UPCOMING EVENT: YETI FLW COLLEGE FISHING - 2019 - Lake Erie

FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE

Mussel heads

Mussel heads
As a former mussel diver on Wheeler Lake, James Johnson of Hartselle, Ala., has specialized knowledge in fishing mussel bars: His favorite lure for fishing mussels is a big jig.

DECATUR, Ala. - James Johnson of Hartselle, Ala., knows thing or two about mussels.

That's not to say he spends half the day in the gym pumping iron, but rather when it comes to what kinds of mollusks lie on the bottom of Wheeler Lake in Alabama, he can tell you.

Johnson, who started the final day of the Stren Series event on Wheeler in second place, used to dive for mussels on the lake and consequently has some pretty specialized knowledge about mussel beds and the big Wheeler Lake bass that call the shell bars home.

"When I was going to college, I dove for mussels commercially for two years," Johnson said. "One day I was down collecting mussels off a particular bar when all of a sudden I looked around and there were big bass all around me - I'm talking 4- to 6-pounders everywhere. That evening there was a night tournament, I decided to enter it and won it. That summer I won about $12,000 in local tournaments from my little dive boat. I'd just anchor on that one spot and fish it all evening and come in with the winning catch."

After college Johnson took a hiatus from tournament fishing - and mussel diving - to concentrate on raising his family. Now that he has returned to tournament fishing, the old memories of the Wheeler Lake's mussel bars are coming back to him.

"There are about 40 different species of mussels out here of all shapes and sizes," Johnson explained. "I used to dive for `washboard mussels,' they can get as big as a steering wheel and they're scattered out everywhere - they don't really get in big beds. The kinds of mussels the fish get around are the smaller clam shaped ones, anywhere from the size of a dime or quarter. They live in huge mounds by the hundreds of thousands, which create the shell bars. All those thousands of clams filter feeding in the water attracts every kind of fish out there - bream, crappie, shad and bass - they're like huge fish reefs alive with activity."

Johnson notes that what has made the mussel beds so good on Wheeler as of late is the lack of grass.

"When Wheeler is full of grass, that's all you really need to fish," he explained. "But when the grass gets wiped out, then all those bass start relating to shell bars instead of grass, which is why so manyTournament leader Lloyd Pickett, Jr., hopes to score his first Stren Series victory today by fishing mussel bars. guys are fishing them now."

Tournament leader Lloyd Pickett, Jr., of Bartlett, Tenn., is fishing shell bars as well. He loves fishing the shells but offers one downside to the razor shelled mollusks.

"They'll cut your line in a heartbeat," Pickett said. "I've lost a couple of monsters this week by breaking off in the shells. These fish are smart, when they get hooked, they head for tops of those shell mounds and if your line clips across the top of one, your line gets cut."

Pickett has not had the experience of diving for mussels like Johnson, but he has spent countless hours graphing them with his Lowrance unit on TVA lakes.

"There is a certain thing I'm looking for on those shell bars," Picket said with a grin. "A lot of them are just smooth bars, but some have a very distinctive look to them. I mark those with American Flags and dollar signs as my GPS symbols."

As for fishing the shell bars, the two top pros are dragging ¾-ounce jigs across them. Johnson is sticking exclusively with the jig while Pickett works big spinnerbaits and Carolina rigs into his equation.

One thing both anglers were excited about this morning was the return of sunshine.

"That sun helps get the whole ecosystem on those shell bars going," Johnson said. "The shad group up tight on top of them and the bass are not far behind."

"I like the looks of this sunrise this morning," added Pickett, who enjoys a 5-pound lead over Johnson. "It should help the bite big time."

The day three weigh-in of the Stren Series event on Wheeler Lake will begin Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Walmart Store in Decatur.

Saturday's conditionsClear skies and sunshine were a welcome sight to tournament leaders on day three.

Sunrise: 5:35 a.m.
Temperature at takeoff: 63 degrees
Expected high temperature: 84 degrees
Water temperature: 78-82 degrees
Wind: N 5 to 10 MPH
Day's outlook: Sunny and mild

Tags: rob-newell  morning-story  2009-06-04-wheeler-lake 

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