When BASS announced it wouldbe holding its first Bassmaster Elite Series event of the 2017 season onCherokee Lake in the mountains of eastern Tennessee in February, some anglerswondered if they might need ice suits and heaters on the front decks of theirboats just to stay focused on fishing.
But Brandon Card, an Elite Series competitor from Knoxville, said the areasimply hasn’t had that kind of weather this year.
Card said it’s been one of the mildest winters he can remember — and when theanglers begin the event, scheduled for Feb. 9-12 with takeoffs and weigh-ins atCherokee Lake Dam and TVA Boat Ramp, they’re likely to have multiple optionsfor catching big fish.
“I have a lot of experience on Cherokee,” Card said. “But we’ve never had awinter this crazy, just in terms of how mild it’s been. I think we’ve just gotto expect the unexpected in this one. Fish are going to be so scattered.They’ll be all over the place.”
Though some anglers dread frigid temperatures, Card said local anglers like himcould have actually benefited from those conditions.
“I think if it had been one of those brutal winters, it would have definitelyplayed into the east Tennessee guys’ hands,” he said. “But now, it kind ofopens it up to anybody and everybody. There’s going to be a few fish in thosepredictable wintertime haunts, but that’s not going to be the winning pattern.
“Fishing history isn’t going to do much for you.”
The announcement of the tournament date and location — combined with a BASSrule change that will now allow Elite Series anglers to use rods up to 10 feetlong — led many to wonder if a finesse technique known as float-and-fly couldbe a big part of the event. The method allows anglers to fish a small jig on along leader under a bobber to target suspended fish.
But Card said the mild winter may take that out of the equation as well.
“I don’t think it’s going to be as much of a factor as it might have been,” hesaid. “I’m sure there will be fish caught that way, but you could probably godown that same stretch of bank and catch them on a spinnerbait. So why wouldyou want to watch a bobber if the water temperature is in the low 50s and youcan catch them in other ways a lot faster.”
Regardless of how the fish are caught, those who know the lake well expect aclose tournament from start to finish.
“Cherokee is so good, and there are going to be so many fish caught that todistance yourself, it’s going to take some good fortune,” said Brandon Coulter,another Elite Series angler who calls Knoxville home. “The situation won’treally benefit the local anglers, because everybody’s going to catch them.”
Coulter said that could make for some exciting daily weigh-ins.
“I really think 13 or 14 pounds probably won’t put you in the position you wantto be in, but 16 will,” Coulter said “It’s going to be more like one of thosenorthern tournaments – like the one we had on Cayuga Lake last year when 16wouldn’t get you a check, but 17 would.
“I think the guys are going to have a blast. I think they’re going to catchthem from 1 to 40 feet and everywhere in between.”
That’s the kind of tournament the host organizations are certainly hoping for –especially considering this is only the second trip to Cherokee for BASS andits first since 1981.
“Cherokee Lake will prove its reputation as an outstanding bass lake in termsof both size and numbers of fish,” said Adele Sensing, director of tourism forthe Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County, Tenn. “The smallmouthare good and plentiful. The number one reason that a tournament wants to cometo an area is great fishing, and Cherokee Lake will deliver.”
“We are grateful for our ongoing relationship with the BASS organization. Whenthey bring the top pro anglers to our community we gain publicity for our lakesand are hopeful people want to come fish where their heroes compete.”
Kim Bumpas, president of Visit Knoxville, agreed.
“Having a top-tier sporting event like this is great for Knoxville as a whole,”Bumpas said. “To be on that national stage with some of the best anglersfishing our waters shows people who might just be a weekend angler that theywill have a great time in Knoxville.”