Monday, April 27, 2015

Fishing Report for Wheeler Lake 4/25/15

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With a club tournament coming up the next day, Brad and I needed to get on the water to do a little prefishing. This would be the 3rd time that I had fished the lower section of Wheeler...total. The first was in 2011 and the second was just few weeks ago when John and I mustered a solid 15 pound bag to cash a check in a club tournament. You can read about that trip and watch the vid in the link below:


Since we had found some high quality fish back in the Elk, I suggested that we put in at the Elk River ramp and give it a try, even though I knew that the chances of those fish still being there and eating the same thing after a month was slim. But, we were catching them in a small shallow cove right off of the Elk River channel. I figured they couldn't, or wouldn't, go far. 

What I didn't think about was the sheer amount of rain that we have had the last few months and how that would change the dynamic of the lake. The small cove was all but unrecognizable. And, the fish weren't biting like the were. Admittedly, we didn't fish there much. In total honesty, neither of us were comfortable running in the Elk at dawn because of the amount of flotsam. It was down right dangerous.  We decided to make our way out of the Elk, stopping by the rip-rap bank on the island at the mouth of the Elk. 

I had foregone my usual stained water color choice in crankbaits, chartreuse, in favor of a spring craw color because the water had such stain that I didn't think the fish were seeing it. That change came on the heels of multiple slaps on the crank. On the first cast with the Spro Little John, I caught a short fish. Brad caught one on the A-Rig on the next cast...and we thought me might be onto something.

Just kidding. 

We moved into First Creek to a secondary point that Brad had scouted out on his map. It produced one decent largemouth on a jig, but little else. 

After fishing much of the same thing over the next few hours, we decided that whatever we were doing was wrong and we needed to do the opposite. So, we moved across the river and fished main river bluffs. We figured we would need to cover a lot of water in order to find the exact bluffs that held fish, so Brad used a lipless crank and I used a squarebill. 

Moving onto the down river point of a cove, Brad quickly caught two very short smallmouth. We moved to the up river point where he caught another smallmouth, as did I. All were very shallow, hitting the baits as they fell, or in Brad's case, as he jerked it free of shallow rock. 

We contemplated just hitting the points, but noticed that this type of bluff had a very specific feature that continued up river. So, instead of point hopping, we continued up the bank. Another 3 or 4 small mouth later, we knew we were really honing in on the pattern. 

And then I made a mistake. 

"As long as I don't hang about a 5 pounder today, I think we will be fine tomorrow."  I said, as I cast the square bill all the way to the bank. 5 pound fish aren't unheard of on this lake, or even really rare, but they are hard to find when you need them. In all honesty, I don't think we (regardless of partners) have caught 2 5 pound fish during a tournament. And, about 5 turns of the handle in, the rod doubled up on me and I knew we were in trouble. I bet I am the only person to ever swear while reeling in a big fish like this. Because of the depth I hung it, I was relatively certain that I had a good largemouth. But, after 3 jumps and 5 minutes of fighting me from under the boat, we netted a massive smallmouth....just the one we would need 24 hours later. 


I know, I shouldn't complain. It was an awesome fish. I just couldn't do that again. So, we started the big motor and went looking for another bank similar to this one. About 500 yards up river, we found a second one. After Brad boated a few short fish, I tossed the square bill up to the bank, slapped a few chunk rocks, and slammed into another fish, who pulled back just as hard. We both laughed as the fish broke the water and I secretly hoped she would throw the crank, But, she didn't and I hoisted an absolute PIG into the boat, knowing our chances of winning tomorrow, specifically with THIS pattern, were now VERY slim. Check out this beast.


I was done with prefishing after that cast.

No. I don't have video of me actually catching these giants. Just a video of the aftermath.

We were pretty sure we had a great pattern. The only issue was the rain that would be moving in later that evening. Because they were on main river bluffs, we didn't think the fish would leave. They may push deeper, but they wouldn't leave entirely. So, I would need a second technique, at least, to target those deeper depths. I decided that my arsenal would include a 1/4 ounce jig, the square bill, and a heavier 3/8ths ounce jig. That would be the only baits I would throw all day.

Well, the rain came, but not the storms we expected....and that was a good thing. We hit our main river point first and it fired right up for us. And I mean, from literally the first cast. Brad hauled in a BARELY short smallmouth off the jig. Then I had a hit on the squarebill, which pulled off. In the meantime, Brad hauled in another short fish. On my next cast, a sank the hooks into a smallmouth that fought me for what seemed like forever. It passed the 15 inch mark and went into the livewell. Not to be out done, Brad buried a jig into yet another smallmouth. This one SQUEAKED over the 15 inch line and went into the livewell to join the other.

4 fish in as many minutes. Really, it was 4 fish on 4 casts. We both thought we would pick right back up where we left off the day before. Not wanting to exhaust our spot, we moved up the bank as we had done the day before. But, as the sun rose, the bites all but died.

We pulled the trolling motor up and ran down the point. The point produced a small smallmouth apiece for both of us, then they quit.

We moved to the next similar bank with mixed results.

We would check back to the point in between spots, but we found mixed results. Some places would yield a fish or two, some would not. The ones that did give us fish were usually short, or were random.

For example, we might catch a fish flipping wood in a small cut. We caught a bedding fish in another spot. By lunch, we still didn't have a limit and we were starting to get a little.....aggravated.

So, as we sat down to eat a bite, we talked it over.

We were reasonable CERTAIN that the point was holding a lot of fish. Every time we checked back to it, we caught fish real quick. But, the size was dropping. We thought to ourselves: "have we THOUGHT about what the fish are doing?" and as we did, we realized that the rain may have pushed the majority of the fish out a little deeper....maybe even where we were holding the boat. The ones we were catching were just the active fish on the outside of the group.

That mean fishing deeper. Significantly deeper. Say, all the way out to 30 feet. The point dropped off sharp on the river side and tapered off on the cove side. The fish seemed to be on that edge, out on the last contour line of the point before it also dropped off.

So, we decided to back off the point and grind it. Initially we both threw jigs.....but they weren't touching it.

Brad went to his confidence bait, the A-Rig, and I went to mine. Well....I went to the only bait I had confidence with at that depth....the shakey head.

Initially I threw a Strike King Ball-and-Chain with a PowerTeam Lures 5" Sick sitck in Watermelon Red Flake. The fish would pick it up, but wouldn't chomp it. For some reason, something told me to throw something similar....but different.

I tied on a PowerTeam Lures 3/8th ounce Pea Head shakey head backed with a 7" PowerTeam Lures Finicky Tickler. And, instead of throwing that on a spinning rod, I threw it on a 6'6" medium power, fast action rod and a Shimano Citica reel and 10 pound Seguar InvizX. Why? Well, at that depth, you have a lot of line out. In my experience, bites are harder to feel when you have that much small diameter line because of the amount of stretch. And, when you do feel bites, you have to have infinitely more hook set power BECAUSE of that stretch, so much power that a spinning rod will fold up.

As Incubus once said, "and the magic medicine worked." The last 2 hours were a whirlwind. If I could keep from breaking off the shakey head, I was getting bites. Of those bites, I might hook into every other one. I bet I went through 15 shakey heads, though (don't tell my wife!). But, it was reliable for a bite every 5th cast. Other than breaking off a really nice fish, I was able to get us a ton of numbers. Brad was able to turn the A-Rig into a numbers producing machine as well.

What we couldn't do was find the size we had found 24 hours previous. While I didn't expect to find another set of 5 pounders, I DID expect to at least find a plethora of 3-4 pounders.

We would find numbers going up the bluffs. Brad would throw ahead of the boat and parallel the bluff. I would flip and skip the shakey head under trees and around rocks. We caught. We culled. We culled again....but only by ounces.

We decided that our best bet to find size was back where we started, on the point. We devoted our last hour to that very place, sticking with the shakey head and A-rig.

The bites weren't plentiful, but they were there. However, they weren't really taking the bait. They did what they had done earlier in the day to the jig. They would pick it up and immediately drop it. Almost like they were looking for something else. We talked about what else we could do...but we just couldn't think of anything. It was too deep for a crank, which was my only real option.

Dejected, we took what we thought was around 12 pounds to the scales, full prepared that it would take between 15 to 18 pounds to get a check.

We were only right on our weight.

One of the club members had run all the way to Decatur (I am fairly certain I know where) to fish dirt shallow for spawning fish. He had returned with 22 whopping pounds, including a 6 and a half pound fish. Without a decent kicker, we were bumped back to the midpack, despite catching something over 30 fish. I have video from 30. I know I missed more. Most of those were smallmouth! That is, by far ,the most smallies I have caught in one day, which made it worth losing. I hate losing. I really do. But, we had an absolute blast.

Oh, and we DID come up with what we SHOULD have thrown on those deeper fish. A C-Rig.

When I told Josh yesterday at softball that we hadn't thought of it...he gave me this look like I was an alien. Now, that is his go-to bait...not mine. But I should have thought about it.