I like Pickwick in July because the bass will be schooled-up, holding on the river channel. As long as the current’s running, you can catch bass all day.
I’ll target mussel bars that run out in the deep water on the edge of the old river channel.
Before I start fishing, I’ll use my Raymarine electronics. Pickwick has a wide variety of fish species, but generally you’ll see bass or stripers concentrating on mussel bars with your electronics.
By getting those schools of bass fired up, you can catch numbers of bass out of each school.
But before I go to Pickwick, I’ll call TVA to get the generation schedule, learn how many turbines will be running at Wilson Dam and plan to begin fishing just before the current starts.
Cranking the bars
Once I locate the fish and know how they’re positioned on a bar, I either hold or anchor my boat on the school and cast upcurrent.
I’ll begin my morning fishing with either a Mann’s E-Z 30+ crankbait or a Mann’s 20 + crankbait in a shad pattern on 12-pound-test Balsax White Peacock Fluorocarbon line with a 5.5 gear ratio Pinnacle reel and a 7-foot, 10-inch Pinnacle crankbait rod.
I’ll cast toward the shallow part of the bar and reel my crankbait along the bottom to the point where the bar drops off into the old river channel. I’ll pay attention to where I get a bite and mark it on my GPS.
Often bass hold in a tiny spot on a bar, and if you don’t bring that crankbait to that one place on the bar, you may not catch bass.
When I start fishing a bar, I’ll use a burning retrieve to get the crankbait to dig the bottom. If a bass doesn’t attack the crankbait, then I’ll turn the reel five turns, burn it, stop the bait, start a fast retrieve and stop the bait again.
If I can catch one bass, oftentimes other bass in the school will fire up and go on a feeding frenzy.
Most of the time, the bass you catch on mussel bars during July will be largemouth, but you’ll also catch some spotted and smallmouth bass — including smallies that can weigh from 4 to 6 pounds.
Sometimes a saltwater striper or a hybrid will load up on a crankbait.
But if the bass aren’t biting that crankbait, I’ll switch to a Mann’s Stone Jig.
Jigging the bars
I’ll cast a ¾-ounce Stone Jig with a brown head, peanut butter-and-jelly skirt and a green-pumpkin twin tail grub trailer on 18-pound-test Balsax White Peacock fluorocarbon on a 7 ½-foot Pinnacle flipping and pitching rod with a 7.3:1 Pinnacle baitcasting reel.
I’ll let the jig fall to the bottom, hold my rod in about the 9 o’clock position, jerk the rod hard up to the 12 o’clock position, and allow the jig to ride the current and free fall back to the bottom.
Most of the time, the bass will attack the jig on the fall and knock slack into your line.
Because the fish are schooled up, bass will swim hard to eat that falling jig before the other fish in the school can reach it. Sometimes you won’t feel the bass take the jig on the fall and might think the jig has hit bottom; when you try to snatch the jig off the bottom, about halfway through the strike you’ll set the hook on a bass, and your jig will come to an abrupt stop about halfway through your upward stroke.
If bass don’t take the jig on this type retrieve, I’ll cast upstream, let the lure fall to the bottom and drag it on bottom to make the jig look like a crawfish riding the bottom current. When the bass take the bait as it’s being dragged on the bottom, you might only feel a light peck on your line — but that’s when you have to set the hook.
Using a big worm/little Carolina rig
I also like to fish a short Carolina rig with a 12-inch plastic worm on those mussel bars.
I’ll put a 1-ounce weight up the line, use 40- to 50-pound braided line for my main line, a plastic bead below the sinker, and a barrel swivel to connect the main line and 18 feet of 18-pound fluorocarbon. Then I’ll attach my hook to the other end of the leader and Texas-rig a Mann’s 12-inch Jelly Worm, either in pumpkin or red worm with green metal flakes in it to look plum colored.
I’ll cast upcurrent and drag the rig along the bottom to allow the worm to float with the current.
Since I’m fishing a 12-inch long worm, I won’t set the hook as soon as I feel the bite. Once the bass first gets the worm in its mouth, I wait for the fish to swim off to make sure the fish has the whole worm in its mouth before setting the hook.
Many times bass won’t attack a 12-inch worm from the head like they will a smaller worm, but instead they will attack either the tail or middle; I want to give the bass time to bunch the worm up in its mouth before I set the hook.
Fishing the Preacher Jig
I’ll also use a swim-bait tactic to fish a Mann’s 6-inch Preacher Jig that, with white feathers, white hair and a white head, resembles a white gizzard shad.
I’ll use 15-pound fluorocarbon, a 7.3:1 reel and a 7-foot medium-heavy rod to cast the Preacher Jig upcurrent, let it hit bottom, swim it along the bottom with about three to four turns of the reel and stop the bait again.
Most of the bites will occur when I stop the bait and let it fall.
On an average July day of fishing Pickwick, you can expect to catch 15 to 20 bass. On a good day, you’ll often catch 30 or more.
If you have an exceptional day, you might start fishing one mussel bar and catch 20 to 30 there.