Lake Cherokee is beautiful. Like other reservoirs in east Tennessee, it’s deep and reasonably clear. It’s also full of rock. According to the locals, however, it fishes quite differently.
Having zero experience on Cherokee, it looked to be a challenging week ahead.
I arrived a day early to prep my tackle and tweak a few things on the new boat. Part of that included a trip to Bass Pro Shops. Once that was accomplished, I filled the boat with gas then bought some groceries.
The forecast called for a severe drop in temperatures with increasing winds, so I dug out my gloves, thermals and Stormr suit and prepared for the worst.
After reaching the official launch ramp near the dam at daylight, I dropped the boat and headed west to the near end of the lake. It was cold and windy as promised, but the lake still looked inviting.
On the first rocky point I came to, I scored a nice 3-pound smallmouth jerking a Rapala ShadowRap Shad. I noticed the fish struck in about 8-feet of water, on the side of the point where the boulders transitioned to a shale-type rock.
An hour later, along a similar bank, I caught a 4-pound largemouth using the same technique. Considering the size of the first two fish and the predicted weather ahead, I thought I was on to something. Unfortunately, the remainder of the day yielded only one other keeper largemouth.
On day two, things got even tougher. I tried fishing deep, but couldn’t make the fish I was seeing on my Raymarine graph bite. With only one keeper spot to show for hours of effort, I decided to return to the bank. My lure selection, at that point, included a 3/4oz. football jig with Yamamoto Twin Tail trailer, the Shadow Shad and a Hildebrandt Drum Roller swimbait.
Frustrated and wore out, I returned to the hotel after dark and shared my results with the guys I trust most …only to learn that they, too, had experienced brutal conditions. Hearing that and having only one short day left to scout the lake, I decided to try upriver.
I targeted bluff ends and small pockets, using a variety of crankbaits and jigs … even a spinnerbait. But after six hours of scouting, all I caught were two 15-inch largemouth. At that point, I decided I would stay near the dam and take my chances with the jerkbait and swimbait.
Drawing out boat number 69, I sat patiently as scores of anglers headed directly to the part of the lake I was hoping to start in. It was snowing and I could barely feel my extremities. Finally my boat number was called and I left in search of an unoccupied bank.
Surprisingly, the spot where I caught the 4-pound smallmouth was vacant. I began jerking the Shadow Shad meticulously down the bank expecting a bite, but none came. The minutes turned into hours and by noon, I had nothing to show for a frigid morning.
I tried moving deep, but stiff winds made boat control over precise targets nearly impossible. Frustrated with that, I returned to the bank.
In an attempt to avoid other competitors, I worked my way up the reservoir … hoping to find something overlooked, something productive. It never happened. I returned to weigh-in and watched from the sidelines as others filled their bags with good catches of Lake Cherokee bass.
What did I miss? How could I have struck out on a day when more than 13 pounds was required to make the cut?
Disgusted, I returned to the hotel and contemplated my lure selection. It was bitter cold and I was hungry. I needed rest, too. But instead of calling it quits, I restrung some rods and retied all of my lures … praying one of them would make the difference on day two.
As I waited for my boat number to be called, I thought of where I should start the day. The wind had let up, but the temperature was now at 20 degrees. Even with warmers, I could barely move my fingers and toes.
I decided to stay close, at least for the first hour or two, then evaluate things.
When my boat number was called, I headed for the very same shoreline I started on the morning before. Even though it had proven worthless, something told me to try it again. Rather than using the jerkbait, I picked up the Rapala DT-6 and started cranking. My thought was to cover as much water as possible and hopefully run into a few fish.
About an hour in I had my first fish — a fat 3-pound largemouth. At that point, a tremendous load was lifted off my shoulders. I knew then I could at least salvage some points.
About an hour later — fishing a spot I had also visited in practice — I scored a 3-pound smallmouth. Soon after, another largemouth of the same size came aboard.
By this time, it was near noon and I was beginning to regain some ground on those who had left me for dead. It felt good. It felt like redemption.
Working slowly past a steep section of familiar shoreline, I continued into a flatter area of gravel and shale. I hadn’t fished there in practice, nor during competition, but a voice inside told me to keep going. It turned out to be good advice.
Out from the shore some 50 yards, my Raymarine SideVision revealed a swale that rose to a slight hump next to deep water. Its top was shallow, so I cranked the perimeter.
Almost immediately, I boated another 3-pound largemouth. By this time, my Marshal’s calculations had us at 13 pounds, 13 ounces. A half-hour later — cranking the opposite side of the hump — a 4-pounder bit. That pushed my weight well above 17 pounds.
Although I didn’t know it, at that point my day was done. Still, I fished to the very last second before heading to weigh-in … wondering what might have been had I committed to the Rapala crankbait on day one.
At the scales, my weight was confirmed — 17bs, 13oz!
I shared the day’s events with the audience then did a brief interview afterward. Steve Wright from BASS wanted to know how I was able to turn things around so abruptly. It was flattering and served as a small consolation to such a bad start in the event.
After that, it was back to the hotel then on to Florida — site of our next Elite Series event. Hopefully things will improve there.