The Tennessee, Wilson Dam and Brian Barton

by O’Neill Williams

Sheffield, Alabama is easy to find. From my cabin in North Georgia seems all one has to do is drive to Chattanooga and follow the Tennessee River through Alabama and you’ll end up in Sheffield. That’s good. North Alabama is dominated by the Tennessee. Every town, multiple bridges all lead along the river to Sheffield and beyond. But I’m slow in getting to my story.

Brian Barton and I had been trying to schedule a fishing trip to the river for some years but have always gotten waylaid somehow by rain, storms or what not. This time it came together. Jeff Alligood, my show cameraman, editor and all-round partner for the last 25 years, and I drove over on an early morning in October and located Brian at the dock and ramp about a mile downstream from Wilson Dam which holds back Wheeler Lake and pushes fertile waters down into Pickwick Lake.

It seems that fall’s falling seasonal temperatures invite billions of baitfish upstream from Pickwick to the hard surfaces of the dam to spawn. Wilson Dam is a huge structure belching water full of baitfish and a variety of gamesters that I’ve never witnessed.

Get this picture. Brian operates a perfectly adapted War Eagle fishing boat for these waters. It’s large, spacious and all set up for boating large fish in large numbers. You do not want to try this the first few times on your own. You need Brian.

The bait? Threadfin and gizzard shad that Brian has already caught. Tackle, relatively light line, say 10 or 12, small split shot and a Tru-Turn red light wire hook.
Method?  Brian navigates the boat to a special rocky flat behind the dam and we toss the live baits along the edge of the current and allow them to sink among the boulders, huge car size dark shadows in the current, and then just hold on.

Whatayacatch? First of all, you get bit every cast, yes, every cast. Brian and I fished along the flat up against the dam and downstream less than 100 yards. In an hour or so, we caught largemouth bass up to four pounds, smallies to six, channel cats to three pounds, black drum up 12 or so, hooked and lost stripers and/or blue cats up to, I’m guessing here, sixteen to thirty pounds that we simply could not get out of the rocks, and even some very respectable two plus pound white bass. Many of his clients have boated blues to 70 pounds, largemouth to 12, garfish to 5 feet, white bass upwards to 4 and drum to 40 pounds.

Brian fished for about an hour after we left that day. He had caught a six pound smallie and sent me the photo.

Brian has a constant stream of clients with many making lifetime catches.

Do you have to be an experienced tactician and angler?  Not really. A rank amateur or child will get his string stretched dozens of times. I guarantee that if you have Brian and two anglers, someone will have a fish on the line all the time. It’s almost impossible to describe.

There’s not much else to say really. Tell you what, look at the photos and use your imagination. Contact Brian and ask him to get the War Eagle ready because you’re on the way over.

For contact information and a host of photos of giant catfish, stripers, bass and drum, your anticipated catch of the day, find Brian at