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Pickwick Bassiní Is On Fire In April
Local pro David Allen said itís the best fishing heís seen on this Tennessee River lake in 10 years.
By Greg McCain
Originally published in the April 2018 issue of AON
David Allen hooked up with a good fish after making a quick decision to move to shallow water on a recent Pickwick fishing trip with the author.
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Bass fishermen on just about any fishery experience the peaks of success and the valleys of frustration.

On Pickwick Lake in north Alabama, the successful days have far outnumbered the frustrating ones this year. At least, that has been the case for David Allen, who fishes the lake both as a tournament competitor and as a full-time guide. David’s success was not random as a variety of anglers experienced the benefit of the heavy rains, heavy current and warm temperatures, which had the water temps at least in the high 50s by late February.

“Pickwick’s probably on one of its high peaks right now,” David said during a trip on the lake in the final days of the month. “There are more 6-plus to 8-plus (pound) fish being caught this year than I’ve seen in the 10 years that I have been here.

“The great thing is there’s a lot of big fish, but there is also a lot of next-generation fish. You can catch tons of those 8-, 10- and 12-inchers that are eventually going to become 8- and 10-pounders. There’s a healthy population on Pickwick of the larger fish, and there’s a healthy population of the smaller fish.”

Despite a series of floods in February, Pickwick yielded an exceptional number of big limits and also produced 100-bass days. At times, flood conditions and extreme current hamper the bite. This year, the high water pushed the bass to the banks and made them easy to catch.

In the days leading up to our trip, either David or his clients had boated a 7-lb., 10-oz. largemouth and another 8 1/2-lb. fish on consecutive outings. On the Saturday prior to our trip, the lake had produced three tournament limits heavier than 30 pounds and another 30-lb. sack on the weekend after. In one of those tournaments, a 27-lb. bag failed to earn a check.

“It’s been pretty incredible the last two to three weeks, both in terms of big fish and also in terms of numbers,” David said.

David and I found the bass biting as we started our trip on Pickwick. He and I had met at Perkins Outdoors, a good baitshop near McFarland Park in Florence. David had told me prior to the trip that he would decide on whether to fish out of McFarland, the busiest ramp on the upper end of the lake, or trailer downriver.

The heavy current generated by the flood conditions—Wilson Dam was releasing almost 200,000 cubic feet per second of water—necessitated a trip downriver, and David launched at Brush Creek Park, a popular public ramp just west of the Natchez Trace Parkway. The ramp is a 20-minute drive from Florence.

A cold front had passed during the night, and David predicted the bass would be backed off from their super shallow bite of the previous days.

Once we got to fishing, he stopped his boat in about 10 feet of water on a flat with a ditch snaking through it near the mouth of Brush Creek. We tossed Profound Outdoors (www.profoundoutdoors.com) Azuma Shaker Z lipless crankbaits, David’s was the jail bird chrome color and mine in aztec, another red hue. The rattle bait had been David’s weapon of choice in recent days, and we fanned cast through the ditch and surrounding flat with no success for a few minutes.

“Maybe they are still a little shallower,” David said as he moved closer to the mouth of the creek.

Only when David finally maneuvered his Triton/Mercury rig into the skinniest water did we finally get bit, and then someone flipped the proverbial switch. The various features of his boat came into play as we moved shallower. The twin Power-Pole shallow-water anchors were lowered once David found the first fish.

“I think it’s on,” David said after getting hammered by 3-pounders on consecutive casts.

“They are still up here in this shallow water,” he said.

The bass, all largemouth, were feeding in 1 to 3 feet of water and sucked down the lipless crankbaits as if they were live shad. Over a 30-minute period, we boated perhaps 15 fish, with the heaviest weighing about 4 pounds.

The highlight, however, occurred about midway through the flurry. We had pinpointed a couple of big stumps, bouncing the baits over and getting bit on the fall. David flung the Shaker Z toward one stump and immediately swept back against the weight of a heavy bass, which planed a wide arc toward the second stump and created about five seconds of chaos. It stretched David’s line and even pulled a few feet of drag before burying the treble hooks in the stump.

Even with the hooks embedded in the wood, David felt the big bass thrashing before pulling loose.

“I would have liked to have seen that one,” he said several times over the next hour.

“We’ve had some big fish come to the boat over the last few days, and that one felt really big.”

We never repeated the intensity of that 30-minute stretch as we bounced to several more stops upriver. The rattle bait produced at least a few fish on every spot, but the trophies eluded us.

Fishing near the mouth of Colbert Creek, which is just downstream from the Trace bridge, David pointed out how the water had fallen in recent days, slowing the bite at least slightly.

“Yesterday, you had literally to throw up on the bank, turn your reel handle a time or two, and get slammed,” he said. “You can see the marks where the water has been, and it’s 2 to 3 feet down now. You can see the stump where we caught the 7-10 yesterday up out of the water. The falling water has backed the fish off some.”

David mixed in a couple of other baits during the trip, including a Profound squarebill crankbait and a bladed jig. The Shaker Z out-produced everything else.

Demonstrating his rattle bait technique, David proved to be a good teacher. His presentation is much more than the standard cast-and-retrieve method often used with lipless crankbaits.

“If the water is just a little bit deeper (beyond 1 to 2 feet), I will pretty much yo-yo it all the way in,” he said, demonstrating with pulls and subtle flicks, not jerks, of the rod tip.

“The fish like the fall of this bait,” he said. “It’s designed well and will fall forward with a swimming action that triggers bites.

“If the water is really shallow, I will use more of a straight retrieve with a few quick twitches of the rod tip or harder ones to clear the bait of any debris it picks up. Often, when you change speeds or stop it slightly, the fish will hit.”

Another part of the process involved the hookset. David uses parabolic rods designed by a relatively new company, Redemption Rods (see Redemption Rods on Facebook). The combination of the rod and the good hooks on the Profound baits does not require a powerful hookset.

“I just sweep the rod back and let the sharp hooks do the rest,” he said. “The fish will just load up on the bait.”

David only deviated once from the shallow-water approach, stopping near Koger Island to drag a big crankbait over several offshore rockpiles and hoping to entice one of Pickwick’s famed smallmouth to bite. The big brown bass were not home, and we soon returned to yo-yoing the lipless crankbaits.

Ending up back near the launch at Brush Creek, we found the action had slowed, but I did manage another 3-pounder before we quit, a hard-fighting fish that slapped slack in my line before I managed to set the hook and work it to the boat.

“This has been one of those ‘average’ good days on Pickwick right now,” David said. “A couple of differences today is that we didn’t catch any of the bigger fish, and we didn’t catch any smallmouth. We’ve caught numerous smallmouth up to a little over 5 pounds. mixed in with the largemouth up shallow.”

One of the reasons that David emphasized the use of the rattle bait is that type of approach will continue to produce well into April, he said. The fishing will change slightly as the bass get closer to the spawn, but the same types of lures will remain effective.

David added that numbers might decline slightly as larger numbers of bass get locked down in the spawning mode, but the availability of plenty of prespawn or postspawn fish (after they have rested for a few days) can turn a good trip into an exceptional one.

“It’s still a great time to catch big fish,” he said. “When the fish are transitioning so much, in the middle of the spawn or just into the postspawn, they are just not as aggressive eating as they are right now. They are more or less just protecting their beds. If you ever get into some good schools of prespawn fish that are still feeding aggressively, that’s when you will have those better days with 40 or more fish.”

David’s approach in April usually follows this scenario. First, work the transition areas with a lipless crankbait or a squarebill. He especially likes locations with pea gravel and points, types of spots that are easily found on Pickwick. He continues working toward the spawning areas with the squarebill and bladed jig. When he gets into water that likely holds bedding fish—he does very little sight fishing on Pickwick—David tosses a floating worm or Texas-rigged stick bait around cover, mainly exposed brushpiles, stumps and laydowns.

“I don’t like to slow fish unless I have to. I want to power fish it fast and intercept these fish moving in and out,” David said. “I like to fish fast so that my clients can put a bait in front of more fish and get them in the boat.”

For his rattle bait fishing, David uses Redemption Brent Anderson Series Deep Cranking rods, a glass-style 7-7 medium-heavy model. He works the lures— favorite colors are silver knight and jail bird chrome—on a 6.4:1 retrieve baitcaster usually spooled with 15-lb. Seaguar Yellow Label fluorocarbon. He occasionally uses braid, depending on the amount of grass.

David uses another Redemption rod, the Big Topwater model, for his squarebill fishing, and he spools his baitcasters with 17-lb. fluoro, bumping up in line size when he is fishing heavy cover.

The bait is called the Profound Matt Reed Azuma Square Boss, and David’s best color is maddox craw for the typically stained water of April.

David goes even heavier with his rods for bladed jig fishing, slinging a Z-Man ChatterBait Elite in green pumpkin on a 7-0 heavy-action Redemption All-Purpose rod. He fishes the ChatterBait on 17-lb. fluorocarbon and alternates several different trailers, including a Zoom Super Fluke, a Gary Yamamoto Zako or a Reaction Innovations Skinny Deeper, all in green pumpkin. The Skinny Deeper creates more vibration, but David said he usually likes the subtler approach of the other trailers, relying on the blade to produce lure movement.

For bedding fish, the Zoom Trick Worm in bubble gum or merthiolate entices fish well. The bright colors frequently disappear as a fish inhales the simple, 6-inch plastic.

“Those bright colors really stand out in the water and allow you to cast from a long way away from the target,” David said. “You may not feel the fish hit; you just see the bait disappear.”

The Senko, usually a 5-inch model in green pumpkin/purple, green pumpkin/red, or watermelon/red, provides an alternative to the floating worm. David fishes it with light tungsten weights pegged to prevent snags around cover. He fishes both the floating worm and stick bait on a Redemption spinning rod and a Shimano reel spooled with braid and adds a 10-lb. fluorocarbon leader.

On Pickwick, the conversation always turns toward smallmouth. David said he has two approaches during April, either upriver near Wilson Dam or downstream along bluff walls or pea gravel/chunk rock banks.

Below Wilson Dam, he drifts the tailrace and fishes the current seams with a single swimbait, a True Bass Little Head 4.5 in green bean on a custom head heavy enough to maintain contact with the bottom. An alternative in that area is to target spawning fish either in the “Horseshoe,” the aptly named heavily pressured, shallow area off the tailrace, or immediately under the dam around the blow hole. David uses a shaky head or Carolina-rigged centipede-style bait when he anticipates finding spawning fish there.

Downriver, he parallels bluff walls with mid-depth Azuma Crank Z Claud Hopper crankbaits and runs a variety of baits through rocky spawning areas.

“Many of the smallmouth on Pickwick will spawn in the Horseshoe,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t find them downriver, as well. You will still find a few mixed in with the largemouth in April.”

As the fish transition later in the month, David begins to fish another of his strengths, the famed Pickwick ledges.

“Depending on the spawn, the fish will begin to move out to the shallow ledges and ditches in 8 or 10 foot of water, and a few will move on out deeper on the main river ledge,” he said.

For the first wave returning to the ledges, David uses Profound Z Boss 10 and 20 crankbaits. For the deepest ledge fish, he turns to the Z Boss 24 and 25, plus the typical ledge options like swimbaits and Carolina rigs.

Regardless of a visitor’s preferences, Pickwick offers options. April is a perfect month to sample those possibilities, whether shallow or deep, largemouth or smallmouth.

“We have a great lake that continues to evolve for the better,” David said. “The ecosystem is healthy, and Pickwick is turning into a great trophy lake. April is a great time to catch one of those bigger fish.”

To book a trip with David, contact him at (270) 205-9380, at www.davidallenfishing.com, or at David Allen Fishing on Facebook. He offers both fishing and electronics trips throughout the year.
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