Ben Hudson – “Blue Collar Bassin’”
“New experiences on new lakes” Print This Post
My experience ledge fishing on a TVA lake for the first time.
This past weekend, my dad and I traveled to Douglas Lake in Tennessee, just outside of Sevierville and Gatlinburg to fish a FLW BFL event in the Volunteer division as co-anglers. We had this trip planned for a while and were excited to experience a different lake with a different style than what we were used to.
I grew up fishing Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia for the most part. A lake most known for clear water, boat docks, and points. I’ve also got experience flipping bushes at Buggs Island Lake and fishing bluffs on Leesville Lake. The James River in central Virginia has also given me experience fishing river systems and tidal water. However, I had never before been on a TVA lake before where ledge fishing was a primary form of catching bass, so I chose to fish this event to learn more about it. My experience was very informational to say the least.
My dad and uncle had fished Douglas Lake before, so I had a little bit of advice from them. Other than that, I was going into the tournament blind with almost no knowledge of the lake other than what I have seen from the bank while on vacation in the area. The last time I saw the lake it was extremely low and had no structure in the lake at all, however, when I saw the lake this past weekend it looked completely different.
In the wake of a very wet spring, Douglas Lake was at full pond (or possibly higher than full pond) and looked completely different than I expected. I wasn’t sure how this would affect the fishing, but I knew the tournament wouldn’t be fished the same as I had planned. Upon arriving, I visited the local tackle stores looking for baits and advice from local anglers. I decided to just wing it basically based on what I heard from my boater that night at the meeting and fish my strengths.
That evening I talked to my partner on the phone after the meeting at Bass Pro Shops where the meeting was held. He told me we would be fishing deep and offshore the whole day, so to be prepared for offshore fishing. I was excited to hear this as I knew it would be a chance to learn more about ledge fishing. I also learned at the meeting about a technique called “long lining”. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “long lining”, like I was, here is the best description. You pull up over a ledge or point and with a crankbait, let out all the line off your spool while on the trolling motor and proceed to crank the entire length of the ledge with your entire spool of line.
I met my partner that morning and he began to tell me he intended to “long line” some that day so I needed to have on a crankbait. I immediately cut off one of my finesse jigs and tied on a chartreuse Bill Norman DD22 crankbait. My 4 rods consisted of this: a 3/4oz. Dave’s Tournament tackle football jig which was my primary bait, a Bill Norman DD22, a Heddon ZARA Spook, and a Neko rig with a Missile Baits 48 worm.
Our boat number was 57 in flight 2, which my partner told me he was displeased with, as a first flight boat number played a huge role in getting on one of the best ledges first. Upon blast off, we pulled up on an offshore ledge not far at all from the launch site. My journey to leaning about ledge fishing had officially begun.
The first thing I noticed sitting in the middle of the lake was the amount of catfish/carp that were breaking in the middle of the lake. It was unreal. It almost reminded me of the videos I had seen of the Asian carp on Kentucky lake, though I’m not sure if it was like this all over the lake or not. My partner started off with a craw-type bait, immediately casting into the deep ledge water. While I was still dissecting the situation and rigging up my football jig, my partner set the hook on his very first cast. He reeled the bass out of the deep water and landed about a 3-lb largemouth to start things off.
I was excited about this. Having seen a bass caught on this ledge gave me a spike in confidence to start, and on about my 2nd or 3rd cast, I got a strike on my football jig. I reeled the bass out of the 30+ feet of water where the net was waiting for me. While I landed this fish however, my partners’ net had a hole cut through it from my catch, putting us at a handicap from that point on, unless we fixed it.
Pumped with adrenaline, I began to fish harder and more confidently. On about my 10th cast on this ledge, I got another strike and set the hook with strong confidence. After about 10 seconds of reeling up from the deep water, my partner and I began to realize that this fish might have been slightly bigger than the previous two we had just caught. About the time my partner suggested this, my heart sank as I saw a bass in the 5-lb range doing a full back flip barrel roll through the air about 25 yards away from me. Frantically reeling the bass in, stressing the whole time knowing the net also had a hole in it, I was able to regain my cool and land the 5-lb 3-oz Douglas Lake brute.
After the excitement of catching that big bass, I began to settle in and fish with full confidence on these deep ledges. Everything I felt on the bottom of Douglas Lake felt rough, the kind of rough that I search for on Smith Mountain Lake back home. Although it is hard to find on SML, the whole bottom seemed to feel this way on Douglas.
While long lining this point shortly after with a crankbait, I told my partner I felt a fish bite but something didn’t feel right about it. I began to reel in the full length of my spool, but was confused as to why the fish wasn’t coming up to jump like the others all had. I soon discovered why – as I reeled in about a 13” crappie. I then started realizing that a lot of the fish I had seen on the graph that were suspended were not bass, but crappie. This was the only fish I caught long lining with a crankbait.
Douglas Lake also has smallmouth bass in it. On the ledge we chose to start on, after about an hour and a half, I got another strike on my football jig. After a long tough fight, my partner stated that I had a smallmouth on before even seeing the fish. I optimistically kept fighting the fish hard, only for this to be confirmed as about a 3-lb smallmouth rolled up to the surface. Unfortunately on Douglas Lake, you can’t keep a smallmouth under 18” which meant I had to release the much needed 3-pounder. This was the first of two decent smallmouths I caught that day. As we continued to jump from ledge to ledge, I was able to catch two more bass around 14” long throughout the rest of the day from about 25-40 feet of water. I caught 6 bass total throughout the day, only being able to keep 4 since the other two were smallmouths.
Unfortunately, I had two of my fish die on me coming up from super deep in the 83 degree water. All of my fish caught that day needed fizzing, which my partner and I did to all our fish, but sadly two of them still did not make it. Upon reaching the weigh-in, it became obvious that this was a problem many anglers had faced that day in the deep water heat, even though most of them tried to take good care of their fish.
I ended up weighing in 4 bass for 11-lbs even, but the two dead fish penalties bumped me down to 10-lbs, 8-oz. I also led the co-angler big fish award when I crossed the stage with my 5-lb, 3-oz big bass, but was soon knocked out of that award by a 5-lb 13-oz bass. I was sitting in 3rd place when I crossed the stage with a little less than half the field left to weigh.
I ended up finishing 5th overall in the event with my four fish. Sadly, the two dead fish penalties cost me 4th place as only 2 ounces separated us, though I was more saddened about the fish dying than the lost weight. I had never weighed in a dead fish before and was very sad that it happened.
With that aside though, it was a fun experience getting to fish on a TVA lake for the first time and learning about how the fish act around the ledges and deep points, and how the running water from the dam affects them. As someone who had never fished in Tennessee on Douglas Lake before, and who had never ledge fished before in general, it was definitely a learning experience and succeeding in this tournament just made it even better. Hopefully I can continue to learn new techniques and fishing styles and hope to be able to travel more in the future.