|FLW Mercury pro Michael Wooley holds off Blaylock to win at Lake Chickamauga|
DAYTON, Tenn. – Over the course of the past few years, Lake Chickamauga in east Tennessee has become the most notorious big-fish producer in the country. Appropriate that two Mercury pros – Michael Wooley and Stetson Blaylock – would engage in a heavyweight slugfest at the most recent FLW Tour stop on this impoundment of the Tennessee River.
In the end, Wooley – from nearby Collierville, Tennessee – withstood Blaylock’s best punches (including a 9-pound, 9-ounce monster Sunday) to escape with the first FLW Tour win of his young career. Wooley weighed in 92-4 over four days to Blaylock’s 90-13. Fellow Mercury pros David Dudley (85-09) and Darrell Davis (77-12) were third and fourth.
"I’m not going to lie, it was a nerve-wracking day," Wooley admitted after collecting his $125,000 winner’s check and the trophy. "Stetson and I had sort of fished around each other all week, and sitting back at the tanks before weigh-in, we compared fish for like an hour. He had that monster, and a better bag than I did, so I wasn’t sure if I’d won until it was announced onstage."
Wooley made it clear from the start that he was on the fish to win it, catching 26-2 by 8 a.m. on Day 1 and backing it up with 23-5 on Day 2. A regular on the Tennessee River – he fishes Pickwick and Kentucky Lake several times a week – Wooley had honed in on one particularly productive school of fish stationed on a shell bed in Dallas Bay, and spent nearly the entire tournament working that piece of water with an oversized worm on a shaky head, and a creature bait on a three-quarter-ounce jig.
"I’d pulled up on that spot in practice and caught three or four fish real fast, all 4- and 5-pounders," Wooley said. "I knew that was the spot I wanted to fish."
Wooley’s seemingly vanilla game plan – one primary spot, two baits – flew in direct opposition to the standard scouting report on Chickamauga, which is known for its giant bass (the 15-pound state record came out of Chick this spring), and its equally oversized groups of anglers fishing the same "community ledges" with giant deep-diving crankbaits, oversized hair jigs and 8-inch spoons. Wooley shared the general area with a handful of anglers throughout the course of the tournament, but his daily procedure was simply to fire up his Mercury OptiMax 250 ProXS, run 30 miles from the launch to Dallas Bay, put his trolling motor down, and work his spot for most of the eight-hour tournament day.
Blaylock, meanwhile, had to play a game of run-and-gun from the start of Day 1 after idling up to a shell bed he had graphed in practice, only to find another competitor parked right on top of his sweet spot: Wooley.
"Yep, Michael found the same fish I did, but he got to them first," Blaylock said. "I knew that spot was going to be productive this week, and Michael worked that place over really well. I’m a little surprised it held out like it did for the whole week, but he definitely had the right kind of setup to win a tournament on this lake."
Blaylock’s running and gunning produced a giant bag of fish on Day 3 (25-12) to pull him within 6 pounds of Wooley as the tournament entered Championship Sunday. And while Wooley’s spot began to falter slightly the final day, Blaylock managed to hook the biggest fish of the tournament early in the afternoon, the 9-pound Big Bass Award winner that brought his Day 4 limit to just over 24 pounds. Wooley’s 19-4 would be good enough for the victory, though, in front of a boisterous Tennessee-friendly crowd.
"I’m real comfortable anywhere on the Tennessee River, but Chickamauga has gotten pretty special to me now," Wooley joked.
NOTES: Wooley won a Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League (BFL) event on Pickwick and earned a Top 10 as a rookie in 2014 on the Tennessee River … Blaylock’s second-place finish pushed him up to ninth in the FLW Tour Angler of the Year standings, giving the Benton, Arkansas pro a chance to earn his fourth Top 10 finish in his career … Mercury’s FLW pros next compete in the FLW Tour regular-season finale on the Potomac River in La Plata, Maryland June 25-28.
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