Reed Montgomery


By Reed Montgomery / Reeds Guide Service


Impounded 1924

Water Temperature: Varies, currently low to mid 50's

Lake Level: Full pool in winter (fluctuates up or down a foot)

Winter on Wilson Lake

Trophy, smallmouth bass. In Alabama, that's a smallmouth bass exceeding five pounds. Wilson Lake has got loads of 5 pound plus smallies and now is the time of year to fish for them. From a period, starting in mid January until mid March, is acclaimed to be the best time of the entire year for having your best chance at fooling a real, trophy sized, smallmouth bass. Of course after successfully fooling it into biting your offering, then you have got to wrestle that monster into the boat!

But first you have got to be experience a shot at "stardom" on Wilson Lake.

As a matter of fact, for the next two months anglers seeking these very rare and mysterious "brown bass," should at least plan one or two trips to the Tennessee River impoundment's Wilson Lake and Pickwick Lake. This is your chance for a really big, smallmouth bass. Or bring your own boat and spend an entire week. Go for a few days and fish both lakes with a qualified guide. Then return on your own, for the next few days of your trip in your boat!

Many anglers use live bait when tackling these often skittish and hard to fool bass. You can bet many of these trophy, smallmouth bass (those that have passed that 5 year old mark), have seen a lot of lures. So its easy to acclaim, that they have been hooked and either lost a few times or fortunately released by some conservation minded angler. Although its been said, " Bass don't remember very well " I do think they associate certain lure appeals with danger. So live bait may be better at times.

However, on the other hand. Lures can entice even the most weariest of smallmouth bass into biting especially when they are found voraciously feeding or when bed protecting smallmouth bass are targeted. Like my Dad always said, " There is no challenge with live bait ." Sure, it makes for some very relaxing ways of fishing and there is nothing wrong with using live bait. But with lures there is that challenge. Tournament anglers cannot use live bait. I never use live bait in my guide service.

Often, the use of many various types of lures is what keeps it interesting, that is on a daily basis, for any angler. Fishing is never the same on any two days and you always have to figure em' out to get the fish to even bite your lures. During January, February and on into March there are many lure choices and various ways to fish them in winter. But first you may ask why now and why choose Wilson Lake?

Reasons being, these smallmouth bass are foolishly feeding and constantly fattening up in January and February. Most smallmouth bass are getting ready to spawn in the early spring period. March will show some of the biggest female smallmouths bedding around a full moon. By April there will still be trophy, smallmouth bass still be bedding and some will be coming off the beds. While in April and early May you will see most largemouth bass just beginning their spawning rituals on Wilson Lake.

Unlike upper Tennessee River Reservoir Wheeler Lake and down stream Impoundment Pickwick Lake (both are lowered during winter pool), Wilson Lake is kept "at or near" full pool during winter. Wilson Lake (by comparison with these other massive, north Alabama Lakes) is a small, man made Lake, now 83 years since it was impounded in 1924.

Lures for Wilson Lake

So how would an angler fish a lake that is less than 18 miles long? Slow during winter. Lure choice can be many. But many anglers always end up dragging some kind of offering along the lakes bottom. So heres a line up of the "all time trophy smallmouth bass favorites" for fishing on or near bottom on Wilson Lake.


No matter where you fish a bass will hit a worm. Worms in lengths of 4 inches and worms up to 10 inches long can be used to fool trophy, smallmouth bass. As labeled, they do have "small mouths" but this name can be a misconception. I have seen 3-4 pound smallmouth bass brought on the boat with a lure hook in their mouth and a big shad 6-8 inches in length, half way down their throat!

Still, they do like small worms, for many of these smallmouth bass feed in clear water and they can really scrutinize a worm before inhaling it. Colors matter to. More translucent colors are needed for clear water situations.

Watermelon green / with black flake is a favorite color. Also try pumpkinseed / with a chartreuse tail, root beer, cotton candy or just plain red or blue 4-6 inch worms. Various crayfish colors should always be rigged and ready to try, like brown / with an orange tail, black / with blue tail or green / with a chartreuse tail.

Texas rigged worms, jig head rigged worms and Carolina rigged worms all fall in their own individual category. Keep in mind on both Wilson Lake and Pickwick Lake you will be fishing lots of lure grabbing rocks so bring plenty of lures, hooks, fishing line, and the hardware needed for each rig or type of rig you use.


Like worms these two lure choices have their own distinct characteristics. Lizards entice angry bass into biting or attacking, due to their being an egg eating prey when these smallmouth bass are bedding. But lizards are not only for late winter and spring. They also eat lizards or waterdogs year round!

Lizards come in all sizes and colors. Small 4-6 inch lizards are best rigged for picky bass. Colors can be the same as worms but trying to match the local lizard colors is best. Of all colors you cannot go wrong with black, but always try brown, purple, blue and dark green. These colors best simulate the lizards on Wilson Lake. Fish scents, lures like Berkley "Gulp" or jig combos with pork trailers, may attract weary smallmouth bass that follow or trail these lures.

Crayfish are consumed daily on Wilson Lake by these smallmouth bass. They love em.' So crayfish lures that look, act, smell and taste real are always on the menu. You can rig them Texas rigged, on a jig head, with a small split shot or they can be rigged trailing along 1-3 feet on a Carolina rig leader.

The lakes muddy bottom is best suited for these presentations and crayfish kick up little spurts of mud off the bottom when they swim along. So bumping the bottom with any rig does very much simulate crayfish movement!

Colors should look like crayfish colors. Brown, dark blue and dark green are the crayfish colors that reside in Wilson Lake. Unless these crayfish are in a molting process, that shows them displaying much lighter colors like pumpkinseed or light green which are often better.

I have seen crayfish in the bottom of my livewell that have been regurgitated by these smallmouth bass. They always have these colors on them in addition to some bright color on the crayfish's bottom and pinchers, like red or orange. So include lures in two shades as well like Brown / with orange or black / with blue.


I don't know what these lures actually simulate to the bass, perhaps crayfish. What ever both lures imitate they both work rather well on Wilson Lake for bottom hugging smallies. Tube baits come in all sizes and colors. They can be rigged weightless, with a small weight, or jig head, or they can be drug across the bottom on a Carolina rig.

Best colors can vary on tube baits. I have had success using smoke colored tubes / with red flake, or smoke / black flake, watermelon / with black or red flake, white or pearl colored tubes. Some anglers dye the trailing tentacles, tails and legs of tubes and other lures a different color like chartreuse, to offset the lures color and generate lure appeal.

Creature baits are lures with either two, four or six trailing appendages. They must look like something smallmouth bass eat for they are hard to beat on some days. Colors like purple / with silver flake, brown or pumpkinseed, watermelon or tails dyed with another bright color like red, lime or chartreuse may be good.


Jigs simulate crayfish, small minnows and other baitfish. Hair jigs are loved by smallmouth bass found throughout the world. Hair jig colors / Black, brown, brown with orange, black and blue, pumpkinseed with orange all look like crayfish. Pearl, white, lime, chartreuse, yellow, smoke / with glitter or shad are good baitfish colors.

Jig combos are either rubber skirted jigs, or hair jigs with an attached twin tailed grub, a plastic chunk trailer, plastic crayfish imitation or a pork trailer. These jig combos can be slowly fished on bottom, with a stop and go retrieve, or jig combos can be swam across the lakes bottom. Or jig combos can be hopped with a slow, up and down presentation. All of which simulates the swimming action of a real live crayfish.

Colors matter to on Jig combos. Some anglers go for an all brown on brown jig and trailer, or all black or all blue. Mixing colors can be good, giving the bass a chance to find two totally different lure colors very appealing. Like a blue jig / with a black trailer or a black jig / with a blue trailer, etc.

These are just a few of the best lures you can fish for smallmouth bass this winter on Wilson Lake. Try a few of your own and you may discover other similar lures that work too!

Make no mistake about it, Wilson Lake can show some of the best fishing for smallmouth bass found anywhere in Alabama during the next 8 weeks. So make your plans now to visit this North Alabama Lake now. See for accommodations. See my website: for more fishing tips, articles and winter lake reports.

Be safe this winter on our lakes. Dress warm, wear your life jacket and outboard motor kill switch.

Always call on Reeds Guide Service...first! For fishing for bass and stripers on any lake in Alabama. Several boats and guides available year round. See my website: for more info.

Good Fishin'

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"

Birmingham, Alabama

Call Reeds Guide Service...First! (205) 787-5133

"Over 40 Years Fishing Alabama for Bass and Stripers"



Fish Species: bass
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Reed Montgomery

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

(205) 663-1504
Click Here For Past Fishing Reports by Captain Reed Montgomery