BASS Circles Back to Wheeler Lake

Nearly one month after BASS veteran Tommy Biffle's nail-biter of a win at the Bassmaster Elite Series event on Alabama's Wheeler Lake, BASS will return to the popular fishery for the second Bassmaster Southern Open presented by Oakley, set for April 30-May 2. Fishing conditions just four weeks later, however, will be somewhat different.

 Wheeler Lake, which is home to populations of both largemouth and smallies, has been the site of 11 BASS events, including the Bassmaster Elite Series' Evan Williams Bourbon Dixie Duel in April, when Biffle of Wagoner, Okla., took home the trophy with a three-day total of 50 pounds, 13 ounces, in the weather-shortened event.

 At stake for the pros is a top prize of $45,000 and valuable points toward qualifying for the 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series season and two berths in the 2010 Bassmaster Classic, set for Feb. 19-21 on Lay Lake out of Birmingham, Ala. Co-anglers will compete in the Opens for the top prize of a boat/motor package valued at $32,000. After Day Two, the field will be cut to the top 30 pros and co-anglers, who will advance to Saturday's final day of competition.

 At the Elite event in March at Wheeler, which typically doesn't fill up until mid-April, Biffle capitalized on rising water levels and dirty water while flipping along a shoreline in extremely shallow water. He relied on three baits — a jig, a beaver and a lizard, with most of his fish being caught with the Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver in black and red. In the mornings, he worked his bait slowly and with a deliberate hop through buckbrush, but as the day wore on and water temperatures rose, it turned on the bite and he alternated with the jig and lizard.

 Elite Series pro Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., finished second to Biffle with a three-day total of 46 pounds, 4 ounces. Ashley will compete in the Southern Open, for which practice starts April 27, one day after the Elite event finishes up at Smith Mountain Lake out of Moneta, Va.

 At the Elite event in April at Wheeler, Ashley mainly fished a bluff wall in First Creek, using a jerkbait until the water muddied before the final day and he switched to a jig. He said he expects the fish most of the pros found along the shoreline in April to be finished spawning and out in the Decatur Flats.

 "There might be a good many still shallow, in the bank grass, but they'll mostly be in the Flats," Ashley said. "Everyone will be piled up on top of each other."

 Ashley said he thinks competitors will find success with a Rat-L-Trap, jig or spinnerbait, or crankbaits in 8 to 10 feet of water.

 "I think some of the places I was catching them last month will still have fish in them," Ashley said. "That's only the second time I've ever fished that lake, but I'm going to say it'll run the same on weights this time. It'll probably take 14-15 pounds a day to win. You'll see a few with 20-pound bags, maybe 22 or 23 pounds, but that's not going to be an everyday thing."

 Fans are invited to the Open's Thursday-Saturday takeoffs and weigh-ins at Ingalls Harbor, 701 Market Street NW, in Decatur. Anglers will launch their boats at 5:45 a.m. CT and the weigh-ins are scheduled to begin at 2:05 p.m. All activities are free and open to the public. The daily weigh-ins for the second stop of the Southern Open will be streamed live on, along with other unique content including photo galleries, live leaderboards and daily game stories.

 The final stop in the three-tournament Southern Open division is the Oct. 22-24 event on Santee Cooper Reservoir out of Manning, S.C.

 The Decatur Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau is the tournament host.

 Official Sponsors of the 2009 Bassmaster Opens: Toyota Trucks, Berkley, BOOYAH Baits, Evan Williams Bourbon, Mercury, OPTIMA Batteries, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha Marine.
 Supporting Sponsors of the 2009 Bassmaster Opens: Bass Pro Shops, Triton Boats.