The Tennessee River's Wheeler Lake is home to the second 2009 Southern Open presented by Oakley. It covers approximately 67,000 surface acres and offers some of the most diverse bass fishing in our country. There's plenty of shoreline cover, backwaters and offshore structure.
"I'm really impressed," says professional angler Josh Guess. "I've been able to catch quick limits in the creeks and cuts in shallow water on finesse baits. They're small, but they'll keep. There are bigger bass hanging on offshore structure near rock and wood that are fairly aggressive and will eat bigger, bulkier lures. This is my first trip here. It was love at first cast."
Guess believes the hot bite's the result of three factors.
First, most of the bass are off their beds and are in a classic postspawn pattern — hanging out at the first significant structure they can find as they move away from their beds. And they're eating like crazy.
"Regardless of where you fish, they're exactly where you'd expect them to be at this time of year. That means a lot of guys will bring limits to the scales. But that also means that a limit won't get you much of anything. You'd better find some big ones and make them bite or you'll be in a world of hurt when the checks are passed out."
Second, there are shad everywhere. He reports seeing huge numbers of baitfish in every corner of the lake — shallow and deep, sunshine and shade.
"I've never seen anything like it; they're everywhere. I don't know if they're spawning or just becoming active or what the deal is. But whatever's going on, it's sure changing the fishing environment. Any fish, anywhere in the lake, can have his or her fill anytime they want. To catch the ones you need to catch, though, you'll have to target something besides the baitfish."
Third, the water temperature's up. The warmest he found is 76 degrees; his coolest reads 68.
"I've tried them all over the last few days. My best temperature range seems to be around 72 degrees. I thought some of the cooler water might produce better, but that hasn't proven to be the case, at least not for me. I'll be interested to see where the big bags come from when it's over."
Our pro from DeLand, Fla., predicts it'll take 23 pounds to make the Friday cut and fish with the Top 30. He says it'll take 56 pounds to win this tournament outright. Along with those numbers, Guess predicts a big bass of 6 1/2 pounds. He "won't be at all surprised if it's a smallmouth."
He tempers his predictions with a warning about the weather, however.
"They're predicting thunderstorms every day from now (Tuesday evening) through Sunday. Most of the biggest bass will be caught offshore. The storms won't matter, but if the wind gets nasty that'll make fishing in the middle of the lake impossible. If that happens we'll all get pushed to the shore or into the backwaters. That'll reduce the weights."
As for anglers to watch, Guess says there's really only one pick — Tim Horton. "Tim's a great angler. He knows how to win, and this is in his backyard. He probably knows every spot of offshore, postspawn structure in the lake. I've got to go with him."