Jeff Lugar Leads First Round Of Bassmaster Open On Douglas Lake

Jeff Lugar enjoyed the kind of day dreamed of by any tournament angler after taking the lead at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Eastern Open underway on Douglas Lake.

Lugar, of Cross Junction, Va., by midday stopped fishing his key areas to save those for Friday. He returned to the weigh-in with a five-bass limit weighing 17 pounds, 9 ounces.

“I stopped because I knew I couldn’t cull up, or catch any better bass in my spots,” he said. “I thought it best to leave them biting and come back tomorrow.”

That was a wise strategy with tournament angling pressure high in recent weeks on the east Tennessee fishery. Sustaining a winning catch over three days is the game plan, and doing that takes fishing conservatively until the Saturday finale.

“The lake also has less pressure, and that’s a key reason why I’m staying there,” he added, of his decision to avoid the highly pressured river section of the fishery.

Craig Chambers of Harrisburg, N.C., is in second place with 17-5, and Patrick Walters of Ladson, S.C., is third with 17-3. Bobby Lane Jr. of Lakeland, Fla., is fourth with 16-14. Ott DeFoe of Knoxville, Tenn., is fifth with 15 pounds. Chambers also caught a 5-1 bass that leads the running for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass award.

Todd Lee of Jasper, Ala., leads the co-angler division with a three-bass limit weighing 10-3. Wesley Tuttle of Arthur, Tenn., holds down second with 9-13, and Dennis Akers of South Portsmouth, Ky., is third with 9-11.

Lugar’s strategy involved making brief stops along the shoreline and moving to his next stop. The “run-and-gun” style of fishing was ideal for his chosen lure. Lugar used a 1/4-ounce buzzbait with a 3-inch Z Man Lures MinnowZ trailer. When missing a strike or catching a keeper he used Z-Man worms as follow up lures. Brushpiles and laydowns were his casting targets.

The Tennessee Valley Authority annual fall drawdown of the lake is underway, with the level dropping on average of 1 foot per day during the tournament. Falling water brings positive change to the bass fishing. Current drives bass nearer to offshore bottom structure, where they seek cover from the current to feed on baitfish swept past rockpiles and brushpiles. Those make ideal casting targets and are easy to locate using fish-finding electronics.

DeFoe won the 2014 and 2017 Opens on Douglas Lake in the upper reaches of the French Broad River. This year the lower lake is also in play due to the generated current.

DeFoe, who caught his bass in the river, is the clear favorite to win the tournament and score a three-peat victory.

“The water temperature is hotter than normal, and the river has been under lots of pressure from recent tournaments,” he explained. “I’m having to fish slower, even using spinning tackle, which I normally don’t use up there.”

Fishing slower is a challenge in a river with swift current that moves up to 5 mph. That makes keeping a lure in the strike zone tough as the boat quickly drifts past the casting target.

Walters credited his shallow-draft aluminum boat for allowing him to fish far upriver.

“The boat allowed me to gain access to water where no one else could go,” he said. “I’m power fishing up there, making the most use of the free water, and covering a lot of it.”

Chambers leveraged the better of two worlds, fishing the river early in the day and finishing in the lake. Like Lugar, his strategy was covering water, not spending much time on a particular area.

In this tournament, winning isn’t everything. Some anglers are fishing for are valuable performance points toward qualifying for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Championship. The inaugural championship is Oct. 18-20 at Table Rock Lake in Missouri.

The championship field will include the winners of the four Central Opens —including the winner at Douglas Lake — and winners from the four Eastern Opens and the Top 10 in season point standings from each division.

The Opens Championship winner and the Top 5 in performance points from each division — determined by an angler’s finish in all four divisional tournaments and the championship — will be invited to fish the Bassmaster Elite Series. The winner of the championship and the Top 3 anglers in points from each division following the championship will be invited to the 2019 Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.

On Saturday the top pro angler wins a Skeeter ZX200 with trailer and rigged with Yamaha VF200LA. A Minn Kota Fortrex, Lowrance Elite Ti 7 and other factory accessories are included.

The top co-angler wins a Triton 179 TrX powered by a Mercury 115 ELPT, a trailer and standard factory accessories.

On Friday at Dandridge Dock the weigh-in begins at 3 p.m. ET. On Saturday it begins at 4 p.m. at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Kodak, Tenn. The boats take off at 6 a.m. from Dandridge Dock.

The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, Jefferson County Economic Development Alliance, and the Town of Dandridge are event hosts.