KNOXVILLE, Tn. — When the Bassmaster Classic starts this week on the waters of Fort Loudon and Tellico Lakes in Tennessee it will be a competition unlike any Wil Dieffenbauch has ever experienced. The 34-year old angler from Morgantown becomes only the fourth West Virginian to qualify to fish on competitive bass fishing’s biggest stage.
“This is the dream of everybody that bass fishes. It’s a dream to walk across that stage and it’s pretty exciting,” he said.
Now that tournament week has arrived, Dieffenbauch will soon realize the demands for time make the focus on fishing nearly impossible in the days leading up to the start of competition Friday. There are tournament obligations, sponsor obligations, B.A.S.S. obligations, accessibility for the media and fans, and obligations to your own personal sponsors. Amid all of those distractions, mapping out a strategy isn’t easy, especially when you’re not completely familiar with the water.
“I did get down there at the end of December right before the lake went off limits and checked some areas I’d never seen before. At the moment, I’m planning on staying in Loudon and hopefully we can find a mix of largemouth and smallmouth, but we’ll just have to see what happens,” he explained.
The tournament water is Fort Loudon Lake and Tellico Lake, both situated in the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains with the weigh-in each day back in Knoxville.
Dieffenbauch fished a tournament on the lakes when he was a member of the Fairmont State University fishing team years ago in the College National Championship. He laughed it didn’t go very well and he hope to improve on that showing. However, the weather and time of year are both wild cards.
“I don’t think they’re going to be spawning yet. I think it’s just been too cold in that part of the country. So I think they’re going to be pre-spawn and in areas like rock where they will eventually go to spawn, ” he said.
But the pre-spawn pattern may or may not be the ticket. Much like West Virginia, March weather in Tennessee can be unpredictable and often unforgiving.
“You’re going to have to stay on your toes the whole time. What you find in practice may not necessarily be what you do in the tournament, and in some cases you may have to figure it out hour by hour,” he said.
There is also a different level of thinking when it comes to the Bassmaster Classic. Veterans who have fished the event will tell you, it’s a tournament you want to win, because even if you’re the runner up, nobody will remember you were even there days after it is over. Therefore, anglers take chances and gambles in the Classic they might not take in other tournaments. Going for broke is the winning strategy, even when it doesn’t work out. Dieffenbauch agreed, that’s the mindset.
“Ten pound limits aren’t going to do you any good. If you have to leave two-pound fish to go try and catch bigger ones, you have to do it,” he said.
The tournament runs Friday and Saturday and for the top anglers who make the cut, Sunday is for the championship. Dieffenbauch believed by the end of Day 2 he needed to be in the range of 30 pounds in his stringer to be in contention to fish on the third day.
“I need 15 a day roughly. Anywhere in that 45 to 50 pound range for three days is going to win it,” he said.
Along with Dieffenbauch, West Virginians who previously fished the Bassmaster Classic were Frank Haught of Lumberport in 1989, Russ Smarr of Charleston in 2000, and Jeremy Starks of Teays Valley in 2013.