UPCOMING EVENT: TACKLE WAREHOUSE PRO CIRCUIT - 2020 - Lake Erie

High Schoolers Head to Pickwick’s Ledges

High Schoolers Head to Pickwick’s Ledges

At 43,100 surface acres, Pickwick Lake offers lots of fishing area, but when the 2018 TBF/FLW Student Angler Federation High School Fishing National Championship, held in conjunction with the 2018 High School Fishing World Finals, sends 384 teams into competition, even this Tennessee River powerhouse might seem rather small.

“The fishing pressure from this tournament, plus the locals, will become a big factor,” says Walker Brown, who partnered with Jon David Bedford to win last year’s World Finals championship for Tennessee’s Lawrence County High School.

The duo once again teams up with boat captain Sloan Pennington to compete for the National Championship’s first-place prize – a $10,000 scholarship – and their share of more than $140,000 in scholarships and prizes at the World Finals. Top boat captains will receive merchandise prizes such as fish finders and trolling motors.

 

About the fishery

Created by Pickwick Landing Dam as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the lake features a mix of sand, gravel and rock bottom. With an average depth of 21 feet (maximum 59), the lake stretches 53 miles from Pickwick Landing Dam to Wilson Dam. Notably, competitors are permitted to lock into Wilson Lake, thereby expanding the playing field by another 9,045 acres.

This week’s combined events most likely will be decided on the ledges, but there’s also shoreline wood, docks and big flats – as well as the usual rocky stuff around the dam. Shady bluff walls and the bridges could also play as the field starts churning over known community holes.

Most agree that Pickwick’s lower end is most productive this time of year, as it holds more of the typical ledge structure. Also, the farther up the lake, the less impact the current has on the fishing.

 

Current conditions

In recent days, Pickwick has been fluctuating between 413.75 and 414.22 feet. Normal pool is 414, so the lake is right about where it should be for late June.

The TVA’s power generation schedule for Pickwick has seen overnight lows of about 30,500 cubic feet per second (cfs), with afternoons seeing peaks of around 49,000 cfs. The average outflow is expected to remain steady with about 41,000 cfs.

“The water is really clear right now because of the [invasive] zebra mussels; it’s the clearest I’ve seen it in a while,” says Cort Walker, who teams with Lawson Tilghman for Tennessee’s Hardt County High School. “It makes it harder to fish than it has been in the past, just because of the clarity and the amount of pressure that’s been on the fish.”

 

Tactics in play

Committing their week to Pickwick, Brown and Bedford say they’re planning on cranking ledges in 20-plus feet of water in hopes of latching onto some better fish.

“During practice, we didn’t get many bites, and we’re banking on three spots, but we don’t know if they’ll be there on day one,” Bedford notes. “That’s the thing this time of year; it’s hard. Our fish aren’t stacked like they have been. We’ll just try to run a pattern throughout the day.”

“Fishing clean will be the big difference this week,” adds Brown. “The bites you get – you’d better take advantage of them.”

Walker agrees and says that slower presentations with drop-shot rigs might become one of the more productive patterns, especially as the week progresses. He and his partner will mostly target the offshore contours.

“There are so many fish on the ledges,” Tilghman says. “There’s definitely going to be a good ledge bite, but there are definitely some fish that have moved up. There are bluff walls and secondary points in the backs of creeks where you can go through and get a limit.”

Crankbaits, football jigs, swimbaits, big Texas-rigged worms and Carolina rigs will likely produce ledge bites, while shaky heads, spinnerbaits and wacky rigs could tempt the shallower fish.

 

Critical factors

1. Weather – With daytime highs predicted to be in the mid-90s and perhaps higher, hydration and wearing sun-protective clothing or applying heavy doses of sunscreen will be necessary to grind out the conditions.

“The wind got up to about 10 to 15 mph, and that helped us out a lot in practice, but when it’s not blowing, it’s really hot,” Bedford observes.

Anglers will fish under partly cloudy skies in the mornings, with a good chance of afternoon thundershowers.

2. Current – As Brown notes, Pickwick usually offers a good morning bite, but the day’s second half is likely to offer the best opportunities for bigger bites, as the afternoon brings greater current flow, based largely on increasing residential power usage.

3. Fishing pressure – “With so many people on the water, you’re going to have to be able to get on your fish,” Walker notes. “Avoiding having other boaters getting on top of your fish is another thing that’ll be important. You’ll have to be able to fish on certain spots, and, if not, you’ll have to be able to adjust.”

4. Smallmouths – Walker says he expects largemouths to dominate, but Pickwick’s legit smallmouth population can’t be overlooked. The lake sits at the southern boundary of smallmouth range and is also home to plenty of threadfin and gizzard shad. The South’s longer growing season, complemented by an abundant food source, often turns out feisty footballs of up to 5 pounds.

 

Dock talk

Noting that 5-pounders will be day-makers this week, Brown says he’s expecting the National Championship to be won with a three-day total of 61 pounds.

“If you have 13 to 15 pounds a day, you’re going to make it to the last day,” Tilghman says. “There’s a lot of boat traffic out there, and it’s making the fish real skittish. It’s tough to get them to bite. They’ve seen about every lure there is.”

 

Tournament details

Dates: June 27-30, 2018

Format: The championships (details here) begin on Wednesday with two days of full-field competition for both events. The National Championship field is cut to the top 10 for day three, which is the final round of that tournament, and the winner is determined by heaviest three-day cumulative weight on Friday. Each member of the winning team receives a $5,000 scholarship to the school of his or her choice, and all 10 finalists automatically advance to Saturday’s final round of the World Finals. 

The World Finals field is cut after two days to the top two teams from each state. Those anglers compete on Friday (when weights are zeroed) in the semi-final round.

Any teams that missed the cut in the National Championship or World Finals will compete on Friday in a separate second-chance round for a shot at making it back into the World Finals competition on Saturday.

Saturday’s field will consist of the 10 National Championship finalists, the top 10 teams from Friday’s semi-final round, and the next 10 teams (highest day-three weight) from the semi-final round and second-chance rounds combined. A Friday night pizza party will include a Lucky Dog Last Chance Wildcard drawing for one team, not already qualified, to compete on day four – bringing the total to 31 teams. Weights are zeroed on the last day, and the World Finals winners are determined by the heaviest catch.

Takeoff time: 5:30 a.m. CT

Takeoff location: McFarland Park, 200 Jim Spain Drive, Florence, AL 35630

Weigh-in time: 1:30 p.m. CT

Weigh-in location: McFarland Park, 200 Jim Spain Drive, Florence, AL 35630

Tags: david-a-brown  morning-story  2018-06-27-national-championship 

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