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There was a time when Wheeler Lake was hollowed ground- much like Lake Fork, or Santee Cooper are today- but lakes are cyclical. Word is, bass fishing on Wheeler Lake is on the upswing, better than locals are letting on. That trend could be on display this week at the Bassmaster Open as the nine tournament open series shines its spotlight on this solid fishery May 18-20. According to local Elite pro Kyle Welcher, "Wheeler has been getting really good really fast,” and "has been one of the lakes on the Tennessee River that has consistently been putting out some really good bags." But Welcher also points out that "there hasn’t been a big tournament there to show it". This Open could be just the opportunity.

Wheeler, the next in the string of TVA impoundments after Guntersville, owes much of its productivity to a resurgence of eel-grass. The past couple of years have seen significant expansion of this plant that acts as a filter and provides consistent bass habitat. Wheeler stretches 60 miles, and at 68,300 acres it is Alabama's second largest lake Given the recent heat, it will be a typical postspawn event. That means a lot more fish deeper, closer to the main lake, and not back on shallow creeks and flats. Anglers will be looking for a threadfin shad spawn, bream beds and offshore ledges.

Shad spawns typically occur in the early morning adjacent to rocks, docks, seawalls or grasslines. Bass are very aggressive around the shad buffet line, and picking up a big fish or two early can really jumpstart an angler. Vibrating jigs, topwater baits, spinnerbaits and lipless cranks are good choices. Bluegill beds were good to Brandon Palaniuk on Lay Lake are another postspawn opportunity. When clusters of bream beads give the bottom a honeycomb appearance, bass will stake out these areas to pick off a panfish for "the pan". For angler with an "offshore game", Wheeler offers opportunity to throw crankbaits, and swimbaits in off-shore grass areas. Just as at Pickwick, there is a potential wild card by way of the Guntersville Dam tailrace- a point of turbulent water that offers prime feeding for large-mouth and smallmouth.

Welcher expects it to take an average of +/- 17 pounds a day to earn a final-round berth, and he expects the winning bag to be around 55 lbs. After three events, John Garrett (TN) leads the Opens Elite Qualifiers with 577 points. Matt Henry (GA) is second with 545, followed by Kenta Kimura of Japan, with 539

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