The Toyota Series Southeastern Division is wrapping its 2020 season with the third and final stop at Neely Henry Lake out of Gadsden, Ala., this week. While Neely Henry is often a perennial stop on Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine schedules, this is the first time the Toyota Series has visited the winding reservoir along the Coosa River in northeast Alabama.
With the final event in the Southeastern Division, the Strike King Angler of the Year will be named at the event’s conclusion on Friday afternoon and the top 25 pros and co-anglers in points will be invited to the Toyota Series Championship on Lake Cumberland this December.
Currently, Dustin Smith of Grand Island, Fla., is leading the Southeastern Division points race after two events with 511 points. Behind him are Josh Stracner of Vandiver, Ala., with 499 points and Josh Bragg of Jacksonville, Ala., also with 499 points.
About the fishery
Neely Henry Lake is a Coosa River impoundment located in northeast Alabama between Weiss Lake and Logan Martin Lake. Neely Henry is called a “lake” but it looks more like a winding river on a map. Most of its 11,200 acres are made up of the Coosa River proper, which runs 77 miles from the Weiss Lake Dam tailrace down through the towns of Gadsden and Rainbow City to the Neely Henry Dam located near the town of Ohatchie. The upper two thirds of the lake are primarily the Coosa River channel, but after reaching Gadsden the lake opens up a bit to accept inflow from about a dozen creeks with names like Canoe, Bridge, Beaver, Ottery, Big Wills and Perimeter.
Any lake on the Coosa River chain often piques the interest of spotted bass enthusiasts because it’s the indigenous waterway of the famous Coosa spotted bass or Alabama spotted bass. This subspecies of spotted bass is well known for their bigger size and aggressive behavior, especially in current. They have a reputation as being a formidable opponent on the other end of a line.
Long-time FLW angler Terry Tucker of Gadsden, Ala., will be sleeping in his own bed this week while he competes on his home lake. Tucker is a two-time Toyota Series winner and an eight-time BFL winner. Three of his BFL victories have come on Neely Henry.
“I’m afraid this lake is not going to show what is capable of this week,” Tucker says. “This place really shines in cooler weather, but it’s typical summer-time tough right now.”
Indeed, Neely Henry Lake is currently in full summer mode. The lake level is at nearly full pool with low to moderate current running through the system. Water temperatures are in the 80s with the water color qualifying as a heavily-stained brown.
Afternoon summer thundershowers have been sending plenty of runoff down some of the tributary creeks on the lower end, turning them muddier than normal.
As with any summertime event on a popular recreation lake, pleasure boat traffic can be an issue, especially on the upper, narrow stretches of Neely Henry where boat wakes can constantly slosh the riverbanks turning them to mud. This event was moved to take place Wednesday through Friday, which might help miss the bulk of the water traffic coming up over Labor Day weekend.
Tactics in play
Leaving out of Gadsden this morning, anglers will have their choice between heading north to fish up in the main Coosa River or heading down the lake, which offers more flats and creeks. The river is known to be more spotted bass friendly while the lower lake harbors more largemouth. Either way, chances are some of these patterns will emerge.
Power generation and subsequent water movement through Neely Henry usually play a large role in how well the bass feed. A unique twist in the lengthy lake’s character is how the water level rises and falls on a daily basis based on ever-changing generation schedules. If water is generated through the Weiss Lake Dam, it can cause a sudden 2- to 3-foot rise in the upper river end of Neely Henry. Conversely, if the gates are opened at Neely Henry Dam, it can cause an 8- to 10-inch water level drop on the lake’s lower end, dropping water out of the willow grass.
“Because of the wild water fluctuations, Neely Henry acts sort of like a tidal fishery,” Tucker says. “The fish act one way in rising water and another way in falling water; the water level is always moving them around and getting in tune with that rhythm of the rise and fall is the key to doing well here.”
Tucker believes mixed bags of spotted bass and largemouths will be the key to doing well. Starting with a limit of spotted bass and then culling once or twice with 3- to 4-pound largemouth will likely be a winning recipe. Tucker believes an average of 13 to 15 pounds a day will win.
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: 6:30 a.m. CT
Weigh-in time: 2:30 p.m. CT