Wheeler Lake Feature with Zack Taylor and Josh Austin
By Jason Duran
The 4th stop for the Alabama Bass Trail North Division makes its way to Wheeler Lake, the second-largest lake on the Tennessee River in Northern Alabama with 68,300 acres. Wheeler is second only to Guntersville Lake, 69,100 acres and is separated from Guntersville by the Guntersville Dam. The lake was constructed by the Tennessee Valley Authority just prior to World War II as a means of hydroelectric generation and flood control, as well as to facilitate navigation along the Tennessee River. Many teams have been looking forward to this event since the beginning of the year. While they enjoy the Coosa River lakes and the spotted bass, they look forward to the abundance of smallmouth and largemouth Wheeler Lake provides.
The team of Zach Taylor and Josh Austin call Wheeler Lake home and are one of those teams that have had this day marked since the beginning. They run a weekly tournament out of Ditto Landing and have lots of experience fishing the north and mid-lake areas. When asked about the typical patterns for this time of year they shared, “bass should be getting out there towards their summer haunts. So far, the fish are getting there, but they don’t seem to be fully there yet. The lake seems to be fishing a little bit behind. The typical water levels have been fluctuating a decent amount this spring. We never got that good flow of a current like we had in the years past that tends to help group the fish up.” This is a current driven lake where the spring and summer bite are determined by the current. Without the current, the team is “hoping for a little variable wind on Saturday that can produce a bite. Teams could fish over an area when the wind is calm and not get a bite, but fish back over the area with a little wind, and the fish will turn on.”
Wheeler Lake can be broken up in to three different areas. The north end up near Ditto Landing and Guntersville Dam, the mid-lake area including the Decatur Flats, and the south end of the lake including the Elk River area. The team shared that the mid lake area seems to be where lots of fish are being caught recently- “from our experience recently the weights on the upper end of the lake have just been off. We know lots of good fishermen who know that end of the lake really well and haven’t seen good bags come from upriver lately. It seems teams have been catching a lot mid-lake with some events taking 23 pounds to win.”
The team commented on three baits that will probably play into this event. “It’s going to be hard to beat a Texas Rig with a worm or a creature bait or something like that. We’re going to see tons of people catch them fishing along the grass lines off the main channel. There are so many fish on the grass that you can go behind people and catch fish. The Chatterbait is probably going to be the big bait for everybody going into this event. “There’s going to be kind of an off-the-wall bait that somebody’s going to start working in behind people. There are only about five hot spots we have found so far, and if a team can pull up on one of those first and throw a bait the fish haven’t seen they can probably get off to a good start. I think we’ve got one of those particular baits, maybe two. We hope to get a couple of good key fish early.” Zach wouldn’t share what that bait is, so we will have to see after weigh-in if it pays off.
Teams visiting Wheeler for the first time need to “be careful out on the flats. There are a lot of stumps out there. The water level is a little higher right now, so you cannot see them, and you can get complacent running around out there on the flats. They are there and will rip that lower unit off for sure,“ said Josh. Zach shared, “there’s some people who have not fished Wheeler in the last five years and may not have had a good experience in the past. This lake, especially mid-lake, has absolutely transformed in the last two years with the emergence of grass. We used to spend lots of time upriver and do well catching fish in large schools on the river. For the last few years, it seems the schools haven’t really left the mid-lake area, and we can only attribute that to the emergence of the grass in area. It seems to just hold the fish in the area year-round.
Josh and Zach currently are in 2nd Place in the AOY standings, and with just two more events, they would like to make the BASS Team Championship. With a good finish this week, they feel they could lock up that opportunity. When asked about AOY they said, “it is for sure a goal now, but the focus is on doing well in each of the two remaining events. If we can do well everything else will just work out.”
All anglers should make sure they have checked text messages and emails for the latest information and changes made to keep everyone as safe as possible during this time. There was a virtual meeting posted on the ABT Facebook Page earlier this week.
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 Launch and Weigh In will be held at Ingalls Harbor 802-A Wilson Street NW Decatur, AL 35601.
The sponsors of the 2022 Alabama Bass Trail include: Phoenix Boats, Academy Sports, Alabama Power, America’s First Federal Credit Union, American Trailer Rental Group, BAJIO, Berkley, Big Bite Baits, Bill Penney Automotive, Black Rife Coffee Company, Buck N’ Bass, Anheuser – Bush, Inc., E3 Sports Apparel, Fish Neely Henry Lake.com, Garmin, Jack’s, Lew’s, Mtn Dew, Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association, Power-Pole, Strike King, Sweet Home Alabama, T-H Marine, Wedowee Marine, Yamaha, YETI Coolers.