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John's Journal... Entry 167, Day 1


Smallmouth in the Tailrace

EDITOR'S NOTE: Jerry Crook, of Gardendale, Alabama, a veteran Tennessee River angler, has more than 22 years of fishing experience. Crook operates Tailrace Guide Service, which focuses on live-bait fishing and provides anglers with the opportunity to catch several species of fish in a days outing. Wheeler, Wilson and Pickwick lakes on the Tennessee River in northwest Alabama has the furthermost range of smallmouth bass in Alabama. Wheeler Dam tailrace is one of the most well-known smallmouth areas in the nation with the Alabama state record for smallmouth caught here weighing 10 pounds, 8 ounces. This week, Crook will tell us his secrets for fishing the tailrace that will work in tailraces across the nation for a wide variety of fish.

QUESTION: What size smallmouth does an angler have to catch in this Tennessee River area to gain some attention?
ANSWER: Any smallmouth 8 pounds and over will raise some eyebrows. In 22 years, I've only seen four smallmouth that weighed more than 8-pounds each.

QUESTION: How do you catch the smallmouth in this tailrace?
ANSWER: Depending on the season, I refer to the fish either as holding high or low. At Wheeler Dam, if the smallmouth are high, they're right in the base of the turbines above the towers. If they're low, they may be holding on some humps as far below the dam as a half a mile. Usually in the springtime, they'll hold high. They'll be between the base of the dam and the two towers -- no more than 300 yards from the dam.

QUESTION: How are you fishing for smallmouth when they are high?
ANSWER: I prefer to use a three-way rig. You can use either a big spinning rod or bait-casting tackle that will handle 17-pound line. You can probably get away with 14-pound line just using a standard three-way rig. I like a short dropper for my lead. I'll use anywhere from 1 to 1-1/2 ounces of lead, depending on the current. I'll run about a 2-foot leader off of that and use anywhere from a No. 2 to a 2/0 hook. The size of my bait determines the size of the hook. The preferred bait up here is threadfin shad. We call them yellowtails.

QUESTION: How do you catch them?
ANSWER: I catch them either with a cast net or by dipping them with a shad knocker. If you don't have a lot of experience, I wouldn't recommend getting at the base of the dam with a shad knocker. A shad knocker is a special minnow net. I prefer one that is made out of nylon. The nylon is pressed inside an aluminum ring, so when you scrape the wall of the dam, the aluminum is all that touches the base wall of the dam. If you make a couple of scrapes against the wall of the dam with your standard net, it gets frayed and torn up. A nylon net holds up a lot better. By catching them that way, there is relatively little damage done to the minnow. The better your minnow is, the more bites and the more quality of fish you'll catch. The wire net has been the standard for years. I changed because I thought the soft fabric of the nylon did less damage to the shad.

QUESTION: How and why are you hooking the shad to fish for smallmouth?
ANSWER: I'll hook a shad from the bottom lip up through the base of the nostrils, making sure both lips are hooked. I hook them this way because I'm going to be pulling the shad through the water. That way, the shad moves with the current, causing the shad to swim as naturally as possible, which makes for a natural presentation. If I hook the shad in the back or any other way, it will spin and roll through the water like a propeller.

QUESTION: When you're fishing the shad, you drift with the current. What does that mean?
ANSWER: I'll motor up, usually to the base of the outside, far-left turbine of the dam -- whichever one happens to be on. I'll pull in, let the boat get some speed, turn the boat and let the current catch it, allowing the boat to move before I make my cast. I try not to hit the rolling water but instead the slick water off to the side of it. I allow my bait to free-fall to the bottom. Then I start walking it out of the wash. There's a deep spot where the turbines are actually creating boils on top of the water. At that spot, the bottom comes up to a 12-foot ledge. Those fish are usually hangingon the edge of that ledge. You're going to walk that bait up to that ledge, and when you get to the top of it, your bait usually will get nailed.

QUESTION: What is the secret for fishing low?
ANSWER: You'll need to use light spinning tackle and 10-pound line. You can use 8-pound line, but the line more than likely will get broken off. Ten-pound line seems to work the best and cuts through the water better. On this rig, I'll use a split shot and a hook. The size of my split shot will depend on the amount of current or my proximity to the base of the dam. If I fish down low, I'll use a small BB shot. If I fish up high, I'll use one slightly larger than an English pea in size. The split shot is about 8 to 10 inches from the hook.

QUESTION: Are you just drifting with the current?
ANSWER: I drift with the current and fish with the outside edges of the current in slack water. Those fish like the edges of that current. I try to key in on that.

QUESTION: What are some other secrets such as places to look for catching smallmouth in this tailrace?
ANSWER: There's some great fishing later in October and November way down low on some shell mounds. If you get out there and look around, you'll find some humps. Those are great places to catch smallmouth, especially if they have a lot of current on them. The dam generates a lot of current down low, and those fish will congregate down low on those shell mounds. The fishing pressure down there is a lot less than up at the dam. Some of the more quality fish will come from down there.

QUESTION: In the fall and in the spring, you fish the grooves between currents when you have a dead turbine. Tell me about that.
ANSWER: Those smallmouth will stack up in what I call slurp lines -- where two currents crash together creating slack water. For one thing, the current is kind of dead where they are. The fish can feed on the weak or wounded bait in these slurp lines holding there and slurping minnows until they are ready to pull out of that current.

QUESTION: Those two currents create the slackest water, right?
ANSWER: If you'll throw right into that line, you'll be surprised at how fast it will pull the bait down to the bottom. It acts like the express route to the bottom. You have to be careful to not get hung up. But, you really can load-up a lot of fish doing that.

For more information on fishing the tailrace, contact Jerry Crook at 1128 Meadow Drive, Gardendale, Alabama 35071, or call him at (home) 205-608-0933 or (cell) 205-243-6198. You can visit his Web site at www.alabamaoutdoors.net.




Check back each day this week for more SECRETS OF THE TAILRACE WITH JERRY CROOK ...

Day 1 - Smallmouth in the Tailrace
Day 2 - Secrets To Catching Hybrids And Saltwater Stripes
Day 3 - Catching White Bass In The Tailrace
Day 4 - Catfish In The Tailrace
Day 5 - Largemouth And Sauger In A Tailrace

John's Journal