One Big Bass Key to Success at Wheeler

James Overstreet
Kevin VanDam holds up his catch on day two of the 2011 Dixie Duel

DECATUR, Ala. – Brent “Brody” Broderick caught a five-bass limit both days of the Bassmaster Elite Series Dixie Duel, and he finished 98thin the 99-man field. Over the first two days, only five times did an angler cross the weigh-in stage without a limit – three times after a hot, bright Thursday and two times after a cool, rainy Friday. Chad Griffin was one of the three who did it Friday. But his three bass weighing 10 pounds, 13 ounces were almost equal to Broderick’s 10 over two days that weighed 12-6. And coupled with Griffin’s 18-1 on Thursday, he sits in seventh place.

Obviously, the key to success at Wheeler Lake is catching a few big ones. Almost everybody caught a limit both days here.

“Once you get that big one, it gets a lot easier,” said Gerald Swindle, who is in 23rdplace and easily made the cut to the top 50 after Friday’s weigh-in. “That’s the difference at Wheeler. You’ve got to have that 4- or 5-pounder. It’s almost like you have to target that big one.”

But how do you target a big bass, especially this time of year? Some of the bigger bass in this tournament have been caught shallow, but the majority of them have been caught on deep-running crankbaits thrown along ledges near the main river channel.

David Walker has done the best job of that. He had 18-2 Thursday and followed that up with 17-1 Friday to take the lead in this event with a 35-3 total. His bag included three bass in the 4-pound range Friday.

“I’m fishing offshore,” Walker said. “When you have a TVA lake in June, that’s the place to be. There’s still plenty of big fish around the bank, but in these lakes the majority of those bigger fish are going to hang out around the river channels. That’s their summer home.

“Anytime you’re fishing drops like that, there’s always ‘the right cast.’ I have no idea why that is, but it has something to do with the way the fish set up on a spot. I think Kevin (VanDam) is probably as good as anybody I’ve ever been around at figuring out the right cast. Me, I’ll probably fish all the way around a ledge. He will do the right thing in two or three casts, then go on to the next one.”

That’s certainly been VanDam’s method of operation this week. VanDam caught a couple of dozen bass Friday morning, but still only had a limit weighing around 10 pounds. He has described his method on Wheeler as “hitting enough spots until you finally run into them.”

VanDam did that Friday just before check-in time. It allowed him to finish with 15-12 for the day, which coupled with 15-6 Thursday gave him a sixth-place total of 31-2.

“I really had a tough day,” said VanDam, who all but wrapped up his seventh Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year title. “It goes to show you that if you keep grinding it out you can make it happen.

“I found a spot today that, if we’d had another 15 or 20 minutes, I could have caught a really big bag because they were still biting when I left.”

Friday Tim Horton landed the biggest bass of the tournament – a 6-pound, 4-ounce largemouth that propelled him into ninth place with a total of 27-15. Without that big bass, Horton probably would have had something more along the line of his 11-13 total from Thursday, and he would be somewhere around 40thplace going into Saturday. Instead, his total Friday was 16-2, and he’s in contention for the Dixie Duel title.

Kevin Wirth was fishing the same area when Horton hooked the big one Friday. Wirth, who is in 22ndplace with 25-9, had a couple of good fish in his limit Thursday and said he could have had a 20-pound bag.

“I lost a four-pounder right at the boat, and I lost a smallmouth that would have weighed five or six pounds at the boat,” Wirth said. “There are a couple of little things that the big fish move up on – some specific structure and some specific angles that you have to cast to them. Knowing those angles is the key. Sometimes you can go back to those places and get a reaction bite or trigger a bite.”

Walker agrees with that, but thinks, like VanDam, that the key is just grinding it out.

“I know what seems to work better,” Walker said. “But it’s not like it’s a magic button you push. I wish there was, where you could sit there and make one throw. But it ain’t that good.”

Greg Hackney may have found something as close to “a magic button” as you can get on Wheeler. Friday he caught the biggest bag of the tournament –  weighing 19-9 – which moved him from 11thplace Thursday into second place with a 34-5 total.

“I’m fishing around a ton of people,” Hackney said. “But I’m approaching it a little differently than everybody else.”

Hackney probably clinched a Bassmaster Classic berth Friday after entering this tournament in 45thplace in the AOY standings, where the Classic cutoff is currently 37thplace.

With so much on the line, including Sunday’s $100,000 first-place prize and an automatic Classic berth, Hackney wasn’t about to reveal his secret Friday.