There may not be official weights kept, but every bass angler in the area agrees that Saturday's winning weight in the Chattanooga Bass Association tournament is surely a record-breaker.
Local guide Rogne Brown and professional bass angler Michael Neal brought five bass to the scales that weighed 37.9 pounds. That is five fish that weighed an average of 7.58 pounds each.
The majority of bass anglers in the area have never caught a single fish that weighed that much in their lives. The top three winning teams all had more bags of bass that weighed more than 30 pounds.
On the Chattanooga Fishing Forum, Brown said, "Michael and I had a day of a lifetime. We caught all our fish on hog caller rigs with three wires and six blades. We had one over 9 (pounds), three between 7 and 8 and one just under 6, with a total of 37.96."
In an experimental effort to see if they could increase the size of the average largemouth bass, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency began stocking Florida bass in Chickamauga Lake in 2000. The southerly latitude of Chickamauga produces the greatest number of “heating degree days” necessary for Florida bass success, according to Bobby Wilson, TWRA fisheries chief.
Biologists constantly monitor the continuing effort, and Saturday, there were TWRA fisheries professionals collecting fin clips from all the bass weighing more than 8 pounds for DNA analysis.
According to fisheries biologist Mike Jolley, they collected fin clips from 17 bass weighing more than 8 pounds. He also said that in 2012, they went to at least two CBA events, and there were only four bass weighing more than 8 pounds.
Jolley predicts "a majority of them will have at least some Florida alleles [genes] in them." However, he stops far short of attributing the number of huge bass to the stocking of Florida-strain largemouth.
"Chickamauga Lake is kind of the perfect storm right now," he said. "The habitat [aquatic vegetation] has done well, and you've got a good forage base. It's a rich environment right now ... and there's no doubt that stocking levels out some poor year classes."
Jolley said they'll be collecting more samples for DNA testing and won't send them off until the end of May. He hopes to have results back by late June or July.
Some fishermen are attributing the numbers of big fish to a hot new lure called the Tennessee rig. It is a multi-lure "umbrella-style" lure that imitates a school of baitfish. Jolley admits it's a hot lure and that lots of people are fishing it right now but, again, can't attribute all the big fish just to a new lure.
"When you see 17 bass over 8 pounds [in one tournament], you've got to throw something in there besides the fishing lure folks are using," he said. "Fishermen are using them everywhere, and we're not seeing the same [numbers of big bass] on other nearby reservoirs."
Jolley, like many biologists, is always prone to feel the jury is still out on Florida bass stocking. He continually refers back to 2003, when there was an incredibly successful largemouth bass spawn. He thinks that many of the huge bass anglers are catching now are from that highly successful year class.
However, he is more prone to think the great bass fishing right now is from a variety of factors all coming together to form, as he said, "the perfect storm."
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.
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