Sweet Home Alabama, Elite stop #4

Wheeler Lake 2016After a tough tournament in Arkansas I was excited to make my way to Wheeler on the Tennessee River chain of lakes. While I don’t have a tremendous amount of experience on the lake, I’ve spent plenty of time on the other bodies of water on the chain, and I figured the fish would be in the pre-spawn to spawn mode, allowing me to power fish.

I roomed with Britt Myers, who gets up at 4:30 every day, so that enabled me to put in long, long days on the water. Despite my best efforts, I struggled until the last day. I’d found good numbers of fish on the ends of bluffs, and I could catch plenty of them, but at best five of them would weigh 8 to 10 pounds. I didn’t think that kind of weight would do me any good during the event, so I kept searching.

I knew that there had to be a concentration of pre-spawn bass somewhere at the mouth of a major creek and eventually I found them at the mouth of Fox Creek, the same tributary that produced a 2nd place finish for Dave Lefebre. The fish were funneling in and there was a shad spawn going on, and in just a few hours I had probably 30 bites, and all of them looked to be at least in the 2 ½ to 3 pound class. It was a 500 yard stretch and I ran back as far as I thought I needed to go, but it wasn’t far enough, because Dave caught his fish in the far back of the creek.

My plan was to start the first day on the bluffs, catch a limit, and then go try to cull them all. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get anything going. My fish were gone and I couldn’t get anything going in my first three stops. With a short day, I had to turn to my backup pattern and I was stretched out 20 miles up and down the lake. When you’re struggling like that, it’s easy to spin out and fish too fast, which is completely counterproductive. Eventually I caught a limit and even culled a few times, but with 7 pounds 7 ounces I was mired in 99th place.

On Day Two I vowed to go fishing with an open mind, so I ran up past my “best” area and tried to figure something else out. Eventually, it made sense to “just go fishing” on the lower end of the lake, where I targeted bluff ends and little points at the ends of pockets. I managed a couple of good smallmouths and one good largemouth and with 14-10 I thought I had an outside chance to move up into the cut. It wasn’t enough, though. It moved me up 32 places to 67th overall, salvaging some valuable Angler of the Year points. If you want to know how tough it was, just look at Kevin VanDam – he had over 19 pounds the first day of the tournament and ended up finishing below me after the second day.

My main technique at Wheeler was to fish a ½ ounce Lunker Lure football jig on the bluff ends very slowly in 12 to 15 feet of water. There were other competitors fishing the same areas, but they were staying shallower, so I could go behind them and mop up. I fished the jig on a Lew’s 7’ medium-heavy Custom Lite rod paired with a Lew’s BB1 Pro reel loaded with 14 pound test Gamma fluorocarbon.

Looking back at the fourth Elite Series tournament, I wish had I had gone deeper into Fox Creek on the last day of practice. More and more fish were funneling in every day, but I found them short of their ultimate stopping point.

This marks the halfway point of the season and I remain in awe of the unreal talent level on the Elite Series today. I haven’t looked at the standings closely, but I imagine that the points race is going to be tighter than ever before. While I haven’t been able to pair two good days together in the last two events, I’ve stayed in the hunt by fishing clean and keeping an open mind. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.

Next up is Toledo Bend, which is high and dirty just like when I finished 2nd there in 2014. I hope that my patterns and places from last time clue me into the bite this time around, but if they don’t I’m sure I’ll figure something else out. Limits alone are not an option – I’m fishing to win.

67th Place;  10 fish, 22-01

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