This week, the home of country music stars and legends will host some of the biggest names in professional bass fishing when the 2012 Bass Pro Shops PAA Tournament Series presented by Carrot Stix kicks off the regular season on Old Hickory Lake in Hendersonville, Tennessee, just minutes from Nashville.
With more than 97 miles of fishable water, this is the first time that the PAA Tournament Series has visited the 22,500 acre lake on the Cumberland River that features a healthy population of largemouth bass, as well a viable population of smallmouth.
After fishing under mostly cloudy skies with intermittent showers and temperatures in the low 80s for the first two days of practice, the anglers were met with breezy conditions and high skies on Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday, temperatures are expected to top out in the 70s with sunny skies and north winds around 10 mph.
Fresh off of a 5th Place finish last week at the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on Douglas Lake, just 200 miles east of Old Hickory, current Elite Series Angler Of the Year leader, Randy Howell, is returning to Old Hickory for the first time since recording a 3rd Place finish when the Elites visited the lake during the 2008 season.
“When you’ve had a few good tournaments in a row, it’s really good to keep the momentum going,” he said. “I was really excited to get to Old Hickory and fish with the PAA after a great week on Douglas Lake.” Based on his past success on Old Hickory, Howell said that he expected to exploit a strong shallow bite on the river fishery, but wasn’t thrilled with what he found in the skinny water.
“The shallow stuff hasn’t been as good as I thought it was going to be, so I think that a lot of the fish have moved out,” he explained. “I found a little bit of offshore stuff today, so I’m hoping that I can get off to fast start in the morning and then back off and expand on what I found this afternoon.”
Arkansas’ Mark Rose echoed Howell’s thoughts regarding a viable deep bite. “I know that if you see any kind of good limit from me tomorrow, that’s where it will come from,” he said.
While Rose is committed to fishing his strengths, he said that the shallow bite on Old Hickory could very well be a player. “It’s a very versatile lake, so I think that you’ll see a little bit of everything. Each morning, the water temperatures are around 74 degrees, and I’ve seen 78 degree water each afternoon.”
Reigning PAA Angler Of the Year, Todd Auten, has some work to do this week on Old Hickory if he plans on defending his title. After an 18th Place finish at the 2012 PAA Tour Team Event on Lake Toho this past January, the South Carolina pro is tied for 35th in the AOY standings heading into the first day of competition on Old Hickory.
While Howell and Rose believe that the deep bite will most likely prove to be the most productive pattern, Auten believes that shallow water power fishing will probably prevail. “The lake is going through a little change and the fish aren’t where they’re supposed to be right now,” he said. “There are a lot of shad up spawning, and the bass just aren’t up there like they should be down the lake. My guess would be that someone will find a good flipping bite way up the river and do really well.”
With four tournaments remaining, defending his AOY title isn’t a top priority this early in the season. “I haven’t even put the AOY in my mind,” he explained. “If I just focus on doing well, the points will come.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Oklahoma’s Gerald Brown enters Old Hickory Lake tied with Florida’s Bobby Lane for the lead in the Angler Of the Year after posting a victory with Lane in the Tour Team Event on Toho.
“I probably could have had around 14 pounds on the first day of practice, but it has dropped off a little each day since then,” he said. “After winning in Florida, I’m basically fishing for points for the Angler Of the Year,” Brown explained. “It would be nice to win another one, but I’m more interested in the points right now. From flipping to frogging to cranking, you’re going to see a little bit of everything this week.”
While the majority of the 68 professionals competing this week at Old Hickory have PAA Tournament Series, FLW Tour, or Bassmaster Elite Series experience, collegiate angler Adam Goodwin, who fishes for Tennessee Tech University, is fishing his first tournament on the pro side. The Hendersonville, Tennessee native may lack competitive experience, but he has fished Old Hickory for the majority of his life.
“We haven’t had a lot of rain this year, so that has made the fishing a little bit tougher than it normally is,” he explained. “A lot of fish are caught up shallow, but that bite just hasn’t been there like it has over the last few years.” As a result, Goodwin believes that the home field advantage this week will be minimal. “I’ve just had to go out and pretend that I’ve never seen the lake before,” he explained. “I haven’t gotten many bites on the areas where I usually catch fish. The fish that are out on the ledges in deeper water aren’t as grouped up as they usually are, so a lot of guys will be rotating through quite a few spots.”
Like Goodwin, Bill Hunter is also fishing his first PAA Tournament Series event. Living in the Nashville, Tennessee area, Hunter is fishing as a co-angler and has over 40 years of experience on the lake. “It usually takes 15 to 16 pounds to win a one-day tournament, but you usually have to go through a lot of little ones,” he said. “There are a lot of fish still shallow, but a lot of the bigger fish are already off shore.”
California’s Ish Monroe is of a differing opinion. “I think that it’s going to play out shallow,” he stated. “There aren’t 150 boats out there this week, so you’ll be able to pick apart the shallow cover without a lot of people hammering on the same water. I definitely think that this is a tournament that could play right into my hands. When I saw Dean Rojas’ truck in the Bass Pro Shops parking lot for registration, I was like, “Oh man, there’s another guy that I’m going to have to beat on the water.’ There are quite a few shallow water experts here like (Greg) Hackney, and (Fred) Roumbanis, so I think that this could turn into a battle of the frog fishermen.”
The tournament will launch each morning out of Sanders Ferry Park in Hendersonville, Tennessee at 6:30 a.m. CT, weather permitting. On Thursday and Friday, the weigh-in will be held lakeside at the Sanders Ferry Park boat ramp beginning at 4:15 p.m. CT. On Saturday, the final weigh-in will be held in Nashville at the Bass Pro Shops on Opry Mills Drive.
Following the weigh-in on Saturday, country music star Daryle Singletary will perform a free concert for fans at Bass Pro Shops in Nashville.