Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 05/02/2012

Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos by Dave Rush and Matt Pangrac

Dandridge, TN - The 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series season reaches the midway point this week at Douglas Lake.  Located in eastern Tennessee, the 30,000 acre fishery in the Great Smoky Mountains is a deep, clear water lake with an annual water level fluctuation of over 50-feet. 

This week will be the first time that the Elite Series has visited Douglas, but the Bassmaster Southern Open closed out the 2011 season on Douglas last June.   Tennessee angler Bobby Ferguson relied on his 10+ years of experience on the fishery to win the tournament with 61-9 and lead wire to wire. Ferguson focused on deeper water and ledges, and targeted suspended bass with a variety of baits. 

The highest finishing Elite Series pro who fished the 2011 Douglas Open was Tennessee’s Ott DeFoe, who recorded a 7th Place finish on his home waters.  A pair of 2012 Elite Series rookies, Fletcher Shryock and Brandon Card, finished the Open in 11th and 13th Place, respectively. 

Many of the anglers that The BASS ZONE spoke with after two full days of practice on Douglas Lake, said that while the bite wasn’t nearly as easy as it was two weeks ago at Bull Shoals, catching a limit on Thursday shouldn’t be a problem, but scoring quality fish in the 3- to 4-pound range could be challenging.   
With a warm spring and rising water levels, the fish are scattered throughout the lake and holding in a variety of depths ranging from a 2-feet deep to 50-feet deep.  “There are some shad spawning right now, and there are shad in 50-feet of water,” explained Mike McClelland. “These fish can pretty much go to any depth that they want because there’s not a thermocline right now.”

Here’s what some of the anglers had to say about the first two full days of practice on Douglas Lake: 

Ott DeFoeOtt DeFoe
“I’ve been on this fishery more times than I can count.  After two days of practice, the lake is fishing pretty close to what I expected, but I was kind of thinking that I might have seen a little bit more as far as numbers of fish go.

“The size of the fish that I’ve caught so far is pretty much on pace for what I expected.  I think that it will take somewhere around 12-pounds a day to make the Top 50 cut, but it could be a little more or a little less. 

“There are absolutely still some fish on the beds, because some parts of the lake are cooler than others.  There are actually still some fish that are spawning all over the whole lake.  There’s a batch of fish that are done, and there are a batch of fish that are still spawning. I don’t think that there are many fish left that are pre-spawn., but there’s a good bag out there that could be caught off the beds. 

“This is a lake that really has a lot of fish, so you can go through quite a few bites throughout the course of a day.  Right now, the fish are kind of scattered, so it’s not that great for catch gobs and gobs of them.  That being said, this is definitely a numbers lake.”

Mike McClelland
“I’ve only fished the lake one other time a number of years back in the Megabucks tournament.  Back then, not knowing how to fish offshore really well, I caught them pretty good.  Because of that, I was really looking forward to coming back this year.  

“It’s a lake that sets up really well for how I like to fish.  I feel like when the week is over, the guy who wins this thing will catch the majority of his fish offshore.  That being said, the lake seems to really be in a funk right now.  From my understanding, the lake has been in a winter drawdown and this is the time when they fill it back up.

Mike McClelland“Based on the first day of practice, I was pretty excited about this tournament. On Tuesday, I tried to go back out and duplicated the pattern that I had created, and it didn’t work at all.  I think that a guy is going to have to make a lot of moves and make a lot of decisions.  If you pull up on the right school of fish at the right time, things could really go your way.

“I definitely think there are some fish that still haven’t spawned, but based on the ones that I actually caught, they were all post-spawners that were all healed up.  It’s really hard for me to guess on what the cut weight will be.  The lake is definitely full of fish, and there are a lot of keeper sized fish in the lake.  It’s really going to depend on whether or not the quality bites materialize.

“The opportunity is also there to catch fish shallow, but there’s no doubt that these fish do go deep.  I think that can be attributed to the fact that there’s a really good shad population.  There are some shad spawning right now, and there are shad in 50-feet of water.  These fish can pretty much go to any depth that they want to because there’s not a thermocline right now.” 

Randy HowellRandy Howell
“The lake isn’t quite as good as what I was expecting.  Overall, I really thought that there was going to be a really good offshore bite, but the water has come up almost 30-feet since I scouted it back in March.  The water really fluctuates on this fishery, and it’s still a little bit below full pool.

“The overall bite is not bad, but it’s just hard to catch a big fish.  I’d say that the quality bite is almost like it was at Bull Shoals where the 3- to 4-pound class fish is going to be really key.  I’d say that the majority of the field will have a limit each of the first two days.  There are plenty of fish shallow and on the banks – the key is going to be finding the bigger fish.

“The water temperature throughout the lake seems to be pretty warm.  Everything that I’ve found seems to be in the low to mid 70’s.  I think that the vast majority of the fish that are weighed-in will be post-spawners.  There are still probably some fish trying to spawn, but with the water coming up, I think that the fish have to spawn pretty quick and get it over with earlier in the year. 

“I think that if you can break 15-pounds a day, you’ll be in really good shape.  There will be a whole lot of people who have 10-pounds, but you’ll need to have at least 12-pounds or 13-pounds to make the Top 50 cut. 

“There will be a lot of guys running patterns, but the areas where there are deep fish may be a little crowded.  The hard part will be managing those deeper schools, because there doesn’t seem to be that many places where you can catch them off the bank.”

Dustin Wilks
“This lake has so many shad in it, but we’re here at a weird time because the water is rising, the water is getting hot, and the fish are post-spawn.  It’s making some of the fish suspend, some of the fish go deep, and some of the fish go to the bank.  From what I’ve seen, they are really scattered out.  Because of that, it’s going to be tougher than I think it would have been if we were here either earlier in the spring or after the water had stabilized.

“A 4- or 5-pounder is a really good fish here.  If you can crack 15-pounds a day, you’ll be doing really well.  It’s not one of the deals where you’re going to catch 40 or 50 fish a day, but I think that you’ll see a lot of limits on the first two days.

“I don’t think that bedding fish will play a big role in this tournament. You might catch one that’s on a bed, but you’re not going to be able to see them because the water is rising every day.  I’ve been fishing in and out, and I haven’t seen any beds at all.

“Some of the offshore stuff will have groups of guys who found the same school.  It hasn’t been that crowded in practice, but once the tournament starts there will probably be several guys trying to fish the same stuff.”

John Crews
“This is a different type of lake that is really unique.  It’s been an interesting practice, because I’ve really approached this practice differently.  I feel like the tournament will be won deep, so that’s how I’ve committed my practice time.  I knew coming in that the fish wouldn’t be everywhere, and after two full days, it’s apparent that they really aren’t everywhere. 

“I think that the fish only live in a few places on this lake.  This isn’t one of those deals like a Kentucky Lake where you can pull up on an area that looks right and almost always catch something.  I think that there will be a handful of guys who are competing over a number of spots. 

“Everything that I’ve caught has been long and lean, so it appears to be a post-spawn bite.  There are a number of 4-pounders in this place, and I could see a bag over 20-pounds crossing the stage each day.  That being said, the better fish are hard to come by. 

“Making the right decision about what place to start on each morning and when to leave or manage your fish will be key this week.  I also think that the way this is setting up, there are some guys who could do well fishing shallow as well.

“I’d say that anything over 10-pounds will be decent.  Once you get over the 12-pound mark each day, it will really mean something.” 

Bill Lowen
“This lake really isn’t my style, because it’s a deep, clear deal.  Even up the river, it’s still deep and it’s still clear.  It’s fishing tough for me, but I think that I can catch a few fish fishing both shallow and deep.

“Depending on where you’re at, the water clarity ranges from 4 our 5-feet of visibility, and when you’re up the river it’s just a little bit less than that.  It’s clean water, but it has a little bit of a green tint to it.  I haven’t seen any fish on the beds, so I would have to think that the fish are a little bit further along than we thought they would be.

“I’ve seen a lot of fry without any fry guarders with them, so I think it’s going to be a post-spawn deal.  I don’t think that this will be a junk fishing deal, but I’m planning on mixing it up a little bit.  Right now, I’d be thrilled with 12-pounds a day.  To make the Top 12 cut, you’ll probably need to hit 15-pounds a day.”