2014 Bassmaster BASSfest at Chickamauga Lake
The heart of BASSfest is a unique tournament at Chickamauga Lake. Besides the Elite Series pros, the top 20 anglers from each of the three Bassmaster Open tours will be invited to compete against the likes of Kevin VanDam, Edwin Evers and Aaron Martens.
The competition will be keen and the catches should be heavy. The bass fishing at Chickamauga has exploded over the past few seasons. Giant largemouths have become commonplace, points out Tennessee Elite Series pro Ott DeFoe.
“It’s been taking five-bass limits weighing over 40 pounds to win spring, prespawn tournaments at Chickamauga the past few years,” DeFoe said.
One reason for Chickamauga’s bass bonanza is that lush, aquatic grass has returned, including milfoil, hydrilla and several other species, DeFoe explains. Bass thrive in the greenery.
Another key big-bass factor is the 2 million Florida strain largemouth bass that the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has turned loose in Chickamauga since the year 2000. The Florida bass have crossed with the native largemouths, resulting in a greater abundance of bigger bass than this reservoir has ever supported.
“Our goal was to have 15 percent of Chickamauga’s bass population with Florida genes,” said Mike Jolley, a Region 3 Reservoir Fisheries biologist. “Our 2012 study shows that 45 percent of the bass now have Florida genes.”
Herren and KVD: contrasting styles
We're watching Matt Herren fish offshore structure right. His style is laid back, or slow, or patient. He'll cast, leave it alone for a bit, then move it, then pause it. He may only make two casts in 5 minutes. By contrast, we were following Kevin VanDam yesterday. He'd fire six casts over the course of a minute or two. Wing it a mile, crank it, wing it, crank it. Fast. That's KVD's style. Both approaches are effective. Just different styles.
Well, that was fast!
KVD's fourth move
KVD has moved four times now over the last 90 minutes.
He's now fishing a creek mouth. He's rotating, in no particular order, a compact creature bait, crankbait, worm.
The only entertainment we've had is the cruiser that intentionally made a pass by all of us. Rocky Top played over the boat's sound system. Loud.
Maybe that's what prompted the move by KVD. But he's from the Midwest. Go figure.
"A come-from-behind win?"
We just got out on the water. Sexton and I are sitting on the lower end of Chickamauga waiting for Matt Herren.
It will be a few minutes before he gets here and we are discussing all the possibles for the day.
Jacob Wheeler is in the driver's seat. But you have Herren, a seasoned and somewhat grizzled veteran, just about a pound back.
It's most likely this is a two-horse race between youth versus experience. But don't tell that to Kevin VanDam. He's put together bigger comebacks than the 6 of 7 pounds he has to make up. Same for Greg Hackney, who didn't get the "Hack Attack" moniker for nothing. He's been fishing like the Hackney of old lately and in his words, "in attack mode."
The thing to remember is Chickamauga produces big sacks, like the almost 30-pound bag Wheeler caught on Day 2. So every angler in the 12 thinks they have a chance. That's pretty special. This season more than any other, we've seen a good sample of those come-from-behind wins.
This should or could be one of those really cool days. And it's fitting for the first BassFest.
Day 4 updates, KVD fishing with a purpose
Last blog post I noted the discharge began. We're far up the lake from the dam ... but.
KVD has moved away from Lane. The honeymoon is over. The plastic rig is laying on the boat deck.
He's out on the very edge of the main river channel. Cranking what looks like a Strike King 6XD.
My slightly educated guess is that he's getting in position for the "fired up" mode of these bass.
Nuclear fishing with KVD
Here we are with KVD and Russ Lane.
In this week of "firing up" lethargic schools of fish, they obviously are trying to do just that. Both are swapping cast-by-cast replays and what's working and not.
It just did work for KVD from the screenshot of the solid keeper he just put into the livewell.
With only 15 spectator boats, the cheer of the crowd was more like a golf gallery than yesterday's football stadium atmosphere.
Both anglers are deep finessing soft plastic rigs into the current. Or what there is of it.
Some people are watching KVD instead of going to School this morning.
KVD with a good keeper
Day 4 VIDEO update from KVD
Day 3 updates from KVD on the water
One of the most interesting parts of the day for me was witnessing a little altercation between arguably the two most popular guys in fishing -- Kevin VanDam and Mike Iaconelli.
Kevin had departed his key spot from Day 1 and 2 (and where he started the day today). Ike came into the area while no one was there today. Soon after that, Kevin came back and started working again on his little honey hole. Ike was out in the main channel and began moving toward shore, in the process getting very close to the honey hole. Kevin then moved his boat in front of Ike, in what appeared to be an effort to protect the spot. Then Kevin said, "You think that's cool?" Ike responded with "C'mon man, be nice." After that, some choice words were exchanged and Ike headed out the door.
Steve Bowman and I think Ike didn't realize he was passing over the spot where Kevin had done much of his bass whacking in this tournament. In fact, he may have just been passing through the area. A few minutes after Ike left, Kevin looked up sort of thoughtfully and said, "I think he's having a bad day." And in fact at that point, about 12:30, Ike was indeed having a tough day with only one or two small fish in the livewell. No lack of excitement at BASSfest today!
I speculated earlier that KVD may have had a trolling motor issue. That appears not to be the case. He moved across the lake while we were away, adding three keepers to his livewell for 7 pounds, 4 ounces, according to BASSTrakk. It's hard to miss Kevin with a 24-boat armada following him right now.
Russ Lane is the only Amigo left here now. That's him in the photo alongside Mark Zona, James Hall and Tommy Sanders. Jeff Kriet is now fishing north of here and KVD headed the other direction. We are wondering if he has trolling motor issues. After he pulled it up, we watched Kevin messing around with the trolling motor. Could he be headed to a nearby ramp to have it checked?
The 3 Amigos (KVD, Russ Lane and Jeff Kriet) are fishing a point that runs out to the main-river channel. The spectator boats are out in the main-river channel a safe distance away from the pros.
Three pleasure boaters have run through here not realizing what was going on. Probably didn't know there's a bass fishing tournament taking place. They saw the open water near the competitors and motored right through their fishing water. KVD, Lane and Kriet seemed to take it in stride. Though, from my vantage point, it bordered on dangerously close.
It must be an incredible sight running up on this big crowd and realizing at the last minute they shouldn't be in here.
On Thursday Kevin VanDam, Russ Lane and Jeff Kriet spent the whole day fishing together. We started calling them the 3 Amigos in part because they appeared to be having a lot of fun. Well, they've reunited in the same location. Kriet arrived late to the party and we wonder if KVD and Lane had run him off. Today their demeanor seems to be more serious. They're not fishing nearly as close together today. And they've all kept their jerseys on. Thursday they peeled down to T-shirts quickly. All three have one keeper each in the livewell.
Here on the Tennessee River, in my home state, we are amongst fishing freaks. That's a term I first heard from Dave Mercer, and it's a compliment. There are approximately 80 spectator boats out here watching KVD, Russ Lane and Jeff Kriet. They're generally close enough together to be chatting happily and enjoying the nice breeze. Out here, everyone's a friend.
One observation from yesterday's Bassmaster University. That crowd was serious about fishing. A big crowd showed up on a Friday morning. In the seminars they asked intelligent questions and many came with note pads to jot down the answers.
Kevin VanDam is on the board with his first keeper of the day. This one is small, maybe 2 pounds tops. But it's a start.
Chickamauga Lake day 3 VIDEO update with KVD
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!
-- Kevin VanDam
Day 2 afternoon update
Kevin VanDam just caught a 4-(his estimate) or 5-(our estimate) pounder. That puts him in the 18 pound range. Should be enough for him to fish on Saturday.
A fish just broke in front of Russ Lane. He started reeling fast, so did Jeff Kriet. So did KVD.
KVD, much further out, fired and landed on the same spot. Kriet's lure landed next to it at about same time. Same for Lane. All three guys landed their baits in the same 1-square foot spot.
"Dang," Kriet said to KVD, "you have any line left on your reel?"
No bites for any of the Three Amigos.
Day 2 morning update
Kevin VanDam just caught 2 keepers on back to back casts. The first
was a 5 pounder, the second around 2 and a half pounds. That gives him
9 or 10 pounds by our estimate.
At the same time Kriet and Russ Lane caught keepers. We're witnessing
an honest to goodness flurry. The bite is turning on!
Russ Lane, Jeff Kriet and Kevin VanDam have been fishing together all
morning. We're estimating their order like this: 1) Lane with 20+
pounds, 2) Kriet with a little less than 20, and 3) KVD with around 12
pounds. It's not often you witness a little fish party like this and
KVD is not in the lead.
1, 2, 3...the shirts came off. First, KVD peels off his jersey, then Russ Lane and Jeff Kriet did the same. All have t-shirts underneath. The sun is out now and it's warming up fast-- 73 and humid right now.
The biggest difference between yesterday and today is the sun. That combination of sun and current appears to be turning on the bite.
Our guide Chris Coleman tells me the sun and current cause the bass to line up on structure, making them easier to catch.
Kevin VanDam just caught keeper number five. This one is around 3 and a half or 4 pounds. KVD says that gives him 15 or 16 pounds. Jeff Kriet and Russ Lane are arguing with him that he has at least 17 pounds.
Kevin nearly lost this one. He went to boat flip the bass into the boat and instead it banged up against the side of the boat. "That's too big to boat flip," he said, loud enough for us to hear. Then he hustled down to the water and hauled the fish out of the water by hand. He's already lost two fish today, one that was sizable.
That little drama we saw on his latest fish felt personal to me. A week or two ago I tried to boat flip a 5-pounder into the boat and it came off in mid-air. Pretty impressive to see Kevin change course midstream and still be able to lip the bass before he came unbuttoned. That's why he's KVD!
Day 2 launch - Chickamauga Lake - KVD Video Update
Day 1 - consistency is the message
DAYTON, Tenn. — Mike Iaconelli, with 25 pounds, 12 ounces, headlined a group of 14 anglers who caught 20 pounds or more on Day 1 of BASSfest. But not one man in the group expressed confidence in being able to repeat it on Thursday at Lake Chickamauga.
And that includes Iaconelli, who caught all his fish in a one-hour period.
"If you take away that hour, I had a really tough day," he said.
That was the word of the day – tough – even for the leaders, but particularly for the 25 anglers who weighed two bass or less. And that group included some big sticks, like Mike McClelland, who won the Elite Series tournament at Table Rock Lake in April and has seven first-place finishes in his illustrious B.A.S.S. career.
"You've got to work really hard to get a bite here," said Kevin VanDam, who is in fifth place with 22-9. "You've really got to trick them to get them to bite."
And what's so frustrating about that is knowing how many big bass are in this Tennessee River impoundment.
"There are probably a dozen mega-schools, where you pull up and your graph lights up like a video game," said Iaconelli.
It's so frustrating that seeing wasn't always believing on Lake Chickamauga, where huge schools of bass tend to stack up on rock ledges around the Tennessee River channel.
"Looking at them on the graph, you'd think I was on the motherload," said Keith Combs, who is 66th with 11-11.
"I'm actually wondering if my graphs are even working," said Billy McCaghren, who is 86th with 9-11.
So if you were expecting anyone to be confident going into Day 2 of the four-day BASSfest, apparently this week at Lake Chickamauga is the wrong time and the wrong place.
"I didn't have many bites today, so I'm a little bit worried," said Tommy Biffle, who is 3rd with 24-1.
Echoed Jason Christie, who is 8th with 22-5, "The weight looks good, but it was a pretty frustrating day. I caught six fish all day. I don't know what's in store for tomorrow. It could be a good day or a bad day."
Here's why it could be a really, really good day: current. Every angler knows that a strong current flowing through the lake is the key for turning on these huge schools of bass. Suddenly Lake Chickamauga's "smart" bass, which you have to trick in order to coax a bite, become, well, stupid.
If you can rely on the Tennessee Valley Authority's website, the current should be rolling through Chickamauga on Thursday. After over an inch of rain fell on much of this area Tuesday, the TVA started rolling the river Wednesday. The discharge from Chickamauga Dam jumped to 28,000 cubic feet per second at 11 a.m. Then came a big bump – up to 47,000 cfs – the remainder of the afternoon. But it takes awhile to establish a strong current in this 59-mile-long lake.
Thursday's forecast from the TVA is for more of the same – two or more generators running from 8 a.m. until midnight. One lake above Chickamauga, Watts Bar is discharging heavily, and one lake below Chickamauga, Nickajack is releasing water in a big way.
As Jason Christie noted, Wednesday's current flowing through Chickamauga was offset by a strong southerly wind.
"It's hard to catch 'em when the current is going one way and the wind is pushing you the other way," he said.
Thursday's forecast is for a slight (5, 6 mph) wind from the west for most of the day.
That might turn Chickamauga's finicky fish into ravenous feeders.
But for now, the 140 anglers in BASSfest will believe that only when they see it.
"I've got more rods ready than in any tournament in a long time," said VanDam, THE bass master, who has seven Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles and four Bassmaster Classic crowns to his credit. "Everything from ultimate finesse to great big baits, just trying to get them to react to something."
If the current flows through Chickamauga on Thursday and the wind doesn't blow in the opposite direction, everyone's game plan will become much simpler.
Day 1 updates with KVD Chickamauga Lake
We've watched KVD for sometime and he's not caught a bass in that time. I'm starting to wonder if he's just playing defense or the fish aren't biting. This is supposed to be the best part of the day so I'm siding with the defense theory.
Every boat that has run up or down the river has seen him here and he may feel comfortable with his weight. He could be making sure no one else pulls up and ensuring that he's firmly established on this area. Who knows?
Either way: The catching is slow and no one is close to him except four spectator boats, plus us. And as soon as I get that typed, he boats a 2-pounder and promptly drops it back to the river.
Kevin VanDam ventured close enough for us to visit a second.
"This is kind of like watching paint dry," he said.
"Yep," I replied. "I'm trying to decide if you are playing defense or actually trying to catch one."
"Good thought," he said. "It is a four-day tournament."
At least one thing can be read into that statement: VanDam expects to be here for the whole event.
Not surprising at all. It is, after all, the Tennessee River. Add that with a crankbait and it means KVD in the mix.
KVD on Chickamauga Lake 2014
Kevin VanDam has been accused of being from another planet. He’s actually from Kalamazoo, Michigan. But, this week at BASSfest on Lake Chickamauga, he’s fishing off the map, and it’s a huge reason why he slapped a 22-pound limit on the scales to begin the tournament while others have battled for smaller limits from well-known community holes.
VanDam says he hasn’t competed on “The Chick” since the famed Bassmaster Megabucks events of the early 90s, yet he was wise enough to realize the obvious would not be overlooked this week - in turn, grouping huge numbers of competitors on to a handful of select ‘honey holes’ along this 58 mile stretch of The Tennessee River.
In fact, his Toyota teammate, Terry “Big Show” Scroggins, says this lake is “fishing smaller” than any he has ever competed on. That’s a pretty strong statement considering Scroggins has fished in 170 B.A.S.S. events.
Lost in VanDam’s extraterrestrial fishing accomplishments, are the intangibles that stretch far beyond the speed at which he covers water, or the casting distance he achieves when he launches a Strike King 6XD with a 7’ 10” Quantum TourKVD rod.
Wisdom, strategy and raw intelligence are hard to measure on the water, but seven Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles prove he’s got way more than most, and those qualities are much the reason he chose to look for magic spots not found on today’s incredibly detailed electronic maps.
“I spent most of my practice time looking for the more obscure stuff that other guys couldn’t see on their electronics,” said VanDam prior to Day Two takeoff. “The Humminbird Lakemaster chips are incredibly freakin’ detailed, you can zoom-in to look at every 20-feet of the lake in incredible detail.”
“I could see guys riding the contour lines in practice, and that’s when I knew that instead of fishing the highly defined places on the map, like where a creek mouth entered the river, that I had to rely more on what I was actually seeing with sonar, as opposed to the super obvious stuff that’s marked on the map.”
“I looked for the super subtle stuff, and I’ve got fish located as shallow as 5-feet and as deep as 35-feet,” says VanDam.
“The Lakemaster maps are crazy good in terms of detail. Sometimes, too good,” he added with a wink.
Too good – much like VanDam himself.
-- Alan McGuckin
Chickamauga Lake registration update
Jacob Wheeler - 90-6
1. 22-6, 2. 29-13, 3. 16-2, 4. 22-1
Kevin VanDam - 84-12
1. 22-9, 2. 22-14, 3. 15-13, 4. 23-8
Matthew Herren - 83-15
1. 22-7, 2. 21-7, 3. 23-6, 4. 16-11
Gerald Swindle - 74-10
1. 15-5, 2. 22-11, 3. 17-11, 4. 18-15
Brett Hite - 71-5
1. 19-2, 2. 18-15, 3. 16-4, 4. 17-0
Greg Hackney - 70-12
1. 20-5, 2. 24-8, 3. 13-10, 4. 12-5
Casey Ashley - 69-15
1. 16-1, 2. 17-7, 3. 21-3, 4. 15-4
Terry Scroggins - 69-7
1. 19-7, 2. 17-11, 3. 19-2, 4. 13-3
Luke Clausen - 68-1
1. 15-8, 2. 16-10, 3. 20-4, 4. 15-11
Russ Lane - 66-13
1. 14-3, 2. 20-14, 3. 18-10, 4. 13-2
Jason Williamson - 64-14
1. 21-3, 2. 17-10, 3. 14-8, 4. 11-9
Hank Cherry - 61-1
1. 13-13, 2. 21-0, 3. 18-5, 4. 8-8
History & Notes;
Day 1: Tommy Biffle - 8-6
Day 2: Hank Cherry - 10-11
Day 3: Tracy Adams - 8-9
Day 4: Brett Hite - 5-5