New Targets Staging Bass To Grab Lead At Bassmaster Southern Open On Cherokee Lake

Using several different techniques, South Carolina pro Bryan New caught a mixed bag of largemouth and smallmouth weighing 19 pounds, 3 ounces to lead the St. Croix Bassmaster Southern Open at Cherokee Lake presented by Mossy Oak Fishing.

The current Bassmaster Elite Series pro holds a slim advantage over second-place pro Shane Lineberger and third-place angler Frank Ramsey.

“It looks like I smashed them, but I didn’t,” New said. “I think I caught seven bass and lost two. It was one of those grinder days. This place had so much pressure this week and it is hard to run one deal. You have to do a little of this and a little of that.

“This place isn’t that big and 225 boats in one week changes things.”

With high winds and severe storms moving through East Tennessee on Thursday, Day 1 of the event was postponed, pushing the start to Friday morning and shortening the tournament to two days. In New’s mind, the delay helped the fishery tremendously.

When action finally began, 141 boaters landed limits Friday.

“I’ll argue with anyone, an off day in every tournament makes the fishing better,” New said. “They smashed them today. If we didn’t have that off day, basically a day and a half off, we would have caught some but it wouldn’t have been like this.”

This is only New’s second trip to Cherokee, but he is using his past experience on the Tennessee River to predict where the bass will be staging. With water levels on the lake dropping the past couple of weeks, New anticipated the bass wouldn’t be spawning yet.

“It is 13, 14 feet low now. I was thinking they should be stacked up on the staging stuff,” he said. “I figured the Damiki deal would still be going on — and it is, but there is only so much of the staging stuff and it is getting pounded. I was fortunate to catch four big ones and one good one.”

Cooler nights prevailed in practice, which didn’t allow the water temperatures to rise much. On tournament day, New noticed temperatures started in the low 50s, but rose throughout the day to about 58 degrees.

“The sun is important,” New said. “Not only does it warm the water up, but it positions the fish better. It makes them easier to catch.”

New has found that the smallmouth and largemouth are mostly in the same areas, but there are differences that will attract a smallmouth to an area more than a largemouth and vice versa. He ended Day 1 with four largemouth and one smallmouth.

The day started quickly for New, who landed his first bass on a Greenfish Tackle Bad Little Dude jig. From there, he landed a 2 1/2 and a 3 1/2 on a Spro Little John MD before landing his biggest bass, a 5-pounder, on a completely different bait. Two key culls late in the day, including one on the Bad Little Dude with minutes to spare before check-in, lifted him up the leaderboard.

Lineberger landed all largemouth on his way to 18-11. The North Carolina angler did not have a keeper at 9 a.m., but he decided to make a change mid-morning — something he likes to do on his home waters of Lake Norman — and the pattern he discovered lasted the rest of the day.

“I picked up a bait I throw at home this time of year and started doing things I do around the house,” Lineberger said. “The first place I fished I caught three and I ran the pattern from there. It held up until I quit running it.

“I caught a couple 2 1/2s that I threw back, and when I did that I quit running it. I may need those bass tomorrow.”

While Lineberger caught several smallmouth in practice, he had not been able to find them consistently. Even with his largemouth program, Lineberger anticipated he might only be able to catch 10 or 12 pounds.

“Sometimes the Good Lord smiles on you,” he said. “I had two that were around 4 1/4. They were all solid fish and that is what you have to have here. You can’t go out there and win on just smallmouth. I think you have to mix it up.

“Tomorrow I may have to do that. There is no holding back tomorrow and I can whack whatever bites.”

With a mixed bag, Ramsey ended Day 1 in third place with 18-5. The Illinois angler started the day by targeting brushpiles and landed two keepers quickly. Although the bite slowed from there, he filled a limit once the sun fully rose.

Most of his damage was done on one bank where he caught 10 keepers and made five or six key culls with both species.

“It was a grind waiting for the sun to come out,” he said. “Once the sun came out, it was all about moving baits, slow rolling and taking your time in prespawn areas and classic staging areas. Steep banks played a key role.”

Alabama pro David Kilgore landed the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day, a 5-11 largemouth that helped him land in sixth place.

Mitch Mitchell of Georgia leads the nonboater standings with a three-bass limit weighing 12-3. Mike McKinney is second with 11-6, followed by Herschel Brady with 11-0. Gerald Robbins Jr. holds the Big Bass of the Day on the co-angler side with a 5-1.

The full field of pros and co-anglers will compete on Championship Saturday. Anglers will take off at 7 a.m. ET from the Cherokee TVA Dam Boat Launch and return for weigh-in starting at 3 p.m.

Visit Jefferson County, Tennessee, is hosting the tournament.