A big start, a big finish and solid productivity in between gave Brandon Cobb of Greenwood, S.C., the Day 1 lead of the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Chickamauga Lake with a five-bass limit of 19 pounds, 6 ounces.
A passing cold front created challenging conditions in which bites were few and reports of noncommittal fish were many. With a pair of bookend kickers, Mr. Cobb touted execution with two different reaction baits as the key to his success.
“It was not an easy day; I caught six and two of them just happened to be 6-pounders, so that always helps,” he said. “You can’t miss any. You have to boat every fish and just stick to it.
“It’s so tough, it’s hard to know if you’re doing the right thing. But I stuck with one thing all day, got six bites and turned in 19 pounds.”
Spending his day upriver, Mr. Cobb targeted shallow grass and got most of his bites in about three feet of water. After his opening spot produced the first of his 6-pounders around 8 a.m., he gave the area a little more time but soon realized he needed to secure a limit.
“I covered an area of 20 miles; I ran a lot throughout the lake,” Mr. Cobb said. “Even though I had some bites in practice, I never really figured anything out; but I could get bites by just covering water.
"I did that a while today and that’s how I scratched out my limit — just hitting a lot of places. But then I knew I needed another big one, so I returned to my primary area.”
Doing so in the last hour of fishing, Mr. Cobb found two more big bites — a 3-pounder and his other 6-pounder. In all of his areas, Mr. Cobb said he was highly selective with the grass he chose to fish.
"Depth or location wasn’t that specific, it was more that I liked the way it looked,” he said. “The color is one thing, but I’m trying to look for active grass with bream and little shad. I wanted grass with something for them to eat.”
Mr. Cobb said the presence of natural forage was a double-edged sword.
“It was frustrating because when they’re eating the shad, they are so hard to catch,” he said. “I think you just keep yourself in position where they’re feeding and one out of 1,000 will bite. I think it’s just random.
“There are so many bluegill and so many shad up in the grass that they can eat whenever they want. You just have to line up one that hasn’t eaten a shad or bluegill in the last 15 minutes. It’s just keeping yourself around fish and hoping you can trick one.”
Mr. Cobb said he’s considering a similar strategy for Day 2. However, he said he may expand his area a little.
“It’s the first day of the tournament; I practiced literally the whole lake and I really don’t know what I found,” Mr. Cobb said. “I had a bite here and a bite there, but you don’t want to overlook a place that could be the best place on the lake where you had one or two bites.”
Stetson Blaylock of Benton, Ark., is in second place with 16-1. Starting deep on offshore ledge points in about 15 feet, Mr. Blaylock caught four fish early, including a pair of what he called “good ones” on a reaction bait.
Moving shallow around 11, he caught three more quality fish on a topwater bait and culled up to his day’s weight. With 10 years of Chickamauga experience, Mr. Blaylock said he left fish biting in an effort to manage his opportunities for the next few days.
“It’s really tough to get bit, and when you get into an area where they’re biting and you have a solid bag, you really don’t want to sit in there and catch them,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting out there and seeing if I can maintain that.
“I know it’s going to be a little tougher tomorrow just because I did catch some fish out of those areas. But there are more to be caught, for sure.”
Brad Whatley of Bivins, Texas, is in third place with 15-12. Noting that he caught his fish on a single reaction bait, Mr. Whatley said the key to his success was a particular shallow-water structure feature.
“I found it in the last hour and a half of practice,” Mr. Whatley said. “I found it so late in practice that I didn’t have time to expand. I was just fishing new water all day.
“I just ran a little pattern, but I can’t say it worked all day. It probably died after 10:30 or 11 o’clock.”
Ed Loughran III of Richmond, Va., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 6-9 largemouth.
Clark Wendlandt of Leander, Texas, maintained his lead in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 625 points, while David Mullins of Mt. Carmel, Tenn., follows in second with 609. Austin Felix of Eden Prairie, Minn., is in third with 590, and reigning AOY Scott Canterbury of Odenville, Ala., is fourth with 588.
Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. CT from Dayton Boat Dock. The weigh-in will be held at Point Park at 3:30 p.m. After Saturday’s weigh-in, only the Top 40 anglers will advance to Sunday’s semifinal round.
Live coverage of the event will be available starting at 8:30 a.m. on Bassmaster LIVE at Bassmaster.com and ESPN3.
The tournament is being hosted by the Rhea County Economic Development & Tourism Council.
2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Abu Garcia, Berkley, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Ranger Boats, Skeeter Boats, Talon, Yamaha
2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops, Carhartt, Garmin, Huk Performance Fishing, Mossy Oak Fishing, Rapala
2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Conservation Partners: AFTCO, Huk
2020 Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite At Chickamauga Lake Local Host: Rhea County Economic Development & Tourism Council