How I will fish Pickwick Lake


The Elites know it will be an interesting four days of fishing on Pickwick Lake.


I send in these columns the night before each Bassmaster Elite Series event, and tonight was an interesting one. I’m staying at McFarland Park this week and just got back to the camper after a tornado warning expired. It was the first such warning, but there is another round coming. They were thoughtful enough to open the community center here at the facility for all of us camping.


It’s now Friday afternoon. The storms came and went on Wednesday and early into Thursday. For the most part, this area was just heavily affected by rain, but there was lots of rain. I launched Thursday morning, but as the extent of the flooding became apparent, it was evident we didn’t need to be fishing on Pickwick Lake that day. For a while, we were afraid the McFarland Park campground and the B.A.S.S. stage would flood, and we would have to relocate permanently. Thankfully, after a night in a hotel, we were able to return to the campground, and the stage is back up and ready.

We are scheduled to fish Saturday through Tuesday. I am so thankful we are going to be able to have this event now. 

This event will be all about decision-making, perhaps more so than any other B.A.S.S. tournament I have fished. Making decisions on the fly is going to be so critical. 

Practice won’t matter much at all. We all got the lay of the land, but the three days of practice only gave us an idea of where some fish were. Now we have to figure out where they go when the water rises.

The water came up fast. In the mid-lake area, the water has risen at least 6 feet. I’ve always wished we could have one Bassmaster event where there was no practice. We would just dump the boats in and go. This one will feel a bit like that. I’m excited about it.

I live 90 minutes from McFarland Park and come down here and fish half a dozen days a year. I’m usually just too busy. I love the lake though. If there’s one place for us to fish these conditions, it would be somewhere on the Tennessee River this time of year. I feel like I know what these fish are going to do and how fast they can move. Being a river fishery, these fish are used to changing conditions. It is harder on us to adjust than them. 

This week we should see some huge bags of smallmouth and some big bags of largemouth. Whoever wins will probably weigh in both species.

Pickwick is one of the best lakes on the Tennessee River right now. This high water will take away a little of the weight we might could catch. But the fish here are beautiful; they are prespawn, fat and healthy. They have been eating well. Several fish I caught had big shad tails in their gullets. They’re feeding up to spawn. 

It’s going to be an event where decisions are critical. I had all my rods rigged up for muddy water on Thursday but thought I might still run into some that wasn’t too muddy. Now I know all the water will be muddy. 

I’ll have spinnerbaits and ChatterBaits tied on that are either really bright and really dark. I want the fish to be able to see my baits. Red baits will be a plus. When the water gets muddy, I just want the fish to see my baits at all. If they can see it, they’ll usually bite it in dirty water. 

Two real key things, or areas of the lake, are going on: the tailrace below Wilson Dam and the mid-lake region.

Davy Hite won the last Elite Series event on this fishery fishing the tailrace. There are tournaments won there all the time. Both species are living upriver, so a mixed bag will likely be from the area up near the takeoff.

I’m going to fish in the mid-lake area. I practiced in the tailrace but just couldn’t get it going, and I don’t have a history with all those floodgates open.

I had located some good offshore hydrilla in the mid-lake region that holds a huge population of largemouth. It was in 5 to 6 feet of water and was near the main channel. That grass will now be in 12 feet of water. There’s no reason even to go out there and try that grass. But I will try to figure out where those fish went. 

Hopefully, I will get some bites early in the day and run with those.

Water temperatures this week have been from 58 degrees up to 66 degrees. We had some 70-degree air temperature days in practice, which heats those shallow, backwater areas quickly. There were undoubtedly some fish looking to spawn.

This time of year, with the spawn coming, those water temperatures are very important. There are always competitors in these springtime events looking to target spawning fish. These river fish act a little differently than lake fish, though. I have seen times when we all thought the fish should start spawning; the water temperature was right, the moon was right, but the water conditions weren’t right. These fish won’t do their thing when the water isn’t right. I don’t think they’ll be spawning.

Stop No. 3 of the season should be a fun one to watch, so y’all stay tuned right here on and let’s see who can make the right decisions.