North Alabama's Wheeler Lake Fishing
By Reed Montgomery / Reeds Guide Service
Lake Level: Down 4 feet
Water Temperature: Low to mid 50's
Winter on Wheeler Lake
North Alabama's Wheeler Lake is down for winter pool. It will remain low until April. Lake levels fluctuate up and down a foot during winter, with the lake currently down 4 feet. So like any lake that is drawn down during winter, boat navigation is hazardous, especially for first timers to Wheeler Lake, the second largest man made impoundment in Alabama.
January and February are the months when the coldest weather of the winter season hits north Alabama. Although winter warming trends are common in January the best time to fish in the next few weeks is...whenever you can go! The weather is so unpredictable, it could be 70 degrees for today's high and 20 degrees for a cold morning...a few days later.
Warming trends and cold fronts create rising and falling water temperatures. Water temps are very important aspects as to the way fish feed at times during winter. For instance. Water temps can be 45 degrees. Suddenly a week long, winter warming trend takes place. This shows both mild daytime temperatures and warmer than normal night time temperatures. Unlike warm days and cold nights this constantly warming water brings up the lakes water temperatures as much as 10 degrees in a weeks time.
Keep in mind this only applies to still water with little or no evident current -- not moving water. This warming water theory only applies to the lakes backwaters. On Wheeler Lake calm water with little current can be found in small cuts and pockets, main lake flats out of the current and up in the mid to far back ends of major feeder creeks. Water will warm, but only if it is bathed in an all day sunshine and it is found out of the swift and flowing main lake current. Of which most anglers know, moving water does not heat up.
With Wheeler Lake 4-5 feet down for winter pool it is a much smaller lake for fish to bunch up in during the winter months and they do. At times there are certain conditions that place an entire school of bass in one small, particular spot. These bass are either feeding or they are resting and off the feed. Regardless, they usually stay together unless the entire school is feeding along a flat and they are fanning out individually as they chase down baitfish and other prey.
Unlike other Tennessee River Impoundment's the best bass fishing is on the lower end of Wheeler Lake. That is unless you want to run over 50 miles north or launch in Wheeler Lakes headwaters fishing below Guntersville Lake dam found upstream. Regardless of where you decide to fish on Wheeler Lake don't worry there is plenty of bass holding cover to target throughout the entire lake.
The lakes headwaters show small cuts and pockets that hold bass around the mouths due to low water. At mid lake during full pool Decatur Flats is a popular weedy flat full of bass relating to hydrilla and millfoil aquatic weeds. With the lake down for the next 3-4 months these bass will continue to relate to this area when feeding.
Only now and throughout the cold, winter weeks ahead they are found grouping up along weed edges and around rocky and stumpy bottoms. Nearby ledges, rock piles, old roadbeds and the rip-rap rocks that line the base of electrical towers spanning the lake (in the Decatur flats area), will be good fishing spots for the remainder of the winter.
These holding spots where bass relate to wood cover, rock cover and slight bottom irregularities can be excellent places for big bass and for encountering numbers of bass. Current can position them, sunny days can put them tight to cover or cause these bass to suspend out from cover. Cloudy or rainy periods may show the entire school break up and roam nearby.
Various lures can entice bites, even from sluggish bass, but often when these bass are not feeding you must entice a strike by putting the lure right in their face. So exact lure presentation gets better results than just haphazardly casting lures without any thought.
Main lake points are good examples. Although most points are now exposed with the lake down there is always some part of a point that drops into nearby deep water. This usually where the current break is. Current breaks are places where bass hold as they wait for a passing meal brought to them in the swift current.
Most bass, that anglers encounter in these situations, are going to position themselves where all they have to do is open their mouth and flare their gills for an easy meal. This means an angler must repeatedly cast his / her lures until it comes right in the face of an awaiting bass. They won't move far but they will hit your lures if they are close by. That's when crankbaits come into play.
Although a fast moving crankbait is not thought of as an excellent meal during winter for sluggish bass on Wheeler Lake, they do work when applied in the right manner. When fishing a point, an angler must make long casts far above the point as he holds the boat down stream. Making that crankbait run right into the exact spot you are thinking the bass are holding on, is next.
If your fishing 10 feet deep and the holding spot is assumed to be in shallow water 4 - 5 feet deep then imagine when that crankbait is going to hit that 5 foot depth. Deep divers, mid runners, shallow runners and rattling lipless crankbaits are all used when determining what depth you need to reach. The object is to make contact with the bottom, at the exact place on that point where it should be. When you do and you make repeated casts to the same spot in the same manner, the bass will respond.
Wheeler lakes lower end is going to remain clear during January and February except maybe around the mouth of the Elk River, when following heavy rains. Rock bluffs, main lake points, feeder creeks and plenty of bass holding cover found down below the water line (with a little map study), are excellent starting spots.
These are places to target the next few weeks. Winter bass bunch up in likely locations such as river ledges, creek channels, secondary ledges out from the banks, creek and river channel junctions, rock bluffs, the mouths of small cuts and pockets and the points leading into these out of the current spots.
Fishing on bottom is the normal approach for these sluggish wintertime bass. Soft plastics and jig combos fool some of the years biggest smallmouth bass and largemouth bass. Small worms, lizards and crayfish imitations in colors of root beer, watermelon or pumpkinseed are good choices in clear water situations.
If the water has a stain to it try dyeing the tail or legs of your lures. Try more brighter colors on your lures if stained. Avoid cold muddy water. Jigging spoons and fishing with tailspinners are good search lures, but they do hang up so bring along plenty. You will lose some lures in a days time when dragging exposed hooks across the lakes bottom.
Shad type lures fished on jig heads fool all kinds of fish. So do single tailed grubs or twin tailed grubs. Pearl colors, white colors, and smoke with glitter are all good choices as well. Tube baits and creature baits are not seen as much and both are excellent lures during winter.
Experiment this winter on Wheeler Lake as you decipher each place you fish and determine your lure choice by the day ahead. Big smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and some huge, striped bass are taken each winter. This is when some of the years biggest bass are fooled, but only if your there.
It can be downright miserable during winter on Wheeler Lake, so dress warm, bring plenty of spare clothes and warm food, coffee or hot chocolate. Always wear you life jacket and outboard motor kill switch. Be safe and catch a lot of fish this winter!
This lake report provided by:
Reed Montgomery / Reeds Guide Service
Producer / Host "Fishing Alabama" With Reed Montgomery Radio Show
"6 Years on the Radio / Jan 2005"
Call Reeds Guide Service...First! (205) 787-5133
"Over 40 Years Fishing Alabama for Bass and Stripers"
About The Author: Captain Reed Montgomery
Company: Reeds Guide Service
Area Reporting: All Alabama Lakes
Bio: Captain Reed Montgomery a Birmingham, Alabama native Guides on all of Alabama\'s Lakes for all species of Bass. Alabamas Oldest Professional Freshwater Guide Service For Over 40 Years. Website www.fishingalabama.com