Rus Snyders has spent 10 years in the state of Tennessee, and in that time he has become one of the most dominant anglers in the state.
On Friday, Snyders continued his success in the Volunteer state by winning the Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series Championship at Chickamauga Lake powered by TourneyX with a two-day total of 180 inches.
Snyders landed in third after Day 1 with 93.75 inches before adding 86.25 inches on Day 2 to outlast Damian Thao, Luke Graham and the rest of the 132-boat field.
“It means a lot to win in this state. I love Tennessee,” Snyders said. “I don’t think I’m leaving. This is an awesome place with some great fisheries. Chickamauga is a lake I am pretty familiar with, but (I’ve) never fished it with the conditions we had and the water being so low. It was like being on a whole new lake.”
Normally even-keeled and steady, Snyders’ emotional side shined when he was announced the winner onstage at Thompson-Boling Arena during the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota.
“Bassmaster has been something I have followed my whole life. I always watch the Classic,” Snyders said. “To be on this stage and to hoist that trophy was really special. This is the highest level in kayak fishing right now.”
Snyders focused his efforts on the upper end of Chickamauga. With the water so low, much of the water had been sucked out of the backwater areas, so he targeted stumps on the main river where he believed the bass had moved.
“I had a little bit of current. I didn’t get a lot of bites but I got the right bites,” he said. “I didn’t lose a single fish the entire tournament and that was very fortunate.”
It produced all of his bites but one, including his biggest bass, a 22.5 that he landed first thing on Day 1. The lunker bit several inches from the boat, and when it bit, Snyders said it ran straight under his kayak, running his line to the other side and resulting in a chaotic fight.
He landed his fish and proceeded to quickly fill his limit.
On the final day, he caught three fish in the first half hour and then a fourth shortly after that. It took Snyders six hours to catch his final bass, a 16-incher that bit a red crankbait.
“I went hours without getting a bite. With a couple of hours left, I abandoned everything and went to some new water. I went into a little backwater area and caught a 16-incher that was barely hooked in the corner of the lip. I didn’t know it was going to win it for me, but I knew it was a significant bass.”
Thao, meanwhile, had never fished outside of California before heading to east Tennessee. He made the most of his first time on a Tennessee River reservoir, catching a two-day total of 176 inches.
“Chickamauga has a lot of stuff I like,” he said. “The lake is so huge and there are so many options. You can really fish your strengths. We had a lot of cold conditions and I didn’t think these fish were getting ready to move up. They were still out on the ledges. That is what I do a lot back home.”
Practice did not indicate Thao would have a productive event, as he did not catch a fish the first day of the practice period. But he applied some of the concepts he has learned in his home state to Chickamauga, focusing on a specific ledge that featured standing timber.
He dragged a lighter Carolina rig with a watermelon red-colored Zoom Brush Hog down the ledge, starting in 8 feet of water and ending his retrieve in 25 feet. His bite was consistent, catching 88 inches both days with his biggest measuring 20 inches, which he landed on Day 2.
“They didn’t turn on until the afternoon. It wasn’t until 12 o’clock,” he explained. “As soon as it hit 12, though, the water temperatures started to get a little warmer and I started capitalizing on the bigger bites.”
Graham finished third with 173.25 inches. The Knoxville native anchored his bag with a 21-inch smallmouth. After catching 94 inches on Day 1, Graham struggled much of Day 2 and only had two bass in his total at 2:30 p.m.
But in the last half hour, he landed three bass to achieve 79.25 inches and salvaged a third-place finish.
Ohio angler Aaron Stallbaum landed the big bass of the tournament, a 23.25-inch largemouth.