tom” and, in doing so, reducing snags. Anglers often use spinning tackle with 10-pound test line, a half-ounce sinker on a three-way drop swivel rig and light wire hook. The sinker weight will vary depend- ing on whether you’re fishing in heavy or light current. When targeting smallmouth, this is one of the more sporting and fun methods. Mason primarily targets small- ies and largemouth with artificial lures, however, and has refined his methods over the years through trial and error with thousands of days on the water.
his arsenal is comprised of three main offerings: • A 5-inch Yum Money Minnow in Foxy Shad on a half or three-quarter ounce Buckeye Lures J-Will Head, a jighead specifically designed for hollow-belly swimbaits. • A three-quarter or 1-ounce Booyah spinnerbait with a single No. 5 willow- leaf blade, chartreuse-white skirt and a Yum Forktail Dinger in pearl-silver flake. Mason will cut off an inch of the 4-inch Dinger before threading it on the hook as a trailer; the lure looks like a large shad. • A 4-inch Yum Mega Tube on a 5/16 or 3/8 ounce jighead in green pumpkin or Ozark smoke color.
That’s it, along with maybe some topwaters, crankbaits or jerkbaits if he’s feeling like mixing it up. But during our trips on Wilson Lake, below Wheeler Dam, we’ve stuck with his three go-to baits with great success.
wEathEr can bE a bEar
One thing anglers may not realize or forget while they’re fishing is the impact strong winds can have on heavy current. Wind blowing directly into the current or across it can amplify the wave action and create unsafe or challenging conditions. When you’re checking the weather forecast, be sure to note the predicted wind speed and direction to factor that into your fishing setups. “That combination of wind and current below a dam, even downstream, can create standing waves,” Mason said. “I know below Wheeler and Wilson dams on the Tennessee River, a strong and direct west wind can create very rough conditions.” Mason said he’s seen “true 5- to 6-foot waves” and had to navigate carefully to avoid problems while returning to the safety of the launch ramp. “I’ve only seen that two or three times, but once was when a friend of mine pulled out a guy with hypothermia,” he said. “He and another guy were fishing and their boat swamped. The other guy drowned. It was late in the afternoon after the wind had been piling up and created a really bad situation.” watch the weather forecast, know your experience level and limitations, and take heed when it’s time to go. You can fish another day if you play it smart.