FLW Tour Open Wheeler Lake Baits, Gear & Patterns

Mark Rose's Winning Pattern, Baits & Gear

BassFans whove followed Mark Roses career know that not too long ago, he made a concerted effort to add another facet to his fishing skill set. Hed already built a reputation as a shallow-water specialist, but felt it was necessary to learn the nuances of offshore structure and how bass related to it, especially on the lakes along the Tennessee River chain. He wasnt just concerned with which baits worked best, though. He spent hours upon hours on the water, idling around and examining his sonar screen to watch how fish were relating to changes in current and bait movement on the ledges that the Tennessee River is famous for. Hes to a point now where he can pull up on a school of fish, no matter how small, and get a good feel for whether theyre in a feeding mood or not. Ive got a really good friend whos one of the best I know at it named Randy Haynes, Rose said. I spent some time with Randy one winter about 5 years ago and I took what was I taught and tried to take it to the next level. Three days a week, were on the phone talking about ledge fishing. Its pretty cool to know someone who has such a passion for it like I do because I love it. Its really revived my career, so to speak. You do this for 13 years and you start to get a little bit of complacency or a little bit of burnout from time to time and its good to have something that you really enjoy. This past weekend, Haynes was on hand to watch his friend close out a dominating win at the Wheeler Lake FLW Tour Open. Rose virtually won the event with a massive 21-06 stringer on day 1 and never looked back as his lead gradually swelled through the event from 3 1/2 pounds to a winning margin of more than than 12 1/2 over Luke Clausen.

His lightest bag of the week was 15-10 and if hed weighed that all 4 days, he still wouldve won by a comfortable margin. His 4-day total of 71-06 was thought to be simply unattainable based on the time of year, the pre-fall transition conditions and Wheelers recent weakened reputation. I really didnt know coming in how Wheeler was going to fish, he said. Id heard that in some local tournaments that itd been taking 14 to 15 pounds per day to win, but I also knew that Id caught a couple big ones in practice and knew the potential was there. he pre-tournament practice session was highlighted by dreary, rainy conditions that put a significant amout of water in the river system. It messed up some shallow-water areas in creeks and there was no doubt the Tennessee Valley Authority was going to be moving plenty of current through the week to get levels back to normal. Those factors plus his affinity for deep-water structure led Rose away from the bank as he knew the deeper fish would be more immune to any impending changes in the weather. Any time Im on the Tennessee River this time of year, Im looking deep and I was able to come up with three areas that had them, he said. I spent lots of time looking for other stuff in practice other deep spots out on the river, but I couldnt find anything. All three of these areas were really close together. They were in one of the clearer creeks on the lower end and it was the only place I could find anything offshore. The areas he pinpointed were on the lower end of the lake, toward the Wheeler Dam and featured a mix of mussel beds and scattered stumps on the bottom in 21 to 25 feet of water. He stuck a couple decent fish in practice and decided thatd be where hed at least start the tournament.

Competition:

When the tournament kicked off, the weather had done a 180-degree shift from practice. Cloudless skies and a serious cold front had moved in the night before day 1 and had most of the field scrambling to check on areas that held or produced fish in practice. Meanwhile, Rose got busy on putting together the best stringer of the event, targeting his deep-water area and scoping out some possible shallow-water Plan-B spots. He caught only seven keepers, but the best five weighed 21-06. Any time you can have over 20 pounds, its a special day on the water no matter where youre at in the country, he said. But to be on a little tougher fishery, I was definitely really surprised and excited. I knew then that Id just leap-frogged over a bunch of people and as long as I could maintain my consistency, I had another good shot at wrapping up another win on the Tennessee River. I wasnt really worried about the weather or the wind. These fish were down where the water was a little clearer and I just felt like I could give them a different presentation. If the wind blew I could throw something heavier down there. The temperature didnt affect them as much, either, because they were so deep. He came through with 17-08 on day 2 as he began to understand more about which presentations triggered the better bites. I fished it like I always do just read the fish and every day it seemed like I had to give them something different, but the crankbait always produced my bigger ones every day, he said. He did employ the long-lining method to help his shad-imitating plugs reach the target depth, but he wasnt emptying his entire spool of line. Id get as tight as I could to the spot without getting on top of my fish and then Id make a long cast and just back off 50 to 75 yards on my spool, he said. A big key to my success this week was casting distance and its been a big key on all of my wins on the Tennessee River. He managed 15-10 on day 3 and began to worry if his spots would hold up for another day. Luckily, hed built a 7-pound lead and as it turned out there were plenty of willing fish in his primary area as he hammered 16-14 to win in convincing fashion. He also relied on a 10-inch worm and got some key bites on the final day with a football-head jig. That Strike King football jig really bailed me out (on day 4) because when I needed those last two keepers, I got them and it helped me to relax and fish harder the rest of the day, he said.

Winning Pattern:

While Rose fished in one of the creeks on the lower end of the lake, there was still considerable current moving through the area and it made it easier to target the fish. There was a lot of current early on in the week and the fish like to set up on wood this time of year, he said. It creates the perfect ambush spots. When he noticed the fish were bunched up or in a negative mood, hed drop a big spoon down to bust them up, he said. When Id see them down there and they werent biting, I used the spoon more as a triggering mechanism, he added. It wasnt so much to get them to bite. If theyre tight and balled up, that means theyre not wanting to do anything. It was similar to bed-fishing. The fish wont eat because they want to eat. They just do it out of instinct. You can throw a bigger bait to irritate them, then come back with a more finesse bait to get them to bite.

Winning Gear:

Crankbait gear: 711 medium-heavy Kistler Mark Rose Signature Series Z-Bone crankbait rod, unnamed casting reel (5:1 ratio), 12-pound Seaguar InvisX fluorocarbon line, various deep-diving crankbaits (mostly shad patterns).

Football jig gear: 71 heavy-action Kistler Z-bone casting rod, unnamed casting reel (7:1 ratio), 15-pound Seaguar InvisX fluorocarbon line, 3/4-ounce Strike King football jig (green-pumpkin), Strike King Rage Craw trailer (green-pumpkin).

A Texas-rigged 10 worm also produced some weigh fish this week and he mixed in a Strike King Sexy Spoon from time to time.

Main factor: My Lowrance HDS-10s with StructureScan. When Im on the Tennessee River, its what I have to have. I would not have been successful in the tournaments Ive fished without it.

Performance edge: My Mercury Optimax 250 Pro XS (engine). At the PAA last week, I was running 100 miles round trip for 3 days and then here I was running from takeoff all the way to the (Wheeler) Dam and back. When I need it to count in these big Top 10s, its performed flawlessly. I also utilized my HydroWave as well through the week and it gave me added confidence.

Wheeler Lake FLW Open Winning Pattern Bassfan 9/25/12 (Todd Ceisner)

Luke Clausen's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Luke Clausen: Even after the tournament wrapped up Sunday, Luke Clausen still felt like he hadn't figured much out, but over the 4-day event he duped enough fish into biting to secure his best finish of the year. "With the lack of bites I was getting, I knew if I tried leaning on one thing too hard, I was looking at a disastrous situation at some point," he said. "When the fishing's that tough, if you don't mix it up all the time, for me anyway, it seems like you're setting yourself up so when you have a change in conditions, you can't catch hardly anything." He followed the classic junk-fishing pattern but focused most of his time around the mouths of creeks, hoping to intercept the bigger fish staging for their feeding migration to shallow water. He threw everything from square-bill cranks to a finesse worm and caught every fish out of 4 feet of water or less. The majority of his better fish came while flipping a Z-Man Palmetto BugZ in the river portion of the lake. "Every day was just a big challenge," he said. Case in point: On day 4, the water, which had risen after some heavy rains during practice, had receded a good 8 inches and the clarity began to improve. That changed his approach - again. "Pretty soon, I was throwing a topwater way out off the bank trying to find them and I caught a nice one," he said. "Then, I fished a place I hadn't fished before just because it had some color in it and I caught a 4-pounder. Everything was so situational."

Crankbait/vibration bait gear: 7' medium-action Megabass Tomahawk casting rod, unnamed casting reel, 17-pound Gamma Copolymer line, Megabass Knuckle 60 square-bill crankbait (Megabass sexy shad) or Megabass Vibration X (Ito Tennessee shad).

Finesse worm gear: 6'8" medium-action Megabass Orochi spinning rod, unnamed spinning reel, 10-pound Tuf-Line XP braided line (main line), 8-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line (leader), 1/8-ounce Z-Man Shaky HeadZ jig (green-pumpkin), 7" Z-Man Finesse WormZ (green-pumkin).

Flipping gear: 7'4" heavy-action Megabass Destroyer Black Jungle casting rod, unnamed casting reel, 20-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line, unnamed 3/8-ounce tungsten weight, 5/0 unnamed flipping hook, Z-Man Palmetto BugZ (green-pumpkin). Pitching gear: 7' Megabass Orochi casting rod, unnamed casting reel, 12-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line, unnamed 3/16-ounce bullet weight, 3/0 Owner Z-Neck hook, Z-Man FattyZ (green-pumpkin).

Spinnerbait/buzzbait gear: 6'10" Megabass Orochi XX spinnerbait rod, unnamed casting reel, 17- and 20-pound Gamma Co-polymer line, 1/2-ounce War Eagle Custom Lures Extreme Series spinnerbait (blue herring) or 3/8-ounce War Eagle Custom Lures buzzbait (white).

Main factor: "Keeping an open mind and realizing that as soon as you think you have something figured out and things are going well, you have to keep hunting and keep grinding away at it."

Performance edge: "My Mercury Pro XS, supported by a T-H Marine jackplate, along with my Power-Poles. That motor is unstoppable and efficient. I got on plane countless times a day in 2 feet of water with that combination and plenty of fuel to do it from the time I started until when I checked in. The Power-Poles made it possible to stop silently and pick off at least one extra fish a day rather than drifting by or fighting the current or wind in the shallow water."

Wheeler Lake Patterns 2-5 Bassfan 9/26/12 (Todd Ceisner)

Blake Nick's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Blake Nick was the top finisher among the 21 Alabamians who competed at Wheeler. He did it by working a jig across a deep flat that had some scattered timber on it. "It's one of those places you're not going to find on your GPS," he said. "There's no big contour change or anything, but there's a lot of isolated wood scattered out on an 18-foot flat. There was a sandbar rise on the lower end and then coming off the bank was a slow-dropping slope and over time the river has washed a bunch of wood up against that underwater slope." He'd known about the area for several years and checked it before the off-limits period and found a good concentration of fish. In practice, he spent time near the Guntersville Dam and by Decatur, but couldn't find anything to steer him away from his best area, which was toward the Wheeler Dam. "I knew what kind of fish were there and I knew that's probably where I needed to be," he said. While his weights fell off through the event, he was able adjust when needed and recorded his second Top-3 finish of the year. "They'd just get out there on the isolated stuff or they'd pull up on the timber," he said. "I figured I'd catch them out of the timber, but they were all out on the flat just milling around. The baitfish were a big thing and it was real active in the morning and that's when I caught them. "You couldn't pattern that. It was just a good spot. Weather or no weather, the fish were there. I just had to go in there and figure out how to catch them. It's definitely one of the best places on the lake and I think Mark had a similar area."

Football jig gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Abu Garcia Vendetta casting rod, Shimano Chronarch casting reel (7.0:1 ratio), 10- and 12-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, 3/4-ounce Buckeye Lures football jig (peanut butter & jelly), Zoom Creepy Crawler trailer (green-pumpkin). He also caught a few weigh fish with a Zoom Trick Worm (pink) rigged on a 1/2-ounce football jig.

He felt the key to getting fish to eat his jig was downsizing his line because the fish were real finicky. "That was one of the keys to catching what I did," he said. "My co-anglers caught one fish combined on days 1 and 2 and they were doing the same thing I was, but with 17-pound line. I downsized everything. I used a real short trailer on the jig and gave them a real little profile."

Main factor: "My history on the lake and putting myself in position to be around the right kind of fish. I knew there were a couple places that had healthy fish populations by both dams. It just comes from fishing the lake before and knowing my way around."

Performance edge: "Downsizing my line and my trailer because there aren't too many guys who'll throw a 3/4-ounce jig on 10-pound fluorocarbon."

Wheeler Lake Patterns 2-5 Bassfan 9/26/12 (Todd Ceisner)

Shane Long's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Shane Long tried to get on a deep-water bite in the main lake for an entire day during practice, but just couldn't put anything together that he felt would last him several days. "The fish had obviously moved into the mouths of the creeks because that's where Rose and Nick were at," he said. What he did find were some fish holding in an eddy pocket by the Guntersville Dam along with some fish in some shallow river grass that seemed to turn on after the heavy rains in practice. The shallow bite went away pretty quickly once the tournament started, leaving him to work over the fish down near the dam. "I started the tournament in 2 feet of water, throwing a swimjig back in pockets," he said "I'd get bit, but I wasn't catching the quality. My intention was to catch five doing that and go up to the dam and try to catch a big fish." He wound up weighing one fish out of the grass on day 1 and the rest of his keepers came from the upper end of the lake. The majority of them fell for a finesse worm on a dropshot rig while he boated several others on a football jig that he dragged across the bottom more as a search tool. "I'd be watching my electronics and if I'd see a little rise or a dip next to the current, I'd throw my jig out there and try to feel around what the bottom was and once in a while, one of those little depressions would be a rock pile and that was where most of the bites came from - whenever the current was rolling over little depressions," he said. When he was dropshotting, he targeted areas just off the current so he could achieve a more vertical presentation. "As long as my line wasn't moving downriver with the current, I knew it'd be in one of those little slack-water areas and that seemed to be the strike zone," he said.

Dropshot gear: 7' medium-action Falcon T7 spinning rod, Lew's Speed Spin Series spinning reel, 8-pound Seaguar InvisX fluorocarbon line, No. 2 Roboworm Rebarb light-wire hook, 6" Luck "E" Strike Finesse Worm (pumpkin/dark green/black), unnamed 1/4-ounce dropshot weight.

Jig gear: 7'3" heavy-action Falcon Cara Amistad casting rod, Lew's Tournament Speed Spool casting reel (6.4:1 ratio), 15-pound Seaguar InvisX fluorocarbon line, 5/8-ounce Luck "E" Strike football jig (green-pumpkin), Luck "E" Strike twin-tail grub trailer (green-pumpkin).

Main factor: "The decision to stay at the Guntersville Dam and stick it out. I knew the qualify of fish was there. I usually like to run and gun, but I made myself stay and fish it all day and wait for them to turn on. On days 3 and 4, I didn't have a fish at 10:30, but by noon I'd have 12 or 13 pounds."

Performance edge: "My Ranger Z521. It got really bad rough and I was making a 45-minute run in calm water and I did not realize (on day 3) that it would be as rough as it was. There were 4- and 5-footers out there for several miles before takeoff and I only left myself a few extra minutes to get back. That boat just plowed right through that stuff."

Wheeler Lake Patterns 2-5 Bassfan 9/26/12 (Todd Ceisner)

Brett Hite's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Brett Hite got onto what he felt would be a pretty weather-proof pattern on the second day of practice and it held up all week. He targeted fish in and around docks in Wheeler's numerous creek arms and tempted them with the combination of a square-bill crankbait and bladed swi jig. The reaction baits helped him average nearly 13 pounds a day and kept him in the Top 10 all week. "I found them on Monday, which was the day we had the 5 inches of rain and I figured if I could catch them around docks when it was pouring rain and real overcast, then during the tournament when we had bright, bluebird skies I knew that the bite should get better because it would position those fish around the docks better," he said. "It worked out because I didn't get any good, quality bites elsewhere." Mixing up baits and presentations was a major key to his success. "It'd seem like I go through a stretch of docks and they'd want one thing at one time and then the next thing they wouldn't touch it," he said. "There were a lot of gizzard shad where I was fishing and lot of sunfish under the docks, so I tried to mimic those two." With the water dropping on the final day, he found the bass had repositioned tight to the ends of the docks in 3 to 7 feet.

Crankbait gear: 7'4" medium-heavy Evergreen prototype casting rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier casting reel (6.4:1 ratio), 12-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, Evergreen Combat Crank 120 (shad).

Swimjig gear: Same rod and reel, 20-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, 3/8-ounce Phenix Brett Hite Signature Series Power Swim Jig (dark green-pumpkin with black blade and green shad with silver blade), 3 1/2" Yamamoto Swimbait trailer (white or green-pumpkin).

On the final day, he flipped a green-pumpkin Yamamoto Flapping Hawg around some timber he found off the ends of some docks and picked up a couple keepers that way.

Main factor: "Picking an area and sticking to it was probably one of the best decisions I made instead of running around. Also, I was able to conserve the fish. On the first and second day, after I had pretty good stringers, I laid off my juice and went looking for some more water. I think that helped me in the long run."

Performance edge: "My Minn Kota trolling motor. I put that thing through the ringer (last) week just fishing real shallow and grinding up mud, rocks and stumps all week. In the last 3 years, I've not had one thing go wrong with my Minn Kota. I have to give them props."

Wheeler Lake Patterns 2-5 Bassfan 9/26/12 (Todd Ceisner)