Alabama's Top Angling Spots for April
May 02, 2011
The spring is now in full bloom in the Cotton State and the fish are biting. Here's a look at the places to target our most popular species this month!
For the pure joy of fishing, nothing beats April. Most anglers would not trade this month for all the rest of the year combined. The fish are active, hungry and predictable. Often, they are swimming in shallow water where fishing for them is more fun than at any other time of the year.
Two of our most sought after fish this month are bass and crappie. Both offer opportunities for fast action and memorable adventures on the water. Here's a look at some of our top places to fish this month.
"It's time to fish for crappie in West Alabama," reported District III Fisheries Biologist Jay Haffner. "Aliceville and Gainesville on the Tombigbee River and Demopolis and Warrior reservoirs on the Warrior River probably have as many slab crappies as any other period in my lifetime. The number and size of fish are exceptional and have been for the last couple of years.
"Typically, we see a few more big slab crappie on the Tombigbee, and it has good numbers of older fish -- 3- to 5-year-old crappie. I expect terrific fishing if weather conditions allow anglers to get out on the water."
Jesse Wright, a successful competitive crappie angler and president of the West Alabama Crappie Association, agreed with Haffner, but rates Gainesville as his favorite lake to fish in April. Wright's reasons for picking Gainesville this month are the lack of fishing pressure and the availability of big fish spawning in the shallow grass.
On his best day last April, Wright and his wife Nonna caught more than 40 crappie, with many weighing 1 1/2 pounds. Their big fish weighed 2.2 pounds.
To find spawning crappie, Wright eases his boat along the grass line near shore and reaches out with his 12-foot B'n'M pole to work an orange and chartreuse, 1/16-ounce hair jig down over bare spots in the grass. He does this as quietly as possible. Wright rigs the jig on 10-pound-test monofilament with a bobber fixed 12 inches above the bait to keep it off the bottom.
If crappie are on the edge of the grass line, he pulls-and-stops, pulls-and-stops the jig and float combination parallel to the curtain of vegetation.
Located between Aliceville and Demopolis lakes on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, Gainesville Lake stretches for nearly 47 miles and covers 6,400 acres. It lies north of Interstate 59 and west of Tuscaloosa. In addition to the Tombigbee, Gainesville is fed by seven creeks and the Sipsey River.
Wright recommended launching at Vienna, which is south of the city of Aliceville off State Route 14. Within a few miles of the ramp, he said you find great fishing at Lubbub Creek, Sipsey River, Lost Lake, Round Hole and the Buzzard's Roost.
For information on the West Alabama Crappie Association, visit their Web site at www.westalabamacrappie.com or call club president Jesse Wright at (205) 932-3997.
Biologists and anglers agreed the crappie fishery is doing well on the Tennessee River as the lakes hold several good year-classes of fish. And according to guide Keith Dodd of Madison this is especially true of Pickwick Lake.
"Crappie fishing improved again this spring on Pickwick," Dodd explained. "A few years ago, we caught smaller crappie, but this year those fish have matured to measure 12 to 13 inches. Last April, we caught good numbers of quality fish in the 1 1/2- to 21/4-pound range."
As our last lake on the Tennessee River, Pickwick flows northwest for most of its 49-mile length. About a quarter of the lake's lower waters belong to Mississippi and Tennessee. However, anglers find the best crappie fishing in Alabama on Bear and Second creeks.
Pickwick's crappie move to the banks to spawn in April, but their timing depends on water temperature.
"Usually," Dodd revealed, "crappie start spawning when the water reaches 68 degrees and peaks at 72 degrees. As water temperatures warm into the upper 60s, the fish cannot decide whether to hold over deep water or move onto the flats."
To locate and catch crappie, Dodd rigged his boat with rod holders to troll six rods on the bow and another six on the stern. The rods vary in length from 10 to 14 feet to provide spacing for his lures, which are 1/16-ounce Jiffy Jigs or Blakemore Road Runner lures.
He begins by trolling the lures 30 to 40 feet behind the boat and watches his GPS to maintain a speed of 0.4 miles per hour. The combination of speed, line length and lure weight allow the baits to travel 12 to 14 feet deep. Dodd then varies boat speed to control lure depth.
Early in the morning, Dodd probes the deeper water off the flats and over the creek channel. As the water warms into mid-morning, he checks to see if the crappie have moved onto the flats and increases speed to adjust the lures depth for shallower water. If the flats do not produce, he returns to the creek channel.
"Check the flats all day long," Dodd suggested, because they move shallow as soon as the water warms enough to feed."
For details on booking a guide trip with Keith Dodd, visit www.keithdoddsguideservice.com or telephone (256) 679-1826.
To learn more about crappie fishing and tournaments in northwest Alabama, check out the Shoals Area Crappie Association Web site at www.shoalscrappie.com.
Last April, Marvin Sheffield of Camden placed third in the annual Wilcox Area Chamber Big Fish Crappie Tournament with a slab weighing 1.93 pounds. Even so, his luck could have been better. The week before, he caught a slab that tipped the scales at 3 1/2 pounds.
During an average day of fishing in April, Sheffield reported anglers can expect to catch a limit of crappie weighing 1 to 2 1/2 pounds, with an occasional bigger fish. Two years ago, Sheffield and his wife Sherian landed a couple of giant papermouths weighing more than 4 pounds.
The second of three flood-control reservoirs on the Alabama River, Millers Ferry lies between Jones Bluff Res
ervoir and Claiborne Lake. The lower half of the lake is a flatland impoundment with flooded feeder creeks, fields, and timber -- perfect for growing crappie.
To find crappie from late March to late April, Sheffield targets prespawn fish. The veteran angler said these fish stage in predictable locations and eagerly strike artificial lures.
"Crappie stage at creek mouths and points leading into their spawning areas," Sheffield explained. "Look for treetops or heavy cover near a drop-off or creek channel at depths of 8 to 15 feet and not far from spawning flats. To hold crappie, the cover should also have baitfish nearby.
"The place where I caught the 3 1/2-pound fish in mid-April was a flat with two treetops at the mouth of a creek. The flat was 8 feet deep and next to a channel 14 feet deep."
Sheffield's fishing rig is a spinning rod rated for the 1/16-ounce weedless jigs he favors for working heavy cover. A few years ago, his rig included a slip bobber with stopper, but the bobber limited the jig's depth and did not produce as well as the weedless jig worked through the limbs.
To probe deep heavy cover, Sheffield casts past the target, lets the jig descend to depth and then with a quick arm-lift propels the lure straight up. He allows the jig to free-fall and repeats the action.
Sheffield recommended anglers fish Pine Barren and Foster creeks, Alligator and Dale's sloughs and the Buzzard Roost.
For information on the Wilcox Area Chamber Big Fish Crappie Tournament scheduled for April 9, 2011, or their Jackpot Crappie Derby running from April 9 to May 8, telephone the chamber at (334) 682-4929 or visit their web site at www.wilcoxareachamber.org.
Lake Eufaula, on the Chattahoochee River and Alabama/Georgia border, easily meets bass angler's expectations in the month of April. Whether fun fishing for numbers or seeking the challenge of bringing a heavy bag to the scales during a tournament, Eufaula delivers on its reputation.
"In April, anglers usually need 25 to 27 pounds to win a tournament on Lake Eufaula," observed winning tournament angler Ryan Ingram of Phoenix City. "If they are not fishing a tournament and want to catch a bunch of bass, this is also an excellent time to fish."
To catch a winning stringer of largemouths, Ingram targets pre-spawn bass migrating to spawning areas. Specifically, he fishes the ditches that bass use as concealment when moving to and from shallow water. These migration movements are predictable, and they concentrate the bass in a smaller area during the pre-spawn period.
Ingram also has found that these bass are more aggressive and weigh more than bedding fish. He says fishermen who target bedding bass always fall a few pounds short of winning.
"Many of the ditches that hold fish," Ingram revealed, "do not join a creek or river channel. Instead, they lead away from the bank for about a 1/2 mile into the flat where they end -- probably filled with silt. The fish move out of the river, then onto the flat and into the ditch.
"A productive ditch can be very small. Also, there are always a few key places on the ditch -- like turns, a point or cover -- that holds fish. The depth of the ditch doesn't matter."
Ingram's primary lure for fishing ditches is a 3/4-ounce Ledgebuster spinnerbait. He casts the lure perpendicular to the ditch to trigger a reaction strike as the lure reaches the edge of the ditch.
The pre-spawn ditch pattern does win tournaments, but it's not for the impatient, as Ingram's spinnerbait draws about 15 strikes a day.
Ingram said the best section of the lake for ditches is from Cowikee Creek south to Tobannee Creek.
To catch numbers of fish, Ingram recommended fishing a 5-inch Trick Fish swimbait by Strikezone Lures next to grass beds in Cowikee Creek. If a cold front slows the bite, he switches to a lizard or a light jig to work the grass.
For current fishing information, call Young's Big Mouth Shop at (334) 687-3200, or visit them on Eufaula Avenue in Eufaula.
On the lower Coosa River, Jordan Lake's fertile habitat consistently produces some of the best bass fishing in the state. Spotted bass thrive in an environment of highly productive water, stable water levels and shad populations. April is the best time of the year for catching both quantity and quality fish.
"Between the second or third week of March and the end of April," said successful tournament angler Chris Rutland of Wetumpka, "every spotted bass on the lake moves to the shallows. During that six-week period, spots spawn 2 to 10 feet deep. Water visibility does not allow sight fishing, but anglers can experience excellent fishing on the banks and points that hold spots."
Rutland pointed out that the key element in both locations is a hard bottom. He said most main-lake points and many of the banks have either a hard clay or pea gravel bottom.
"It's also found on banks adjoining seawalls," he continued. "Spotted bass spawn at the base of the seawalls on the hard bottom, and the best fishing is anywhere there is something different, like a set of stairs or a stump."
Even though Jordan's spots are spawning, Rutland said they feed aggressively for the first hour of daylight on the seawalls and points. Rutland's favorite lure for early morning is a Zara Spook, with spinnerbaits and jerkbaits as backups.
When the early bite ends, Rutland switches to a spinning rod spooled with 8-pound-test for casting finesse worms rigged on a shaky head. He fishes the same places, only deeper. And as the season progresses, this bite changes.
"Early in the spawn before they are locked on the bed," Rutland observed, "spots are aggressive, but later as the water becomes clearer and warmer, they become finicky. Instead of a hard strike, they pop it and blow it out.
"If spots bump the lure, shorten the worm. The smaller it is, the better they take it."
Conversely, to catch spots weighing more than 4 pounds, Rutland throws a large lure to eliminate strikes from smaller fish.
"A heavy spinnerbait fished on the bottom and through beds is probably the number one big spot catcher this time of the year. Big fish hit it so hard, they knock slack into the line."
For guided fishing on Jordan Lake, telephone Chad Miller at (334) 300-5337 or John Pollard at (334) 221-
2068. For more information, visit their Web site at www.bamaspots.com.
In the 1980s, Lake Guntersville on the Tennessee River became infested with the fast-spreading weed hydrilla. By the end of that decade hydrilla and milfoil covered more than 30 percent of the lake; bass size and numbers grew as the fish adapted to the weedy habitat. Tournament anglers broke record after record.
Over the years, the weeds and the fishery have been through cycles, but bass fishing did not suffer notably according to anglers and biologists.
"Guntersville is our best bass lake," reported Damon Abernethy, supervisor for fisheries development. "In many lakes, much of the water column is not used by bass, but in that lake, much more of it is in an ideal range for bass. In places, there is great habitat a mile offshore, so Guntersville can support tremendous numbers of fish."
The lake is also capable of producing trophy fish, especially in April.
"April is a very good month to catch big fish," said Alex Davis, who is a successful guide and winning tournament angler. "I've caught two over 9 pounds in April. Also, I had back-to-back days in April where I caught one weighing 8.8 pounds followed by another weighing 9.8 pounds."
To find fish, Davis directs anglers to fish shallow.
"In April," he explained, "bass are either spawning or post-spawn, and the majority of the fish are 1 to 5 feet deep in the backs of pockets or on the first major point leading into a pocket. I caught the 9-pounders from a pocket that had bedding fish."
Early in the morning, Davis works the shallow flats and points with a Zara Spook, Pop-R or a buzzbait. Under windy conditions, he also uses a Devil's Horse. The guide spends the remainder of the day fishing the same places, but using soft plastic worms, lizards and subsurface jerkbaits.
To cast topwater baits, Davis relies on 30-pound-test braid with a 24-inch monofilament leader.
"I catch more fish on longer casts," Davis explained. "There is no stretch in the line, so you get a good hook set every time."
Davis recommends fishing the expansive shallow flat north of the bridges on North Sauty Creek and the flat known as the Miracle Mile in front of the creek.
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.