In late winter and early spring, I believe Pickwick Lake is the best bass fishing lake in the state. In March, water levels and the amount of rain received are the keys to where you’ll find bass.
This prespawn period of the bass migration means numbers of big bass are scattering, looking for places to spawn, possibly fanning beds and perhaps spawning by the end of the month.
If water levels are up, the bass will move in shallow to the brown shoreline grass and any type of wood cover there. They also will be in willow trees and bushes.
The shallow-water flipping bite should be productive because the shallow water off the current will warm up first and get to the temperature bass are waiting on to spawn. But because TVA doesn’t keep the water level very high at Pickwick at any time of the year, this tactic won’t last.
I use two baits to target bass in shallow water: a ½-ounce Mann’s Stone Jig in the black-and-blue with a blue crawfish trailer and the Mann’s Freefall Worm, a weedless plastic worm fished with no lead.
I’ll fish the jig on 50-pound-test Berkley Trilene braid with a Pinnacle 6.4:1 reel and a Pinnacle 7-foot, 6-inch flipping rod.
My favorite targets will be willow trees and bushes in the water.
When I pitch the jig, I want my jig to hit right beside the trunk of the willow, where bass will be fanning beds and spawning.
If the water’s high, you might only see willow limbs in the water. Make your first flip to the spot you think is the trunk of the tree. If you don’t get a bite there, continue to flip all the willow limbs out to the place where the limbs stop coming out of the water. If you only find willow bushes, flip to the centers of the bushes first.
When bass are feeding heavily, they’ll take jigs as soon as they hit the water. But sometimes you have to jump the jig off the bottom two or three times to get a strike. During the day, when you are yo-yoing the jigs up and down the limbs or swimming the jigs away from the limbs, you’ll get bites when the jig hits the water.
Pay attention to where the bass are taking the jigs. Some days the bass will be biting right at the trunks of the willows, and other days they’ll be biting out in the limbs.
Before I leave any bush or tree, I’ll pitch the Mann’s Freefall Worm into that bush or tree on spinning tackle, using a Pinnacle reel and a medium-heavy 6-foot, 9-inch Pinnacle rod with 14-pound-test Berkley Braid line.
I prefer this shorter rod because I’ll be skipping the Freefall worm under and into bushes, through the willow limbs and up against the trunks to allow the worm to make a vertical fall straight down — anywhere I can’t flip the jig.
With the Freefall worm, I can stay farther away from bushes and skip the baits up to them. When the worm hits the water, I get a more-subtle and natural presentation. Also, this technique gives me an opportunity to catch inactive bass because as the worm falls it moves slowly and in a natural wiggling motion like a big night crawler.
In March, I like to fish a black worm with red flakes on a No. 5/0 wide-gap Gamakatsu hook with no lead. Sometimes I’ll use a 1/16- to 1/32-ounce nail by putting it in the worm between where the hook comes out of the worm at the eye of the hook and the point of the hook. Or, if I want the worm to fall tail first, I’ll put the weight in the tail of the worm.
Most of the time, however, I will fish the Freefall worms with no weight.
If Pickwick doesn’t have high water, I’ll fish an Alabama Rig by casting it on a Pinnacle medium-heavy 7 ½-foot rod with a 6.4:1 Pinnacle reel and 65-pound-test Berkeley Braid line.
I’ll be using 3/8-ounce heads and 4 ½-inch shad-colored swimbaits with blue backs and blue flakes on one Alabama rig. On a second Alabama Rig, I’ll fish with watermelon-colored grubs.
I fish both rigs to learn whether the bass prefer the swimbaits or the grubs. On one of these two rigs, I’ll have spinners on the arms of the rigs in front of the baits. When the bass aren’t really aggressive, that extra flash often will cause them to bite.
I’ll use one or two types of retrieves by slow-rolling the rigs or drifting with the current and bumping them off the bottom. The current might be moving fast enough to keep the rigs near the bottom where I’m fishing it on the main river channel and flats.
One of my favorite places to fish Alabama Rigs is right in front of Wilson Dam, where the current’s really swift. I’ll drift with the current and bounce the rig off the bottom. If I make a drift or two and the bass aren’t attacking the Alabama Rig, I’ll downsize and fish the Mann’s Three-For-All rig, with three small swimbaits with a hook in the middle swimbait.
I’ll catch largemouths, smallmouths, spotted bass, saltwater stripers, hybrid bass, white bass, catfish with this tactic.
Remember, since Pickwick is on the border of Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, in Alabama and Mississippi, you can fish with an unlimited number of hooks. But in Tennessee waters, you only can have three hooks on a rig.
For the next two months, bass fishing at Pickwick Lake will be hotter than a firecracker. To catch a large amount of different species, fish the swift water near Wilson Dam. To target bass only, fish the main river and flats coming off the main river. If the water’s up, fish the banks in slack water areas in creeks and sloughs.