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Living the Dream: Wheeler Lake, Part 2

Living the Dream: Wheeler Lake, Part 2
TBF Living The Dream winner Dave Andrews shows off his catch at Lake Okeechobee.

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Editor's note: This is the second piece in a series of journal entries from Dave Andrews, winner of the 2007 TBF National Championship, detailing his second stop on the 2008 FLW Series Eastern schedule. Entries will be published at FLWOutdoors.com throughout the course of the season. As winner of the "Living the Dream" package, offered by FLW Outdoors through The Bass Federation, Andrews had his entry fees paid to test his club skills on the pro tour with the use of a fully wrapped boat and tow package. Andrews will chronicle his adventure in pro bass fishing, having most recently competed on Alabama's Wheeler Lake. After Andrews has submitted his journal following each FLW Series event, segments will be posted approximately weekly. (Read Part 1) (Read his Okeechobee journal; this links to the final entry, which provides links at the top for each preceding part)
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Wal-Mart FLW Series BP Eastern Division
Stop No. 2: Wheeler Lake
March 26-29, 2008


Official practice: Day one

I flew out of Boston on Thursday afternoon, March 20, and arrived in Huntsville, Ala., early in the evening. I had a buddy, Glenn Chappelear, pick me up at the airport and bring me to the hotel we were staying at for the week in Decatur. My friend Chris Gist delivered my boat and truck to me later that evening.

I've met so many fine people since winning the TBF National Championship and embarking on the "Living the Dream" year, it really is amazing and one of the best parts of this very special experience. I got my equipment squared away and enjoyed a fish fry that evening with a bunch of the anglers staying at my home for the next week, the Hometown Suites.

Friday morning was the first official practice day, and I planned to fish by myself. I launched the boat at Ingalls Harbor in Decatur. Ingalls Harbor is the tournament headquarters and launch site: What a beautiful facility! There is a 10-lane launch ramp and parking for literally hundreds of trailers. It is easily the best tournament facility I have ever seen. Back home in New England, we feel fortunate to pay $20 for a broken-down ramp to launch our boats, and the biggest lake in New Hampshire (Lake Winnipesaukee) doesn't have a viable public facility to even have a small tournament on.

When I was home in Massachusetts following my prepractice, I swung by Northern Bass Supply in Brentwood, N.H., and picked up a bunch of fresh Rat-L-Traps. I also bought a couple of Daiwa TD Zillion (100 SHA) bait-casting reels. These reels feature a smooth drag system as well as a 7:1 gear ratio and should be perfect for Trap fishing. I spooled them with 14 Gamma Copolymer and outfitted them with a 7-foot medium-heavy rod.

The morning was cool but sunny and would eventually warm into the mid-60s. Lake temperatures had risen to about 60 degrees on the main lake and warmer in the backwaters. I drove several miles south toward the bluffs where I had found fish in prepractice. I was obviously anxious to see if the fish were still there or had moved toward the creeks in preparation for the spawn. I started on one of my better sections of bluffs and was pleased to see no other boats in sight. I worked a Trap down the shoreline and soon had a nice keeper smallmouth in the boat. The bite was slow until the sun got high enough and some wind got on the bank.

This solid largemouth, caught by Dave Andrews, fell for a Gambler Flappy Daddy pitched up tight along a rock bluff.Suddenly the bite got hot, and I whacked several nice fish on the chartreuse Rat-L-Trap. After a couple hours going down the bluffs, I was satisfied that the fish were still right where I left them, and I figured I didn't need to hook any more.

I ran south a little way and went up the Elk River. I spent about four hours there, noticing the water was cooler and had much more color than the main lake. I flipped a black Gambler worm and also a 1/2-ounce black-blue jig around wood and rock cover and boated a couple of small keepers.

I ran out of there and headed to Spring Creek, which was close to the dam. There were dozens of boats in Spring Creek, and I picked a small cove and cranked the first breakline without success. I saw a small pond that wasn't accessible during my prepractice trip and worked my way in through the narrow entrance into the pond. The water was stagnant and muddy in here, but had warmed to 68 degrees. The only signs of life back in the pond were big gar that were cruising the sun-warmed shallows.

The afternoon turned into evening as I abandoned Spring Creek and began working my way back north toward Decatur. I was hoping to get a jerkbait bite going as it appeared conditions were perfect for it, so I committed the rest of the day to working a Lucky Craft Pointer 78 in chartreuse-shad along the points and cutbacks of the main lake. The evening bite was slow, but I did pick up two 4-pound bass on the jerkbait before loading my boat just before dark. I wound up with 14 or 15 keepers, and the best five would have gone about 15 pounds.

Official practice: Day two

My longtime tournament partner Scott Leppanen had flown in from Boston and would join me for the remainder of the practice period. Scott was fishing the co-angler side of the event. We decided to trailer down to Spring Creek and launch there and check out the creeks south of where I wound up the day before.

The parking lot was full of tournament trailers when we arrived. There were a couple of local tournaments on this part of the lake, and combined with the 200-boat FLW field and the fact that it was One of the other competitors works the stump rows of the famous Decatur Flats.a warm Saturday, the boat traffic was nearly unbearable. We figured there were easily 350 boats on the southern end of Wheeler Lake this day. This really hampered what we could do, as we literally had to wait in line to fish a point or pocket. We fit in where we could and spent a lot of our time in little, out-of-the-way main-lake pockets trying to find unpressured fish. The day was pretty uneventful, as we would occasionally bump into a keeper on the Giggy Head worm or crankbait. The biggest fish of the day, a nice 3 1/2-pound largemouth, grabbed a green-pumpkin Gambler Flappy Daddy pitched up tight to a rock bluff.

Being from the northern part of the country and used to clear natural lakes, I really liked the water clarity close to the dam. The creeks offered 3 to 4 feet of visibility in some places, and I felt comfortable here. But having learned from Lake Okeechobee, I anticipated that they would be very popular come tournament time, and I really prefer not to have to fish in a crowd. The water temperatures ranged from 61 to 64 degrees, and I thought I would see fish cruising the shallows looking to spawn, but I never saw any fish along the bank. Considering the pounding that this area was taking, I decided I likely would not fish the tournament down here and would concentrate the remaining two days of practice closer to Decatur. The total score for the day was only six or seven keepers between us.


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Editor's note: Stay tuned for Part 3 of Andrews' adventure on Wheeler Lake, in which he'll write about the second half of his official practice period.
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Tags: dave-andrews  article 

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