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Gearing up for an offshore slugfest at the All-American

by Major League Fishing 2 Jun 12:20 UTC June 3-5, 2021
2021 Phoenix Bass Fishing League Presented by T-H Marine All-American Presented by TINCUP © Major League Fishing

The 2021 Phoenix Bass Fishing League Presented by T-H Marine All-American Presented by TINCUP is on tap for Douglas Lake June 3-5 and will feature 98 of the best boaters and co-anglers from Major League Fishing's grassroots ranks.

With up to $120,000 on the line (including a $20,000 Phoenix contingency bonus) for the winning boater and $50,000 for the winning co-angler, the All-American has a chance to be a life-changing tournament.

The All-American field is comprised of 49 boaters and 49 co-anglers from across the 24 divisions of the Bass Fishing League and The Bass Federation and includes the top six boaters and top six co-anglers from each of six 2020 Regional Championships, plus the top six from the 2020 Wild Card and top eligible finisher from each of the seven TBF divisions in the 2020 TBF National Championship.

The most prestigious event in grassroots bass fishing, the All-American, and its small field represents a huge opportunity for the anglers that have made it this far.

About Douglas Lake

A 30,400-acre impoundment of the French Broad River, Douglas Lake extends about 43 miles upstream from the Douglas Dam, which was built quickly in 1942 and 1943 by the Tennessee Valley Authority for the purposes of flood prevention and energy production.

Douglas' main feeder rivers are the Nolichucky and Pigeon rivers with a handful of other notable feeder tributaries throughout the upper portion of the lake. At maximum flood storage capacity, Douglas is capable of holding 1,082,000 acre-feet with a normal full pool level of 990. Currently, Douglas is about 4.67 feet above full pool, though the lake levels haven't fluctuated too rapidly since early April - just a steady decrease to account for the massive rains and flooding earlier in the spring.

A deep (maximum depth of 140 feet) mountain lake, Douglas is as picturesque as can be, nestled in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains at the foothills of the Smokies, not far from Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

The lower end of the lake features the cleanest, deepest water, while the upper end offers plenty of stain and some riverine water that features plenty of shallow-water fishing, including ample brush. You won't find much vegetation in Douglas, but there are plenty of offshore ledges to target as well as brush, rock, laydowns and docks.

The state of the fishery

Nick Hatfield, who lives in nearby Greeneville, Tennessee, has a couple Phoenix Bass Fishing League Top 10s on his Douglas Lake resume. He also fishes there "three or four times a week" and knows Douglas as well as anyone. While he says Douglas isn't fishing as well as it sometimes has in the past, it's still capable of churning out some quality bags.

"All the fishing pressure has the lake fishing tougher, but it's gotten better the last couple weeks," he says. "Most of the fish have made the transition offshore."

That transition took place a little later than usual this year due to the massive flooding in the spring; the proceeding quick drawdown that followed had fish trying to spawn in areas that were rapidly losing water. As such, the spawn seemed to have been pushed back a bit, but most of the Douglas bass population is now in postspawn mode offshore.

Douglas certainly offers superb offshore fishing, but it's also a lake with a lot of community holes - thanks in no small part to modern electronics - and finding something to have to yourself isn't an easy task.

"Pretty much every good hole out there, everybody knows about with today's electronics and mapping," Hatfield explains. "It's hard for me to put a number on how many schools of fish and the places they get on, but I'd say there's 40 or 50 and probably 10 or 12 of those are sneak holes - something that's a little bit away from everything that people don't have as good of luck finding. If someone finds something like that, I think they'll have a better shot at getting a good school early."

Typical Tennessee offshore offerings should play - crankbaits, swimbaits, big worms, football jigs and the like - but Hatfield expects one variable to make every one of those baits even bigger players.

"Long-lining is a big deal," he posits. "All of our local tournaments out here won't allow us to do it and that's for a reason: It catches them. Those guys being able to long-line, they'd be crazy not to utilize that because it's a way to get them to fire up.

"That's a major player when they're pulling water and those fish are set up the way they should be. When they pull water, most of the schools like to sit closer to the bottom and there'll be more of them there."

Still, Douglas offers more than just quality offshore fishing. For the anglers in the field who prefer going shallow, there's plenty of that to go around.

"Somebody may stumble across a bluegill spawn and catch some bigger ones early doing that," Hatfield explains. "I don't know if there's a [shallow-water hammer like] John Cox fishing, but if there is, they might win it doing that.

"It just depends on the bluegill spawn. I would say the bluegill spawn has started and if somebody finds that and finds enough of it, they can catch a really big bag doing that - like 20 pounds."

What will it take?

Hatfield expects that 16 pounds a day could be enough to secure the win on the boater side, though he wouldn't be surprised if it takes slightly more. As for making the Top 10, 14 or so pounds a day is reasonable.

"The best bags we've seen this year have been barely over 18 pounds," Hatfield says. "Somebody might catch 18 or 19 pounds one day, but they're going to have a hard time doing it two days in a row."

Still, Douglas boasts a quality largemouth population that includes some big largemouth of the 6- and 7-pound variety. Hatfield's personal-best bass on Douglas was a 7.45 he caught on a spoon (another "player" bait this week considering Douglas' population of big gizzard shad), and we're likely to see at least a couple fish pushing that mark this week.

The big question will be how many of those fish are weighed and what else is in the bag with them.

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