Chickamauga big bass just shy of new state record
DAYTON, Tenn. —
With well over 1,200 Facebook Shares and posts on every other social media platform, it's easy to say that Todd Beaty has gone viral... or at least his big bass has.
"Yea, the last 24 hours have been crazy," said Beaty Sunday evening. "People have been texting, all my fishing buddies calling and all the social media ... it's just not stopped. But I guess that's what happens when you catch the fish of a lifetime."
Saturday morning (Dec. 30, 2017) Beaty caught a largemouth bass from Chickamauga Lake that weighed 14.53 pounds - just 11 ounces shy of the current state record largemouth caught by Gabe Keen on Feb. 13, 2015. Next to Keen's fish Beaty's fish might be one of the largest bass ever caught on Chickamauga, although no one keeps official records of that.
The folks with Fish Dayton put Beaty's picture holding the huge largemouth on the Internet Saturday evening. Bass fishermen across the nation were soon buzzing.
Hardcore bass anglers know that cold weather fishing is a prime time to hook a trophy. Beaty, 33, lives in Rickman, Tenn., north of Cookeville and considers Dale Hollow his "home lake."
"That's all I knew existed for many years. I've been bass fishing since I was five years old. I was raised on the water by my Grandfather and my Dad," said Beaty, now a serious tournament angler. "We got the itch [to come to Chickamauga Lake] two years ago because of Gabe Keen catching the state record,"
He said he and his tournament partner, Ethan McDonald, don't fish many tournaments in the winter so they spend their fishing time on Chickamauga in search of a trophy.
"We start in November and fish into February in search of a giant," said Beaty. "We had a ten [pounder] last year and another nine-and-a-half and we've caught numerous thirty-pound bags. But [Saturday] we finally found a true giant."
Beaty understandably chose not to be overly specific about the exact location except to say they launched out of Soddy Creek.
"I caught the big one about 10:30. We were fishing a main channel point. The boat was sitting in fifteen to seventeen feet of water. I was throwing a [Tennessee] rig up on the point. She hit in about five or six feet of water."
Most bass anglers in search of monster bass these days are using what they routinely call "rigs." It contains multiple lures and hooks to imitate an entire school of baitfish swimming in the water. The lure was originally called an "Alabama Rig" since it was first made popular on Guntersville Lake in Alabama. There anglers are allowed to have five hooks on the lure. However in Tennessee anglers are only allowed a maximum of three hooks so locally they are called "Tennessee Rigs."
"When the fish hit it just stopped the bait and then a few seconds after I started reeling it came up on top and I knew it was a good one," said Beaty. "I didn't know it was a 14-pounder but I knew it was a double-digit fish."
Beaty said he only had to fight the big bass about 20 seconds before McDonald was able to slide the net underneath it.
"We were just swept away - more shocked than anything," said Beaty. "We just sat in the boat and stared at it for five minutes. We really didn't know how big it was. We didn't know what a [14 pound] bass looks like. I don't guess many people do."
Beaty had a good set of digital scales but of course the batteries were dead. They went to the ramp and Beaty drove to the nearest place to buy batteries. The scale revealed the big bass was definitely well over fourteen pounds, perhaps knocking on the door of Keen's state record bass.
Beaty and McDonald pulled out and headed for Dayton where they weighed the fish on certified scales, revealing the exact weight of 14.53 pounds, 11 ounces shy of the state record. He said the bass was 28 inches long with a 22-and-a-quarter inch girth.
Since TWRA's Florida bass stocking program has matured, ten-pound bass have almost become routine on Chickamauga Lake. Twelve and even 13-pound bass are often reported. But very few, if any other bass have come this close to Keen's state record bass.
Folks who pursue giant Chickamauga bass in the winter know it's work. Cold water angling for big bass doesn't usually yield lots of fish. In fact it can be a grind. There are lures you can use that might produce more smaller bass but folks like Beaty who fish specifically for big bass usually subscribe to the "Big Baits equal Big Fish" theory.
"The only lures we ever throw are [Tennessee] rigs and a Mega Bass 11," said Beaty. "You won't catch a lot of fish. When we really start to see these big bass the bite is tough. But it's very well worth it when you find one of those big girls feeding on a cold day."
Beaty has taken his monster bass to Wilson's Taxidermy in Crossville, Tenn.
"Grady Wilson is one of the best around," said Beaty. "He does stuff for Bass Pro Shops so you know he has to be good."
As an avid bass angler, Beaty knows very well some of his fellow fishermen will criticize him for not releasing the big bass.
"Yea, I've already see a lot of negative stuff on social media," he said. "I just look at it as a bunch of people who are jealous. I'm a tournament angler. I don't eat bass. I really take care of fish and I really debated over what to do with this fish. But it is just one of those things that may never happen again in my lifetime. A replica is just a replica. I wanted [the real thing] that could be with me the rest of my life."
Beaty also admitted that catching the huge bass might have a downside.
"Yea, it has kind of knocked the air out of me. Now if I catch an eight or nine-pound fish I'll think it's a little one," he said with a smile in voice.
Beaty works in electrical maintenance by trade, but he is also a preacher. He believes his good fortune might have greater meaning beyond a fishing milestone.
"I'm just feeling that might be why God allowed me to catch it," he said. "He wanted to give me another platform to talk to people about Him."
Whether he's preaching the gospel or about bass fishing, folks have good reason to listen closely to Todd Beaty.