After the PAA tournament on Ft. Loudoun-Tellico, we pulled the camper to Chickamauga Lake in Dayton, Tennessee, and then I got right back in the truck by myself and headed to Oklahoma for the next FLW event. Debbie stayed in Tennessee and I roomed with my old friend Glenn Browne as well as with Rusty Trancygier.
It was another one of those tournaments where this spring’s odd weather was going to play a major role. They’d had an extreme amount of rain upriver and the lake had jumped up about four feet and crested right before the tournament started. When they put out the schedule, we’d all assumed that this was a tournament that would be won out deep on summertime structure. Unfortunately, the water was so dirty and there was so much debris that when tournament time rolled around we had to look to the shallows.
The fish didn’t move immediately when the water level rose. They were headed to their post-spawn areas, but eventually they saw all of those newly-flooded willow bushes and trees, and they turned right around. Once that happened, I put a flipping stick in my hand rigged with either a tube or a Lunker Lure jig and went to work.
I spent all three days of practice flipping shallow cover and located good concentrations of fish from one end of the lake to the other. The lake was going to fish small, but I felt like I had enough different places that I could survive for multiple days and keep on catching quality fish. In fact, the water was so far up that there were some fish you couldn’t get anywhere near, and I figured that, as the water fell, those fish would replenish the areas where they’d been depleted by anglers in the previous days.
On the first day of competition, I caught a limit fairly quickly, but, other than that, my game was off. I was losing just about every other fish and, in hindsight, the reason became obvious. I was flipping my usual 20 lb. fluorocarbon and 8-foot extra-extra-heavy Carrot Stix flipping sticks, but I’d made an adjustment to my terminal tackle. Normally I use a 4/0 Daiichi offset round bend hook with my tube, but because the fish were in such heavy cover I decided to go with a stronger hook in a different style. That was a mistake. I hadn’t set the hook on many fish in practice, so I had a false sense of security as to how it would perform during the tournament. As I said above, once I started setting on them, the loss rate was ridiculous. They’d get halfway to the boat and come off.
I still managed over 13 pounds, which wasn’t bad, but when you’ve watched a 20 pound limit swim away, all because of your own stupidity, it’s maddening.
On Day Two, I switched back to my regular hook, and, even though fishing got tougher for most people, my weight improved. I assume that part of the reason others struggled was because the water fell about a foot and a half, but I think that actually helped to replenish my key stretches of cover. I also ran a lot of new water and kept adjusting to get up to 15 pounds. Unfortunately, it was too little too late, and I fell a little bit less than a pound short of a big check. I hate to have to admit that it was my fault, but there’s no question about it. A simple attempt to improve upon something that wasn’t broken made the situation much worse.
After skipping Eufaula and missing the money at Grand, there’s no chance for me to make the Forrest Wood Cup, but I’m still super-excited about the last FLW Tour event of the year on Chickamauga. I spent a day and a half fishing there before it went off-limits, and I expect to be really dialed into what’s going on next week.
My position in the standings frees me up to go for the win. Sometimes that’s a disaster – you keep going after big fish when it’s actually just another keeper or two that you need – but I’m willing to take that chance because I’m still itching for a win on the tour side.
10 fish, 28-03