Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the water, a pair of Chattanooga-area fishermen has once again "broken the bank" in a Chickamauga Lake bass tournament.
On Feb. 23, local bass fishing guide Rogne Brown and his partner, Mike Neal, wowed the weigh-in crowd when they brought five bass in that weighed more than 38 pounds. Those kinds of weights are literally "world-class" in the bass fishing community.
On Saturday (March 9), I saw Brown and a different partner, Tim Saylor, on the water on Chickamauga Lake. We were watching as Brown hooked a big bass, fought it to the boat and weighed it. We were close enough to ask what the fish weighed.
"About 7 1/4," Brown told us, to which my partners and I "ooohed" and "aaahed."
As Brown put that big bass in the livewell, he quietly said, "We've got two more bigger than that one."
Little did we know how much bigger until we heard what Brown and Saylor brought to the weigh-in stand: an incredible 44.3 pounds of bass. They had two bass that weighed more than 10 pounds and two that weighed more than 8, and the 7-pounder we saw them catch was "the little one."
The highest weight ever recorded in a BASS Tournament anywhere in the world is 45 pounds, 2 ounces, taken by Dean Rojas on Florida's Lake Tohopekaliga in 2001. No one keeps overall records of such things; however, that is likely the highest-recorded, single-day, five-bass weight in any major tournament.
Brown and Saylor missed that history-making mark by a mere 13 ounces.
Brandon Roop and Brent Tharpe came in second Saturday with their own amazing catch.
"We had nearly 35 [pounds] and got beat by 10 pounds ... " wrote Roop on the Chattanooga Fishing Forum.
That huge catch follows two months of amazing big fish catches on Chickamauga Lake. Internet forums locally and around the country were already buzzing. With news of the Brown/Saylor Saturday catches, those forums are exploding.
Jim Cofer summed it up well by writing, "Very few people could take their five best fish from the Chick in their whole life and not equal that."
Another angler, Ed Knight, expressed the fears shared by many other local anglers, writing, "I hope this news stays local. This lake is crowded enough on every weekend."
The news is already spreading, however. Another area bass fishing guide, Chris Coleman, posted a photo of a crowded launching ramp Saturday and wrote, "I think it is official now. Chickamauga is the most popular lake in the South right now. I hope everyone is practicing catch and release."
Two weeks ago, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency fisheries biologist Mike Jolley said, "Chickamauga Lake is kind of the perfect storm right now. The habitat [aquatic vegetation] has done well, and you've got a good forage base. It's a rich environment right now ... and there's no doubt that stocking levels out some poor year classes."
Will that perfect storm continue?
Jolley said there is no way to know for sure. But no doubt bass anglers will be doing all they can to take advantage of it while they can. In days gone by, hardcore bass fishermen looking for trophy fish routinely traveled to faraway places to fish. However, as Chris Townsend wrote, "[You] don't have to go to Texas, Mexico, or Florida anymore. [It's] just unreal."