The 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series schedule is diverse and full of great fisheries across the country. I thought I’d take this opportunity preview the first half of the events of the 2017 season and make my predictions for the patterns and weight needed to win.
Cherokee Lake, Tenn. - February 9-12, 2017
Cherokee Lake is a quick 45-minute drive from my home in Knoxville. I have fished it over the years but I am not as experienced with it as Norris Lake and Douglas. Since I am somewhat of a local, I have been getting asked about It quite a bit and I believe it could end up being one our best tournaments of the year … or it could be our worst. It will all depend on water clarity and the weather.
There is no doubt that the weather will be cold, but if we have mild temperatures and clear water the fishing will be excellent. If it gets really cold and the water turns muddy it will be brutally tough. The lake has a good mix of largemouth and smallmouth, but this time of year the smallmouth will be the key. I have noticed on my pre-practice trips that the smallmouth are much thinner than they normally are so the weights may be down slightly.
Predicted Winning Patterns: I believe the winner will be targeting smallmouth in both shallow and deep locations. They can be caught from 5-45 feet deep here. Out deep it will be with a drop-shot with a bait like a Shad Shape Worm or jig with a Yamamoto Double Tail as a trailer. The shallow fish will be more based on weather conditions and jerkbaits like the Duel Hardcore Minnow Flat 110 and crankbaits like the Duel Hardcore Shad 1+ and 2+ will be big factors. I think the winner will have to fish both shallow and deep to have a chance to win it.
Predicted Winning Weights: If the conditions are good it will take around 18-pounds a day to win. If it gets tough it could be 12-pounds a day. The weather and water conditions are going to be a huge wildcard.
Lake Okeechobee, Fla. - February 23-26, 2017
After leaving the arctic temperatures we will make a complete switch and head to Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida. I’m hoping to be prefishing in shorts and flip-flops, but the weather could be a wildcard there as well. Florida in February is known for cold fronts shutting the fish down and it could happen again. Last year the FLW Tour was there about the same time. The winner had two very good days and only weighed two fish on the final day, but he still won by a large margin because of the major cold front.
It has been a few years since the Elites visited and it will be a whole new lake because the water levels have been much higher the past few years. The last time we were there Ish Monroe won and many of us were focusing on the outside reed lines. With it being spring and around the spawn the bass will want to be in water three feet or less. With the higher water levels we will need to retreat much further into the jungle of grass to find those depths.
Predicted Winning Patterns: Punching and flipping always works well in Florida this time of year. It could be done this way or by sight-fishing, or maybe a mixture of both.
Predicted Winning Weights: An average of 25-pounds per day.
2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic - Lake Conroe, Texas - March 24-26, 2017
Unfortunately, I am not fishing this one and will be watching it unfold from the Bassmaster Classic Expo. Its too bad, because this is going to be a great event and I think it will set the all-time weight record for the Classic.
Conroe a lake with big fish and they are hitting it right around the spawn. It could be seriously ridiculous. Kevin VanDam has the record he set in 2011 for a three day tournament with a five fish limit at 69-pounds 11-ounces. My prediction is that it will easily be broken this time.
Predicted Winning Patterns: Being around the spawn, the fish will be up shallow. The lake has tons of shallow docks and trees and I think flipping and pitching will win it.
Predicted Winning Weights: My guess is a three day total of around 76-pounds, but I would not be surprised if the total is over 80-pounds.
Toledo Bend Reservoir, La. - April 6-9, 2017
I am really excited about this one. Toledo Bend is one of the best lakes in the country and we are going to be fishing it earlier in the year this time. In the past we were there at the tail-end of the spawn, but this time we should be right in the middle of it.
The lake level is also higher now so all of that shallow cover from the low water times will be the perfect habitat for shallow bass.
Predicted Winning Patterns: I think this will be a great event to flip and pitch shallow cover with a bait like the Yamamoto Flappin’ Hog or a jig with the Sanshouo as a trailer. It is a bulky trailer, but that will be needed for these big bass.
Predicted Winning Weights: 22 to 24-pounds a day.
Ross Barnett Reservoir, Miss. - April 27-30, 2017
This is an unknown to many of us. The only recent tournament to compare it to is the Bassmaster Central Open from a few years ago. I know the lake is shallow and full of lily pads and we should be there when the bass are spawning.
The lake is relatively small and from what I have heard about it, the pads are only in certain areas. This should cause the fish to get pressured easily and the weights will probably drop off quickly after the first day.
Predicted Winning Patterns: Based on the time of year, my prediction is that the winning pattern will be targeting spawning fish around lily pads.
Predicted Winning Weights: My prediction is several bags over 20-pounds the first day and then a winning weight with an average between 16 or 17-pounds a day after that.