Wheeler Lake stretches for 60 miles between two of Alabama’s most renowned Tennessee River bass reservoirs. To the west of the Wheeler Dam lies Pickwick Lake. Guntersville extends east from the Guntersville Dam.
Wheeler has long played second fiddle to Pickwick and Guntersville because its bass fishery paled by comparison. The Alabama Bass Anglers Information Team (BAIT), ranked Wheeler near the bottom of other Alabama reservoirs. It produced good numbers of 12- to 15-inch bass, but fish heavier than 5 pounds were scarce.
The 2012 BAIT report was a shocker. Wheeler had leapfrogged from the bottom of the standings to No. 2. Today, 5-pound bass are caught here as frequently as in the early 1990s when Wheeler was in its heyday.
At 67,100 acres, Wheeler is Alabama’s second largest reservoir. From the Guntersville Dam, it flows west as a run-of-the-river reservoir past Huntsville and begins to spread out near Decatur. This midsection is embellished with extensive stump flats and creek channels. Farther down the lake you’ll find steep rocky banks and long points.
The varied habitat supports largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, with largemouth being the most sought after.
LARGEMOUTH IN THE BUSHES
Wheeler is drawn down 6 feet for winter pool, and April 15 is typically the day the lake comes up to full pool, points out noted bass guide Jimmy Mason.
“The largemouth move shallow as the water comes up,” Mason says. “The bass here wait until that happens before they spawn.”
This is when Mason and his clients blitz flooded buckbrush and other cover in water less than 3 feet deep. Flooded bushes are more prominent from Spring Creek to just above Decatur.
“There aren’t as many bushes on the lower end, but there are plenty of laydowns and boat docks there that hold bass in April,” Mason says.
The most productive bushes lie in slightly deeper water. They are typically point bushes, isolated bushes and bushes on the edge of a creek channel or drain.
“It’s critical that you fish those key bushes several times a day,” Mason says. “They constantly replenish because waves of spawners move in and out throughout the month of April.”
Flippin’ a Yum F2 Mighty Bug into the bushes keeps Mason and his clients in touch with Wheeler’s heavyweight bass. Mason rigs this soft plastic bait with a stout 4/0 hook, a 5/16-ounce bullet sinker and 20-pound Vicious Fluorocarbon line.
Another deadly option is swimming a white 1/4- or 3/8-ounce Booyah Boo Jig with a white silver flake Yum F2 Craw Chunk tight to bushes and other shallow cover. Mason recommends 65-pound Vicious Braid for this tactic.
“Later in April, you can catch fry guarders by working a Rebel Pop-R around the bushes,” Mason adds.