The second event of the Toyota Series Southeastern Division is off and running this morning on Wheeler Lake out of Ingalls Harbor. Many pros fishing the Southeastern Division this season agree that Wheeler will be the most challenging of the three events in 2020 due to the timing of the tournament.
When it comes to TVA lakes, Wheeler has always had a “tough” reputation when compared to the fisheries around it. Throw in the fact that it’s the end of July and most of the 60-boat field knows they have an extreme summertime grinder on their hands.
Josh Stracner of Vandiver, Ala., is the Southeastern Division points leader going into Wheeler by virtue of his win at Lake Eufaula back in June, and he knows he has his work cut out for him at Wheeler to retain that points lead.
“Eufaula was a lot of fun,” Stracner says. “But Wheeler, well, this is going to be work – a lot of work. Of all the lakes I’ve fished in Alabama, unfortunately, I have never spent any time on Wheeler until two weekends ago. Now I know what people mean when they say Wheeler is a tough place to fish.
“I fished this past weekend and the weekend before that and I don’t have a whole lot to show for it. At this point, I’m sort of hoping we have a big condition change like the rain coming in to shake things up. Maybe a little colored water running into this lake would help create something new.”
Wheeler Lake is a huge TVA impoundment that extends some 70 miles and encompasses roughly 67,000 acres of water. Wheeler often lives in the shadows of her two famous relatives: Guntersville and Pickwick. Wheeler does not have the prolific grass like Guntersville, nor does it have the deeper, premium ledges like Pickwick, so it’s stuck in the middle, so to speak. Regardless, Wheeler offers just about any kind of fishing an angler could possibly want to do.
Traditionally, the Decatur Flats area has been a good area in the main lake. Decatur features vast flats with myriad ditches, shell bars and stumps. If there’s any vegetation at all, it’s usually somewhere in the Decatur Flats. But there are also fish that inhabit First, Second, Spring and Flint Creeks as well as the Elk River.
Finally, the lower section of Wheeler does contain some deep ledges, but current is a big help in that portion of the lake.
If you’ve ever wondered what the “dog days of summer” are in bass fishing, Wheeler Lake is defining them right now.
The weather has been hot and still, with air temperatures in the 90s. Water temperatures are running 86 to 90 degrees and there is very little current.
Brent Crow of Hartselle, Ala., who has been guiding on Wheeler Lake for a decade, says he’s never seen the water as clear as it is right now. Combine all that with very smart bass that have been pressured all spring and you have the dog days of summer on an already tough fishery.
One upside to Wheeler is its diversity as a fishery. Given the lake’s physical nature, anglers can fish just about any way they want to, from topwater frogs to cranking ledges. There is every kind of cover and structure in the lake imaginable, and fish are living from one foot to 20.
According to Crow, some of the likely patterns that will be seen this week include fishing topwaters on the main river channel. A 6 a.m. CT start time out of Ingalls Harbor, which is located near some of the best ledges on the lake, might give some pros a head start.
The very back ends of major creeks – like the way John Cox won the Forrest Wood Cup in 2016 – will produce some fish as well. Going far enough “off the Wheeler map” to find current and cooler water is a good way to discover a resident population of fish and have them to yourself in the summer.
Deep ledges around First and Second Creeks usually produce some fish, but decent current is needed to make that reliable. Schooling fish can be a factor on Wheeler, too. Crow says some of the typical schooling holes have not exactly been too cooperative lately.
Finally, making a long run up the river to the Guntersville dam to fish in the currents of the tailrace will be a gamble some pros will take as well. It’s a long haul up there and if those fish don’t show, it could be a swing and a miss.
The big story at Wheeler right now is the proliferation of eelgrass that has taken over the Decatur Flats. At first, local anglers believed eelgrass would be a boon to Wheeler’s fishing. Now, it seems that the eelgrass is more of a bane.
“The stuff floats all over the surface, and you literally can’t make a cast anywhere without it fouling up your lure – no matter what you throw,” Crow says. “Some of the best places on the Decatur Flats are basically unfishable as long as the grass is floating. Without any wind or current to move that floating stuff off the flats, it’s likely floating eelgrass will be a problem.”
Michael Brewer of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., agrees with Crow on the state of the eelgrass.
“It seems like that eelgrass is good when it first starts growing and it’s just clumps and edges that create current breaks,” Brewer says. “But once it turns into a entire carpet that covers everything and then floats up everywhere, it really just gets in the way – constantly.”
One thing that could douse the dog days, literally, is the high chance of rain and thunderstorms over the next couple days. With a 70 to 90 percent chance of rain in forecast, this could help usher in some more flow and colored water during the event. It could be a development that helps those fishing in the main tributaries of Wheeler.
In terms of pulling off a win at Wheeler this week, the consensus is 13 to 15 pounds a day is the mark to hit. Big catches in recent tournaments have been nonexistent. While Wheeler tends to fish pretty decent through mid-June, July and August seem to be the mystery months when big bass become rare.
Brewer says the key will be to get a quality bite or two quickly in the morning to get off the blocks fast.
“If a guy can catch two or three bass in the 3- to 4-pound class to get 8 or 9 pounds in the well quickly, then he can spend the rest of the day rounding out his limit to get into that 13- to 14-pound range,” he says. “A big bite early is going let a guy relax and just go fish the rest of the day.”
Format: All boaters and co-anglers will compete for two days. The top 10 boaters and co-anglers based on cumulative weight after two days of competition will advance to the third and final round, with the winner in each division determined by the heaviest cumulative three-day weight.
Takeoff Time: 6:00 a.m. CT
Takeoff Location: Ingalls Harbor, 701 Market Street NW, Decatur, Ala.
Weigh-In Time: 2 p.m. CT
Weigh-In Location: Ingalls Harbor