In April, I fished the American Bass Anglers Ray Scott National Championship on Lake Chickamauga in Tennessee.
This is a four-day event you have to qualify for by finishing in the top ten overall in your division. There are divisions all over the United States especially the Eastern half of the country from Texas up to Minnesota over to Maine and down to Florida. For me, this makes my fifth Ray Scott Championship that I have qualified for in the last six years.
COVID-19 has had a big impact on this event the last two years and all the protocol that goes with it.
Don’t get me wrong, ABA (American Bass Anglers) does a great job with organizing this event. We no longer have a pre-tournament banquet to honor the Anglers of the Year and we don’t have the great door prizes anymore; something the anglers really miss. The night before the event we do a personal check-in and pick up some free products, caps and T-shirts. We still have a meal but it’s in a to-go box and this year we had beef nachos.
If there’s one thing anglers can do, it’s eat! This is also when you have to be on guard for fishing information designed to throw an angler off his game.
We call this ‘dock talk” and its people who like to talk to hear themselves. While none of us are fishing for a living, we are fishing for thousands of dollars and a new loaded 20-foot Triton boat and the one and only opportunity for one of us to be a true national champion.
Day one was not what I expected as I only weighed two fish for 5.21 lbs. Now even though I felt good about what I thought I could catch, the first thing I noticed as I arrived at my starting spot, was how the water level had dropped.
From the time I arrived at Chickamauga on Sunday, the lake was 3 feet low and continued to fall each day. But I was able to find fish in two areas on the northern end of the lake. One was a creek that held some good quality fish, and the other was a spawning flat with fish on beds.
As I have said before, tournament fishing is a game of decisions and if you choose wrong, you will take yourself out of the competition. This is exactly what I did by choosing to fish the northern end of the lake instead of south. Now I did pre-fish on the south end with some success but it was very crowded as there was not a 50-yard stretch that did not have a boat on it. I don’t fish well in crowds, and it was at this point (day 2 of practice) that I decided to fish north. I really felt good about this decision especially after my day 3 practice with the fish I found.
One thing you have to understand about river systems like Chickamauga, the water closest to the dam (south end) remains more stable than the water level up the lake. So, while the south end remained more stable with little effect on the fishing, the northern end had a constant drop in water level every day which pulled the fish out of the areas I had, or they were so shallow I could not even get to them by day two of the tournament.
These are not excuses but just the facts as to how all the anglers that committed to going up the lake, struggled to weigh not just quality but even a five fish limit.
I still had a great time on this trip and like my previous five Ray Scott National Championship events, it was a huge success. ABA Tournament Director Chris Wayand does an outstanding job running this tournament and I encourage anyone who wants to fish a really good circuit, jump on board with the ABA Open Series or fish the new ABA Top 150 Solo Tour.
By writing these articles, I hope you learn from my mistakes. The one great thing about any sport is that once that event is over (win or lose) you have the opportunity to redeem yourself and get better.
Even at 60 years of age and all my experience as an angler, I’m still learning. Remember, it is through failure that we become better.
‘Til next time, don’t forget to set the hook!
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