April 22, 2016
DECATUR, Ala. — If there is one area of the country where most of the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers feel most at home, it’s on any number of the Tennessee River reservoirs. Following a tournament on the unfamiliar waters of Winyah Bay, and a uniquely formatted, four-day event held on both Bull Shoals and Norfork lakes, Bassmaster Elite at Wheeler Lake should bring some normalcy back to the schedule.
At 67,100 acres, Wheeler is Alabama’s second largest reservoir. As a bass fishing destination, it is often overshadowed by other reservoirs along the Tennessee River — renowned Pickwick Lake to the west and Lake Guntersville to the east. But those in the know believe Wheeler will in prime shape when the Elite Series gets under way Thursday, April 28.
“I really think this is going to be a great event,” said Bassmaster Elite Series angler Tim Horton of Muscle Shoals, Ala. “We’ll be on Wheeler during a time when the bass will be in multiple stages of the spawning process. We won’t likely find them in the prespawn phase, but we’ll definitely be catching fish that are on beds, and also those that have moved off beds and into deeper water.”
Horton said there will be a lot of different ways and locations to catch bass during this event, which will likely result in most of the 108-angler field weighing limits, with some very large bass sprinkled in the mix.
“For a while, Wheeler wasn’t the easiest lake in the region to fish,” said Horton. “The vegetation disappeared, and that made the fishing much less productive than it should have been. But in the past several years it’s come back strong, making it one of the top bass-fishing lakes in the state of Alabama.”
Horton estimates that in order to make the Top 50 cut on Saturday’s semifinal round, it will likely take 13 to 14 pounds each day. To win the event, he thinks 19 pounds per day will be required.
The last time the Bassmaster Elite Series made a stop on Wheeler Lake was in 2011, and Horton finished in eighth place. He lives just a short distance from the main boat launch, and has years of history on the lake.
When it comes to fishing history, who better to ask than a local fishing guide who has amassed nearly 40 years of guiding experience? Reed Montgomery, owner/operator of Reed’s Guide Service grew up fishing many of the Tennessee River impoundments, especially Wheeler.
“The fishery is in great health, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a largemouth bass close to 10 pounds,” Montgomery said. “What will surprise a lot of people are the amount and quality of smallmouth bass that will turn up during the daily weigh-ins. There are plenty of smallies that will weigh 3 to 4 pounds, but I’ve seen them come out of Wheeler weighing up to 6 and 7 pounds.”
While Montgomery believes the smallmouth will be a factor in the tournament, he said to take home the $100,000 first-place prize, the winner would need to focus on big largemouth.
“Wheeler really sets up as a largemouth fisherman’s dream lake,” he said. “There is an abundance of traditional bass-fishing structure, such as shallow flats, flooded timber, vegetation, bluff walls, rock and gravel points and creek channels. This time of year will have the fish really spread out and susceptible to numerous presentations, especially topwater.”
Montgomery estimates that the lake will be at full pool by the time the anglers begin practice April 25. With the stable weather and water conditions the region has been experiencing recently, he expects some 20- to 22-pound limits of bass brought to the scales.
Daily takeoffs will take place at Ingalls Harbor in Decatur, Ala., at 6:15 a.m. CT, and weigh-ins are scheduled each afternoon in the same location at 3:15 p.m.
A total purse of $638,000 will be paid to the Top 50 anglers. Those anglers will also earn points toward the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title and qualification for the 2017 Bassmaster Classic.