By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The bass bite on Pickwick Lake has been very good recently. Lots of different presentations at various depths have proven effective and tournament bags exceeding 20 pounds have been the norm for top finishers.
Those fish have to be getting a little weary, though, after seeing so many baits coming from so many different directions over the past few weeks. Even the fish that don't have fresh holes in their jaws have gotten a good look at just about everything.
The FLW Tour rolls in this week for the next-to-last stop on its six-event schedule, and the roster is loaded with competitors who've made a great deal of money catching offshore fish from Tennessee River impoundments. Lots of those anglers will locate quality-laden schools of ledge-dwellers and some shallower populations still making their way to their summertime haunts, but enticing bites from the largest members of those groups might be a little more difficult than usual.
The BoatUS Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship took place at Pickwick just last week, and the nearly 160-team derby saw four 25-pound-plus stringers come to the stage over 2 days. Another 13 bags topped 20 pounds.
Toss in all of the local and regional events staged in the late spring and you've got a fishery that's endured tremendous tournament pressure in a short time period. And keep in mind that this venue isn't nearly the size of Kentucky Lake, where the circuit will wrap up later this month – it will fish small and nobody who plans to venture offshore expects to have anything to themselves.
The field this week will be the strongest the lake has seen since both major circuits visited in 2011, and some advanced tactics will likely be necessary to consistently mine the 4- and 5-pound bites needed to stay in contention. Boat draw will be a huge element, as competitors who are among the first to depart the launch will have an opportunity to lay the foundation for a strong event within the first hour.
Before delving further into the bite, here's some intel on the lake itself.
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake Name: Pickwick
> Type of Water: Big main-stem Tennessee River impoundment
> Surface Acres: 43,100
> Primary structure/cover: Rocks, humps, current breaks, ledges
> Average depth: 15 feet
> Species: Largemouths, smallmouths, spotted bass
> Length limit: 12 inches for spots and largemouths, 14 inches for smallmouths
> Reputation: Emergence of aquatic vegetation in recent years has greatly improved the overall quality of the fishery. Holds some bruiser smallmouths that can prove unpredictable – current is usually the key.
> Weather: Unsettled – thunderstorms are possible on each competition day. Air temperatures shouldn't climb out of the 90s
> Water temp: Low 80s
> Water visibility/color: Down to 3 feet in some locations/greenish tint
> Water level: Full pool
> Fish in: All depths
> Fish phase: Post-spawn/summer
> Primary patterns: Fishing ledges with cranks, jigs, big worms and spoons, running banks with power presentations
> Winning weight: 84 pounds (4 days)
> Cut weight (Top 20 after 2 days): 35 pounds
> Check weight (Top 50 after 2 days): 27 pounds
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 3 for Pickwick
> Biggest factors: Crowds – the best fish tend to be tightly grouped at this time of year
> Wildcard: A shallow-water pattern that will hold up for 4 days.
Current a Big Key
Once the spawn is over – and it's been committed to history for 2014 at Pickwick – the amount of current being pulled by the Tennessee Valley Authority becomes the overriding factor in catching big stringers of bass. A lot of flow puts the fish in predictable places and can turn them ravenous, but the episodes are often relatively short in duration.
For instance, when Mark Rose won the July 2011 Tour event in wire-to-wire fashion from the 25-foot depth range, almost all of his bites came after lunchtime when the current had been ramped up. The phenomenon occurred each day, almost like clockwork, but it made for some anxious mornings for the veteran from Arkansas.
Randy Haynes, another offshore stud who'll be among the field this week, won last year's Southeastern EverStart (now Rayovac) in early May by targeting three specific types of cover – humps and ledges in 13 to 30 feet, points and knobs with current in 8 to 15 feet (which produced some of his largest specimens) and gravel bars in 5 to 30 feet. With the seasonal progression in the South being as much as a month behind due to an abnormally cold winter, a similar program could work again.
"It'll probably be won deep, but I'd say in the Top 10 there'll be a couple guys who fish shallow, too," said Roger Stegall (www.FishPickwick.com), who has more than three decades worth of guiding experience on the lake. "A guy like Andy Morgan could do real good just fishing wherever. There's a chance it could be won shallow, but you'd have to find a bunch of fish to do it."
He added that there's a fair amount of grass (both milfoil and hydrilla) available this year, much of it in the 6- to 10-foot range. Places with such vegetation could be havens for competitors who'd prefer to avoid going toe to toe with the ledge-masters.
One area that almost certainly won't produce the winning fish is the tailrace below the Wilson Dam, where Davy Hite won the Bassmaster Elite Series event in April 2011.
"Those big smallmouths congregate there in the springtime, but they're back in deeper water this time of year. There's some fish below the dam, but I don't think anybody can win it there."
AOY, Cup Implications
Morgan, seeking his second straight Angler of the Year title, has achieved substantial separation from everybody in the field except Californian Cody Meyer. Morgan has 765 points and Meyer has 759, and then it's a big drop down to Jacob Wheeler with 702.
This event represents an opportunity for Morgan to put some distance between himself and Meyer, as he's right a home anywhere on the Tennessee River chain. He's made the Top 40 in each of the last seven Tour events on the system, including a couple of single-digit finishes.
Meyer, meanwhile, is becoming more familiar with the chain as his career progresses, and that's showing up in his results. He's ended up 36th or better in each of the last four Tennessee River derbies.
The Top 35 on the final points list are guaranteed berths in the Forrest Wood Cup, and than number will extend downward at least a couple of places as Morgan and 2013 Cup champion Randall Tharp will almost assuredly be double-qualifiers. The list of anglers just outside the cutoff (within 20 places) includes Larry Nixon, Dan Morehead, Gary Yamamoto, J.T. Kenney and Koby Kreiger.
Andy Morgan will try to put some distance between himself and Cody Meyer in the Angler of the Year race.
Anthony Gagliardi, who was disqualified from the opener at Okeechobee due to a violation of practice regulations, has climbed all the way to 44th in his quest to be in the Cup field at his home lake (Murray).
Notes from the Field
Following are practice notes from some of the anglers who'll be competing this week.
"I've got a couple of places that I've caught a fish or two off of, but I'm not a ledge-fisherman. I've got great electronics, but I'm not great and understanding what I'm looking at. I'm going to camp on a couple of spots and I'm sure other people will be there. If they're biting I can catch them just like anybody else, but I don't know how to provoke them to bite.
"With the shallow bite, I'd be lucky to catch 10 pounds – there's lots of short fish and few keepers. The biggest one I've caught shallow was a 2 1/2-pounder and they're so few and far between keeper-wise that it makes me nervous.
"I don't like to be a 'Debby Downer,' but I didn't grow up fishing this way and, in all honesty, I don't have a clue. I'm in 50th place (in the AOY race) and with these last two tournaments being ledge-fishing events, it'll take an absolute miracle for me to qualify for the Cup. I need to stumble onto something, like just pulling up onto a ledge and finding the big ones biting."
"It'd be great if you were the only person fishing here – you could wreck them. But it's going to fish so small it's pathetic. Most of the fish that are out are on the community stuff and it's going to be a knockdown, drag-out deal. If you don't get a good boat number you're going to be fishing for sloppy seconds, and that's if you're able to even get on a place.
"Those fish are going to get yanked on hard (on day 1) and then I don't know how well they're going to replenish. I think there's still some guarding (fry) and some in transition, making their move out. Somebody who didn't find anything in practice could pull up some place that's been graphed 550 times this week and find the mother lode school."
"Practice was decent and I found quite a few schools of fish, but they're congregated in only a few areas. In a tournament with this many boats, getting a good draw and making good decisions about where to start are the keys to success.
"There's going to be a lot of 12-pound bags and some in the 18- to 20-pound range, for sure. That's what it's going to take to do well. I'm looking forward to it. I liked this place last time I was here because when you get a bite out deep, you can usually catch several fish."
"It's the same story for everybody who's not fishing shallow – this place is one giant community hole for anybody who's got a Lakemaster chip. The map-chip technology is there to decimate offshore schools of fish in the near future. These fish are just so highly pressured.
"There's a window in the morning when fish are biting, then it's pretty dead from about 8:30 or 9 o'clock until they start pulling current at about 1. After that, you don't get much time for the afternoon bite until you have to be back for weigh-in.
"The fish are easy to see on the graph, but triggering them to bite is hard. If you get on them when they're down on the bottom of the ledge you can catch them on football jigs and Carolina rigs – it's a no-brainer and a monkey could do it. The key is finding the right ones and being there when they're feeding."
"I've kind of committed myself to fishing offshore. I spent about an hour and a half up shallow and it was sort of promising, but I don't think it's going to be won that way. I think it'd be possible to make the Top 10 just because those are the only fish that aren't getting any pressure, but it's going to be won offshore.
"I found some big schools, but the question is if there's going to be two, three, four boats sitting on them when I get there. Boat draw's going to be very important – if you can be the first guy to get to one of the best schools, you could get your work done before most people even put their trolling motor down.
"This place has been kicking out some big stringers, but I'd be pleased if I had 17 pounds or more (on day 1). Twenty pounds a day will be really good."
Top 10 to Watch
With the above and more taken into considerations, here are BassFan's recommendations for the Top 10 to watch in this event.
1. Randy Haynes – This one's right in his comfort zone and he's got big momentum coming off his victory at the Kentucky Lake EverStart. It'll be a big surprise if he's not around for all 4 days.
2. Mark Rose – Another no-brainer – he's won at the Tour level at Pickwick previously and knows the place intimately. The right schools of fish aren't likely to elude him.
3. Andy Morgan – He's been almost a sure bet to make the Top 20 at any event for the past 2 seasons, and he's even more likely to do so on this chain. He may not catch them out deep, but he will catch them.
4. Brent Ehrler – He's a big-time threat at any venue where fish are grouped up offshore. The electronics wizard (nicknamed "Meter Man") can seemingly always find the right fish and make them bite.
5. Jason Christie – The winner of the most recent Bassmaster Elite Series event at Lake Dardanelle is always one to capitalize on momentum, and he showed at the Toyota Texas Bass Classic that he can bust them deep as well as shallow.
6. David Fritts – He hasn't had a particularly strong season, but this seems to be the type of event in which he often shows how he earned the "Crankbait King" moniker. Don't write him off.
7. Michael Neal – The nephew of renowned Tennessee River guide Rogne Brown has earned a lot of structure-fishing stripes of his own over the past couple of years and is having a strong season (21st in the points). He's definitely a guy to keep an eye on.
8. Larry Nixon – The grizzled veteran would dearly love to make a big move in the points at this event and get off the Cup bubble. He's done a lot of his best work over his long career after the calendar turned to June.
9. J.T. Kenney – He needs to move up a dozen places or so to get into the Cup and this derby represents a chance to do just that. The one-time flipping guru has become quite proficient away from the banks.
10. Dan Morehead – The longtime offshore ace sits at No. 40 in the points and should improve on that position at this tournament and the finale at Kentucky Lake. Such a move carries no Cup-qualification relevance, however, since he's already in by virtue of winning last year's points title in the Central Rayovacs.
Anglers will take off from McFarland Park (200 James M. Spain Dr.) in Florence at 6:30 a.m. each day. Thursday's and Friday’s weigh-ins will be held at that location beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday's and Sunday’s final weigh-ins will be held at Walmart (2701 Cloverdale Road in Florence) beginning at 4 p.m.
> Reehm spent an hour and a half of his practice time battling a 65-pound blue catfish – the largest freshwater fish he's ever caught. "In the first 30 minutes it came up one time, and then I didn't see it again until I landed it," he said. "I had to get a guy in another boat to help me get it in. That 15-pound Seaguar is some stout stuff!"
> Jay Yelas was limited to just 2 days of practice due to daughter Hannah's high school graduation on Saturday night in Oregon. Luke Clausen practiced all 3 days, but wasn't thrilled with what he found. To learn about their game plans for day 1, click here to go to Pro View Reports.
> Thurs., June 5 – Scattered T-Storms - 88°/68°
- Wind: From the W at 11 mph
> Fri., June 6 – Scattered T-Storms - 86°/68°
- Wind: From the SW at 6 mph
> Sat., June 7 – Isolated T-Storms - 89°/71°
- Wind: From the SSW at 6 mph
> Sun., June 8 – Scattered T-Storms - 86°/69°
- Wind: From the WSW at 8 mph