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The 'Chick has been hot the last couple of years. Don't tell anyone, but it's no surprise to me, really. All of the Tennessee River lakes are hot. It's just a question of what you are going after and when. The river system is wonderful fishery that supports a plethora of great fish. The focus has been on Guntersville over the last 5 years because of the ability to catch massive sacks of fish.. Once word got out ( I blame the elite series event that Skeet Reese won), the lake became a Mecca. It would appear that the same thing has happened to the 'Chick after the FLW tournament last year.
To be honest, I am tired of Guntersville and the pressure it has been under. I have been for years. I know that admission sounds like a poor fisherman making excuses. Sure, that's some of it. I'm not a good fisherman. I never really claimed to be. But, the G is hammered every single day of the week. The ramps are ALWAYS packed. And manners are completely tossed aside on that lake. That doesn't mean the fish aren't biting. A casual look at the tournament results for any major event say otherwise. But, the fishing HAS gotten harder for the average fisherman who can only afford to go once every few weeks. I have said it many times, but Guntersville is the only lake I have ever been to where I can go an entire day without a bite.
So, I will stop whining about it and just say that we wanted to try somewhere new. With 60 degree weather mid week, we decided that we would try the Chick. According to Mapquest (or whatever we used) it was a 2.5 hour drive. At 2.5 hours, we were approaching Chattanooga and still had 30 minutes to go. Just keep that in mind. So, we pulled into Chester Frost Park around 10 and hit the water. I was surprised at the number of boats on the water, as it was a Wednesday. There were a BUNCH. But, what surprised me even more was the water level. It appeared that the water level was down 4 or 5 feet. I guess I should have done my homework.
Come to think of it, I didn't do ANY homework. I knew nothing about the lake other than multiple people said "it fishes small." I didn't really know what that meant. So, I brought a small selection of baits I *thought* would work. Now, to be fair, I selected them based upon my fishing partners patterns. I had a lipless crank, a square bill, and a bama rigged with PTL Swinging Hammer. Now, we had a plan....and it didn't really involve wacking the fish. Now, we would be happy to do that....for sure. But, this was a scouting trip. We planned to put the trolling motor on "high" and get the lay of the land.
We started fishing around the ramp, at a nearby stump flat on the creek channel. There were seagulls swarming on bait, which we marked in 14 feet of water with the electronics. No takers.
We jetted to the main river and fished the main point adjacent to the creek channel. We didn't mark any fish, so we made a few casts before moving on.
We noticed that there was a pocket across the river from us with a creek channel swinging near a bluff before terminating on a nice flat with a lot of laydowns. Now, the laydowns weren't in the water because of the water level, but I mentally marked it as a prime area to fish at full pool. We fished it out, without getting a bite.
After fishing a few similar areas, we gave up on creek channels into flats and headed up river.
I am not a "bent poll pattern" kinda guy, but when we had fished 5 spots without seeing a boat, then passed a cove that held no less than 6 boats, I thought it best to stop and check it out. It didn't take long to figure out WHY. The flat came off the main river channel from 20 feet to less than 2....covered with scattered grass. It was the first grass we had found all day. We fished it out, but it had all been fished by all these boats already. Most of the boats started right on the channel and worked to the back, where most of them were currently. We didn't want to disturb them, so we just watched.
Every boat we saw was throwing a lipless crank or a hard jerkbait. I didn't bring any of the later, nor did I bring any soft jerkbaits, which has become one of my favorite tactics...as you can read here:
We did see one fish caught before we moved on. That was a far-cry from the ZERO bites we had.
We went up river another mile or so and fished a rip rap dyke by the nuclear power plant. Nothing there, but we did notice that another cover we passed was also filled with boats. I started thinking about "fishes small" and how this fit in. So, we had fished a 3 mile stretch of lake, had seen zero boats in every place except 2...which were covered up. We took that as a sign, and sat down to look at the GPS map. Sure enough, the 2 coves had something similar. They were both flats with gradual depth-contour changes without a deep creek channel. That was different from every other cover we fished, which featured a deeper creek channel running directly adjacent to bluffs before turning into a flat.
We found a similar area just up river from us and decided to try it out. This one didn't have any bass fishermen in it, but it did have 3 crappie fishermen who were fishing the 12-15 foot contour line. As we idled past them, we marked a lot of bait fish. When we got to the next contour line, the bait disappeared, but we picked up individual fish. Continuing to the next (and final) contour line, we were drawn into fishing because of the amazing number of subsurface stumps.
On my very first cast in the area, I had a hit. It was small and I assumed it was crappie. But, it wasn't! I nabbed this pale little guy.
Monster? No. But it was something.
Seconds later, John nailed a similar size fish on a lipless crank.
We fished the pocket for the next hour and caught 6-7 short fish, none with any size, but the bites were regular. We were even able to recycle the spot and continue to catch them.
At 1pm, we had to make a decision. We hadn't caught any size. If we left RIGHT THEN, we would be home around 7. I had been getting texts that one of my kids was sick. So, we decided that we would stay in our wive's good graces and head home.
On the way home, I started thinking about the trip. We fished a lot of the same spots from 10-12 without a bite, again, the aforementioned landscape. We made a change based upon the 2 spots we saw boats in and caught fish. So, that solves the "fishes small" debate. But, what had me stumped was, why the short fish?
I analysed this a bit further. We had a 2-day warming trend the days before that culminated into a 62 degree day. We passed bait in the 12 foot depth. Then, larger fish who didn't seem to be holding onto structure in 10-5 feet. Then, short fish in 5-2 feet. Then it hit me. The fish were staging to spawn. We were catching the males who had moved up. All of them were very pale because they had been sitting off the next contour line. When it warmed, they moved up.
Of course, I slapped myself because we had idled over the females without a 2nd thought to them.
Naturally, the VERY NEXT DAY a new 'Chick record was caught. But, I'm not bitter AT ALL.
Doesn't matter. I fished a new lake. Got the lay of the land. And caught a fish.