Fall Fishing The Tennessee River / Wheeler Lake
Fall Fishing The Tennessee River / Wheeler Lake
By Reed Montgomery
This is Alabama's second largest reservoir, but only by a scant 800 acres of surface water. Compared to Guntersville Lake, Wheeler's massive 68,300 surface acres is very similar, but only in size. These are still two totally different lakes on the Tennessee River system in North Alabama, especially during the Fall.
Wheeler's lower lake consists of rock bluffs, small cuts and pockets, main-lake flats and some mighty impressive feeder creeks. Near the dam, you will find Second Creek. As you enter this small feeder creek the cover is evident. Rip-rap around the bridge area always has smallmouth and largemouth lingering during Fall. Rocky points, sandbars, rock bluffs, laydowns and some weeds, complete this cover-filled creek for some excellent bassin' as Wheeler's waters begin to cool. First Creek,(which is actually the second creek coming from the dam) along the same side of the lower lake near the dam, offers a variety of cover and fishing situations. A little map study will also reveal two roadbeds in Second Creek that bass migrate along as they forage shallow this Fall.
Best lures for both of these lower lake creeks can range from crankbaits to rattletraps, jerkbaits, worms, spinnerbaits, topwaters, lizards and jig combos, of which will all catch a lot of smallmouths and an occasional largemouth. These are dependable spots, near deep water, when lake levels begin to fall. You will find bass near the rock bluffs and points close to deep water.
Or you can fish topwaters, spinnerbaits and shallow running lures in the far back ends of First and Second Creeks, both of which are loaded with weeds, wood and rock cover. Winter drawdown will show these bass "bunch up" as lake levels drop around late September. This is when bass will relate to deeper drop-offs, ledges and feeding grounds near deep water. This calls for a little exploring of two other feeders on Wheeler lakes lower end.
The Elk River winds far back through the hills of Northern Alabama with scattered log jams, resident-built piers and boathouses, small feeder creeks (like Anderson Creek) and many rocky bluffs and points for bass to relate to. Again, drawdown shows these bass really bunch up and some schools of big bass will feed along the river flats on wandering schools of baitfish. Late October on into November, when lake levels stabilize, will show the lake at its best before Winter sets in.
Across from The Elk River is Spring Creek. Here you will find grass, but only in September. As October and November bring lake drawdowns of 4-5 feet, this greenery will be left high and dry. This causes bass, that have made homes here for the last 6 months, to pull up stakes and move to the lowered lake levels. This is usually near wood cover or around some of the many small pebble points in this backwater creek.
Smallmouths will gather here in the Fall and they like fast moving, reaction-type lures. Jerkbaits, especially suspending models, reeled rapidly, with a jerking stop-and-go presentation, will trigger rod jarring strikes from smallmouths in the 4-6 lb range. Crankbaits fished in the same manner will also generate vicious strikes from these weary bass. Rattletraps should always be included in this crank and wind arsenal. There is little stain in Spring Creek, so shad look-a-likes usually work fine, but always include a few crayfish colors, for both largemouth’s and smallmouths dine heavily on both.
Up the lake you will find several feeder creeks to explore this Fall. Mallard Creek and Fox Creek are two feeders that hold bass year round. Fall shows both creeks excellent for smallmouths and largemouth’s. Generally, from the mouth to the middle sections are best during lake drawdown. These creeks and main-lake flats are near Interstate 65 that crosses the lake at its midsection. Just below here you will find the millfoil and hydrilla weeds Wheeler Lake (like Guntersville) is so noted for in the Fall. Before drawdown bass will bunch up here and feeding can be stupendous. Catches of 100 bass a day are common each Fall as waters cool. Topwaters fished in and around the thick, matted, millfoil will bring explosive strikes. Frogs and Rats, buzzbaits, floating plastics, spinnerbaits and even treble-hook topwaters, fished along the weed edges and holes are best.
Look for bass to relate to the weed edges as lake levels drop. Hydrilla grows a little deeper and will appear as dark spots just beneath the waters surface. Always cast past these spots and bring your lures over, under, around and through these aquatic weeds. Bass can be anywhere and several casts are often needed to provoke a strike. Also try bottom bumping worms, lizards, crayfish and jig combos, either flipping and pitchin' to weed edges or randomly casting the weed edges along deeper drop-offs. Be prepared with stout tackle and strong line, there are some big largemouth’s taken here each Fall using these tactics.
From here up to the lakes headwaters you will find a more river-type area as the lake narrows upstream. Drop-offs, ledges and creek mouths are good places to start, as you look for these nomadic bass. Still many feeder creeks adorn this upper section. Indian Creek, Beaverdam Creek, Piney Creek, Barren Fork Creek and Cotaco Creek, are all worth a little exploring. Topwaters, mid-depth lures, mid runners and deep-divers, are all good in these backwaters, during Fall on Wheeler Lake.