BY DAVE LINK
Joe Vaulton and Walker LaRue of the Alcoa Fishing Team didn’t get much accomplished in pre-week practice for the fifth stop of the Tennessee Bass Nation’s State Open Trail last Saturday on Cheatham Lake in Ashland City.
At least they enjoyed the scenery and caught lots of fish.
LaRue and Vaulton practiced Sunday, April 16, on the Cumberland River in Nashville, downstream from Cheatham Lake and Ashland City.
“We caught like 100 and one keeper, right around Nissan Stadium,” Vaulton said. “It was pretty cool. We put in at Stones River where Percy Priest (Lake) comes into the Cumberland River.”
While they caught big numbers in Music City, Vaulton and LaRue knew non-keeper bass wouldn’t win a tournament the next Saturday.
“We saw that’s not what we wanted to do,” Vaulton said. “We want to fish our strengths. I knew we could probably get some bites up shallow because I knew it should be perfect conditions for them to be spawning real shallow.”
They changed plans the Friday before the event, practicing closer to Ashland City boat ramp.
“We just fished like we would in East Tennessee,” LaRue said. “That’s what helped us catch the largemouth.”
Their strategy worked as Vaulton and LaRue posted a third-place finish among 107 high school boats, landing the five-bass limit weighing 14.76 pounds.
Not a bad finish for being new to that river system.
“I don’t really know how all that Cumberland River and Cheatham Lake works,” Vaulton said, “but everywhere we were fishing looked like a river, to be honest.”
Soddy-Daisy’s Mason Mullins and Caden Graham won the tournament with five bass weighing 17.9 pounds, including a 5.89-pounder, ahead of second-place James Sumrell and Brody Harp of Hixson (five bass, 16.33 pounds, 4.96-pounder).
Vaulton and LaRue edged out Riverside’s Avery Johnson and Drake Middleton (five bass, 14.44 pounds, 5.62-pounder), thanks to a 4.36-pounder they landed at about 1 p.m.
“We caught all largemouth,” said LaRue, whose father, J.J., was boat captain. “I don’t know if anybody else caught all largemouth. They may have, but I think we had the biggest largemouth bag. The winners, they caught all smallmouth. They must’ve gone to Nashville.”
LaRue and Vaulton caught most of their bass on Senko rigs and a few on buzz baits in water ranging from 2 to 6 feet in depth.
“We went and practiced the day before and we caught a couple of largemouth, so we knew what we were going to do,” LaRue said. “We went back there on tournament day and the water had come up. We were fishing in like 2 foot during practice, and then during the tournament day we were in 3 and a half to 4 foot. The water came up without us knowing, which was good for our situation.”
Vaulton hooked into the 4.36-pounder in about a foot of water amidst a fallen tree.
“It got me in the tree, and I was like, ‘Dang, this thing’s about to come off,’ ” Vaulton said. “I went up there to it. I thought it had come off and it was hung. I went up there to get it unhooked, and the thing started swimming everywhere. I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a giant.’ It was barely hooked and we barely got it in there. It was honestly a miracle.”
Vaulton lives on the Holston River, which was beneficial fishing the Cumberland.
“It fished very similar to the Holston, like up in the river, just the Holston’s got bigger ones than that, so we weren’t used to that,” Vaulton said. “You don’t get as many bites in the Holston, but you get bigger ones, even though that place, the Cumberland, does have some giants. We never could figure out the giants on the Cumberland.”
Their next tournament is the TBN’s Southeast Championship atFort Loudon Lake on May 14.
“That’s like our home lake, pretty much,” Vaulton said, “and I think we’ve got a good shot to win it, but we’ve got to get a couple of big bites.”
LaRue and Vaulton are sixth in the TBN’s State Open points race with 744 points.
Sumrell and Harp of Hixson are in first place with 785 pounds, followed by Chilhowee’s Logan Withrow and Braden Crumley (770), Carson Holbert and Owen Stamm of Eagleton CCA (752), Sevier County’s Chase McCarter and Ty Trentham (747), and Kingston’s Will Bacon and Hayden Barnett (745).
MURRAY-RAY 2ND AT CHEATHAM
T.J. Murray and Jackson Ray of Rhea County Junior Bass were second in the middle-school division at Cheatham Lake with five bass weighing 8.5 pounds, including a 1.9-pounder.
Hudson Clark and Jackson Leath of Sumner County won with five bass weighing 11.19 pounds. They had a 3.86-pounder.
Hunter Webb and Cayden True of Dickson County were third (four bass, 8.09 pounds), followed by Zachory Meeks and Eli Seagroves of Grundy County (three bass, 6.7 pounds, 4.42 pounder), and Ayden Akin and Trace Ashby of Montgomery County (one bass, 4.96 pounds).
HOLBERT, TRENTHAM ARE ALL-STATE
Holbert, who lives in Louisville, and Trentham of Sevierville are among 94 anglers across the nation chosen to the 2023 Bassmaster High School All-State Fishing Team presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors.
Only four anglers are on Tennessee’s All-State Team.
Holbert and Lebanon’s Easton Drennon are on the first team – there were 52 first teamers nationwide — and Trentham and Zach Knight of Gallatin are among the 42 honorable mention selections in the nation.
All-state anglers were chosen based on their success in bass fishing competition, academic achievement and leadership in conservation and community service.
A panel of judges will select 12 finalists from the nation’s all-state teams to compete in a Bassmaster All-American Bass Tournament from June 1-4 in Orange, Texas.
Holbert is a sophomore and fishes for Eagleton College and Career Academy in Maryville, and Trentham is a junior on the Sevier County Anglers Team.
GRACE GOES 1-2 ON WATTS BAR
Grace Christian Academy’s Fishing Team had a banner day April 8 on Watts Bar, claiming the top two spots in the Bass Pro Shops-Sevierville event.
It was the fourth and final stop of the Bass Pro Shops-Sevierville Series.
Grace Christian’s Mason Pike and Cayden Black posted the victory with five bass weighing 18.25 pounds, with Olivia Mauldin and Lexi Hensley finishing second with a five bassweighing 16.91 pounds, including a 7.13-pounder.
Abdullah Ahmed and Isaiah Eddington of the Hamblen County Anglers were third (five bass, 16.78 pounds), and fourth was Barnett and Bacon of the Kingston (five bass, 16.47 pounds).
In the middle-school division, Garrett Johnson and Cayden Blankenship of The King’s Academy got the win with three bass weighing 8.12 pounds, ahead of second place Joey Russell and Samuel Napier of William Blount (three bass, 7.93 pounds), and third-place Parker DeFoe and John-David Carroll of Berean Junior Anglers (five bass, 7.35 pounds).
Barnett and Bacon of Kingston Fishing Team lead the Bass Pro points race after four stops with 56.73 pounds.
Hunter Owens and Clayton Kelley of Karns High Fishing are second with 47.20 pounds, including a record-breaking bag of 23.74 pounds on Fort Loudon/Tellico they caught March. 11.
Mauldin is in third place with 39.74 pounds, and Alcoa’s Jackie Hatfield and Graham Willis are fourth at 37.85 pounds.