2012 Alabama Bass Forecast

2012 Alabama Bass Forecast
Photo by Damon Abernethy

The current Bass Anglers Information Team — or B.A.I.T. as it's commonly known — annual report shows anglers caught more fish, larger fish, and weighed in heavier limits than at any time during the report's history.

The report is prepared by Damon Abernethy, supervisor for fisheries development at the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and based on information submitted from bass club tournaments.

Since the beginning of the B.A.I.T. program 25 years ago, it has served as a valuable tool for biologists and fishermen and helped to bring awareness to changes and trends in our fisheries.

It's also a great resource for planning a fishing trip. With that in mind, we selected the three lakes with the highest overall quality indicators and will reveal why they are top destinations.

For the remaining three destinations covered, we used the B.A.I.T. report, but also talked with anglers and biologists to discover hotspots for this spring.

Whether fishing the Tennessee River, the Mobile Delta or points in between, there's a bass ready for a fight on this year's best bassin' waters.

LAKE GUNTERSVILLE

"Guntersville is a bass factory," remarked Abernethy, who has fished the lake for 25 years. "It has ideal fertility and habitat for bass. Considering everything, it is one of, if not, the best reservoir in the country.

"Anglers are not likely to catch a 15-pound bass; it's not that kind of fishery. But in March, tournament anglers could weigh in a 5-pound average. There are not many reservoirs where fishermen can catch that many fish over 5 pounds in one day or one trip."

At 69,100 acres, Guntersville is Alabama's largest reservoir and the first of four impoundments on the Tennessee River within the state. The lake has stable water levels and abundant shallow water; both are significant factors in growing aquatic plants.

In turn, the weeds shelter forage species and allows them to grow larger. Prey size is important. For maximum foraging efficiency, large bass require large prey to grow well.

Guntersville supports largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, but most anglers target ol' bucketmouth for it size and numbers. In March, prespawn behavior dominates where and how to catch largemouth.

"The first area that usually turns in February," Abernethy revealed, "is Mud Creek. It's a shallow creek, and the grass usually starts growing there first. As the water warms, the action moves slowly down the lake towards Guntersville.

"In March, the key to success is finding fresh green growth. It can be hard to find. Look in good spawning creeks like Chisenhall and Siebold creeks. A common mistake anglers make is fishing too deep. Target fish in water 6 feet deep or less."

For fishermen not familiar with the lake, Abernethy recommended fishing scattered patches of grass with a Rat-L-Trap. He said it's an effective search bait. Often, the strike occurs when it is jerked free after hooking a stalk of grass.

When Abernethy finds fish, he switches to a jerkbait. Instead of jerking, ripping or twitching, Abernethy says just letting it sit there often works best.

To find grassy areas quickly, this veteran of Guntersville uses side-scan sonar.

"It's clearer, covers more of the bottom and can cut the number of passes to check an area by 70 percent," Abernethy said. "It is a faster way to find habitat."

For a guided day of fishing on Lake Guntersville, telephone Alex Davis at (256) 298-1178 or visit his web site at www.spinnerbaitkid.com.

PICKWICK LAKE

As the last Tennessee River impoundment in the state, Pickwick is nothing like Guntersville. Fertility is similar, but it's a winter drawdown lake and the topography does not support the weed growth of its larger cousin. Nevertheless, Pickwick is renowned for its world-class trophy smallmouth bass fishery.

Pickwick flows north for much of its 52-mile length, with the lower section belonging to Mississippi and Tennessee. The first 12 miles below Wilson Dam, with its long narrow tailwater, partially submerged Seven-Mile Island, abundant gravel bars and jagged stump rows, are particularly good for smallies. This in combination with the current from the turbines creates prime smallmouth water.

Bronzebacks weighing 5 to 7 pounds are common in late February through the first half of March.

"Early in the year," Abernethy revealed, "tournament anglers target smallmouth. They are apt of win a tournament with largemouth anytime, but the prespawn bite is so strong anglers focus on smallmouth."

Successful smallmouth anglers on Pickwick know how to read and fish current.

"Current below the dam is key; the flow stimulates feeding activity," Abernethy continued. "Anytime there is current it is going to greatly improve fishing. In the spring, the turbines run consistently."

Abernethy has one caveat.

"March weather can be brutal or it can be good. Fishing success goes hand-in-hand with the weather. If you plan a trip six months in advance and the weather is nasty, you could be disappointed. It's a high risk, high reward scenario."

Traditionally in March, one of the most productive lures is a smoke-colored, 4-inch grub rigged on a 3/16-ounce jig head. Last spring, many large smallmouth fell for 1-ounce Bottom Dweller spinnerbaits by Strike King and Storm's Wildeye Swim Shad.

If the water release exceeds 70,000 cubic feet per second, fish these lures on shallow structure near deep water, as the strong current positions baitfish near rocky points and gravel drop-offs.

If the tailrace does not produce a smallmouth bite, Abernethy recommended fishing Coffee Slough for largemouths.

"This area has plenty of cypress trees," he said, "and is an excellent place to flip for largemouth."

For guide service, call Steve Hacker at (256) 760-8090, or visit his website at www.smallmouth.com.

For the latest information on reservoir elevations and flow rates, call the TVA's Reservoir Information Line 1-800-238-2264 or visit the website: www.tva.gov/lakes/wlh_r.htm.

WARRIOR LAKE

The B.A.I.T. data show Warrior Lake, which is also known as Old Lock 8, has improved dramatically since 2004 in two categories: percent of successful anglers and pounds per angler day. The former increased from 61 to 92 percent, while the latter made a steady climb from 2.05 to 8.5 pounds. Amazingly, the weight doubled and doubled yet again!

In spring 2010, members of the Northport Bass Club fished a tournament on Warrior Lake and established three new records for the club: number of fish weighed in, number of limits brought to the scales and total weight for a tournament.

Jay Haffner, supervisor for District III, reported electroshock surveys found plenty of bass.

"When we see good numbers of 2-, 3-, and 4-year-old bass," he said, "fish per angler day climbs. Those year classes were strong on the lower Warrior River."

Bob Finlay, president of the Northport Bass Club, said an average largemouth from the Old Lock 8 Pool weighs 1 3/4 pounds and the big fish nearly always exceed 4 1/2 pounds.

Upstream from Demopolis, Warrior Lake has a surface area of 8,580 acres with a shoreline distance of 300 miles. The upper third is riverine and offers good fishing for spotted bass. A few miles above the Old Lock Eight, which is west of Akron, the habitat begins to transition to backwater areas more suitable for largemouths.

Some are natural oxbows off the main channel, others are flooded creek banks and still others are just flooded lowlands. These are stump-filled, cypress-lined shallows perfect for catching prespawn bass in March.

From his time in the shocking boat, Haffner recommended fishing Martin Slough, Big Brush Creek and Minter Creek. Finlay also recommended White Creek, Cypress, Grinnel and Snag ponds.

Finlay reported the best fishing occurs during a warming trend and just gets better and better the longer it stays warm.

To search for prespawn bass migrating toward spawning areas in the backwaters, Finley's favorite lures are reaction-style baits.

"Spinnerbaits, lipless and square-billed crankbaits are all good," he advised. "A fluke or black trick worm rigged without a sinker is also effective."

To fish the lower lake, use the Corps of Engineers' facilities at Jennings Ferry, which are on the east side of the lake off County Road 14. Further upstream, but still on the lower third, there's the Old Lock 8 ramp on CR 36.

MOBILE DELTA

"The Mobile Delta has been on an upswing," Abernethy reported. "It's better right now than it has been in the last 25 years."

The B.A.I.T. report places the Delta above Jordan and Wheeler lakes in the overall category. The Delta is a long way from the top rated lakes in this category, but it has improved.

Dave Armstrong, supervisor for District V, credits better environmental conditions for the change.

"In the last two or three years," Armstrong explained, "we have had better spring and summer rains than in previous years. This is a subtle change; a little goes a long way. It allows young bass to feed further into the weed beds and other places where they didn't feel secure enough to go before. Being able to forage in those areas has helped the fish increase the average weight."

Wayne Miller, tournament director for the Fish'n Fever Trail, agreed with Armstrong and has the proof. He said that over the past 10 years the average fish weighed 1.43 pounds and now weighs 1.72 pounds. When the fishing is good in March, a winning five-fish bag exceeds 15 pounds.

He said winning anglers are quick to adjust to changing conditions and must deal with tides, salinity, river currents, and rapidly fluctuating water levels.

Numbers and size also depend on location. Anglers can catch high numbers of bass averaging 1 1/2 pounds by fishing the lower Delta. Fishing the upper Delta, which is above the I-65 bridge, will produce lower numbers, but the bass weigh 2 to 6 pounds.

A long-term study by Auburn University found bass sizes increase as salinity decreases. In addition to having less salinity than the lower Delta, the upper section has more small streams with blown-down trees and stumps.

On the far upper Delta, Armstrong recommended launching at Hubbard's Landing to fish Big Beaver Creek. It has several branches and a variety of habitat. Downstream, he recommended fishing Douglas Creek, which is accessible from Upper Bryant's Landing.

Lastly, Armstrong named Mifflin Lake near I-65 as a good place to fish. To reach this area, launch at either Lower Bryant's or Cliff's landings.

Effective lures for prespawn bass in March are Bandit 100- and 200-Series crankbaits, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and 6-inch lizards.

For a day of guided fishing on the Delta, telephone Wayne Miller at (251) 455-7404 or visit his web site at www.fishnfevertackle.com.

LAKE MARTIN

Spotted bass do not live as long or grow as large as largemouths, but many anglers recognize them as the most fierce attack fish swimming in freshwater. Spots are voracious feeders and strong fighters.

The place to catch these brawlers in large numbers is Lake Martin. The waters there are relatively infertile so spots don't reach trophy size, but they are abundant.

"On a good day in March," observed winning tournament angler and guide Chad Miller, "you can catch 30 or more keepers. You will catch plenty 1 1/2-pound males and then catch 3- to 4-pound females. It's not uncommon to catch a 5-pounder in March."

Miller said anglers find spots in March to be in all phases of reproductive behavior and recommended targeting prespawn and spawning fish for their larger size and predictability. It is only necessary to locate one type of structure to find spotted bass.

"Look for long, flat, pea gravel points extending out toward the main river channel," he advised. "Examples of good points are the ones around Anchor Bay Marina. The points at Treasure Point Marina are also good places to fish. When you find spots bedding on points, the bite is amazing."

The easiest method to prospect for points is to go fishing in winter when the water is at drawdown levels. In March, water levels are unpredictable as the rate of fill depends on rainfall. And that's another reason to find long points.

Miller's favorite lure for big spotted bass is a Carolina-rigged 6-inch lizard fished behind a 1/4-ounce sinker. He prefers 12-pound-test line but will use 8 pound if necessary. This lure matches the hatch at Lake Martin.

"In the spring of the year," Miller revealed, "anglers do not realize how many salamanders are in the lake, and that's why a lizard is so good. The salamanders range in size from 4 to 6 inches."

Miller fishes the lure by swimming the lizard with a slow turn of his reel handle, slow enough that the sinker ticks along the pea gravel.

Secondary lures in Miller's arsenal include a 3/4-ounce football jig and a shakyhead rigged with a 4-inch lizard. He said the latter is the best lure for catching numbers of fish.

For a guided trip for Lake Martin's spotted bass, telephone Chad Miller at (334) 300-5337.

LAY LAKE

Top professional anglers always look forward to fishing Lay Lake when Alabama hosts the Bassmaster Classic. Previous classics in Birmingham have included four tournaments on Lay Lake and three on Lake Logan Martin.

The lakes are on the fertile Coosa River, with Lay adjacent to and downstream from Logan Martin. Lay and Logan Martin are more than just a convenient distance from the Magic City, as both offer great fishing for largemouth and spotted bass. Lay, however, has a slight edge.

"Lay and Logan Martin are showing improvement," Abernethy reported, "but Lay's anglers are catching more fish and the size has improved."

A possible reason for the improvement could be the stocking of about 200,000 Florida-strain largemouth bass. Abernethy said that science has yet to determine if the Florida bass is responsible, nevertheless genetic research a couple of years ago found about a 30 percent influence in the fish sampled.

By increasing the incidence of the Florida gene, the DCNR hopes to enhance the fishery with faster growing and larger bass.

Since this is the Coosa, spotted bass enter into all equations when considering tournament weights, as 6-pound spots are not uncommon.

"Spring tournaments are won with either largemouth or spots," Abernethy explained. "It has an excellent spotted bass fishery and many anglers target them in spring as they are easier to catch than largemouths.

"Winning weights are variable in March and depend on weather conditions. Eighteen to 19 pounds is a good average, but it could be as much as 22 to 23 pounds."

To catch largemouths, Abernethy recommended Beeswax, Bull and Paints creeks — places with coontail grass. Prespawn bass feed aggressively in the weeds, and Abernethy has found a Rat-L-Trap works as well over the Coosa's coontail as it does on Guntersville's milfoil.

These creeks are on Lay's lower section. The upper section is river-run, covers more than half the lake's length and is home to many of Lay's spotted bass. This stretch of river habitat offers great fishing for anglers unfamiliar with the lake.

Within the upper section, a good place to start fishing for spots is between the Gaston Steam Plant and Beeswax Creek.

For anglers not familiar with the lake, Abernethy advised using a shakyhead worm.

For current fishing information, telephone or visit the Paradise Point Marina located on Paradise Point Road off State Route 28. Their telephone number is (205) 669-1515.

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