After a four-month hiatus, it’s almost time for the Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine Mississippi Division to get back after it. The season resumes on July 18 and July 19 with back-to-back tournaments on Pickwick Lake. While each tournament may fish a bit like a two-day event, each day of competition is a standalone tournament with a winner crowned after each day.
Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine Mississippi Division
How the fishery sets up
Pickwick is one of the best bass fishing lakes on the Tennessee River, and it’s no surprise anglers are always pulling big bags from its waters – even and especially in mid-July. Fifty miles from Wilson dam upstream to Pickwick dam at the lower end and covering 47,500 surface acres, there’s plenty of room to spread out on Pickwick’s 490 miles of shoreline, vast grass flats and offshore ledges.
The lower end of Pickwick is known for its terrific ledge fishing, and while mid-July on the ledges isn’t typically as good as when fish first move out deep after the spawn, 20-plus-pound stringers are comically common. The upper end, below the Wilson dam, can also be exceptional in the summer heat provided there’s enough current to get fish moving.
While some good smallmouth call Pickwick home, it’s largemouths that usually win tournaments on the fishery – though it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some decent mixed bags come across the weigh-in stage.
What to expect
Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit rookie Jimmy Washam, who hails from nearby Covington, Tenn., spends a lot of his time fun-fishing on Pickwick. He’s been out on the lake recently and says the fishing has been especially tough thanks to typical (and perhaps atypical) summertime pressure.
“The 4th of July weekend gives the fish a little bit of a break because there’s just too much recreational traffic on Pickwick, but those fish were pressured,” he explains. “I was fishing there a lot during the break and there’d be five fish on a place and there’d be five boats on it.
“The offshore fish have seen pressure since day one of them getting out there. There’s still schools out there, but I’ve found fun-fishing there the last couple weeks that you really have to pick at them and try some really unusual stuff and show them something they haven’t seen in order to get them to bite.”
Although the offshore ledge bite is tough, that doesn’t mean Pickwick as a whole is fishing poorly, and even still the offshore fish can be caught with a bit of persistence and some luck.
“Right now, the fish are moving so much following that bait that you could be in the right place at the right time for 10 minutes and make five casts and catch 25 pounds,” he adds. “But the numbers are astronomical of actually getting your timing right and lucking up and catching those big fish pulling up to feed like that.”
Washam believes each tournament can be won offshore, but it’ll be hard for any one angler in particular to replicate a winning pattern over two days given how pelagic the bass in Pickwick are this time of year – and how pressured.
In order to get away from those pressured fish, Washam suggests turning to Pickwick’s abundant grass, which he says is having a banner year on the Alabama portion of the lake.
“The grass looks great in Alabama,” he says. “The grass in the Alabama portion, upstream of Bear Creek, there’s some really healthy milfoil and some good-looking eelgrass, too. It’s a good year for grass upstream of Bear Creek.
“It’s all about the gizzard shad, and those big gizzard shad, a lot of them are out on the river, but they’re just so tired of being chased by bass they just get really pelagic and the bass have to follow them,” Washam explains. “If you can find grass in the main-lake area and find some with some current around it and some big gizzard shad, somebody can catch a big bag of fish in grass for sure.”
The one other pattern Washam expects could be in play should there be enough consistent current during the two tournaments could be predicated on fishing the Wilson tailrace, which has the potential to produce big mixed bags.
“If we get some weather coming through up the chain and we get some rain east of Pickwick, the tail waters of Wilson could certainly play a big role,” he says. “If they move some water – it needs to be consistent – if it’s consistent and they move more water than normal for a two- or three-day period, that tailwater fishing can feel like you’re on a totally different lake. They’re chasing bait and they’re aggressive.”
As for winning weights, Washam expects the usual smattering of 20-pound bags with the potential for some nearing 25 pounds. As is typical for Pickwick, someone is going to catch close to a five-pound average for five fish, but the big question mark involves whether the same anglers can do it multiple days.
Baits and techniques
Out on the ledges, a little bit of everything is always in play, and there’s likely to be heavy doses of typical ledge staples like crankbaits, jigs and big worms. Washam knows those offshore fish have seen all those baits hundreds of time all summer, and he has a unique approach to getting those pressured fish to eat.
“Believe it or not, I’ve had days in July and August in the past there – as crazy as it sounds – I’ve fished a topwater over offshore stuff and have caught some really big fish and numbers doing it,” he says. “The fish just get so pelagic and they lift off the bottom. The topwater offshore is something that could be a total curveball that somebody figures out. And that’s not just schooling fish. Those fish are feeding and chasing bait, but you don’t see them on the surface and they will come up and eat a topwater.”
Washam also suggests anglers try downsizing to get offshore fish to bite, leaning on finesse tactics that aren’t as common on Pickwick.
Elsewhere on the lake, there should be a lot of shallow patterns in play, especially around grass, where flipping, frogs and vibrating jigs usually do the trick.