Wheeler has always been a good stop for me. The first time I was ever on TV was from a Stren Series Championship on Wheeler in November of 2006. I have been here several times in the fall and usually do well. I had not ever been here in the summer though. I knew a few areas that would be good that I didn’t need to practice. These were shallow places that always hold fish but not the kind that it usually takes to win tournaments.
Practice: Since I had an ace in the hole to say I planned on spending most of my time fishing offshore on Decatur Flats and the lower end of the lake. It was very slow for me. I caught 8 bass the first day and that was fishing from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. My best 5 would have weighed about 9 pounds. Most of the fish I caught were one per stop as well. The next day I went up the lake to check one shallow area and fish some other deep stuff. The shallow area was ok but not as good as I was hoping. I did have a little better success on one place deep too. I spent the last day of practice back near Decatur catching a few fish on isolated wood and thought this would be the way to start my day.
Day 1: I had 3 places to start that were close to takeoff. The first one had a boat one it so I went to the second one; spent about 5 minutes there with no luck. I went to the third spot and KVD was on it. It was 30 minutes into the day and I was out of spots close. This meant I was going to an area that I had not practiced to try to catch 12 or so pounds. This was the best decision of the tournament for me. I started catching fish right away and some were good ones. I caught one big one on a pop-r that was over 5 pounds. This was a key fish for me this day. I changed areas about 11:00 and started catching them again. I caught one that helped the cause flipping creature bait. I went back to one of the areas that I went to this morning. I caught one real good one on a jig that culled up about 8 ounces. I ended with a little over 18 pounds and was leading the tournament!
Day 2: I started on the last place that I culled on the first afternoon since I was an early number and this is a community hole. I caught a couple of fish there but nothing very good, so I was off to my best area. Again the fishing was good and the catching better! The 2nd or 3rd fish in this spot was over 5 pounds. I caught this fish flipping a jig in a green laydown tree. I continued to catch several more fish and cull several times. I caught them on several different baits, flipping a jig, flipping a creature bait, hollow frog and a buzzbait were the best baits. Again I left around 11:00 to go to my secondary area. After the rain that we had the night before and throughout this morning, it had muddied this area up. After about 30 minutes and the water getting worse all of the time I left. I had one area close that was deep fishing so I went there. I had spent about an hour there catching stripe, drum and a catfish. I was about ready to leave and I caught a largemouth about 3 ½ pounds. This helped about a pound in my creel. I left to head in shortly after this. Running back down the river I looked in on my fish to make sure they were doing well. I was shocked to see white bellies! The recirculation pump had quit working. The intake had gotten clogged and was not running. I had 3 that were deceased and 2 that were not looking good. I decided to go ahead in to keep from risking killing all of my fish. It was a 1 ½ pound penalty for 3 dead fish. My nearly 16 pound catch got downgraded to 14 ½. I dropped a couple of places in the standings to 3rd.
Day 3: I skipped the community hole today and went straight to my main area. The catching was pretty good again but the size was a little less. I did catch one good one on a Super Spook. I had a few good bites in here too that I did not catch, like one about 4 pounds on a swimbait. I left here about the same time again but with only about 13 or so pounds. I thought my secondary area would be cleared back up and it was. I caught quite a few fish in here flipping today. I did catch a few fish that culled up a few times. One of these fish was a spotted bass about 3 pounds. This is a big spot for Wheeler! I ended with 14 pounds and some change and stay in the top 5 making my second top 12 cut of the year!
Day 4: Back in my area today from the start. It was slower today overall. I did catch a few decent fish on a hollow bodied frog skipped under overhanging trees. This is a fun way to fish for sure! I caught a few on a buzzbait as well. There was one fish that still haunts me that bit my buzzbait right on the bank. I had made a cast that went just a little too far and landed on the bank and hung in the grass. I twitched my bait in the water and started to wind. I never heard a noise but the fish had already grabbed it and was coming out at me. I set the hook but never got the fish hooked good. It came out then went back and came off. It looked to be about 5 pounds and would have helped a lot! I left here a little earlier than the previous days with the intention of coming back in the afternoon. In my other area I culled one good time again flipping a creature bait right before I left. I also spent some time back at the deep area that was near here. I spent too much time there and never caught anything. I also went back in the afternoon to my main area but no help here either. I ended with my lightest bag of the week about 11 pounds and have my best finish of the year in 5th place. This also moved me up to 4th in the AOY points qualifying me for the Toyota All Star Post Season.
Added edge: My Nitro and Mercury ran a lot miles this week. I was traveling about 80-90 miles round trip in a day. I was not doing this until the middle of the day each day but it resulted in a quality fish or two every time. This was the difference in a good tournament and a great one. Without quality equipment it would have been impossible to feel good about taking this kind of risk.