By Todd Ceisner
Andy Morgan had seen this movie before.
Lake Chickamauga in the spring. Bass beginning their progression from pre-spawn mode into spawn mode. Water coming up and dropping in response to spring rains. Heavy fishing pressure all across the lake. It was all so familiar.
“Very familiar,” he said.
He adjusted well, though, and bounced back from a below-his-standards Shotgun Round to come away with the victory with an 80-pound performance in last Sunday’s Championship Round, ending a 12-year stretch since his last top-tier win.
“This place is hard to win on,” he said, noting many in the field had competed at Chickamauga previously. “That erases most of the local advantage until that set of circumstances popped up with the weather and wind.”
He had a trio of programs going for various conditions: a lipless crankbait in the morning when the fish were in their feeding mode; a vibrating jig for fishing the areas in between the spots that he really concentrated on, which were blowdowns and stickups along shore in backwaters and pockets from Sale Creek to Cottonport, upriver from takeoff in Dayton. To pick apart the wood, he flipped a Zoom Z-Craw.
Morgan had competed in three FLW Tour events at Chickamauga and his 5th-place finish in the 2013 tournament dominated by umbrella rigs was his best showing. This time, he said the main obstacle he faced throughout the event was trying to stay in areas that weren’t being heavily pressured by other anglers, either BPT pros or locals.
“Just trying to maintain and keep out of fishing right behind somebody, that was the biggest hurdle of the week,” he said. “The fish were moving around pretty good and were pretty active pulling into areas and you didn’t want to fish in a mud trail behind somebody.”
Here’s a recap of how approached the week at his home fishery.
Like many pro anglers preparing to compete on their home fishery, Morgan employed a see-but-don’t-be-seen approach during the 1 1/2 days before competition got going.
“I dodged a lot of places because any place you pull up on, if someone knows you have knowledge there, you’re going to bring fire to it.”
Having to avoid so many well-known haunts made for a challenging practice as he tried to avoid being spotted by other competitors.
“That boogered me a little bit on where I started,” he said. “I could’ve been more aggressive in practice and figured out that school wasn’t as good as I thought. I was ducking and dodging. If I’d hear a boat, I’d crank up and leave.”
Above all, based on the conditions, he knew the tournament would be decided in shallow water. He figures the offshore pre-spawn bite that has made Chickamauga famous in recent years started to peter out in the 10 days to two weeks before the tournament.
“I hate to have preconceived notions, but I knew that would be the deal,” he said.
> Day 1 (Shotgun Round – Group B): 17, 31-08
> Day 2 (Elimination Round): 26, 56-13 (43, 88-05)
> Day 3 (Knockout Round): 29, 56-03
> Day 4 (Championship Round): 34, 80-00
> Total = 96, 224-08
Morgan and the rest of Group B got on the water last Wednesday and he opted to chase a school of fish down the lake. It wound up being one of the few mistakes he made in the tournament. He caught six fish in the first 11 minutes to take the early lead, but after catching a 1-02 at 9 a.m., he didn’t catch another fish until 12:30 p.m.
He caught six for 13-14 in the third period to salvage the day and wind up in 21st place.
“I screwed it all up on day 1,” Morgan said. “I found that school down the lake. It was a pretty nice school, but they were small fish and they quit. I turned around and ran back and was like, ‘Uh oh.’ Everything was covered up. The morning flurry was over. It was clear, cold with no wind and I struggled to get anything going. I finally hit some areas and kept myself in contention.”
His tournament turned around in the Elimination Round when he caught 56-13 to climb all the way up to 5th with 88-05 and qualify for the Knockout Round. Rather than fiddle around with schoolers down the lake, he went to the areas he passed over early in the Shotgun Round.
“I just flip-flopped my timing and did the opposite of the first day,” he said. “I was wanting to get as many bites as I could and get them all in the boat until I was comfortable, then I went practicing. I caught them good enough early enough so I could practice a little.”
That turned out to be critical because he was able to find an area that he leaned on the next day in the Knockout Round.
“I shook off five or six fish in that area and went back there in the third period of the Knockout Round,” he added.
He said the fish changed daily how they would set up near the laydowns and other woody cover, meaning he had to be pretty methodical with how he fished through stretches.
“Toward the final round, they were out on the ends of it,” he said.
After catching 56-03 in the Knockout Round, it was on to his first BPT Championship Round. Some harsh weather thinned the crowd of local anglers on the lake last Sunday and gave Morgan free reign over an area up river he calls Bus Slough. It turned out to the perfect scenario.
“That place I was in cannot take pressure,” he said. “If two boats get in there, it’s done. With the conditions we were dealt (Sunday) and the water level and with my experience and history there, I couldn’t call my shots but it was pretty close.”
He caught his first six on a lipless crankbait, including a 3-06. A weather delay in the first period didn’t slow him, either as he rolled up 30-12 by 10:30 a.m. and led by 12-plus pounds at that point.
“I was fixing to wreck them in that storm,” he said. “I was getting a bite every other cast when the storm hit.”
For the rest of the day, he was able to let key stretches rest and then come back to them later without much worry that someone else had fished them.
“It was all about going into areas where you knew fish were and pick it over, and catch every fish in there,” he said.
It also helped that he had spent years upon years fishing in Bus Slough during the spring.
“I know every twig and every stump and there’s an old tree that’s still in there. I can still remember catching a 6-05 out of it the first tournament I won. It’s still there,” he said. “It’s hard to get in and you have to know where you’re going and what you’re doing, but knowing all the structure under the water and knowing the bottom hardness, that’s a big deal. A lot of it is not visible.”
Winning Gear Notes
> Lipless crankbait gear: 7’ medium-action prototype Favorite Fishing casting rod, Team Lew’s Custom Pro Speed Spool SLP Series casting reel (6.8:1 ratio), 14-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line, 1/4- and 1/2-oz. Strike King Redeye Shad (chartreuse sexy shad, baby carp).
> Vibrating jig gear: 7’4” medium-heavy Favorite Fishing Big Sexy casting rod, Team Lew’s Pro-Ti SLP Speed Spool casting reel, same line (16-pound), 1/2-oz. Strike King Thunder Cricket (green-pumpkin, chartreuse/white), Zoom Swimmin Super Fluke swimbait trailer (matching colors).
> Flipping gear: 7’6” medium-heavy prototype Favorite Fishing casting rod, Team Lew’s HyperMag Speed Spool SLP Series casting reel (8.3:1 ratio), same line (20-pound), 1/4-oz. Strike King Tour Grade Tungsten worm weight, 5/0 Owner 4x Jungle Flippin’ Hook, Zoom Z Craw (black/red, black/blue, sapphire blue, summer craw).
Much of the tackle referenced above is available at the BassFan Store. To browse the selection, click here.