By B.A.S.S. Communications Staff

DECATUR, Ala. — This week's Bassmaster Elite Series event at Wheeler Lake will mark the first time the top-level pros from B.A.S.S. have visited the fishery in seven years, and conditions are setting up for classic early summer patterns on the Tennessee River.

Sam George, who fishes the Elite Qualifiers Division of the Bassmaster Opens, says the event might reveal the true potential of a lake that has improved significantly over the past several years.

“I think they are going to hit it at a good time. We’ve had quite a bit of rain and storms, so the water has a good color to it and we have a lot of current right now,” said George, who considers Wheeler his home lake. “Our quality right now is really good. When you swing the bat on this lake, it's a good one. There are a lot of 3- and 4-pound bass. It's been cool to see the lake come back.”

Tournament days are scheduled for Thursday through Sunday, with anglers launching at 6 a.m. CT each day from Ingalls Harbor and returning to the Harbor for weigh-in at 2 p.m. The field will be cut to the Top 50 anglers after the Day 2 weigh-in, while only the Top 10 anglers after Day 3 will advance to Sunday for a shot at the $100,000 top prize.

The Elite Series last visited this Tennessee River impoundment in 2016. Takahiro Omori claimed the title that week with a four-day total weighing 81 pounds, 6 ounces fishing specific offshore spots in the Decatur area. Wisconsin’s Adam Rasmussen claimed an Opens title on the fishery last year by maximizing an early-morning shad spawn and then focusing on offshore areas to weigh in a three-day bag of 54-15.

George believes this event could mirror those past tournaments.

“I would expect it to be pretty similar to the Open, but I think the weights will be a lot better. We had pretty clean water and hardly any current at all,” said George, who finished fourth in the 2023 Open. “Weight-wise, through and through, it will be quite a bit better.”

With a colder winter and fluctuating water conditions, the bass on Wheeler only recently spawned, according to George, and many are just now starting to move to their summertime haunts on ledges.

“For some reason, they are some of the last bass to go to the bank,” he said. “A lot of them even spawn off the bank on stumps and bars. A lot of the fish are really just now, in the last week or two, starting to show up offshore (and are) really good as far as numbers and schools of fish.

“For the last few weeks, there has been a lot of shad-spawn stuff going on with no bass on it.”

In recent years, the Decatur area of Wheeler has gotten much of the attention from anglers wanting to fish ledges and other offshore elements. Those areas will be fished hard by the Elite anglers as well, George said. But with fewer boats on the water, those spots will likely be much more productive.

“Somebody will probably do something similar to what Takahiro did a few years ago where you find a magic cast and have one or two really specific lineups in one little bitty area that has a pile of them,” George said. “This place, to me, is one of the more unique areas out of anywhere in the country I've been.

“You find a lot of it by just fishing.”

Compared to other TVA lakes like Guntersville and Kentucky Lake, Wheeler’s ledges are in much shallower water. They often start in 2 or 3 feet and drop into 25, while other ledge fisheries start in 10 or 12 feet and fall into 25. This makes scanning difficult, but anglers who fish around these areas can find productive sweet spots.

Those spots could be anything from a shellbed, a hard spot or a high spot. While inconsistent, there are also patches of offshore hydrilla and eelgrass.

Largemouth get much of the attention on Wheeler, but big smallmouth roam these areas as well. Often, the key to these offshore areas is the presence of gizzard shad.

“I like it more this time of year because the gizzards start to show up really well on those bars as the threadfin start to clear out,” George said. “When you find (a bar) that has gizzards on it, you take a 17-pound bag up to 24 pounds. It's hard to find and hard to stay on it, but when you do, it's unbelievable what happens.”

Bigger squarebill crankbaits, topwaters, Carolina rigs and dropshots will be popular selections for anglers fishing offshore, as well as swimbaits and jigs. While George believes bags over 25 pounds can be caught on the offshore ledges, he says replicating it from day to day will be a challenge.

“You could make a spot last for four days, but I doubt it,” he said. “I think you’ll have to have several little places and (have a) milk run. The bait roams a lot out there and it's typical to pull up on a place and blast them and show back up the next day and not get a bite.”

With the water high, the shallows may also become a factor. George said plenty of postspawners are still making their way back out to the offshore areas, and bushes, bank grass and lily pads will all hold bass in certain areas. Flipping baits, swim jigs and frogs will come into play in those spots.

“I expect a lot of fish to get caught in the dirt,” George said. “When you get up there it's pads, willow grass and bushes. The lily pads are a lot further ahead this year than where they were last year.”