A look at Wheeler Lake

After a month off, the top circuit in B.A.S.S. heads to Alabama for stops No. 6 and 7, starting with the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Wheeler Lake, June 13-16. The Elites have a week off before competing on Smith Lake, June 27-30.
At 68,300 acres, Wheeler is the second-largest lake in Alabama to Lake Guntersville, one dam upstream on the Tennessee River. The tournament, hosted by Visit Decatur, will be the 14th pro level Bassmaster event and fifth Elite on Wheeler. Tommy Martin won the 1974 Classic there.
Wheeler runs 60 miles from Guntersville Dam to Wheeler Dam and has 1,027 miles of shoreline. The early summer ledge pattern is expected to play once again, local Opens pro Sam George said, but he adds the shallow bite could be in play.
Ingalls Harber at 802-A Wilson Street in Decatur is tournament central. Takeoffs will be there 7 a.m. ET each morning with weigh-ins set for 3 p.m. ET. The expo will begin at noon ET Saturday and Sunday. All B.A.S.S. venues are free.
Adam Rasmussen was the most recent B.A.S.S. winner on Wheeler, rallying from seventh in the St. Croix Rods Bassmaster Open in May 2023. Rasmussen, fishing a shellbed in Decatur Flats, had the biggest bag on Championship Saturday to win with 54 pounds, 15 ounces. Takahiro Omori won the most recent Wheeler Elite in 2016 with 81-6, also fishing specific spots near Decatur.
George said the Elites are hitting Wheeler at a good time. “We’ve had quite a bit of rain and storms, so the water has a good color to it, and we have a lot of current right now,” he said. “Our quality right now is really good. When you swing the bat on this lake, it is a good one. There are a lot of 3- and 4-pound bass. It has been cool to see the lake come back.”
Bass schooling on ledges can concentrate anglers, so timing and water generation can play key roles. Crowds kept Rasmussen off his shellbed until the Open’s final round, when he busted the event’s second largest limit at 21-11.
George said he expects weights to be up from the Open, considering a late spawn and the presence of gizzard shad. “I like it more this time of year because the gizzards start to show up really well on those bars as the threadfin start to clear out,” George said. “When you find (a bar) that has gizzards on it, you take a 17-pound bag up to 24 pounds. It is hard to find and hard to stay on it, but when you do, it is unbelievable what happens.”
Offshore anglers will utilize a variety of baits, including squarebill crankbaits, topwaters, Carolina rigs, drop shots, swimbaits and jigs. George said there could be limits nearing 25 pounds but repeating is the trick. “You could make a spot last for four days, but I doubt it,” he said.
Instead, George said the winner needs to employ a milk run. “I think you’ll have to have several little places,” he said. “The bait roams a lot out there, and it is typical to pull up on a place and blast them and show back up the next day and not get a bite.” 
With water levels up, shallow areas could still be holding bass before they head offshore. Bushes, bank grass and lily pads can be targeted with flipping baits, swim jigs and frogs.
“I expect a lot of fish to get caught in the dirt,” George said. “When you get up there it’s pads, willow grass and bushes. The lily pads are a lot further ahead this year than where they were last year.” 
The Alabama summer heat is just coming on, with temperatures forecast to rise into the 90s during competition days.
Illinois rookie Trey McKinney, shown last year during his seventh-place finish in the Wheeler Open, leads the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 478 points. Two-time Classic champ Jordan Lee, who will get to sleep in his own bed in Cullman for the next two events, is 30 points back with Canadians Chris and Cory Johnston third and fourth, respectively.
Check out all the action on Bassmaster LIVE, starting at 8 a.m. ET Thursday on Bassmaster.com. FS1 broadcasts LIVE from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET on Saturday and 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, with FOX picking up coverage Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. ET.