Saturday was not a fit day out for man nor beast. That didn’t stop Derek Turner and his longtime friend and fishing partner, Brandon Hembree. The pair fishes the Tennessee Team Trail bass tournaments and came to Dayton from Campbell County, Tenn. to practice for a Feb. 2 tournament. They didn’t think twice about launching their boat at Dayton Boat Dock in a driving rain.
“It sure was a miserable day,” said the 27-year-old Turner. “You might have the best rain gear in the world but rain always creeps through cracks and crevasses. But like most people, we work during the week. When weekends roll around we go and make the best of it.”
Turner and Hembree understand that when tournament day comes they will have to fish in whatever conditions Mother Nature brings so they don’t let foul weather deter them on practice days.
“With the rain coming down we were thinking it was setting up to be a good day, before that front moved in,” said Turner. “When we got to our first spot we got to looking around and saw some bait moving.”
Turner says that has been the key to success recently, finding bait schools concentrated in and around shallow ditches just off the main river channel. He and Hembree were north of Hiwassee Island.
These days lots of anglers in search of trophy bass are casting Tennessee rigs – massive umbrella-style baits with multiple lures. Not Turner.
“I hate throwing [Tennessee] Rigs,” said Turner. “I don’t even have one in my boat. Of course in the tournaments we fish we’re not allowed to throw it anyway. But I’ll do anything to not throw one of them things, even if I’m fishing for fun.”
What Turner was throwing was a 3/4 ounce Rattle Trap, obviously imitating the baitfish swimming in the area.
Turner said within five casts in their first spot he caught a 3-pound bass in about six feet of water.
“I put my Power Poles down to hold us in place because the current will move you around in a hurry,” he said. “We know in those types of spots if you catch one you can catch more.”
Turner was right. He said only two casts later another fish hit.
“I hooked one and it didn’t move,” he said. “I was just kind of holding it.”
Hembree asked, “Are you hung?”
Turner answered, “No, I can feel the head shake.”
Then suddenly it started screaming drag, the 17-pound test Seaguar fishing line peeling off Turner’s reel and the real fight was on.
“It felt like an eternity,” said Turner. “You’re thinking, ‘What is it.”
The fish never jumped so they wondered if Turner might have snagged a big carp. He said it took about three long minutes before he got it close enough to the boat to see it.
“She rolled and I saw that belly and realized how big the fish could be,” said Turner. “When we finally got it in the net Brandon looked at me and said, ‘That’s a [expletive deleted] state record.”
On his hand scales Turner said the huge bass went well past the 14-pound mark. It was 27 inches long with a 23 inch girth. He knew they needed to take it back to Dayton Boat Dock with more accurate scales, but he couldn’t go right away.
“I just sat there,” he said. “I was weak from my knees to my neck.”
They added some Rejuvenade to the livewell and put the monster bass in there. Hembree fished a few minutes until Turner, “finally got my wits about me enough to be able to ride back to Dayton.”
There the fish weighed 14 pounds, 3 ounces – exactly one pound away from the state record caught Feb. 13, 2015 by Gabe Keen, also from Campbell County and a friend of Turner.
Up to this point Turner’s biggest bass, actually caught just two weeks ago, weighed 8.4 pounds. Obviously he and his partner are on a great pattern but he’s been around long enough to know that things change.
“Between now and Feb. 2, with the weather coming, it is definitely going to change,” said Turner. “Having so much success in practices recently, it’s just enough to scare you.”
No one keeps official records, other than the existing state record fish. However in this writer’s experience and memory, Turner’s bass may be the third largest bass caught on Chickamauga Lake. Yet another testament to the amazing success of TWRA’s Florida bass stocking program started in the year 2000.
With an official weight noted Turner returned the big bass to the livewell. He and Hembree motored back up the river, still in driving rain, and released the big bass in the exact same spot he caught it.
That is how you catch, and release, a 14-pound bass.