The Fishing Should be Fine in Rayovac Championship on Lake Wheeler
Two weeks make a big difference in the life of a bass lake. In early October, it seemed that north Alabama’s Lake Wheeler would present more of a challenge than most contestants in the Rayovac FLW Series Championship that begins Thursday might have preferred. Now, however, the 68,000-acre impoundment is laying a generous table for the 140 pros and their co-anglers who’ll participate in the three-day event.
The stormy weather and monsoon-like rains that characterized early autumn in eastern Tennessee and northern Alabama are gone. So too is the stained water, gusting winds and heavy current that hopscotched its way through the locks and dams of the Tennessee River chain. Wheeler has settled back down into a slow dance toward winter, and the Rayovac contenders are likely to find a fishery that will accommodate several different patterns and reward various techniques in equal measure.
Breaking it down
“Wheeler is in great shape. It came up some, but it wasn’t too high to begin with because they [dam keepers] had already started dropping it toward winter pool when all that storm water hit,” notes Straight Talk pro Scott Canterbury, who double-qualified for the Championship through the Southeastern and Central divisions. “I wish the current was still rolling like it was, because it would have made the fishing that much better. There’s still going to be enough to make it good.”
Rayovac stalwart Chad Aaron thinks the fishing might be too good for his liking. Aaron, who won a Rayovac Invitational on Wheeler in early November 2010 with 52 pounds, 10 ounces, was hoping the lake wouldn’t set up so well as it apparently is.
“I thought I might find a little niche pattern if the weather had stayed dark and nasty, but the weather is supposed to be dry and in the high 60s to low 70s,” says Aaron, who lives in nearby Lawrenceburg, Tenn. “Now there are going to be fish caught anywhere from the dirt out to 20 feet of water. The lake’s had five good years of recruitment, and there are a lot of 3-pound fish. Also, there’s more baitfish in Wheeler than I’ve ever seen. The fish are really healthy.”
Barry Wilson, a Walmart FLW Tour pro from Birmingham who, like Canterbury, is also a double-qualifier, echoes Aaron’s appraisal of the 68,000-acre lake.
“There are going to be all sorts of patterns in play because Wheeler has so many different features,” observes Wilson, who finished ninth in the Southeastern Division and third in the Central Division standings this year. “Past the I-65 bridge the lake is more riverine with two or three big feeders and backwaters. In the middle section there are all sorts of flats and bars, and big feeder creeks and bays. Going toward Wheeler Dam there are more feeder creeks with ledges and bluff banks, plus the Elk River, where there are a bunch of docks. Really, Wheeler is a great place to hold a championship when you’ve got anglers coming from all across the country and with different strengths.”
Take Your Pick
Canterbury thinks there will be “five or six people in the top 10 who will be doing different things,” with plenty of mixed bags of largemouths and smallmouths among them. He predicts it will take an average weight of 16 to 18 pounds of fish per day to win, which is in keeping with past fall tournaments on Wheeler.
“I think largemouths will predominate, but definitely smallmouths will be in the mix,” observes Canterbury. “If you get on smallmouths good enough, you can win with them. There are some monsters below Guntersville Dam, but that’s about a 70-mile run from Joe Wheeler State Park, with a lot of good fishing in between.”
The Stars Come Out
In the Rayovac Invitational that Aaron won, three Walmart FLW Tour pros were entered. Next week, 40 Tour-level pros will be fishing. In fact, the list includes many of FLW’s marquee names: Larry Nixon, Jay Yelas, Bryan Thrift, Mark Rose (who won an Open on Wheeler in September 2012), Canterbury, Wilson, JT Kenney, Shinichi Fukae, Dave Lefebre and Wesley Strader among them. Why the big difference in the turnout of Tour stars this year?
“This championship is the pot of gold at the end of the Rayovac rainbow,” says Ron Lappin, tournament director of the Rayovac FLW Series. “Besides the cash awards that go to the top pros in this event, 10 pro and co-angler spots in the 2015 Forrest Wood Cup will be available, and that represents quite an opportunity in itself. Top finishers from each division – Western, Texas, Northern, Central and Southeast – at the Championship will advance along with the top five finishers not already represented in this group."
A Big Payday
The chance to compete in the Forrest Wood Cup for its $500,000 grand prize is motivation enough for any competitor, but the prize package in the Rayovac Championship is added incentive. Not counting possible contingency awards from various sponsors, the winning pro takes home $50,000. Second and third place get $20,000 and $15,000, respectively, and the payout extends to 40th place, with its prize of $2,000. The top co-angler wins a Ranger Z117 with a 90-hp outboard, and cash prizes are likewise lucrative down to 40th place.
Anglers to Watch
Though the Walmart FLW Tour pros in the event are likely to grab some of the spotlight, the Rayovac journeymen in the mix will also make the competition and the daily weigh-ins exciting down to the last cast.
Todd Castledine, who’s won more than $100,000 fishing the Rayovac series, heads up the Texas Division. William Shelton III of Virginia, who finished runner-up to Dave Lefebre in the Northern Division standings, has a good track record on Tennessee Valley Authority lakes, as does Southeast Division leader Keith Pace of Monticello, Ark. A fellow Arkansan, Travis Fox of Rogers, was top gun in the Central Division this year, and Kyle Grover of Trabuco, Calif., heads up the Western Division group.
The latter division is sending 30 pros to the Championship, and, while many of its anglers are unfamiliar with Wheeler, fishing history has shown that the techniques that work well in the West also produce in Eastern lakes. Familiar names such as Roy Hawk, Jimmy Reese, Clayton Meyer and Rusty Salewske will join Grover in the West Coast contingent.
Weigh-ins will take place at Joe Wheeler State Park Thursday and Friday beginning at 3 p.m. On Saturday, the final weigh-in is set for 4 p.m. at the Walmart in Florence off Cloverdale Road.
FLW’s media team will be on hand at Lake Wheeler to provide live on-the-water coverage, iON action videos and in-depth photo galleries throughout the tournament. Follow along at FLWOutdoors.com.
For complete Rayovac FLW Series Championship details, click here.