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Bass tournament is big business
by Ron Bush
Sunday, March 31, 2013    |   

Clifford Pirch holds up two of the five bass he caught in Chickamauga Lake to win $125,000 as the champion of the 2011 FLW Tour tournament. The event, which returns June 27-30, will operate from the Dayton Boat Dock in Rhea County, Tenn.
Clifford Pirch holds up two of the five bass he caught in Chickamauga Lake to win $125,000 as the champion of the 2011 FLW Tour tournament. The event, which returns June 27-30, will operate from the Dayton Boat Dock in Rhea County, Tenn.
Photo by John Rawlston.

A major bass tournament is returning to Chickamauga Lake this June, and the Walmart FLW Tour anglers seem as excited about it as area businesses.

The June 27-30 event will operate from the Dayton Boat Dock in Rhea County, Tenn., and the nearly 400 anglers will arrive the previous Sunday. They are expected to stay in motels and campgrounds not only in Dayton but as far as Spring City in one direction and to Hixson and perhaps Chattanooga in the other, with Cleveland also possibly catching some of their business.

And that’s significant. Walmart pro Wesley Strader, of Spring City, says he usually travels by camper but still spends “a minimum” of $1,500 for a week at a tournament site — “and sometimes a lot more than that, depending on gas prices and where we go.”

The FLW big boys last visited Lake Chickamauga in April 2011.

“It’s more about the lake than the area,” Strader says. “This lake is a special kind of place. It’s kind of overlooked by a lot of the country, but it’s one of the best fisheries.”

He predicts “close to 80 pounds” for four days to win the Chickamauga tournament, “give or take 5.”

Two Dayton residents finished in the Top 15 in the first FLW Tour major of the year, Feb. 7-10 on Lake Okeechobee in Florida. Twenty-one-year-old Michael Neal was third and earned $30,000, and veteran Andy Morgan was 14th and got $12,500. Strader was 43rd and got $10,000.

The 16th-place finisher was Brandon Coulter, of Knoxville, who was quoted extensively in the season preview about the site of the FLW Tour’s sixth and final 2013 qualifying tournament.

“I think it’s going to be phenomenal. I honestly believe Chick is the most underrated lake right now in the U.S.,” Coulter said in January. “We’re catching double-digit fish just about every day this winter. The lake is just chock-full of bass. It could easily take 20 pounds plus per day to win.”

Similarly excited about Chickamauga’s place on the schedule was Kellogg’s pro Dave Lefebre from Pennsylvania, who did a site-by-site blog previewing FLW’s majors this year.

“The 2013 schedule will conclude with two bodies of water that couldn’t suit me any better — Lake Chickamauga and the Red River, the site of this year’s Forrest Wood Cup,” Lefebre wrote. “I’ve done well on the mighty Red in past events but stumbled ridiculously on Chick in 2011 despite having the most incredible practice period of my entire life.

“I never saw so many 4-pound bass. I remember the water dropping drastically for day one, and the fish I had found simply disappeared ... and that’s all I’m going to say about that, other than I’m looking forward to some revenge there.”

As with five other FLW Tour stops this year, the Dayton event will feature rising country music performer Dylan Scott in a concert leading into the final weigh-ins. Previous FLW main-stage performers included Kenny Chesney, Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Steve Holy and Eric Church.

Contact staff writer Ron Bush at rbush@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6291.