DAYTON, Tenn. — How good is the fishing on Chickamauga Lake right now?
Ask Bassmaster Elite Series pro Brandon Coulter, who lives in Knoxville, Tenn., which is about an hour away from the northern end of the 38,000-acre Tennessee River impoundment. Coulter was only minutes removed from missing the cut in an Elite Series event at Toledo Bend earlier this month when he fired off a quick note to Chris Bowes, tournament director for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open Series.
The next Southern Open is being held April 20-22 on Chickamauga Lake and Coulter wanted in. Unfortunately for him, he was too late to get into the Open.
“I was expecting to be at Toledo Bend longer, but when that didn’t work out, I knew where I wanted to be,” Coulter said. “Chick is on fire right now.”
Indeed it is, and Coulter had numbers to back that up.
“My dad called me when I was at Toledo Bend and said he and my uncle went out and caught two 5-pounders and a 9-4,” Coulter said. “And before the Classic (on Texas’ Lake Conroe in March) a buddy and I went to Chickamauga, and we had five fish that weighed 34 pounds, 4 ounces. On our Tennessee Team Trail tournament there back in February, we had a guy catch a 10-2, and that wasn’t ‘Big Bass.’ It wasn’t even second place. Two other guys caught an 11-even and a 10-8.”
That’s music to the ears of the 400 anglers and co-anglers scheduled to compete in the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open No. 2 on Chickamauga Lake. They all hope to replicate any of the fantastic catches Coulter mentioned. The pro with the most weight after three days of action will earn a berth into the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, which will be held on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina — provided the winner fishes all other Opens in the Southern Division.
Competitors next week should expect a heavy dose of shoreline fishing, Coulter said. The spawn on Chickamauga was about to begin in early April, but a cold front that week lowered water temperatures and may have delayed the bedding season.
Anglers couldn’t ask for a more well-timed weather system, Coulter said.
“That cold front put everything on pause for a few days,” he said. “So now, if the weather holds, almost all of the bass are going to be spawning. I would figure almost all the fish will be up on the banks. It could be a sight fisherman’s dream; just an absolute heyday for them to be pitching and flipping for big bites.”
The beneficial timing of the cold snap could be further aided by the Tennessee Valley Authority, which manages Chickamauga Lake. Coulter said the TVA usually raises the water level in the lake on April 15, which could really heighten spawning conditions. If the TVA does its part, and the water has time to settle for a few days, fishing on Chickamauga after Tax Day could produce even greater dividends.
The first Southern Open of the 2017 season was held on the Harris Chain of Lakes in central Florida. Elite Series rookie Jesse Wiggins won that tournament and locked up a berth in the 2018 Classic. He’ll fish on Chickamauga Lake too, and he’s hoping to continue his recent hot streak. Not only did he win Southern Open No. 1, but he’s also leading the Toyota Bassmaster Elite Series Rookie of the Year standings and is eighth in the Angler of the Year standings.
“I expect to see all stages of the spawn (on Chickamauga Lake),” Wiggins said. “I’d prefer to see postspawn conditions because they’d be out deep, which is what I like. But however they are, I think we’re going to be spread out enough with everyone looking at different things. It should be a good one.”
And there’s little pressure on the Cullman, Alabama pro to win, though he’d love nothing more.
“I want to win every single tournament I fish,” he said. “But it’s definitely nice to have a win already and have the Classic berth locked up.”
Jacob Wheeler won the last B.A.S.S. event on Chickamauga Lake – the 2014 BASSFest. The 1986 Bassmaster Classic also was held there, and the lake ranked third in the southeastern division of Bassmaster Magazine’s 100 Best Lakes for 2016.
The Rhea Economic and Tourism Council is hosting the tournament.
The Bassmaster Southern Open No. 2 will begin each day with take off at 6:45 a.m. ET from the Dayton Boat Dock, 175 Lakeshore St. Weigh-in for Thursday and Friday will begin at 2:45 p.m. ETat the same location. Saturday’s weigh-in will begin at 3:45 p.m. ET at Bass Pro Shops, 1000 Bass Pro Drive, in East Ridge, Tenn.