By Richard Simms
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Maybe you’ve heard of the TV show “River Monsters.” It features the host traveling around the world seeking a wide variety of exotic monster fish.
However if you are a hardcore bass fishermen in search of your own “river monster” largemouth bass, you may not need to travel any farther than Tennessee.
Chickamauga Lake in the Southeast corner of the Volunteer State is churning out ten-pound-plus bass in astonishing numbers.
The Tennessee State Record largemouth – 15.3 pounds – was caught there Feb. 13, 2015, by Gabe Keen.
There have been at least two 14-pound-plus bass caught recently that lead many people to believe the state record will fall again, soon.
The big bass bonanza is thanks to a long-term Florida bass stocking program initiated by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency in the year 2000.
The program got off to a slow start and biologists considered abandoning the effort.
However, they stuck with it and in the last five to ten years it has been paying huge dividends.
It’s been so successful that TWRA has started similar Florida bass stocking efforts in several other Tennessee lakes.
Derek Turner is one of the most recent bass anglers (at this writing) to have reaped the rewards.
Turner’s story and posts went viral on social media when he caught a 14 pound, 3-ounce largemouth on Jan. 19, 2019. In spite of driving rain and cold temperatures, Turner and his partner, Brandon Hembree, launched at Dayton (Tenn.) Boat Dock to practice for an upcoming tournament.
Turner and Hembree understand that when tournament day comes they will have to fish in whatever conditions Mother Nature brings so they don’t let foul weather deter them on practice days.
“With the rain coming down we were thinking it was setting up to be a good day, before that front moved in,” said Turner. “When we got to our first spot we got to looking around and saw some bait moving.”
Turner says that had been the key to success at that time, finding bait schools concentrated in and around shallow ditches just off the main river channel.
These days lots of anglers in search of trophy bass are casting Tennessee rigs – massive umbrella-style baits with multiple lures.
“I hate throwing [Tennessee] Rigs,” said Turner. “I don’t even have one in my boat. Of course in the tournaments we fish we’re not allowed to throw it anyway. But I’ll do anything to not throw one of them things, even if I’m fishing for fun.”
What Turner was throwing was a 3/4 ounce Rattle Trap, obviously imitating the baitfish swimming in the area.
Turner said within five casts in their first spot he caught a 3-pound bass in about six feet of water.
“I put my Power Poles down to hold us in place because the current will move you around in a hurry,” he said. “We know in those types of spots if you catch one you can catch more.”
Turner was right.
He said only two casts later another fish hit.
“I hooked one and it didn’t move,” he said. “I was just kind of holding it.”
Hembree asked, “Are you hung?”
Turner answered, “No, I can feel the head shake.”
Then suddenly it started screaming drag, the 17-pound test Seaguar fishing line peeling off Turner’s reel and the real fight was on.
“It felt like an eternity,” said Turner. “You’re thinking, ‘What is it.”
The fish never jumped so they wondered if Turner might have snagged a big carp.
He said it took about three long minutes before he got it close enough to the boat to see it.
“She rolled and I saw that belly and realized how big the fish could be,” said Turner. “When we finally got it in the net Brandon looked at me and said, ‘That’s a [expletive deleted] state record.”
On his hand scales, Turner said the huge bass went well past the 14-pound mark.
It was 27 inches long with a 23-inch girth.
He knew they needed to take it back to Dayton Boat Dock with more accurate scales, but he couldn’t go right away.
“I just sat there,” he said. “I was weak from my knees to my neck.”
They added some Rejuvenade to the livewell and put the monster bass in there.
Hembree fished a few minutes until Turner, “finally got my wits about me enough to be able to ride back to Dayton.”
There the fish weighed 14 pounds, 3 ounces – exactly one pound away from the state record caught by Gabe Keen.
Up to this point Turner’s biggest bass, also caught this winter, weighed 8.4 pounds.
No one keeps official records, other than the existing state record fish.
However, in this writer’s experience and memory, Turner’s bass may be the third largest bass caught on Chickamauga Lake.
Yet another testament to the amazing success of TWRA’s Florida bass stocking program started in the year 2000.
With an official weight noted Turner returned the big bass to the livewell.
He and Hembree motored back up the river, still in driving rain, and released the big bass in the exact same spot he caught it.
That is how you catch, and release, a 14-pound bass.