone is catching them because it keeps the school active. That’s what happened a few times Thursday.

There’s a lot going on at BASSfest this weekend and it will be the place to be. Kudos to the communities hosting us – they’ve really rolled out the red carpet. Local fans are being treated to a tournament that is the next best thing to a Bassmaster Classic, and you can bet that those of us in the hunt for the title will give them a Classic-like finish!

After all, it’s all about the attitude!