The GEICO Bassmaster Classic Presented by DICK’s Sporting Goods is set to kick off next week. This will be the 3rd time in 49 years that a Classic has been held in the state of Tennessee, but the first time this historic event will take place in Knoxville, on the upper Tennessee River. With more than 30,000 acres of fishable area, the 52 anglers competing in this year’s classic will have plenty of room to spread out.

Tournament Waters

Each morning, the field will take off from Volunteer Landing in downtown Knoxville. From there, they have the option to go north up the Holston River to the Interstate 40 bridge or up the French Broad River to the Highway 168 bridge. The southernmost boundary is formed at the Fort Loudoun Dam, allowing anglers to explore both Fort Loudoun (explore the Omnia lake page for Fort Loudoun here) and Tellico (see the Tellico lake page here) in their entirety.

Fort Loudoun sits directly on the Tennessee River and has an abundant supply of river features and backwater areas for anglers to explore. Its water clarity is similar to that of other TVA reservoirs with 2-5 ft of visibility. Many features like rock piles, bluff walls, and humps/flats will come into play this time of year.

Tellico sits at the bottom of Fort Loudoun and is connected via a canal for greater flood control of the Tennessee River. The lake was formed by damming up the Little Tennessee River which flows northwest out of the Appalachian Mountains. This water source is the reason for its enhanced clarity, often allowing for 10 ft of visibility.

Another challenging factor for anglers will be whether to target smallmouth or largemouth bass during the tournament. This fishery is known to have a healthy population of both. The size limit for largemouth is 14 inches while smallmouth sits at 18 inches. Coming into the scales with a limit of smallmouth will no doubt put an angler higher in the standings but will certainly be a challenge to fill out a limit. It will be more common to see mixed bags coming across the stage.

Factors to Consider

Depending on the weather, this time of year should have smallmouth in pre-spawn to spawn while the largemouth will be a month or so behind. Focusing on spots that are holding both smallmouth and largemouth may prove to be the key to hoisting that classic trophy.

Having a storm roll through could affect the fish greatly. With no rain, the lakes currently sit at about 4 ft below summer pool, eliminating a lot of shallow cover and backwater areas where bass could have otherwise been located. It also means that the water is relatively clear and has an effect on the overall approach an angler might have to certain spots. If rain does start to come through, you could see warm muddy water push fish even shallower and create a dream situation for bank power fishing.

With a possible rising lake due to rains, current could also play a huge factor in locating fish. A sudden rise in lake level would cause the TVA to fluctuate the flow of water to help regulate water levels. Pulling the water hard one day and barely moving it the next could make it difficult to replicate the same pattern from day to day.

The tournament waters are filled with a variety of structures as you move from top to bottom. It feels more like a river in the Northern part and starts to show more like a lake as you move farther South down the waterway. Locating hard surfaces will be an important factor in finding pre-spawn fish. The fish will also most likely be using ditches and canals to move throughout the waterway. Bluff walls and sand ridges with rock could also prove to be holding places for smallmouth as they stage for the spawn.

Techniques to Consider

With water temps projected to be in the high 40s to mid 50s, baits that can be moved slightly slower in high percentage areas will be great options to target bass gearing up for the spawn. The water clarity will also play a huge factor on how the fish are relating to structure and how receptive they will be to different types of lures.

Fort Loudoun will play well for a mid-depth to shallow bite with its relatively murky water. Little to no rain before and during the tournament will provide for relatively higher water clarity. In that situation, more realistic baits in size and color should be a great option. With shad being the predominant forage, expect to see more whites and silvers being used to imitate bait. Cold, clearer water also plays well to using flat-sided crankbaits and smaller swimbaits.

With one good rain, Fort Louden could get muddy in a hurry. If that happens, we should see anglers adjusting to slower moving baits that displace a lot of water. Crankbaits and Colorado bladed spinnerbaits could become a winning factor. Rain during the tournament would also provide a good opportunity for bass to feed up in creeks where warmer water is bringing in phytoplankton that baitfish will gravitate towards. Picking apart these areas with a jig could be a great strategy to fill up the livewell.

Tellico will allow anglers to catch fish deep with the extended water clarity, especially since the bass should be moving into their pre-spawn staging areas. If we see any angler finesse fishing deep during the tournament, it will most likely be in this clear water for staging bass. Jerkbaits should also be productive with the added visibility and will allow the angler to cover more ground trying to find schools of fish.

Cloudy and windy days could help anglers who focus their time down in Tellico. The expanded strike zone and the ability to locate bait sets up well for a productive day on the water. In that case, willow bladed spinnerbaits and tight wobble crankbaits with forage paint schemes could be the ticket to catching that 20-pound bag.

Favorites

While any given tournament winner is hard to predict, especially when it comes down to the Classic where the top anglers in the world meet, there is something to say for the local guy. In this case, there are four anglers who call Tennessee their home. With there not being a lot of history on this section of the Tennessee River it definitely is an advantage to fish and be familiar with the waters that East Tennessee has to offer. Of the four locals, Ott Defoe may stand out from the rest as he calls the take-off location, Knoxville, his home. Defoe has also been doing extremely well the last couple of years around his home waters with two first place finishes and several other top-20 finishes. The other three to look out for are Brandon Lester, Wesley Strader, and Jacob Wheeler.

The tournament kicks off on Friday, March 15 from Volunteer Landing in Knoxville, TN.

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