Lake Wheeler Information Guide - Alabama bass fishing guide to Lake Wheeler, an Alabama lake known for bass fishing.
Lake Wheeler Jim Porter
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Jim Porter

It all began simple enough; just two good friends out for a day of chasing bass in North Alabama. My partner cast his jig, well dressed with a pork chunk, up against the gravel shore. Within seconds, he was tied onto one of nicest Smallmouths I'd seen in years. My cast, with a plastic worm, was forgotten in a hasty dash for the net. After a wild series of heart-stopping acrobatics and mad dashes around and under the boat, six pounds of beautiful 'brownie' bass came aboard.

After paying due homage and admiration to the game fighter, I retrieved my rod and began to twitch the worm slowly down the sloping bank. That familiar 'tap-tap' signaled a fishy response and I was soon tied to a bass of my own. It turned out to be a chunky, two-pound Largemouth. Three casts later, my partner boated a nice Kentucky Bass.

During the course of that fateful day, we were to catch and release over two dozen bass and not see another fishing boat. Lest the reader get the impression that we were on some small, private pond, it should be noted that this was a public lake with over 67,000 acres of water. My fishing partner was the late Horace Howard, one of the finest gentlemen and bass fishermen this writer was ever privileged to share a bass boat with. He had told me that this lake was chocked full of fish but, strangely, had very little fishing pressure. Crappie anglers flock to it during the Spring spawning runs, but the bass are generally ignored.

Prior to Horace insisting that we test its waters, I, personally, had been on it only once and I lived only 30 minutes from the boat ramp. Needless to say, it became my favorite bassin' hole and rarely ever let me down. Wedged between Guntersville Lake, renowned for its outstanding Largemouth Bass fishing, and the Wilson and Pickwick Reservoirs, world famous for their giant Smallmouths, lies this true fish-producing 'gem' of the Tennessee River---Wheeler Lake. Virtually overlooked by all but knowledgeable local anglers, Wheeler has proven, time and again, to be just as good as, and often better than, its more famous cousins.

Its one, brief moment of national attention came in the mid-70's when the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society held its annual BassMasters Classic on its sprawling waters. Afterwards, Wheeler generally sank back into obscurity. Formed by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) construction of Wheeler Dam, Wheeler Lake stretches nearly 50 miles from the upper Guntersville Dam, meandering past Huntsville, and terminating approximately half way between the cities of Decatur and Florence. During the course of its flow, the terrain and structure of Wheeler completes a total transition. Guntersville, upstream, is a shallow, weed- filled lake, with mostly a mud and clay bottom; Wilson and Pickwick are deep, clear bodies of water, with predominately sand and rock terrain. Wheeler abounds in all these characteristics, providing a diversity of fishing styles to suit the tastes of any angler.

Wheeler can generally be divided at the city of Decatur, with the upper portion being a typical river and the lower half lake. Above Decatur, the bass populations appear rather thin and only a limited amount of structure exists. A few feeder streams join the main channel and some drift lies along portions of the shoreline, but it is difficult to locate the fish effectively. The lower portion, however, is 'a whole nuther ball game'. Beginning at Decatur, broad expanses of shallow, backwater stretch to either side of the main river channel. Many of these were at one time wooded and are now infested with submerged stumps and milfoil grass beds. The edge of the old Tennessee River channel is discernable, as it is covered with a thick matting of milfoil and a few remaining trees. This area extends down river to approximately the Brown's Ferry Nuclear Plant and is highly productive for Largemouth Bass.

The Spring spawning season, of course, finds the bass congregated in the backwater flats, where some of the finest spinner bait fishing in the world can be found. Local Pro, Bill Huntley, the originator of the Bumble Bee spinner bait, made this area of Wheeler Lake famous, with numerous limits of giant bass. Other locations in these flats, where submerged creek channels and old ponds once existed, produce year round for the angler lucky enough to locate them. Diving crank plugs, in the Tennessee Shad finish, and purple plastic worms have proven best.

The river channel, itself, is not to be overlooked and provides the best chance of landing a true trophy bass. After completion of the spawn, and up until the onset of Winter, the grass-laden channel edge provides the cover and ready availability of deep water necessary to hold big fish. Some of the most spectacular buzz bait bassin' available anywhere exists here in the midst of the Summer heat. Plastic worms and medium-depth crank plugs are also productive along the edges of the grass lines, particularly if the current is moving well or if the waters are being pushed against the channel edge by passing barge traffic.

Just prior to the nuclear plant and across the river lies Mallard Creek, an excellent fishing location. It is a crooked little jewel, to say the least. There does not appear to be a straight stretch in it. The flats to the sides of the main trace are thick with stumps and milfoil grass, while the edge of the channel is dotted with huge stumps. Possibly no other location on the entire Tennessee River chain offers bass angling like this one tributary. The submerged channel, with its twists, turns, ledges, and giant stumps, provides perfect staging areas for lunker females waiting to move to the shallow nesting areas. Whether you are a dedicated plastic worm fisherman, have a decided preference for crank plugs, or love to chunk that old spinner bait, this is the place! Once the bass are up on the shallow flats, the crank plug will generally be unfishable, due to the milfoil. However, the worm and spinner bait will more than make up for it. In the Summer and Winter months, the successful angler will key his efforts to the edge of the creek channel. Deep crank plugs and plastic worms work well during the hot weather periods, while a jig and pig is exceptionally deadly during the Fall and Winter.

Around the nuclear plant area, the angler will find numerous flats covered with thick milfoil, even in the Winter months. The heavy growth is, no doubt, influenced by the continual warm water discharge from the reactor cooling towers. Largemouth Bass abound in this cover; however, it is too warm for Smallmouths. It is an excellent place to use topwater lures year round.

Below Brown's Ferry and to Wheeler Dam, we start to get into Smallmouth country. The old river channel edge is now very deep. Rock bluffs and deep water can be found in abundance. Gravel banks, with numerous small coves, dominate the shoreline. Smallmouth Bass spawn on the gravel banks which are out of the main current flow current, and many of the coves will have 'Smallies' just inside their opening, or on the points, themselves. Even after the spawn, the Smallmouths will continue to frequent these same locations in order to partake of the abundant crawfish population. During the Winter months, 'brownie' bass will found on the steepest banks of the main lake and generally at a depth of 20-25 feet where there is rock slide residue. These can be found by observing the bluffs for evidence of breakaway areas and by making a few slow passes with the depth finder. Wheeler Smallmouths are abundant and have a decided preference for two types of lures: small crank plugs and small jigs. "Small' is important here, in that he simply will not take a large lure unless he is a correspondingly 'large' Smallmouth. Both lures are best in darker colors.

Jim Farrish, a Decatur angler and one of the finer jig fishermen on Wheeler, recommends either a brown or black, one quarter ounce jig tipped with a #101 pork frog. I have fished with and against Jim in tournaments and can say for a fact that his advice is sound and should be heeded. BassMaster Loyd Tallent, a tournament Pro from nearby Huntsville, spends a good bit of his fishing time on Wheeler waters and probably knows it as well as any person alive. Loyd advised, "Wheeler is as good as any lake in the country, but you simply have to know how to fish it. The steep, rock banks have a good bit of cover down deep. Primarily this is old drift that became water logged and drifted in with the current. If you want to catch big bass, particularly Smallmouths, take a one half ounce jig and pig and go right down into that cover. You'll lose a few jigs, but you'll also catch a lot of bass".

There are four major tributaries in this lower section of Wheeler Lake-Elk River, an excellent area for Largemouths; Spring Creek, deep and wide with nearly 100% gravel structure, and excellent for Largemouths and Kentucky Bass; and, First and Second Creeks.

The latter two feeder streams are broad, clear and deep. Smallmouths abound in the lower ends of both, while Largemouths prefer the shallow, stump-laden upper areas.

The magnificent Joe Wheeler State Park Lodge sits near the mouth of First Creek and many trophy Smallmouths have been taken from the steep gravel shores within sight of its balconied rooms. There are numerous facilities along the boundaries of Wheeler, with plenty of motel accommodations and boat ramps.

The first-time visitor would be advised to consider the Joe Wheeler Lodge, based on its convenient location and excellent, reasonably priced facilities. Wheeler Lake, the forgotten bassin' bonanza, is ready and waiting.

Recommended sites by The Fishin' Tipster

A common question that we get: "Is there somewhere close to get bait and tackle?" This is where we get our bait.

Pete and Tina Heinz / 9 South Mulberry St. / Fellsmere, FL 32948 / 772-571-9855

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