Skeeter pros set for 49th annual Bassmaster Classic

By Craig Lamb

The granddaddy of all bass fishing tournaments is coming soon to Knoxville, Tennessee. The 2019 Bassmaster Classic®, on March 15-17, is rolling in on the headwaters of the Tennessee River. Bass fishing’s world championship brings together the top anglers from the Bassmaster® Tournament Trail in a rod-to-rod battle for the title of world champion.

Literally forming at the host city of Knoxville, the Tennessee River traces its beginning to the confluence of the Holston and French Broad rivers on the town’s east side. From there, it extends 652 miles before emptying into the Ohio River.

The entire state of Tennessee is known for its bass fishing, but the upper section will become the focal point of the bass fishing universe when the Classic gets underway. The three-day event is worth $300,000 to the winner, out of a total purse of $1 million.

Classic waters include Fort Loudoun and Tellico lakes, twin reservoirs connected by a canal and comprising about 30,000 combined acres. Competitors can fish either lake and anywhere along the Tennessee River upstream from Fort Loudoun Dam to the Interstate-40 bridge on the Holston River and the Highway 168 bridge on the French Broad River.

The Classic waters have been off-limits to the 52 Classic qualifiers since December 31. Here’s what Skeeter Boats pros Derek Hudnall, Brandon Palaniuk and Chris Zaldain had to say about the outlook for the week.

Hudnall was the only of the three pros who took advantage of the scouting period. He spent the time wisely by choosing to learn how to navigate the Classic waters.

Skeeter pros set for 49th annual Bassmaster Classic
Derek Hundnall

“It’s a lot of fishable water, about 80 miles combined, so I learned how to run it,” Hudnall said. “What I learned was that Loudoun is shallower and Tellico is more vertical in depth.”

While scouting, Hudnall searched for potential areas that might be productive during the week. What he found suits his style of shallow water angling.

“I liked the fact that it’s a relatively narrow river so I can identify trap points or places where the current funnels into a bottleneck or confined area,” he added.

Such areas function as ambush points as the bass hold in calm water before feeding on passing baitfish. Hudnall, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, also sees challenges ahead.

“It’s going to be a tough bite,” he continued. “The water likely will be high and muddy, and then a cold snap is coming just before we start practice.”

With the changing conditions, he plans to rely on a number of lures, including a Missile Baits® Ike’s Mini-Flip Jig and various styles of square bill crankbaits.

Skeeter pros set for 49th annual Bassmaster Classic
Chris Zaldain

Chris Zaldain, of Fort Worth, Texas, will make his first trip to the Classic waters next week.

“From what I’ve heard there isn’t a lot of fish per acre, which will make running around a must,” Zaldain said. “There should be a muddy water largemouth pattern in Fort Loudoun and a high-quality bite for smallmouth in Tellico.”

Based on the changing weather conditions described by Hudnall, Zaldain doesn’t see himself at a disadvantage for not scouting the lakes.

“The conditions will continue changing all the way through the tournament week,” he explained. “That will make the playing field completely level.”

The challenge for Zaldain will be eliminating unproductive water on the two lakes.

“I will have to break it down, all 70 or 80 miles of both lakes, into key areas that I can fish for largemouth and smallmouth,” he added. “Another challenge will be deciding which species to target without much time to decide.”

Top baits for Zaldain will be 6- and 8-inch Megabass® Magdraft Swimbaits for the quality bite and the Megabass S Crank to fill a limit. He also sees potential in a Santone Lures spinnerbait.

Skeeter pros set for 49th annual Bassmaster Classic

Palaniuk will rely on previous tournament experience to navigate the tournament waters. Like Hudnall and Zaldain, he sees the changing conditions brought on by the weather as the greatest challenge of the week.

“I set my camper up for practice and have never seen the water so high, so much debris in the lake,” he observed. “The adverse conditions have the potential to make the fishing tough.”

He also sees an opportunity with how the lakes are setting up.

“The conditions are going to open it up for everybody,” he said. “I don’t see it shaping up as a tournament that anglers with specific strengths will excel at to win.”

Classic anglers will take off each competition morning from Volunteer Landing in downtown Knoxville, and weigh-ins will be each afternoon at Thompson Boling Arena on the University of Tennessee campus.

Thompson-Boling Arena is fifth largest of its kind in the country with 21,000 seats. The arena normally hosts home games of the University of Tennessee men’s and women’s basketball teams. Doors open at 3:15 p.m. You can also see the daily takeoffs at Volunteer Landing, adjacent to the arena.

The Bassmaster Classic® Outdoors/Expo and other free activities will take place at the Knoxville Convention Center and the adjacent World’s Fair Exhibition Hall. Stop by and meet factory representatives, dealers, and Skeeter pros at Booth #2425 at the convention center. Show times are noon-7 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sunday.

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Original Source: Sportsmans