Wheeler Lake Feature Story

Wheeler Lake Preview with Joe Wooley and Michael Wooley

By Jason Duran

The North Division of the Alabama Bass Trail will conclude the 2023 regular season at Wheeler Lake in Decatur, Alabama. Wheeler Lake spans 60 miles from Wheeler Dam to Pickwick Dam along the Tennessee River. In years past, this event has seen the top teams bring bags to the scales well over 20 pounds. This week should be a nail biter with all the factors that come into play at this fifth and final event. They include:

  • Winning this event pays $10,000 and an automatic bid to the ABT Championship 
  • Teams are fishing for Angler of the Year points
  • AOY will be crowned at the conclusion of this tournament 
  • Top 9 teams in AOY points will secure a spot in the BASS Team Championship
  • Top 75 teams in AOY points will fish the ABT Championship on Weiss Lake in October. 

The AOY points race is very tight with only 47 points separating 1st to 11th and only 14 points separating the top 5 teams. 

The father- son team of Joe Wooley and Michael Wooley are currently in 4th place in AOY, only 8 points behind the current leaders John Kellett and Zeke Gossett.  Joe and Michael want to make the AOY top 9 and fish the BASS Team Championship with the hope to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. Michael has fished at the pro level in recent years and even fished the FLW Cup a couple times. He said, it “would be nice to have the opportunity to fish the Classic.” The team brings lots of experience fishing the Tennessee River. Joe shared, “it has been a fun to watch Michael. Years ago I was teaching him to fish, and it is amazing what he has learned through the years” Michael feels like it “has been great this year to fish with my dad.  Fishing the ABT, which is so competitive, feeds our drive for competition.”

The team thinks “it will be very easy fish both a shallow and a deep pattern this weekend.”  The blast off location is centrally located on the lake at Ingalls Harbor, so teams must decide to turn left or right. Teams turning right to head upriver will need the help of the lockmaster to turn on the current. “That area of the lake needs current, and over the last few weeks, there has not been lots of current flow. The lake has been consistent and stable for the past month or so. With the lack of current, this area of the lake may not be as popular as in years past.” 

Anglers that make the run to the left will find the TN river spreads out towards the Wheeler Dam, and a key area is the Elk River where a winning bag was caught in one location quickly in recent years. This end of the lake offers teams deeper water and large creeks off the main river. The current would also help concentrate the fish on offshore areas and group them up. “We found some fish offshore last weekend. This will be an event where teams can fish shallow and also do well out deep.”

 Teams must also decide if they want to make a short run just across from blast off to the area commonly known as the Decatur Flats. This area has seen many tournaments won throughout the years. In the past, anglers in the first few flights have often caught a limit before blast off has concluded. “The flats are going to be a very popular area” since in recent years the comeback of the grass in the lake has really helped the fishing. “The flats are where most of the grass is and provides a great habitat for the fish to hide in. This is currently where most of the population of the fish in the lake are.”

The team said it has been harder catching fish that are quality in size. “The ones we have been catching have been skinny. When we catch a fish that is 15–17 inches, they just don’t have the weight on them we need. We feel 18-20 pounds could possibly go a long way to get the win, and it will take around 14 pounds to get a check. There will be lots of bags in the 8-10 pounds range.” 

Key baits for this week would be “to use a top water early and drag any kind of soft plastic on a Carolina rig or Texas rig. Teams will also catch fish flipping and swimming a jig.” Teams making their first trip to Wheeler Lake “can find lots of fish shallow and deep and can fish their strengths to be successful in this event.”

The Top 10 Teams Currently in AOY Points are:


1 John Kellett/Zeke Gossett 804

2 Roman Calvert/Shannon Calvert 803

3 Damien Willis/Tyler Kiker 801

4 Michael Wooley/Joe Wooley 796

5 Wesley Sams/Jordan Wiggins 790

6 Justin Bussey/Ben Webb 780

7 Shane Meers/James Meers 770

8 Bryan Johnson/Brandon Groce 766

9 Greg Tomlin/Jeremy Tomlin 760

10 Mark Mccaig/Tim Hurst 757

Pre-Tournament Briefing was held Facebook Live and YouTube on Monday, June 19, 2023, at 6:30 P.M. Launch & Weigh-In June 24, 2023 Ingalls Harbor 802-A Wilson Street NW
Decatur, AL 35601 All friends and family are welcome to attend this event, bring lawn chairs, and see some of the best bass teams in the country cross the stage. Everyone can watch the live weigh-in and over 4 hours of on-the-water live coverage on the ABT Facebook page, YouTube and the ABT website. 

The sponsors of the 2023 Alabama Bass Trail include: Phoenix Boats, Academy Sports, Alabama Power, America’s First Federal Credit Union, American Trailer Rental Group, BAJIO Sunglasses, Big Bite Baits, Bill Penney Automotive, Black Rifle Coffee Company, Anheuser – Busch, Inc., E3 Sports Apparel, Fish Neely Henry, Garmin, Jack’s, Lew’s, Mountain Dew, Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association, Power-Pole, Strike King, Sweet Home Alabama, T-H Marine,  Yamaha, YETI Coolers.