Tennessee River time

The next event on the Bassmaster Elite Series — Wheeler Lake — takes place on one of the nation’s most popular waterways. The Tennessee River is dotted with incredible fisheries and whether it’s Kentucky Lake, Pickwick, Guntersville or Wheeler, it’s all about the tremendous volume of water flowing through the system.

The Tennessee River offers a lot of diversity, in terms of the types of fisheries you’ll find and the different largemouth or smallmouth focus. For Wheeler and all of these lakes, current is what makes that river system so productive.

You have a constant conveyor belt of food coming to the fish, and that current is constantly exchanging the water within these lakes. Understandably, the fish are accustomed to the Tennessee River’s water movement because it influences so much of their lives.

That makes the Tennessee River a fun place to fish, especially in those current situations, because the fish tend to school up heavily. Once you find them and you figure out how to catch ‘em, you can have some of the best days of your life.

I can remember fishing tournaments on the Tennessee River over the years and catching my limit on consecutive casts. When the conditions are right, it can be so good you’re literally catching a bass on every single cast.

One thing to keep in mind is Wheeler has gone through some significant changes in recent years. The submersed aquatic vegetation has fluctuated, and we’re currently in a year where there doesn’t seem to be as much vegetation.

That’s not good for the prominent area known as the Decatur Flats, where you have several creek channels running through an expansive area of shallow water, downstream from the Interstate 65 bridge. Without the vegetation, the fish spread out, and it’s harder to catch them.

Fortunately, the Decatur Flats area is not the only option. Actually, Wheeler is like three lakes in one. You have the lower end of the lake with ledges and deep water, you have the mid-lake region with the Decatur Flats and then you have the upper end, which is more traditional Tennessee River with oxbows.

This really are three distinct types of fisheries in one lake, and without the vegetation making the Decatur Flats the primary area, I believe all three sections of Wheeler could be in play. That’s good because it will spread the field more evenly.

Wherever you fish, you have to look at the TVA’s current schedule for that day. They’ll run current at some time, and when the water starts moving, the fish will become more active because they’re so accustomed to that water bringing food to them.

Sometimes, the TVA doesn’t start generating current until later in the day, and that might not align with a tournament schedule. Conversely, if a storm dumps a bunch of water into the system and they’re pulling current early in the morning, it could be game on.

A key point to consider is how much current they’re pulling during practice, versus how much they’re projecting for tournament days. It could be very different levels, and when the happens, it can be like fishing a different lake.

Also, there’s a clear connection between lake level and current strength, so you have to be aware of how rising or falling water affects the fish. For example, one day you could be fishing in shoreline grass, but if the water drops 2 feet overnight, the fish will pull off the bank.

On the other hand, when the water rises, that can create several new opportunities.

Wheeler Lake is definitely a unique tournament fishery in that water dynamics play such a key role in what challenges or opportunities you find. You just have to get up every day ready to attack it.