How They Did It: Wheeler Lake

The Evan Williams Bourbon Dixie Duel was a tough test for most of the anglers. On Thursday the water was stable and the fishing relatively tranquil. Then the storms hit. Friday was cancelled and Saturday saw high, muddy water sweep through the fishery. To add to the mix, nobody knew until Sunday morning if that would be the last day or if they would be fishing on Monday.Still, the winners persevered. Here's how they did it:

 Tommy Biffle
 (1st Place — 50 pounds, 13 ounces)

 Tommy Biffle, 15-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier from Wagoner, Okla., fished shallow and slow on his way to his fourth BASS tournament title and second Elite Series win."I've fished Wheeler a lot over the years, so I pretty much knew what I wanted. I checked out a lot of places I already knew about and finally found this shallow cove with tons of bass in it. I was very fortunate nobody else was in there. That's the way I like to fish ... alone."Biffle's spot was extremely shallow — most of his fish came out of less than a foot of water — and wasn't as affected by the rising water as most of the lake."The area was full of grass and wood. It was all over the place. I fished the grass with a 3/8-ounce black and blue Rattleback Jig. Mostly I just swam it along in the grass. I'd fish every inch of a spot, though. It seemed like they wanted it right on their nose and coming from a certain direction."Then, when I'd encounter a laydown or a flooded bush, I'd flip or pitch a Texas rigged black with red flake Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver. That's where my patience was really tested. I'd drop my Power-Poles down and make five or six presentations to each of 15 or 20 bushes without ever moving the boat."Biffle reports boating 40-60 fish a day in his backwater area. He credits experience, along with the courtesy of the other competitors, for his victory."Fishing like that takes a lot of experience. You have to believe you'll upgrade your weight if you just keep catching bass. As crazy as that sounds, it can be hard to do. A lot of guys would have moved looking for giants after they had a limit. I might have done that years ago myself. But now I know to keep at it and take what I can get.That's a good lesson for all of us — keep at it if you're upgrading your weight, even if it's only an ounce or two at a time. Do that and by the end of the day you'll have a good sack.

 "I want to say something else, too. A couple of the guys knew where I was fishing but they left me alone, never bothered me one bit. I appreciate that. It's a matter of courtesy. I hope we never lose that in our sport."Tackle: For both the jig and the Sweet Beaver, Biffle used a 7-foot, 6-inch Quantum Tour Edition PT Tommy Biffle Signature Series Flipping Stick (heavy action), a Quantum Tour Edition PT Burner Reel (7:1 gear ratio) and Sunline 25-pound-test Shooter Fluorocarbon.He rigged his Sweet Beaver with a 5/16-ounce Tru-Tungsten Worm Weight and a Tru-Tungsten Peter T Smart Peg. Biffle armed his bait with a 4/0 VMC Worm Hook.

 Casey Ashley
(2nd Place — 46 pounds, 4 ounces)

 Casey Ashley, two-time Classic qualifier from Donalds, S.C., found most of his bass on a bluff wall with a 5-6 foot deep shelf running out from it into very deep water."I didn't realize how good it was until the second day. If I had, things might have been different. It was a shallow shelf — no more than 6 feet deep — off a bluff at a place where the creek split into two arms. I found it fishing a jig but quickly switched to a Misty Shad colored Lucky Craft Slender Pointer. Sometimes I'd throw a 112 but other times I downsized a little bit to a 97."My bites — both pre- and postspawn bass — came on a slow but steady pull with the rod followed by short pauses. It was the kind of thing that if you speeded up or slowed down too much they turned off. This was a lesson in fine tuning your presentation for maximum results.

"And another thing, don't let anyone tell you that suspended bass are hard to catch. These fish were suspended and when they bit they'd tear the rod out of your hand. When bass are on the feed they'll bite anywhere, regardless of what anyone tells you. I had a limit from that shelf every day before noon."Tackle: A Fenwick 6-foot, 6-inch Techna AV rod (medium fast action), an Abu Garcia Revo STX Reel (7.1:1 gear ratio) and 15-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line.

 Takahiro Omori
(3rd Place — 45 pounds, 10 ounces) was unable to reach Omori.

 Brent Chapman
(4th Place — 45 pounds, 4 ounces)

 Brent Chapman, eight-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier from Lake Quivira, Kan., used small crankbaits to earn his place at the top of the standings. His first choice was a Lucky Craft RC 1.5 in chartreuse with a black back. When he felt like he needed a change, he switched to an old, original Storm Wiggle Wart finished in brown crawdad.

"Like Casey (Ashley) I found most of my fish on a shelf off a bluff and along a main point in a creek. Both places were 2-10 feet deep. I worked the shelf from every direction I could think of and worked the point along its sides.

 "They were hitting the crankbaits really well most of the day. Every now and then, when the bite slowed down, I'd toss a jig for a while, but that wasn't very often."The key was not losing fish. I was able to accomplish that by swapping the factory hooks on my crankbaits for Eagle Claw Laser Sharp trebles. Eagle Claw has big barbs on their hooks that keep the bass from shaking loose. I can't overemphasize how important they were to my success." Tackle: An All Star, 7-foot Brent Chapman Signature Series Fiberglass Cranking Stick, an Ardent XS1000 reel (6.3:1 gear ratio) and 12-pound-test Gamma Edge 100 % Fluorocarbon line with his crankbaits; 20-pound-test with his jigs.