Spring City's Wesley Strader finished second in the FLW Eastern Series bass tournament on Lake Chickamauga last September. He's back for an even bigger FLW event this week, and he's in fifth place in the points standings after two Walmart FLW Tour tournaments.
And Strader thinks the lake has a lot to offer.
In a tour release sent out March 31, he was quoted predicting "it's going to take over 80 pounds to win" the four-day event that starts Thursday out of Chester Frost Park.
"I think you are going to see a 10-pounder weighed in at Chickamauga this time," Strader said in the release. "In my opinion [Chickamauga] right now is better than [Lake] Guntersville ever thought about being."
He cited recent catches of three plus-11-pound bass pulled out of Chickamauga, as well as numerous 9- and 10-pounders.
Tuesday night he was hedging a bit, but not much.
"I still think it could take 80, but it all depends on what the Tennessee Valley [Authority] does with the water," Strader said after the third day of allowed practice on the lake. "It's coming down, and that's not really as conducive for the fish as it was. But if it will get down and stay stable, it will be fine."
As for his comparison to Guntersville, Strader said Chickamauga is "not as big, but it's full of bass. TWRA has done an excellent job stocking the lake and keeping it at its top potential."
The winning total on South Carolina's Lake Hartwell in late March was 70 pounds, 11 ounces.
Bryan Thrift of North Carolina and Stacey King of Missouri are tied for first in the FLW Tour standings, and Dave Lefebre of Pennsylvania and Stetson Blaylock of Arkansas are the only other pros ahead of Strader. The winner Sunday will get $125,000, while the co-angler victor will receive $25,000.
Strader said the general dinginess of Chickamauga prevents "sight fishing" but leaves it "wide open" for all types of lures and styles.
"Guys are going to be able to catch them any way they want to catch them," he said.
The tournament participants will launch from Chester Frost at 7 each morning, and weigh-ins will begin there at 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday but at 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Chattanooga Convention Center. There also will be a Walmart FLW Tour Expo at the convention center starting at noon both days, and the first 300 children ages 14-under arriving there Sunday will get free rod-and-reel combos, courtesy of radio station US 101.
Some of the tour pros will make a visit to Siskin Children's Institute this morning, bringing goodie bags and cleaning the playground equipment.
The tournament will be shown on the Versus network's "FLW Outdoors" program on May 29, 1-2 p.m.