Cotton State Angling Adventures For 2007

From Mobile Bay to the Tennessee River, Alabama's loaded up with great fishing destinations. Let's take a look at three dozen that you don't want to miss this year. (February 2007)

The accompanying graphic may look like a calendar, but it is actually a self-help program for those of us who take out second mortgages to buy sleek new boats. It is also for anyone whose tackle box is the size of a minivan. Just think of it as a 12-step program for the Alabama fishing addict!

If you're willing to top off your gas tank and hit the road, here's your very own road map to a cure, month by month. Twelve of the Heart of Dixie's best angling options -- from the Tennessee River to the Gulf of Mexico -- await you. There's always some kind of fish waiting to play tug-of-war with you.

JANUARY

Grab Bag

Coosa River

Winter and summer are as polar opposite as Al Gore and Dick Cheney. Yet oddly enough, when it comes to setting the hook on fish, the very same tactics that yield results when the cotton is high do the trick when it's time for long sleeves.

Both times of year, spotted bass and crappie are hiding in deep waters of the Coosa River. The same is true for largemouth bass, and a jigging spoon will catch them all.

The combination of almost any rod, a reel spooled with 10- to 12-pound test, and a 1/2-ounce silver spoon puts fish in your livewell. The one piece of equipment that is essential is a good depthfinder.

Look for fish around deep-water points, river ledges and submerged islands. If you can find schools of shad, the predators will be nearby. Start fishing at the same depths at which the baitfish are swimming. Lower the spoon, give it some quick upward jerks, and get ready. The bites usually come on the fall.

Other Hotspots: This is also the time to flip jigs for big largemouths on Jones Bluff Reservoir.

Or you can try for one of the best-tasting fish available in Alabama waters by targeting sauger below Wheeler Dam.

FEBRUARY

Spotted Bass

Lake Martin

This transitional month is a prime time to visit beautiful Lake Martin, long known for its excellent spotted bass action. In February the Kentuckies are gorging themselves in preparation for the spawn.

Try fishing Carolina-rigged lizards or finesse worms around the many submerged islands and humps. The spotted bass feed almost all day. Reeling in a 2-pound spotted bass is a whole lot more fun than catching a largemouth of twice the weight!

Other Hotspots: If you're a flipper of jigs, some of the best largemouth action of the year can be found within Aliceville Lake's logjams this month.

Fishermen more interested in creating a fish fry, however, should consider trolling jigs for crappie on Weiss Lake.

MARCH

Crappie

Millers Ferry Reservoir

The only reason Millers Ferry Reservoir cannot challenge Weiss Lake for the title of "Crappie Capital of the World" is that there aren't many full-service marinas on its shores. This stretch of the Alabama River cuts through mostly rural land. Unless you're up for a long boat ride from Selma, you have to drive farther and discover some of the remote ramps that put you in the heart of the impoundment.

But what's bad news for organizers of crappie tournaments is great news for weekend fishermen. There's far less pressure on this fishery, which rivals the crappie numbers on Weiss. In addition, there are plenty of 2-pounders swimming here, even some that push the 3-pound mark.

When the surface temperature falls to between 61 and 66 degrees this month, the crappie migrate to the shallows and can be caught with minnows between 18 and 24 inches deep.

Other Hotspots: Crappie fishing at Gainesville Lake also takes precedence this month for Alabama fishermen.

The absolute best spotted bass fishing of the year can be had on the Bankhead Lake portion of the Warrior River.

APRIL

Largemouths

Lake Eufaula

There is simply no better time or place to target big sow largemouths than in April on Lake Eufaula. This portion of the Chattahoochee River has had its ups and downs since the heydays of the 1970s, when a 10-fish limit would have to top 50 pounds to finish in the money in a tournament. Still, if you want to have your string stretched by a whopper, now's the time.

Success depends upon the rains. If the weedbeds remain flooded, the big bass are easy to find in tributaries like Drag Nasty, Thomas Mill and White Oak creeks.

"One year I caught an 11 1/2, and a client caught a 10 on the same day," said veteran guide Jackie Thompson. "That was during the first week in April. Those fish were just loaded with roe. They had big old bellies on them."

The two fishermen were flipping neon-black-colored "floating craws" in only 3 feet of water when the big fish hit.

Other Hotspots: This is the time to fish for cobia along Alabama's Gulf Coast.

Filling a cooler with crappie is another springtime tradition for visitors to Demopolis Lake.

MAY

Carp

Lake Jordan

You'd have trouble finding a fight to match the fight awaiting you with the lowly carp on conventional rigging. Quite simply, no other freshwater fish possesses the same strength and iron will not to be caught that the fish which been called the "buglemouth bass" does.

Retired Game and Fish Director Charles Kelley lives on Lake Jordan. For nearly three decades, he's been baiting the area in front of his pier with dry dog food to draw in carp that he enjoys catching and releasing with a fly rod. There's no telling how many anglers, young and old, have caught their biggest fish ever while fishing from Kelley's dock.

Chumming is a popular method of attracting carp, and there are numerous recipes. When the fish come in, red worms, dough balls and even kernel corn get their attention.

Other Hotspots: If you're looking for skillet fare, join the locals who are pulling pound-sized shellcrackers out of the Conecuh River.

Or head to the flats in Millers Ferry Reservo

ir in search of roe-laden channel catfish.

JUNE

Spotted Bass

Holt Reservoir

Tuscaloosa-area fishermen know that the reward for a day spent on Holt Reservoir this time of year could be a spotted bass weighing more than 5 pounds. The same holds true, perhaps more so, for a night spent there. That explains why so many local bass clubs hold tournaments on Holt after dark.

A staple in local fishermen's tackle boxes is the black spinnerbait, rigged with black blades for dark nights or silver for a full moon. Slow-roll the lure in deep water, using either a steady retrieve or stopping after every three cranks to let it fall.

Look for underwater ledges, points and bluff walls. Wait until you feel the weight of the fish to set the hook.

Other Hotspots: It's difficult to pick the best month for catching red snapper, but June is as good as any along our Gulf Coast.

Also, many South Alabama fishermen sign up for the annual World Champion Bowfin Tournament -- a competition that capitalizes on the large numbers of tackle-busting, plug-ugly "grennels" prowling the rivers of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

JULY

Redfish

Mobile Bay

It is hard to estimate how many vacationers head to the Gulf of Mexico this month and book offshore charter trips. In the time it takes them to reach the best reefs, they would already have sore arms from battling bruiser bull redfish if they'd never left sight of land.

A drive to Fort Morgan or Dauphin Island is all it takes. These opposite points on Mobile Bay are home base for several first-class guides who can lead you to fast action for inshore redfish. Or the captain might head just outside the bay to pull up on Dixie Bar near Fort Morgan. The bull redfish here can push the 40-pound mark. Toss them a live croaker, and the subsequent battle could last an hour!

Other Hotspots: At the other end of the state on Wilson Lake, smallmouth bass cannot resist offerings of live yellowtails.

Farther east, the largemouth action is excellent on Lake Guntersville, especially at dawn and dusk.

AUGUST

Largemouths

Bear Creek Lakes

When it's hot enough to fry an egg on your flippin' deck, the four small Bear Creek impoundments completely outperform larger lakes for bruiser bass.

Cedar Creek, Big Bear, Little Bear and the Upper Bear lakes are open to anglers who buy a season permit or pay daily fees to fish. Cedar Creek is best for lunkers. The impoundment near Russellville is full of standing timber, and several fishermen there have found 15-pounders on the ends of their lines.

Touring B.A.S.S. pro Tim Horton prefers fishing Cedar Creek on the hottest of days, when the sun is high overhead. These conditions force the bass to hug structure. To get these fish to bite, he either drags a 10-inch worm or runs a crankbait through the tops.

Other Hotspots: If the heat is too much, try fishing Lewis Smith Lake at night for double-digit-weight striped bass.

However, much more tasty speckled trout await anglers willing to dunk live shrimp under the bridge and along the jetties at the mouth of Perdido Bay.

SEPTEMBER

Blue Catfish

Bankhead Lake

If I had to choose one fishing trip this year, I'd head to the Warrior River west of Birmingham to Bankhead Lake. September is when the shad are schooling on top, and one throw with a cast net can yield a bucketful of the best bait available.

Drifting the bends of the river's Locust Fork has always put catfish in my freezer. Blue cats and the occasional flathead are more apt to inhale the live shad. But I also get plenty of bites with dead shad. And if I have any left, I'll freeze them for later.

Other Hotspots: An abundance of shad also makes for some of the year's best spotted bass fishing on Lake Jordan.

If you like fishing salt water, now's a great time to troll for king mackerel off Alabama's Gulf Shores.

OCTOBER

Smallmouths

Pickwick Lake

If you're looking for a bass of a different color, literally, head to Pickwick Lake this month and you can discover why this stretch of the Tennessee River is sometimes called the "Smallmouth Capital of the World." An abundance of threadfin shad spurs a feeding frenzy, and the lake's bronzebacks are fin-to-fin at the feeding trough.

You have the most fun by using lightweight spinning tackle and either hair jigs or smoke-colored grubs on 8-pound-test line. Not only is the lighter line more forgiving in Pickwick's swift current, but it also makes detecting bites easier. With a little practice, you can learn to see instead of feel the bites.

Look for the smallies near sunken humps and along river ledges.

Other Hotspots: Hundreds of Alabamians choose to book saltwater fishing trips in October, since the annual month-long Orange Beach Charter Fishing Rodeo enables them to take home prizes in addition to red snapper.

This is also an excellent time for bassin'. Try tossing topwater lures over the weeds at Lay Lake.

NOVEMBER

Striped Bass

Lake Martin

The best bait for striped bass is live shad, and the larger the better. Lake Martin isn't the only Alabama impoundment with landlocked saltwater stripers, but it is one of the best places for finding and catching your own bait. This month, you find those baitfish schooling.

After the bait is rounded up, start cruising the main channel and watching your depthfinder. The striped bass often stack up like a retaining wall and come up to inhale a nose-hooked shad.

Be warned, however, that you'd better have stout rods and big reels spooled with 20- to 30-pound-test line. Large galvanized hooks, the kind used by saltwater fishermen, also help with hookups.

Other Hotspots: Size isn't everything for Lake Martin's faithful. The crappie fishing there is also excellent right now.

If you're looking for largemouths, head to Aliceville Lake.

DECEMBER

Crappie

Weiss Lake

While most of us pine for springtime and the opportunity to anchor near or tie up to a treetop and dunk minnows, the folks at Weiss Lake aren't going to sit idle.

They know that the best way to create a fish fry this month is to troll for papermouths -- but not like they do it in February. This time of year, try using minnows instead of jigs, and fiberglass poles instead of rods and reels. And, above all, go much more slowly!

The crappie move less in the winter, so you can find big schools concentrated along deep channel edges. Thus, when you catch one, drop anchor. A limit might be waiting there.

Other Hotspots: The potential for high and muddy water this time of year might be considered a curse or a blessing. Regardless, the fishing is generally good for crappie along the Black Warrior River between Tuscaloosa and Eutaw.

West Point Lake anglers seem to have an easy time catching largemouths this month.

Find more about Alabama fishing and hunting at: AlabamaGameandFish.com

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