May is here and my focus for the month is going to be Tennessee's 36,000-acre Chickamauga Lake. Located along the Tennessee River it boarders Rhea, Meigs and Hamilton counties with 810 miles of shoreline.
(Credit to both: Chuck Sutherland)
The reservoir has great structural features and excellent water quality. There's moving water and a wonderful mixture of vegetative habitat which includes milfoil, pondweed, hydrilla and naiads.
Chickamauga has many acres of spawning habitat with stumps, rock banks, shallow back water, overhanging trees, and more. The biggest challenge to spawning is the yo-yoing of the water levels in the spring by Tennessee Valley Authority due to rain events. Also, Chickamauga doesn't achieve full pool until May 15 when it used to be April 15, according to TVA's new Reservoir Operations Study incorporated around 2008.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) has done a phenomenal job managing this fishery as has the nearby City of Dayton when it comes to promoting the lake's recreational offerings.
(Credit: Colin Moore)
As many anglers know by now, the lake boasts the state record largemouth which was caught by angler Gabe Keen in 2015 and weighed 15.20-pounds. With several years of stocking Florida-strain bass and great vegetation, Chickamauga was a growing favor to deliver a record-breaker, and it did just that. The fish was estimated to be 12 years old, and as expected was a hybrid from the Florida stockings.
TWRA fisheries biologist Mike Jolley has confirmed that the stocking program, the vegetation, and a strong, high-protein forage base of gizzard and threadfin shad provide the perfect formula for an excellent bass fishery.
Jolley said it seems bass production is good most years with exceptional spawns occurring during the years there are more spring floods.
Fed by the Tennessee River, the lake has a current, so fishing down-current points and ledges can be high-percentage places to pinpoint fish with deep-running crankbaits, grubs, plastic worms and Carolina rigged plastic baits.
As expected growth rates of fish are incredible, and you can catch nice ones just about anywhere on this fabulous waterway.
(Credit: Garrick Dixon)
The City of Dayton, as I mentioned earlier, has gone all out to promote tournament fishing in the region, and anglers visiting the area are definitely pleased with visits. In fact, a TWRA survey indicates a 99.7 percent angler approval rating.
Another amazing statistic recorded at Chickamauga is a one-day, 5-fish tournament limit that weighed a whopping 44.31 pounds. That's only 13 ounces from the national record!
So there is no doubt this is an incredible bass lake. It's got it all: moving water, great structure, Florida-strained, monstrous fish. I would encourage any angler looking for a good place to fish to try and plan an outing to this reservoir as soon as possible.
Many double-digit bass have already been caught this spring. And as for the month of May, note that many largemouth will remain shallow through this time and should likely move to depths of 6-10 feet by mid-June, and maybe 8-14 feet as the days warm even more. But on cloudy days, look for the fish to return to those 6-10 feet depths.
In late May, also start to look for the fish to suspend in the mouths of the creeks or wherever there is good vegetative cover.
As summer sends water temperatures soaring, look for more bass to begin holding on deeper ledges and humps in the main lake and in the larger creeks. The current will help dictate the bite and concentrations of fish.
Surface activity can also begin in the month of May. Simply look for schooling activity and fish a Rebel Pop-R for some good results.
*All photos courtesy of Rhea County Tourism unless otherwise noted