This past week, B.A.S.S. initiated their first BASSfest on Lake Chickamauga. The atmosphere was to emulate that of former Bassmaster Classics held during the summer months. The area around Dayton, Tenn., is no stranger to the Classic and B.A.S.S. tournaments.
The sixth event for the Elite Tour took on a unique twist. Along with the 107 Elite anglers, 33 top anglers from the B.A.S.S. Opens Series were also invited. The Opens anglers competed right alongside the Elite guys. Top prize was $100,000 cash and a ticket to the 2015 Classic on Lake Hartwell in February.
One part of the uniqueness of this event is the 140 anglers fished two days on Chickamauga. The top 50 anglers after the two days received a day off. Well, some did. Others had to work the crowds of bass fans at the vendor booths on Friday.
The 90 anglers below the 50th- place cut got a second chance. On Friday, they competed on Nickajack Lake where the top 10 anglers moved back to Chickamauga on Saturday to fish with the top 50. Weights from the first two competition days in the Chick were carried over to Saturday. The top 12 anglers fished on Sunday for the championship.
Many of the Opens anglers were also pros from the FLW Tour. This gave a unique perspective to some of the competition, particularly on the final day. Former FLW Cup (championship) winner Jacob Wheeler of Indiana bagged over 90 pounds of bass in four days to take the win.
Ironically, Wheeler finished 92nd in the FLW Tour final tournament last June on Chickamauga. The 23 year-old has only been a pro four years. He has already amassed close to $1 million in earnings. He has been a top contender on the FLW Tour the past two years.
Wheeler was constantly looking over his shoulder as he moved into the top spot on Thursday. Close behind was veteran Alabama Elite angler Matt Herren and won-every-B.A.S.S.-award-a-bunch, Kevin Vandam. Also in the mix was Elite pro Gerald Swindle from Warrior.
VanDam ended up in the second spot, with Herren third and Swindle fourth. This was Swindle’s second consecutive top five finish this season on the Elite Tour. On Saturday, VanDam only brought four bass to the scales, one shy of a limit. On day two, he lost a 5-pounder and a 7-pounder at the boat.
Fishing on the Chick was tough for many anglers. Most were on top of other competitors and sharing holes along the ledges of the Tennessee River. Wheeler moved away from the crowds and found some new water. He used a swimbait, crankbait and a homemade hair jig to catch his winning creel.
Other anglers used deep diving crankbaits, Carolina Rigs, jigs and an occasional top water lure. Several bass in the 7- to 9- pound range were caught. Wheeler helped his total with a 9-pund plus bass on day two.
Bass fishing fans can look for the BASSfest to return again next summer, possibly at the same venue.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at ChrJohn7@aol.com