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Bass Fishing the Tennessee River’s Pickwick Lake in November and December Day 1: Why Minnow Fish for Pickwick Lake Bass in the Fall and Winter

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Editor’s Note: Nolan Shivers of Birmingham. Alabama, and his fishing buddy, Cap Wilover, brought in a box full of smallmouth bass to be mounted at my brother Archie Phillips’ taxidermy shop years ago. They had 10 smallmouth bass, weighing a total of 98 pounds, that they wanted to be mounted on a stringer. That was the biggest catch of smallmouth I ever had seen in my life. When I asked Shivers how they caught those smallmouths, he explained that they caught them minnow fishing below Wheeler Dam on Wilson Lake on the Tennessee River in swift water within 50 yards of the dam down to 2 miles past the dam on shell banks, Indian mounds, drop-offs and ledges. During the fall and winter months, the smallmouths and other bass on the Tennessee River gang-up near the dams, because the water coming from the hydroelectric plants is warmer than the water in the Tennessee River lakes and feed on shad minnows. A few weeks ago, I fished The Tennessee River’s Pickwick Lake on the borders of Tennessee/Alabama/Mississippi with Brad Whitehead of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Ronnie Leatherwood of Killen, Alabama.

Two factors play a major role in an angler’s success fishing Pickwick Lake in this Tri-State area in the fall and winter: current and bait position in the water. If you know how the current affects where the bass hold, and if you understand where bass are holding and why, then you can catch bass all day long at Pickwick during the fall and winter. “I’m primarily fishing for smallmouth bass,” says Brad Whitehead, a well-known guide ([email protected]) and ( “When I’m fishing Pickwick in the fall and winter, I’ll catch smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass, channel catfish, blue catfish, drum, white bass, saltwater stripers and hybrid stripers in a day of fishing. During the winter months, anywhere there’s a current break, there should be a bass holding behind that current break.”

Whitehead, Leatherwood and I pulled in to the first slough below Wilson Dam on Pickwick Lake where there were a number of barges were being loaded. In that small creek were tons of shad minnows. At first light, the shad were down near the bottom and hard to catch in a cast net because by the time the cast net hit the water, the shad had had time to swim out from under it. However, as the sun came up, and the top story of the water heated-up, the large schools of shad moved closer to the surface, making them much easier to catch in a cast net. Once caught in the net,m they were put in an X-Treme Bait Tank

( that was oval-shaped and recirculated, filtered and aerated the bait to keep it alive and active.

“I’ll put two handfuls of rock salt in the tank to replace the slime that’s been on the shad that the net’s knocked off when the shad have been caught in the net,” Whitehead explains. “That salt helps the shad to have a protective layer of slime and cleans out their digestive systems. Then they’ll stay alive and more lively longer than they will, if you don’t have a tank designed and manufactured to circulate, filter and aerate the water like this X-Treme Bait Tank does. Keeping bait alive and lively is a critical component to catching smallmouths on shad minnows during the fall and winter months at Pickwick.”

For further information about Pickwick Lake, contact Colbert County Tourism

(, or call 800-334-0783. A great place to stay is the Cold Water Inn in Tuscumbia, Alabama, for delicious food and very-nice rooms. Call 855-249-1953, and visit (

To learn more about bass fishing, go to John E. Phillips’ book, “How to Bass Fish Like a Pro,” available in Kindle, print and Audible formats at

Tomorrow: Why and How to Bass Fish Pickwick’s Underwater Points and Mounds – Fall and Winter

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