Summertime on the Tennessee River may not be the prime time to hit the water, but the second stop of the Toyota Series Southeastern Division on Wheeler Lake will certainly showcase how diverse of a fishery it can be when the tournament takes place July 30 – Aug. 1.
Toyota Series Southeastern Division
How the fishery sets up
Running 70 or so miles from the Guntersville Dam to the Wheeler Dam, Wheeler Lake isn’t nearly the same from end to end. In fact, it’s one of the most diverse reservoirs on the Tennessee River chain and contains a wide range of cover and structure options.
While the lower end of Wheeler provides more typical TVA ledge-fishing options, the upper end is more riverine, with numerous creeks to prospect. Hard cover is the most dominant in the fishery with shell bars, rocks, stumps and laydowns being the main suspects. In recent years, eelgrass has begun to expand its range in the lake’s mid-to lower section. Back in the creeks you can also find shallow vegetation like lily pads and duckweed.
Largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass are all present in the lake, but like with the majority of the Tennessee River, the first two species are the primary targets.
What to expect
Though there have been several major FLW events on Wheeler over the years, the majority of them have been in the spring or fall. Truthfully, the FLW Cup held on Wheeler back in 2016 that John Cox won by prospecting creeks on the upper end may be the closest gauge to how this event could pan out. Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit angler and Wheeler local Sam George agrees.
“I think this tournament will be very, very similar to when Cox won the Cup here,” he says. “I think the deep fish will be more of a factor than they were at that Cup just because this tournament is a littler earlier in the year. There’s also a lot of bait in the lake, so I would expect some schooling fish to play later in the day, too.”
Being that it’s summer on the Tennessee River, it’s a no-brainer that fish will be caught from offshore, deep haunts. The curveball with Wheeler is that the shallow options are more plentiful and consistent than they can be on other lakes in the system this time of year.
“You’ll see guys doing a little bit of everything I think,” George adds. “Guys will be fishing brush, docks, and log jams in the Elk River and running up some of the creeks. The eelgrass is kind of an x-factor and in recent years started growing a lot in the Decatur area of lake. We really haven’t had any major events here since that started, so it’ll be interesting to see if someone can figure that out.
“The other thing to consider is that the smallmouth have really been showing out this year for whatever reason. I expect them to play some, but this time of year it’s hard to stay on that. A lot of mixed bags come from the same areas, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see some nice smallmouths weighed.”
With a lot of options on the table for how anglers will be able to fish and what species guys can target, George believes sampling a bit of everything will be the biggest key to reaching the 45- to 50-pound winning weight.
“You’re going to have to have a mixture of things to fish because you can’t win it in one particular way,” says George. “You’ll have to bounce around from spot to spot fishing for one good bite at each place – shallow and deep.”
Baits and techniques
There likely won’t be anything too shocking in terms of baits and techniques in this tournament, but the range of choices may be broader than you’d see in other events held on the Tennessee River in the summer.
Ledge staples like deep-diving crankbaits, spoons, hair jigs and scroungers should be common on boat decks. On the shallow side, look for jerkbaits, topwater walking baits, jigs, squarebills, soft-plastic jerkbaits and frogs to come into play.