Early summer on the Tennessee River is ledge-fishing time, but Wheeler Lake – according to many anglers – doesn’t set up like its sister reservoirs on the Tennessee River chain. Bass don’t pile into mega-schools on river drops. Instead, the postspawn season can be tackled with a mish-mash of approaches, including dragging shell beds and other hard-bottom areas offshore, flipping docks, flipping and frogging grass or wood, and fishing brush.
Those are the tactics that the top 10 teams used at the YETI FLW College Fishing National Championship presented by Lowrance C-Map Genesis at Wheeler Lake. Here are the baits they used.
1. Travis Blenn and Kyle Alsop, this year’s champs from Kansas State University, relied on green pumpkin Zoom Brush Hogs fished on Carolina rigs or Big Bite Baits Swing Head Jigs around brush and ledges or on Texas rigs around docks. They also threw a “big shaky head” with a Big Bite Baits Super Stick (green pumpkin).
2. Former champs Patrick Walters and Gettys Brannon of the University of South Carolina nearly earned a third national title for the Gamecocks club by fishing a 1/2-ounce Greenfish Tackle Creeper Head with a Zoom Z-Craw (Cali 420), a Strike King 2.5 square-bill (sexy shad), a drop-shot and a Heddon Super Spook (chrome). Brannon fished the Creeper Head on a Fitzgerald Rods Bryan Thrift Series 7-foot, 2-inch Frog Rod.
3. Bethel University’s Evan Owrey and Kristopher “KJ” Queen fished Queen Tackle tungsten jigs in the blue racer color with Zoom Salty Pro Chunk trailers (blue), 3/4-ounce Queen Tackle Football Swinghead tungsten jigs with Gene Larew Biffle Bugs (green pumpkin) and Texas-rigged Zoom Trick Worms (black).
4. Top-10 qualifiers from the University of Louisiana-Monroe, Nicholas Joiner and Tyler Stewart, used a 7/16-ounce V&M Adrenaline Flippin Jig (black/blue) with a V&M J-PROZ Series J-Bug trailer and a 3/8-ounce V&M Pacemaker Series Pulse Swim Jig (threadfin shad) with a V&M Wild Thang Series Cliff’s Wild Craw (white) or other trailers.
5. The Lone Star State’s Brett Clark and Jacob Keith from East Texas Baptist University fished three baits. First was a 3/4-ounce football jig (green pumpkin) with a Strike King Space Monkey trailer (green pumpkin). Second was a Zoom Ol’ Monster (red bug) Texas-rigged with a 1/2-ounce weight. Third was a Carolina rig with either a Zoom Baby Brush Hog or Zoom Super Fluke.
6. Missouri Tigers Gabriel Dubois and Brandon Heizer fished docks using Texas rigs with 3/8-ounce weights that were left unpegged so they could slide up and down the line. The anglers felt the extra action achieved drew more bites, though the loose weights made skipping docks more challenging. Heizer used a Zoom Brush Hog (watermelon candy) with a 4/0 hook. Dubois opted for a Strike King Rage Bug (watermelon seed) with a 3/0 hook.
7. All the way from Pennsylvania, Logan Pollman and Tyler Sheppard of Slippery Rock University fished a Buckeye Lures swing jig and a standard jig with a Strike King Menace Grub (green pumpkin) and a Snag Proof Phat Frog (white).
8. A Nichols Lures Ben Parker Magnum Spoon, Ignite Baits swimbait in a blueback herring pattern and morning dawn Roboworm on a drop-shot got it done for Chandler Christian and Lance Freeman of Murray State University.
10. A variety of black-and-blue or black-and-brown jigs did most of the work for Ryan Habenicht and Daniel Marshall of the University of Oregon. Among their choices were the Dirty Jigs Luke Clausen Casting Jig and Dirty Jigs HP Flipping Jig. Their go-to trailers were a Strike King Rage Craw and Strike King Rage Bug. Other baits the team used include a Frenzy Baits Nail shaky head with a Zoom Trick Worm (green pumpkin) and a BOOYAH Pad Crasher frog.