Melting at Wheeler Lake

Cooper Gallant

The conditions during the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament at Wheeler Lake were brutal. An incessant sun and the lack of any breeze made for some of the hottest weather I’ve ever fished in. The water temperature was almost 90 degrees, and there wasn’t any current to get the bass feeding.

I drank three jugs of water every day and still felt like I was dehydrated. I made the mistake of setting one of the jugs on my boat’s carpet where it was exposed to the sun. The jug got so hot it melted the carpet under it.

Going into the tournament, the fishing was so tough I wasn’t convinced I could catch a single bass. Many other pros felt the same way.

To be honest, Wheeler Lake had me worried before I even got there. It doesn’t remind me a whole lot of the other lakes on the Tennessee River system, and I’ve fished them all. I pre-practiced at Wheeler before the cutoff, but I just couldn’t get my bearings straight there.

Being from Canada, I found it bizarre to be fishing a lake that supports smallmouth bass and alligators.

I caught most of my bass during the tournament by fishing 4- to 7-feet deep on the Decatur Flats. One pattern consisted of fishing an inside grass line along a ditch with a ChatterBait. I targeted any irregularities in the grass, like thicker patches, where different types of grass were mixed, points and isolated clumps.

I also fished matted grass with a frog. The water had cleared a lot from the first day of practice to the first day of the tournament. The clearer water allowed the bass to see the frog better through the mat.

On the first day, I also caught three smallmouth that weighed over 3 pounds from a small point on the main lake. They were actually shallower than the largemouth. I caught them on a Spook right after takeoff. They were schooling in less than 3 feet of water.

The bite got tougher for me every day. I caught about a dozen bass the first day, maybe eight on Day 2 and only six bass on Day 3. I finished in 32nd place. I’m currently 18th in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, which is about where I hoped to be sitting at this time in the season.

After the first two or three events, I was much higher in the point standings and thinking I had a shot at the AOY title. Now my focus is on qualifying for the Classic and trying to win one of the remaining tournaments.

I feel a little more comfortable moving on to the next Elite event at Smith Lake. I expect the fishing to be just as tough as it was at Wheeler, if not tougher. Spotted bass will dominate there. We’re likely to get a lot of bites, but not many of those bites will be from bass that measure the 15-inch legal minimum.

I’ve heard that the summertime boat traffic on Smith is so intense that we’ll be fishing in 2-foot waves all day. And, being another Alabama event, it’s sure to be hot.

I plan to keep it simple at Smith and have only five rods out on my front deck. Three will be spinning outfits and two will be casting rods. I’ll have them rigged with a topwater bait, a minnow bait, a drop shot, a shaky head and a jerkbait.

Smith is a blueback herring lake, so a lot of pros will target roaming bass that suspend over shallow to very deep water. The key will be finding an area that yields better-than-average spotted bass.

I’m hoping to survive another hot Alabama tournament and maintain or improve where I am in the AOY standings. If I can do that, I won’t have to worry about qualifying for the Classic when we head north for cooler weather and a chance to fish for heavyweight smallmouth. That will let me completely focus on winning one of the final two Elite tournaments.