Cotton State Hotspots for Bass

There are few states that offer such varied and excellent options for catching bass as does Alabama. Let's join the author in touring a few of the best of these waters for 2005!

Professional angler Charlie Weyer took this bass from the waters of Guntersville Lake. Photo by Anthony Campbell.

No matter what part of the Cotton State you find yourself in, chances are good that you’re close to a bass hotspot. The state has an abundance of rivers, ponds, creeks and lakes, and anything larger than a mud hole in this part of the country typically has bass in it.

March and April are the peak months statewide for catching both big bass and numbers of bass. Then fishing can get tough in the hot months before there is a secondary peak in October and November.

Regardless of which of these periods you fish this year, here are five places to try your luck with bass in 2005.

LAKE GUNTERSVILLE

This 69,000-acre impoundment in the northeastern corner of the state turned heads last spring when the Bassmaster Tour came to town in late February. Arkansas pro George Cochran caught 99 pounds, 10 ounces over four days, falling just 6 ounces shy of breaking 100 pounds. The feat earned him the $100,000 grand prize.

But heavy stringers are nothing new at Guntersville. In fact, that’s what the lake is known for. Alex Wheeler and Donnie Hudson of Remlap made newspaper headlines across the state in March of 2002 when the team boated a largemouth that went 14.03 pounds, setting a new record for the largest bass ever caught in a tournament in Alabama. The pair caught a total of four bass that weighed 32 pounds in that tournament.

There’s a 15-inch minimum size limit at Guntersville, and most bass that length approach 2 pounds.

The lake has several thousand acres of milfoil and hydrilla that are prime cover for both bass and baitfish. Some mats get so thick that there is no way to get a lure through them. Underneath, the fish have everything they need to thrive.

The middle portion of the lake is considered by many to be the best area to fish. It includes North Sauty, South Sauty, Seibold, Town and Short creeks.

In addition to the grass, there are shallow spawning flats that are often filled with stumps, ditches, creek channels, underwater humps and islands that hold fish.

Top baits in early spring include spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, lipless crankbaits and soft-plastic finesse worms, according to guide Doug Campbell.

“Jerkbaits won all the money in the early tournaments here last year,” Campbell said. “The hottest colors are chartreuse, shad, and pearl with a green back. That’s what Cochran won the Bassmaster with.”

Senkos are also excellent early-spring baits. Places to target the bass are humps, grasslines, points and flats with stumps and hard bottoms.

Another longtime Guntersville fishing guide, Tee Kitchens relies primarily on three baits to catch pre-spawn and spawning bass in March and April — Rat-L-Traps, chartreuse-and-white spinnerbaits, and watermelon-color finesse worms.

“The main thing I fish with this time of year is a Rat-L-Trap,” Kitchens said. “It has two purposes. On your first cast with it, you let it sink all the way to the bottom and you rip it back up.”

Grass sticks in the treble hooks of the lure. The vegetation is submerged this time of year, so you have to find it to fish it.

“You’re looking for some good green grass,” Kitchen explained. “The bass will be in that stuff.”

Once you locate the grass, start fishing the Rat-L-Trap across the top of it with a pretty quick retrieve. You can also use spinnerbaits and worms in the same areas.

“You keep working those grassy areas, usually in 9 feet of water or less, and pretty soon you should find some bass,” the guide noted.

Kitchens likes a red Rat-L-Trap, especially when the water is stained, but said it does not hurt to change colors every now and then.

Another factor in catching the fish is the spawn, and Kitchens said water temperature plays a critical role in when the fish bed.

“When it gets up to 62 to 64 and stays there consistently, they’ll start to turn on,” he emphasized.

The ideal spawning temperature is around 72 degrees. Kitchens also thinks the first full moon in April triggers spawning activity.

Bass love stumps, and it is a plus if you can find flats with that type of cover. You can also catch them around boat docks, provided there is a good hard shell or gravel bottom for making beds.

If you’re after fish in really shallow water, you can fish the finesse worm without any weight. Otherwise, Kitchens uses 1/4-ounce or 3/16-ounce weights with it.

Though it can be hard to fish, Kitchens said his “old standby” in the spring is a black-and-blue jig-and-pig.

“You have to fish it real slow and you’ve got to have patience, so it’s not a very good bait to use with customers,” he admitted. “If you’re not used to fishing it and you’re not paying attention, it can be hard to detect strikes.”

To book a day of guided bass fishing on Guntersville Lake, call Tee Kitchens at (256) 859-1465 or Doug Campbell of Waterfront Grocery at (256) 582-6060.

EUFAULA LAKE

Another Alabama impoundment known for producing giant fish is Lake Eufaula, in the southeastern corner of the state. It actually ranked ahead of Guntersville for producing bass over 5 pounds, according to the latest Bass Angler Information Team (B.A.I.T.) report published by the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

According to the B.A.I.T. report, on average it took 132 hours of angling to catch a 5-pound or better fish on Eufaula, compared to 155 hours on Guntersville.

Lake

Eufaula covers 45,181 acres and is situated on the Alabama-Georgia state line. It is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment stretching from Phoenix City to the Walter F. George Dam at Ft. Gaines, Ga. It was built in the mid-1960s.

When the Bassmaster pros left Guntersville last year, their next stop in the Cotton State was on Eufaula in late March. Denny Brauer of Missouri won the tournament there with 76 pounds, 14 ounces of bass over four days.

He caught his fish on a 3/8-ounce jig fished in shallow water around vegetation and stickups. Second-place-finisher Bink Desario of Idaho was just three ounces out of first place. He flipped and pitched a plastic crawfish and 1-ounce weight in heavy cover along the main river.

Guide Sam Williams reported that conditions are changing at Eufaula.

“We’re getting vegetation big time,” he said. “We have hydrilla in the lake now.”

In early spring, he focuses almost exclusively on fishing around those weeds.

“The fish aren’t just stacked on the underwater ledges like they used to be,” he said. “Eufaula has historically been famous for its fishing along the ledges. In the past, you would go to a ledge, find the fish and catch a limit in 30 minutes or an hour. Now you catch one fish, then go to another spot and try to catch another one. They’re more scattered.”

Williams likes to fish soft plastics around the grass in the spring. Worms work better sometimes and lizards work better other times.

“The bigger fish seem to bite the lizards better,” he noted. “You can do a little better if you’ll let your bait sit still a few seconds.”

Mossy pumpkinseed is a good color for the lures.

“It’s a real dark pumpkinseed with a big gold flake,” Williams explained. “When the water is dingier, red shad is good and pumpkin green is good.”

If you’re fishing around rocks, imitation crawfish are good baits on Eufaula as well.

For guided fishing on Lake Eufaula, contact Sam Williams of Hawk’s Guide Service at (334) 687-6266.

WHEELER LAKE

Although it suffered a down cycle in the last decade, the news from Wheeler Lake last year was a lot better.

“Wheeler had a real comeback after being down for several years,” said guide Doug Campbell. “They caught quality fish and some pretty respectable numbers in spring and early summer last year. We heard from so many anglers who said the fishing on Wheeler was better than anything they’d seen there in 10 years.”

Wheeler is a large impoundment. It is the state’s second-largest lake, at 68,200 acres, bested only by its Tennessee River neighbor, Guntersville.

Wheeler did not lead any of the B.A.I.T. report categories, but it ranked near the top in every one. Seventy-five percent of anglers caught at least one bass per trip; the average weight per fish was 1.7 pounds; on average, 4.2 pounds of fish per day were taken by each angler; and it took 188 hours to catch a bass of 5 pounds or larger.

The upper end of Wheeler is choked with grass, while the lower end has more rock habitat. As a result, anglers on the upper end typically fish for largemouths, while those on the lower end target smallmouths. Fishing for both species can be outstanding.

The lake has high fertility, a good shad population and good milfoil cover, according to district fisheries biologist Keith Floyd.

“The bigger bass gather in the milfoil, and the milfoil gives fishermen confidence that they can catch fish,” he noted.

Crankbaits and soft plastics fished around the grass catch largemouths in the upper lake. Jerkbaits and spinnerbaits work on the smallmouths in the lower end.

MILLERS FERRY LAKE

Millers Ferry — also called Dannelly Reservoir — is a mere pond compared to the big impoundments already discussed, since it covers only 17,200 acres near Camden on the Alabama River in the central part of the state.

But it is a top bass producer year in and year out in the Cotton State. It is more of a numbers lake than a lunker factory when compared to some of the bigger impoundments.

It ranked No. 1 in the B.A.I.T. report for successful anglers, at 82 percent; No. 2 for bass per angler-day, at 2.8; and also No. 2 for pounds of bass per day, at 4.7.

This reservoir is not close to any population centers, and that translates to less fishing pressure and higher catch rates than at some of the other lakes. State fisheries biologists say it is a fertile reservoir with a stable population of threadfin shad to feed the bass.

Millers Ferry is a riverine lake, long and narrow, and it is not uncommon to find fish right on the bank, according to tournament angler Chris Stevenson of Birmingham.

“It’s one of those places where you can beat the bank and do really well,” he offered. “My favorite bait there in the spring is a white-and-chartreuse spinnerbait. I use double Indiana blades, which is a little different.”

Bassers working the banks of Millers Ferry in the spring have to dodge crappie fishermen, since the lake is also a popular spot for those anglers.

“Gees Bend is an area where I always do really well,” Stevenson said. “You need to fish all the shallows in that area. A buzzbait works really well too.”

If the fish are not hitting a spinnerbait or buzzbait, he switches to a 7 1/2-inch lizard in gourd green.

“It sinks a little slower and they’ll hit it as it sinks a lot of times,” Stevenson pointed out.

He likes to fish the standing timber in the Buzzard Roost area for the spotted bass that frequently school up there.

“You can use your depthfinder to locate some good fishing areas too,” he said. “There are a lot of ditches down there. The locals call them ‘slave ditches.’ ”

If you can find areas with timber and grass combined, you can catch a lot of fish, Stevenson also said.

“Alligator Slough is a good place, but you have to be careful about running in there because of the stumps,” he cautioned.

LAY LAKE

Lay Lake is another smaller reservoir that boasts good numbers of bass rather than big fish. But Chris Stevenson said it’s not uncommon to catch some quality fish there too. He expects to get at least one 5-pounder every time he visits Lay Lake.

It is a 12,000-acre impoundment on the Coosa River about 35 minutes south of Birmingham. It is the oldest lake in our roundup, impounded in 1914 by Alabama Power.

The lake holds both largemouth and spotted bass, both ranging in size up to about 18 inches.

“There are a couple of things you can do on Lay to catch a limit,” Stevenson suggested. “First, the spotted bass are pretty active. You can catch them on Sassy Shads in shad color with a little chartreuse. Bandit series crankbaits work well too. Fish the ba

its along the main-river points. You can fish the dropoffs and creek channels if it’s really cold.”

For the largemouths, spinnerbaits are excellent lures. Stevenson also likes white trick worms and swimming jigs.

“If it’s overcast, I use a white jig,” he said. “If it’s sunny, I use watermelon pumpkinseed. I just run it through what little grass I can find. I start out retrieving it fast and then slow it down if I find I’m missing fish.”

When the bass aren’t hitting the spinnerbait or the jig, Stevenson goes to what he calls “the Lay Lake favorite” — a watermelon pumpkinseed lizard. But topwater buzzbaits also work well.

The best time to fish Lay is when the water is coming up and getting into the water willows.

“That could be anytime from February to April,” Stevenson noted. “If you pull your bait up and there’s some bright green vegetation on your hook, you need to stay in that area.”

On a good spring day on Lay, it is not uncommon to catch 20 fish, with lots of 2- and 3-pounders and maybe one that will go 5 or 6. l

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

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