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Pickwick Lake smallmouth capital of the world

Pickwick Lake reaches into portions of three states: Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Its greatest reputation is its superb smallmouth bass fishing.

Generation discharge from Pickwick Dam creates a strong current that smallmouth bass love, and this current keeps the water cool and very well oxygenated, thus attracting large schools of baitfish (such as yellowtail and shad minnows), is key in catching big smallmouth.

This whipped water is prevalent below the dam in the late summer months and the beginning of autumn, as the Tennessee Valley Authority gathers needed electric power via the dam on the Tennessee River.

With this in mind, Carl Graham (a Memphian), owner of Hammer Fishing Rods which are manufactured in Harrison, Ark., invited me to fish for these bronzeback monsters in the tailwaters below Pickwick Dam during the first week of November.

Carl is no ordinary angler. He's seen frequently on Channel 3's Outdoors (Memphis area) and has been on the professional circuit. He began manufacturing the Hog Rustler lure back in 1974 and sold that business in 1991.

Since current is so important and would determine the number of fish we would catch, he checked on the Internet at to make sure the turbines would be opened and generating a strong current (at least four turbines).

With his 20-foot Ranger Z boat, powered by a 225-horsepower Optimax outboard, we motored to the slack area of the river and cast a 5-foot diameter net (¼-inch mesh) for yellowtail minnows, which Carl believes smallmouth prefer over crankbait two-to-one during this time of year. When the water temperature gets into the mid-50s, yellowtails are almost impossible to catch by casting, mandating a trip to a bait shop for large minnows. (The water temperature was 62 degrees the day of our trip.)

Everything must be in order to be successful at landing these bass. Sharp hooks (#1 crappie gold hooks) are a necessity (and lots of them, because you will frequently get hung up in the rocks). New, strong, 8-pound test line must be spooled up on each trip — not old line that can break at an inopportune time. Good dependable 7-foot rods (preferably Hammer Rods) and strong reels with good drag systems are also necessities. A net is a very important tool for success — especially a long-handled, big-hooped net.

The yellowtail minnow is attached to the hook and a #4 split shot is attached about 10 inches above the hook. Cast the minnow a short distance and let it float along just above the bottom. There won't be any question when you get a strike — the rod will bend double and the line will zip from the spool.

Huge smallmouth bass have been known to leap as high as the fortunate angler's head. If those aerial acrobatics do not shed the lure, then the sheer power of these very strong bass can just rip lures loose from their mouths.

Unlike largemouth, smallmouth often group together by size. We found that if we were catching smaller fish, in the 11- to 14-inch range, we rarely caught a big one in the same area. On the other hand, when we caught a smallmouth that was above 4 pounds, many times there were several that size and larger swimming right along with them.

You're more likely to have an opportunity to catch a smallmouth that will weigh from 4 to 6 pounds at Pickwick than at any other lake in the United States. The best fishing times last from the beginning of April through July 4 and from Sept. 15 through Thanksgiving.

Carl believes smallmouth fishing is better below the dam than in the upper lake during autumn.

To Carl, who practices the catch-and-release method, every day on the lake fishing is a red-letter day.

Wayne Capooth — outdoorsman, writer, and physician — has hunted extensively in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas for 50 years and has written four books. On the Internet, go to

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