Your Cotton State Angling Year

From Huntsville down to Orange Beach and Aliceville to Phenix City, every corner of Alabama offers great fishing. Here's a look at three dozen of those options for 2009! (Feb 2009)

One of the great joys of living in Alabama is the outstanding fishing available year 'round. Our state's aquatic habitat supports the best combination of freshwater and saltwater species in the nation. From largemouth and smallmouth bass to grouper and redfish, the Cotton State's rich diversity is an angler's dream come true. Whether it's world-famous freshwater lakes or world-class manmade reefs, we have such an abundance of species and locations that it could take a lifetime to experience everything.

To help narrow the opportunities for the coming year so you can create your list of adventures, here's a plan for the best fishing year of your life.

JANUARY
Blue Catfish/Tennessee River
The Tennessee flows across northern Alabama for 202 miles; its habitat grows blue catfish weighing more than 100 pounds. In 1996, William McKinley pulled from the river a then-world record weighing 111 pounds. Successful anglers report catching their largest cats in the coldest months of the year. January river blues frequently exceed 25 pounds, with an occasional 60-pounder.

Target these massive fish by drifting bait along steep dropoffs on the main river channel, especially at the mouths of feeder creeks. Control drift speed with a trolling motor to slowly drag baits across the bottom on a three-way rig. Without question, fresh skipjack herring cut into steaks is the best bait for trophy catfish on the Tennessee.

To book a winter guide trip, call Mike Mitchell at (256) 673-2250.

Other Hotspots
For faster action, fish for spotted bass in the current breaks below the Mitchell Dam. Also in January, offshore anglers catch limits of hard-fighting grouper hiding in the reefs off Gulf Shores.

FEBRUARY
Spotted Bass/Jones Bluff Lake

Fishing for spotted bass in February on Jones Bluff is phenomenal, as it's the only time of the year that knowledgeable anglers catch 5- to 7-pound spots. The big spots seem to disappear when water temperatures moderate.

The Alabama River's flooded banks and current create excellent habitat for spotted bass. Productive locations for trophy spots this month are gravel bars 6 to 15 feet deep on the river. To fish gravel bars, find any hump or point that causes a current break and slow-roll a heavy spinnerbait on the edge of the break. Tube lures and curlytail grubs also attract hard-hitting strikes.

The best fishing for big spots is from Swift Creek to the dam.

For current fishing information, call Big Bass Bait & Tackle at (334) 365-0600.

Other Hotspots
Opening day for Escambia County Lake for 2009 is on Feb. 1. This 167-acre lake offers the best opportunity to catch a largemouth weighing more than 10 pounds. At Wheeler Lake, saugers are hitting jigs tipped with minnows at depths of 40 to 60 feet.

MARCH
Largemouth Bass/Guntersville

Mark your calendar and let the boss know you're fishing Guntersville this month: Life's too short to miss another spring of this world-class bass fishing. Anglers report that this fishery is on an up trend, with routine catches of 10 to 15 bass a day weighing 4 to 7 pounds; on a good day, they double those numbers.

Look for groups of big females migrating to their spawning areas in the backs of North and South Sauty creeks. Start at the first point next to a spawning flat and work toward the mouth of the creek until you connect. Work these grassy points by ripping a red Rat-L-Trap through the weeds.

For current fishing information, or to book a guide, call Waterfront Grocery & Tackle at (256) 582-6060.

Other Hotspots
For a limit of 1 1/2- to 2-pound crappie at Millers Ferry, target hard-bottomed sloughs in Bogue Chitto, Rum and Gee creeks using minnows or ultralight jigs. Meanwhile, as temperatures rise, migrating cobia are following cigar minnows all along our inshore Gulf of Mexico waters.

APRIL
Cobia/Orange Beach

When you spot a large cobia cruising near the surface, make an accurate cast, and the dark brown bruiser may turn to take the bait; time will seem to stand still. If you forget to breathe while waiting for the strike, the ensuing battle will have you gulping air.

The best fishing for cobia, which average 20 to 40 pounds, is near shore during their migratory run. Depending on the weather, cobia arrive in mid-March, but the fishing is as unpredictable as the weather. April is the best month to plan a trip. Sight-fish for cobia with crabs, eels, or small baitfish rigged weightless on 30-pound-test monofilament. Retrieve the bait in front of a cruising fish for heart stopping action.

To book a guided trip, call Captain Don McPherson at (251) 981-8047, or visit www.getawaygulffishing. com.

Other Hotspots
When water temperatures on the Coosa River climb pass 60 degrees, fish for hybrid bass in the tailrace below the Neely Henry Dam. At Aliceville Lake, it's time to target crappie in the weeds next to the bank.

MAY
Bluegills/State PFLs

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources intensively manages 23 public fishing lakes throughout the state that provide good bream fishing. Of these, some offer fishing so exceptional, it's as good as the best private lakes'. At Escambia County Lake, for example, anglers routinely catch limits of pound-size bluegills, with big fish weighing more than 2 pounds. Other lakes around the state with great bream fishing are in Barbour, Clay and Lamar counties.

One of the best times to fish is during May's full moon, when -- provided water temperatures are in the high 70s or low 80s -- 'gills spawn. Lively earthworms fished on the bottom catch the biggest bedding fish.

For current fishing information, call the lake manager nearest you. Their phone numbers are available on the DCNR Web site.

Other Hotspots
For a fight with a flathead catfish, head to the creeks off the Alabama River for the first couple of hours after dark. Fish live bream next to bluffs. This is also an excellent month for Smith Lake's striped bass.

JUNE
Spotted Bass/Lake Jordan

With this month summer arrives, but it's still possible to catch 3- to 5-pound spotted bass at Lake Jordan. These spots are aggressive feeders and fight hard -- plus, they'll strike on back-to-back casts.

In June, spots hold on long tapering points that meet the river channel. Look for humps or cover on the points at depths of 8 to 12 feet. The lower lake has an abundance of long points that are easy to find

with sonar.

Since the big spots are in loose groups feeding on shad, deep-diving crankbaits are perfect to trigger a strike. Retrieve the lure parallel to the points. Often, spots feed throughout the day.

For current fishing conditions, visit Big Fish Bait & Tackle in Wetumpka, or call (334) 567-7509.

Other Hotspots
Another hot fishing spot in June is Lake Martin. Anglers there catch good numbers of striped bass at depths of 35 to 40 feet on the upper lake above U.S. Highway 280. Also, fly-fishing for bluegills is excellent on Wheeler Lake as mayflies hatch.

JULY
Flathead Catfish/Conecuh River

From Andalusia to the Florida border, the Conecuh River provides a flathead fishery supporting cats weighing more than 40 pounds. It also holds plenty of delicious 5-pounders.

At night, flatheads leave their ambush points in debris-filled holes to feed on sunfish, bullheads and just about anything else that swims. The first hours after dark and the last hour before light are best, so it's not necessary to fish through the night.

Arrive before sunset to catch a dozen bream or bullheads before setting up on a sandbar to fish the opposite bend in the river. Fish the live bait on a slip-sinker rig with a 5/0 hook.

For current fishing conditions on the Conecuh, visit Stokes Sporting Goods in Andalusia, or call (334) 222-1225.

Other Hotspots
Also this month, chum will attract king mackerel eager to attack cut bait drifted behind the boat on a slack line in the Gulf of Mexico.

During summer on Demopolis, flipping the thick grassmats early with a jig-and-pig produces the best big largemouth bite of the day.

AUGUST
Channel Catfish/Gainesville Lake

As temperatures peak in August, catfishing sizzles on Gainesville Lake. The Tombigbee River feeding it is very fertile, and Gainesville receives light fishing pressure. This combination provides an excellent opportunity to catch high numbers of channel cats.

To avoid the heat, arrive at your fishing spot an hour before sunset to set out limblines, set-poles or jugs. With your gear set, it's time to anchor at a creek mouth and cast out a few lines. On a good night, your setlines will start dancing before you can reach the creek, and your coolers will be topped off in a couple of hours.

Channel cats aren't picky feeders, but it's best to use fresh cut shad to take advantage of the bigger blue cats that cruise the shallows with their smaller cousins.

Other Hotspots
If you want to catch big speckled trout consistently during summer, plan to fish at night under pier lights around Ono Island. For slab crappie, fish the main river channel on Millers Ferry Lake.

SEPTEMBER
Crappie: Lake Eufaula

Eufaula's crappie remain in a predicable summer pattern that produces big numbers of fish; the occasional slab weighs 2 1/2 to 3 pounds. Water temperatures in the upper section of the water column keep these fish at depths of 14 to 30 feet and holding close to vertical cover.

To target deep-water crappie next to standing timber and bridge pilings, shoot 1/16-ounce jigs like a bow and arrow using ultralight spinning gear. The jigs descend at about a foot per second; when you see the line twitch or go slack, set the hook.

According to anglers and biologists, Barbour, Cowikee, White Oak and Wylaunee creeks are best.

To book a guided crappie trip on Lake Eufaula, call Jesse Bowman at (334) 774-4808.

Other Hotspots
September is a great time to work plastic frogs over weedbeds at Guntersville. Fish the upper lake for explosive big largemouth bass action. This month is also excellent for catching good numbers of channel cats from Bankhead Lake.

OCTOBER
Smallmouth Bass/Pickwick Lake

For an experience of a lifetime, make upper Pickwick Lake your fishing destination for October. Trophy smallmouth bass thrive in the forage-rich waters below Wheeler Dam. On a good fall day with the powerhouse turbines running, anglers may catch 20 fish, with many weighing more than 4 pounds. Knowledgeable anglers report five-fish stringers weighing 25-plus pounds; a lucky few will land a 7- or 8-pounder.

To target smallies, make controlled drifts over hard bottoms of gravel or rock and cast upstream at a 45-degree angle. Your 1/4-ounce bucktail jig should bounce on the bottom as it swings past the boat in an arc.

For guided smallie action, contact Steve Hacker at (256) 760-8090.

Other Hotspots
A close relative of the smallmouth, large spotted bass on Logan Martin Lake are hammering tube lures and grubs fished in the current this month.

It's also a great time to catch crappie on Lake Martin from humps in the main lake.

NOVEMBER
Striped Bass/Lake Martin

During November, target Martin's big striped bass by slowly dragging large and lively gizzard shad 40 feet behind side-planer boards. An average striper on this rig weighs more than 20 pounds, with an occasional 30-pounder.

Deploy two planers on each side of your boat to search the Tallapoosa River or Elkahatchee Creek arms of the lake. The boards let you put the bait on top of fish in shallow water without spooking them, and cover a lot of water. Since big fish do not travel in schools, this technique does not produce high numbers of stripers, but many think this method will produce the next state record from Martin. To keep the big striped bass alive, fish shad on a 5/0 Daiichi circle hook.

To book a guided trip, call Jim Parramore at (205) 533-3664 or (205) 699-1886.

Other Hotspots
The smallmouth bite continues below Wheeler Dam wherever structure causes a current break.

November is also a great month to catch speckled trout from our coastal rivers off Mobile Bay.

DECEMBER
Redfish/Orange Beach

Here's the perfect Christmas vacation for the avid angler: a trip to balmy Orange Beach to catch tackle-wrecking redfish weighing 20 to 30 pounds. As water temperatures cool, huge schools of red minnows and menhaden move into the area followed by schools of bull reds. Often, these schools are easily found by watching for diving birds just past the second sandbar from the beach. While the birds attack from above, big reds churn the surface to foam by slashing through the bait.

If you find reds under dive-bombing birds, fish poppers or stick baits on the surface. If not, troll deep-diving crankbaits in water 15 to 35 feet deep. A Mann's Stretch 25+ is a good search bait.

Other Hotspots
December is excellent for catching slab crappie on the Tombigbee River above Demopolis. Look for them on dropoffs where creeks enter the river.

Also, cold weather on Lake Martin Lake energizes spotted bass on main lake humps and points.

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