Best Bets for Alabama Fishing in 2012

Need to plan your fishing destinations for 2012? To help you select from the diverse fishing opportunities our state has to offer, here's a look at some the best angling trips for each month of the year.

Whether you are looking for feisty panfish, explosive bass, or powerful catfish and stripers, we have a trip for you. And don't forget our many saltwater species.

You might not be willing to take all of the trips profiled here, but maybe you can explore a few new fishing destinations to build strong positive memories on the water.

JANUARY

Crappie

Weiss Lake

One of Bama's best crappie waters, Weiss Lake has hot fishing even in the depths of winter.

The warm-water discharge pipe on the Chattooga River near State Route 68 and the spring in Spring Creek provide anglers unique opportunities to catch a limit of crappie quickly on cold winter days. When the weather turns frigid, fish congregate in huge numbers in these warmer waters and are much easier to catch.

At the discharge pipe, fish two 1/6-ounce deer-hair jigs under a FB3 pear-shaped float with an 8-foot Float-N-Fly rod. To fish Spring Creek, troll 1/32-ounce jigs on long poles in shallow water at less than a mile per hour.

To book a day of guided crappie fishing, call Jason Tucker at (256) 997-7263 or visit his Web site at www.guntersvillebassfishing.com.

Other Hotspots

This is also the month to catch giant blue catfish on Wheeler Lake as anglers catch 50-pounders in winter. Bait 7/0 circle hooks with fresh skipjack herring and prepare for a fight.

On Millers Ferry, largemouth bass begin to stage at major creek mouths.

FEBRUARY

Spotted Bass

Jones Bluff Lake

While the weather remains cold, Alabama spotted bass continue to feed voraciously on Jones Bluff. It's the best time to target these cold-water brawlers, as the trophy-size 6-pounders disappear once temperatures moderate.

As the first reservoir on the Alabama River, Jones Bluff's riverine banks and current create excellent habitat for growing large spots.

These football shaped fighters feed on humps and gravel bars at depths of 6 to 15 feet in the current. Current is important, as it causes the spots to feed. The best section of the lake to fish is from Swift Creek to the dam.

For fishing updates, visit Big Bass Bait and Tackle in Prattville on State Route 14 west, or call (334) 365-0600.

Other Hotspots

Bass fishermen on the Mobile Delta are catching more fish than in recent history. The bass don't grow big there, but they offer excellent fishing in February.

Sauger spawn this month on the Tennessee River and concentrate in the tailraces.

MARCH

Sheepshead

Mobile Bay

Sheepshead is great fish for families to target in March. They are plentiful in Mobile Bay, hard fighting and often easy to find. Sheepshead are also a challenge to catch as they are exceptional bait-stealers.

The fish range in size between 3 and 9 pounds and are delicious.

Captain DeJuan Tedder of Fort Morgan reported the best fishing occurs during an incoming tide as water visibility is high, and fish can see the bait. If the water is not muddy, fishing is also good on an outgoing tide. Since sheepshead hug structure, Tedder recommends fishing any of the gas rigs in the bay.

For a guided sheepshead trip, telephone Captain Tedder at (251) 978-9711 or visit his Web site at www.gulfadventures.net.

Other Hotspots

In March on Aliceville crappie spawn in small open pockets in the aquatic vegetation along the shoreline. Probe the pockets with jigs set 18 inches below a bobber.

Also this month, the best place to catch stripers is in Lake Martin's feeder creeks.

APRIL

Shellcrackers

Yates Lake

Jon Hornsby, a retired Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources fisheries biologist who fishes Yates frequently, reported that the small impoundment is an exceptionally good shellcracker fishery.

"In fact," he said, "Yates is one of, if not, the best bream fishing lakes in Alabama. Roughly one out of every 19 redear sunfish weighs a pound or more."

Cold water discharged from the Lake Martin Dam prolongs the spawning period for bream, so anglers can catch bedding shellcrackers from April through early July.

"Shellcrackers spawn in the coves and small cuts off the main lake, as well as Channahatchee, Coon and Sougahatchee creeks," Hornsby reported.

Yates covers 1,980 acres, is near Tallassee and is below Lake Martin on the Tallapoosa River. The largest boat ramp is at Yates Dam Park off CR 44.

Other Hotspots

Pickwick Lake offers amazing largemouth fishing throughout spring, and April is no exception. Anglers report fast action with fish weighing up to 4 pounds.

The cobia migration off our Orange Beach is an opportunity to sight fish for the hard-fighting brown bombers

Check out page two for the best bets for Alabama fishing for May, June, July and August

MAY

Bluegill

Demopolis Lake

With an abundance of brush, cypress trees, and grass beds in its creeks and sloughs, Demopolis has some of the best for bluegill fishing in our state. The dam at Demopolis backs up the Black Warrior and the Tombigbee rivers. While both offer great fishing, the Warrior has more creeks and backwater areas for bedding bluegills.

The best time to catch spawning 'gills is just before and after the full moon in May. Water temperatures have warmed into the 70s, and the shallows are teaming with aggressive, hard-fighting bream that provide nonstop action.

On the Warrior, biologists recommend fishing Backbone and French creeks and Power Line Slough for bluegill. Both worms and crickets catch bluegill, but worms also catch shellcrackers. Thread either on a No. 8 hook tied to 4-pound-test monofilament.

Other Hotspots

This month stripers cruise the creeks on Lay Lake looking for an easy meal. Troll live shad near shorelines to catch these hard fighting fish.

Big Bear Lake has reopened and is teaming with 14-inch largemouths eager to strike topwater baits.

JUNE

Largemouth Bass

Guntersville Lake

Bass fishing on Guntersville comes to life in late winter with pre-spawn behavior, and accelerates through the spawn on into the post-spawn of early summer. Successful tournament anglers made Guntersville legendary with their heavy bags of fish during this annual season of renewal.

This month, largemouths transition from post-spawn to an early summer pattern and are moving to deep water. On a good day, anglers catch as many as 40 bass, with a few weighing more than 3 pounds. It's not unusual to land a 7-pounder.

The best time for big fish is first light. Work buzzbaits or Zara Spooks over grass that has yet to reach the surface and is adjacent to deepwater on North and South Sauty creeks.

Other Hotspots

In June, Lake Martin produces stripers weighing up to 30 pounds. Use sonar to look for fish 35 feet deep in Mad and Wind creeks.

Also this month, king mackerel are abundant off the beaches at Gulf Shores and easy to catch with live cigar minnows.

JULY

Red Snapper

Orange Beach

Last July, the Guinness Book of World Records certified the Alabama Deep Sea Rodeo as the largest fishing tournament in the world. One of the winning anglers there was Scott Jordan with a red snapper weighing 33.03 pounds. Both second and third place fish weighed more than 27 pounds.

That same month party boat Captain Randy Boggs had a group of anglers on his boat that caught 70 red snapper with an average weight of 13.8 pounds in 20 minutes of fishing. With fishing success high, experienced anglers are being selective and setting self-imposed limits for those fish larger than 12 pounds.

Instead of holding deep on the reef, many big fish suspend well off the bottom. That permits anglers to target them with light lines.

To book a fishing trip with Captain Boggs call (251) 981-7173 or visit www.reelsurprisecharters.com.

Other Hotspots

As water leaves the Guntersville Dam, it creates a series of holes in the Tennessee River where trophy blue catfish wait for a passing meal. Drift fishing fresh bait produces fast hook-ups in August.

After sunset on Covington County's Lake Jackson, fish 12-inch worms over submerged vegetation for largemouths.

AUGUST

Flathead Catfish

Claiborne Lake

As summer temperatures hover above 95 degrees on Claiborne Lake and daytime fishing becomes insufferable, night fishermen are waiting for the

sun to sink below the trees to start working the banks. They use the remaining light to tie their limb lines to overhanging branches.

To target 20- to 40-pound flathead catfish, live bullheads work best for bait. But if you want smaller fish to fry, 4-inch live bream work well. Position your baits upriver of deep holes and logjams.

Claiborne is the last reservoir on the Alabama River. The lock and dam, which is near Monroeville, did little to change the look of the great Alabama, as it failed to flood the river's steep banks. The catfish in this riverine setting feed best when the water is moving.

Other Hotspots

As water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico heat up, so does shark fishing offshore. Charter boats out of Orange Beach catch and release sharks weighing more than 200 pounds in August.

Also this month, fishing for mullet is excellent on the Alabama River below Claiborne Lake.

Discover the best bets for Alabama fishing for September, October, November, and December on page three

SEPTEMBER

Hybrid Bass

Lake Eufaula

"Hybrid fishing peaks on Lake Eufaula from late August through early October," reported Ken Weather, district supervisor for the DCNR. "It's a blast fishing for them."

Because of a reciprocal agreement with Georgia, there's a 15-fish limit for hybrids on Eufaula, but it's not a matter of the lake having a low population. Weathers said when the fishing is hot, anglers can fill their coolers with hybrids weighing between 1 and 6 pounds.

He locates schools of the aggressive predators by trolling crankbaits at depths of 9 to 12 feet along creek ledges at the mouths of Barbour, Cheneyhatchee and Cowikee creeks. The best action is from late afternoon until dark.

"Hybrids stack up at depths of 20 to 25 feet and around 14 feet on creek points," Weathers observed.

Other Hotspots

On Guntersville Lake, the frog bite for largemouth bass is on and gets better as temperatures drop. In September, fish the upper section of the lake.

For big flathead cats of up to 40 pounds, fish the main channel and tributaries of the Warrior River.

OCTOBER

Smallmouth Bass

Pickwick Lake

"Pound for pound, no other freshwater fish compares to a smallmouth," reported veteran fishing guide Steve Hacker of Florence.

In nearly every fishing report written by Hacker, he covers flow rates from Wilson Dam. He said the best fishing occurs for those hard fighting 5- and 6-pounders when discharge rates between 70,000 and 150,000 cubic feet per second occur for a 24-hour period.

"If the TVA cuts the flow, then fishing is very tough instantly, even though you have caught fish day after day. The stronger the current, the better the bite."

In addition to current, Hacker said another critical component to catching big smallies is to fish a hard bottom.

"Gravel, rocks or shells produce — mud bottoms do not," he said.

To contact Steve Hacker, visit his Web site at www.smallmouth.com.

Other Hotspots

With the arrival of cooler temperatures, families enjoy catfishing on Bankhead Lake. Keep it simple and fish for channel catfish with stink baits.

On Cedar Creek Lake, troll minnows on the edges of creek channels for crappie this month.

NOVEMBER

Blue Catfish

Logan Martin Lake

Big cat action begins in November on Logan Martin and just gets better as waters cool during the month. Skilled anglers frequently catch blues weighing 20 to 40 pounds from this Coosa River reservoir, which is about 30 miles east of Birmingham.

Locate big blues by drifting baits in open water over an uneven bottom on the lower section of the lake. Humps, ledges and creek junctions are especially productive when shad are present. Often, sonar shows cats suspended off the bottom below a ball of bait.

Without question, the best bait for blue catfish is fresh skipjack herring. Fish it on a dropper rig made of 40-pound-test fluorocarbon and a main line of 65-pound-test braid. Depending on the wind, sinker weights vary between 1 and 6 ounces.

Other Hotspots

As the premier smallmouth water in the nation, the Tennessee River offers great fishing most of the year. November is excellent for fishing live bait below Wheeler Dam.

This is also a good month to catch flounder in Mobile Bay on reefs less than 60 feet deep.

DECEMBER

Striped Bass

Smith Lake

This is the first time Alabama Game & Fish has listed striped bass fishing for December. Veteran stripper guide Bill Vines of Morris revealed this is an excellent month for big fish, which may weigh as much as 30 pounds.

"By December," he said, "the striper's fall migration has them concentrated in the upper third of the creeks. During a normal winter with cold weather, the fish stay in a 3- to 5-mile stretch of all the creeks."

Vines recommended fishing with two down lines and two free lines. The former is rigged with a 2-ounce sinker with a 4-foot fluorocarbon leader. Depth is determined by where the fish are showing on sonar.

To book a guided trip with Bill Vines, telephone (205) 647-7683 or visit his Web site at www.stripefishingheadquarters.com.

Other Hotspots

As water temperatures cool off of Gulf Shores, schools of menhaden arrive followed by schools of bull reds. Diving birds are a sure indication redfish are below.

Also, the weather has Lake Martin's spotted bass holding on humps and points.

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