Monday, March 30, 2015

Fishing Report for Wheeler/Elk River 3/28/15

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Saturdays without ball games are going to be rare for the next few months. If it isn't both, it's one or the other. So, when those few Saturdays roll around where there aren't any games....I better get out and fish. John must have been thinking the same thing, because he called me asking if I wanted to get out. I was game, until I looked at the weather. See, contrary to what you may think, I don't watch the weather too close. Part of it is that I am scatterbrained and part is because I simply don't trust the weathermen around here. Why? Because they aren't just wrong most of the time, but are usually about 180 degrees from correct. 

No, weather wasn't the first thing I thought about, but what lake I would like to fish. See, the Big Bass Splash was on Guntersville, which draws every fisherman in 3 states (and probably more) to try their luck at cashing a fat check for 1 fish. Sure, there is over $100,000 in cash handed out, but I don't like the format of the rules. Ok. So, the REAL reason is that I don't think I have enough lucky to catch a fish big enough. 

John had fished Pickwick twice this past week and it had been tough. I believe his exact words were..."I think I've seen enough of Pickwick for awhile."  So that left only two lakes for us: Wilson and Wheeler. 

Now, you may recall that Brad and I wacked the fish pretty good on Wilson, on our way to a solid 3rd place finish in a club tournament last week. If you didn't read about it, go here. Watch the vid. Enjoy. 

Army Cargo Club Tournament on Wilson

That's when I looked at the weather. Monday through Wednesday was awesome. Slight rain on Thursday followed by  a cooling trend on Friday that would end Saturday with a low at 28 degree. It was at that point that I seriously reconsidered fishing at all. But, I had forgotten that the NASA fishing club (called MFC) had a tournament on Wheeler out of Elk River. 


Why EEWW? Well, I guess the Elk gets a bad rap. Some of it's earned, I suppose. Elk is fairly dangerous for boaters because it is pretty shallow. Where it's shallow, it has stumps, lots of them. And, the flotsam and jetsam is everywhere. So, you got to stay in between the buoys. And even between the red and green, you got to go slow. Or at least you SHOULD, but that hasn't stopped plenty of people from losing props and more. 

On top of it's poor geographical features, the word is that that there are no big fish in the Elk.
I've fished the Elk exactly 1 time, and it didn't make it past the first secondary point. 

So, I figured, if I was going to brave the cold, I wanted something to be on the line. Instead of hitting Wilson where I had caught plenty of fish the week before, we decided to fish the place with the bad reputation that I have never fished. So, that's what we would. Makes sense.

So, at 4:45, I was leaving my house to meet John. I hadn't gone more than a mile when something THUMPED the side of my car. 

I am a very wary driver, having grown up in the country and I never saw anything on the side of the road looking to cross. But, I knew exactly what had happened. Something was running full-tilt through the woods, got to the edge and couldn't stop, and ran into the side of my car. I resisted the urge to slam on the brakes, which would likely do more damage. Determining that I didn't have a flat tire and my headlights still worked, I decided to wait until  I wasn't in the middle of nowhere before stopping my car in the middle of the road. 

When I got to John's house, I found hair stuck between the rim and the tire along with....gore. I didn't try and identify the gore. But, no dents. So, I went on with my life and loaded up the boat. 

As I finished dumping my things in the boat, I was climbing down the boat when my phone fell out of my pocket as it has done hundreds of time. That's why I have this awesome Lifeproof case, right? Well, this was the magic time. The screen busted. So, a text to my wife from another man's phone at 5am to let her know to head to AT&T and we were off. Such a wonderful start to my day, and we hadn't even started fishing yet, which I was dreading because I just KNEW the high skies and cold trend would kill any bite. 

John asked me what I thought it would take to win. 8 pounds or 1 good fish. 

The game plan was to stick to the same pattern I had used on Wilson. The main river ledges on Wheeler, just outside of the Elk River inlet, are known to hold small mouth. One of the better smallmouth fishermen I knew was also fishing with us, and when he headed out towards the main river, I knew this was the right decision. I told John that Wilson hadn't been about a particular spot, but about the pattern. Run as fast as we can. Run everything that looks similar. I would throw that square bill and cover a lot of water. If it took 1,000 casts, it wouldn't be too many. 

We started on an island at the mouth of the inlet. It featured 45 degree banks that dropped to 30 feet and had rip-rap. I went to work with my Luhr-Jensen square bill. On the 3rd cast, I had a 2.5 pound largemouth in the boat who had destroyed the crank. He ate it all the way to the front hooks.  It happened so fast that I didn't even have the GoPro on. It's on. 

Never mind. 

3 hours later we had exhausted the island and any main river bluffs, without a single bite. That random fish will get you every time. Remember kids....1 data point doesn't equal a trend. 

It didn't help that the wind was absolutely HOWLING at us. It must have been a 15MPH sustained. Lukcily, I was wearing my H2O XPRESS gear, which has been awesome. It did an excellent job of cutting the 30 degree cold with the wind. If you don't know anything about their jacket and overalls, check out my review of them.

Product Review for H2O XPRESS® Men's Softshell XTREME Fishing Parka and Bib

So, after giving up, we consulted some of the info we had from other fishermen who frequent the area. They had suggested that we hit small pockets right off of the main creek channel. So, we did as we had been told, though we do so reluctantly. In the first pocket, I bagged a nice 2.5 pounder as I cast the square bill into some laydowns on rocky banks. We fished the stump-filled pocket out without a bite. But, on the other point, I pulled in another small measuring fish. It wouldn't beat anyone, but at least we were getting close to a limit. 

We fished the next pocket down from that one, but it looked a little different. It didn't have the deeper banks. Instead of rock, it was red clay. We fished it for awhile before deciding to consult the map for a similar pocket to the one that held the 2 fish. 

As we sat down to a typical fisherman's lunch of PB&J and a Coke, we spotted a pocket just across the way that exhibited EXACTLY what we had found to work. That's a pocket right off the main creek channel that had steep bluff walls on either side and the pocket itself was fairly deep. 

We stopped short of the pocket and fished the bluffs just outside. We marked several bait balls with fish on them short of the point. John had a short strike really quickly, but the fish didn't hook up. I tossed in behind him and boated a short fish. After tossing it back, I had another quick catch. 

We now had 4 in the livewell that might have gone 6 pounds. It was looking just like I expected it to. 

John decided that he needed to switch tactics. Until that point, he hadn't really had any bites. Though there were high skies and no wind in the pocket, he elected to go with a big white spinnerbait as we entered the pocket. 

Man, did that pay off. 

He set the hook on a fish and the fish pulled back. I scrambled to the front of the boat, turned the GoPro around, picked up the net, and boated a beast. It was every bit of 4 pounds, which is a good fish for Wheeler, no matter where you catch it. It far exceeded either of our expectations. Man, what a cull. I needed it and I KNOW he needed it. If you are going to catch just 1 fish, that's the one to catch! 

But he wasn't done yet. In inconceivable fashion , his next cast netted an even bigger fish. That culled a 12 inch fish I had caught and gave us an instant 3+ pound cull. At that point, I was CERTAIN he had just won this tournament for us. While I knew many great fisherman had caught 20 pound sacks on Wheeler, it was almost ALWAYS on main river bluffs and on premier weather days. 

So, around the boat I pranced with my chest stuck out like a turkey. And why not? We had 15 pounds or so, which I felt would double up everyone else. Personally, I had never caught two 4+ pound fish on Wheeler on the same day. Now, I ADMIT that the lower end of the lake holds better fish, and I KNEW that if I were to see that kind of sack, it would come from this end. But, I felt the weather would trump all that. Like I said. Cooling trend. 30 degrees. High skies. 

I even told John that we would have a little fun and slow play everyone, like we didn't have any fish.

Welp. The joke was on us, it turns out. 5 out of the 6 boats had at least 1 fish over 4 pounds. But, it was my friend Ross, who pulled out a solid kicker as his first fish. Then another 4+. We migh be in trouble....

Then a 4th. Then a 5th. He didn't have a fish bigger than 4.3, but all 5 fish were over 4 pounds. His best 5 went 18 pounds. WOW. 

What was even more amazing was the local wildcat that weighed in the same time as us featured a 23 pound bag and two fish over 6 pounds! 

That's what I get.

All things considered, it was a pretty good day. We learned a ton about the area. 

See ya next time!