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2017 Bassmaster Elite at Cherokee Lake


The Elite Series 2017 kicks off at Cherokee Lake!

Tour Review

Day 1 - Cold dreary launch on Cherokee Lake

A cold 50-degree drizzle couldn’t chill Kevin VanDam’s attitude as he launched for the final day of practice at the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament at Cherokee Lake in East Tennessee, but stress levels are heating up like a bowl of white sausage gravy in the foggy East Tennessee air.

For starters, this is the first Bassmaster Elite Series event of the 2017 season. Naturally, nobody wants to dig himself a hole capable of burying the season’s goodness right out of the gates.

Secondly, the weather here has been like a roller coaster ride you might find 30 minutes from the boat ramp down at Dollywood.

The one consistency is thick fog, but while high temps have been in the 60s so far – the bottom drops out for Day 1 of competition. Most of Thursday will be near freezing or below with strong bone chilling north winds.

And then, there’s the fish. Mostly smallmouth, with a well-earned reputation for changing their minds like … well … the weather.


“Great Lakes smallmouth behave way different than these Tennessee fish,” says VanDam. “The smallmouth I grew up catching eat a ton of crawfish and gobies, they find a reef that’s got food on it, and stay fairly local, but these fish down here live primarily on shad, and every time that school of shad moves, the Smallmouth move too.”


Cherokee is no small pond at 28,000+ surface acres, but it’s not exactly Lake Michigan either. And while wind is the main weather factor for angling natives of The Wolverine State, it’s largely Holston River current controlled by the Tennessee Valley Authority that stirs the pot here.

“You definitely have to contend with changing current here, and while this place is not exactly small, there’s no doubt fishing pressure affects these fish,” says the Team Toyota angler with seven Bassmaster Angler of the Year Titles to his credit.


Not really. But as he pulled his rain jacket hood over his head and strapped down a pile of Smoke HD reels, you’d have sworn he was Reynolds Wolf of The Weather Channel.

“It’s foggy and chilly today, but tomorrow is the one you’ve gotta be ready for – 24 degrees in the morning, with a high of only 40 – and the worst part will be the sustained 15 to 25 mph North winds,” warns VanDam.

“I’ll layer-up, and trade this ball cap for a beanie, but the bottom line is, this one is gonna be a grind – a real stress sandwich.” 

Tough tournament conditions? Deal with it

I have to admit I have the jitters as I compile this blog prior to the start of the Bassmaster Elite on Cherokee Lake.

Although this is the start of my 27th season, the pre-tournament jitters are always the same.

Especially now. We can usually get those jitters out of the way at the Bassmaster Classic, but this year we’re kicking off the season before the Classic. Every man in this field knows the importance of a good start to the season, and the tournament here on Cherokee is really going to make us step it up a notch.

That’s because Thursday’s opening round was forecasted to bring us temperatures in the 20s-30s, 15-25 mph winds and a nasty cold front. This all comes on the heels of good weather we’ve had through practice.

But my job is to not let the conditions, or the fact the lake will fish small, ruin my day. The hardest thing to do in tournament bass fishing is to make good decisions throughout the day and adjust to whatever gets thrown at me.

At least the weather won’t be a total surprise. The weather channel here has been good about predicting weather trends. I knew it was going to be cold Thursday, and I practiced for it. Besides, I’m from Michigan. I know about cold weather.

I have a game plan and a backup. But even with that, I know to be ready for subtle changes that can occur hourly on the water, and I must react accordingly. I have to keep my focus and stay in tune.

When fishing in these conditions, there aren’t going to be a lot of opportunities, and I must capitalize on the ones that appear. Knowing that prepares me mentally, and I truly believe my preparation improves my chances of being successful.

During practice, I searched for multiple patterns and areas that match up best with the forthcoming weather. I didn’t catch many fish and couldn’t really call it a good practice. But I learned a lot with an eye on the days to come.

There will be a lot of guys who got distraught when they arrived at their first spot and nothing good happened. That’s when you have to stick to a plan, keep positive and stay focused. It’s not easy to do.

The key is to not leave takeoff with negative thoughts about the weather, the lake or fishing pressure. I hear a lot of that, and I’ve been guilty of it in the past. But it serves no purpose. We have a job to do and the angler who keeps a positive attitude has a far better chance of succeeding.

And our job is to succeed.

You can’t let lost fish get to you, either. I’ve seen guys break rods and throw a fit, but you can’t let it ruin your day. I’m disappointed when I lose a fish, but I parlay that experience – and what I learned to get that one bite – into getting me another.

Yet it still amazes me how many anglers at this level can’t manage distractions. You absolutely have to because pro fishing is all about distractions.

Historically, I’ve done well in tough tournaments regardless of the time of year. I believe that’s because I work hard in practice to formulate a solid game plan, give myself options, keep an open mind and watch for things to materialize.

Of course there are going to be failures. It happens. But success is so much sweeter when you make the right choices and things go your way.

And that’s why I insist that it’s all about the attitude!


-- Kevin VanDam

Cherokee Lake, Jefferson Co., Tennessee
Feb 9 - Feb 12, 2017


Jacob Wheeler - 69-13
1. 17-10, 2. 16-15, 3. 17-1, 4. 18-3
Jamie Hartman - 69-3
1. 17-10, 2. 16-13, 3. 17-9, 4. 17-3
Jesse Wiggins - 69-0
1. 19-1, 2. 16-14, 3. 16-14, 4. 16-3
Seth Feider - 65-13
1. 18-10, 2. 15-1, 3. 16-13, 4. 15-5
Paul Mueller - 65-0
1. 12-5, 2. 16-12, 3. 17-15, 4. 18-0
Josh Bertrand - 64-14
1. 16-8, 2. 15-0, 3. 17-9, 4. 15-13
David Mullins - 64-4
1. 16-12, 2. 16-14, 3. 14-10, 4. 16-0
Randall Tharp - 64-1
1. 12-4, 2. 20-11, 3. 15-1, 4. 16-1
Matt Herren - 61-12
1. 15-11, 2. 15-2, 3. 15-10, 4. 16-5
Ott DeFoe - 62-1
1. 15-2, 2. 16-14, 3. 15-4, 4. 14-13
Michael Iaconelli - 61-4
1. 16-0, 2. 14-4, 3. 18-0, 4. 13-0
Brandon Palaniuk - 54-10
1. 17-2, 2. 15-4, 3. 13-12, 4. 8-7
Kevin VanDam - 23-9
1. 15-4, 2. 8-5

History & Notes;

Big Bass

Day 1: Mark Daniels Jr. - 5-0

Day 3: Jacob Wheeler - 4-1

Day 4: Randall Tharp - 4-9