Best Bassin' In the Cotton State
September 28, 2010
From Russellville down to Eufaula and Scottsboro to Mobile, our state is loaded with great bass fishing. Here's a look at some of the hottest of those lakes for this year! (March 2010)
In the spring, it is hard to beat the fishing for big smallmouth bass on Wilson or Pickwick lakes on the Tennessee River.
Photo by Jeff Samsel.
Deciding where to go bass fishing in Alabama is sort of like staring at the menu at one of those really good restaurants that serves a little bit of everything. A bunch of things look good, and they are so different that comparing one to another can be difficult.
From the vast reservoirs that impound the Tennessee River to the 23 little lakes that the state manages with fishermen in mind, Alabama offers outstanding variety. Among the state's many waterways are top destinations for largemouths, smallmouths and spots, not to mention redeyes and shoal bass.
You can't fish everywhere, every day, though, so we've picked a handful of waters that promise to serve up especially good bass fishing this spring.
Wilson Lake is somewhat of a sleeper as a bass-fishing hotspot, according to Damon Abernethy, the fisheries development coordinator for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. Despite producing excellent fishing, Wilson doesn't get nearly as much attention as other impoundments along the Tennessee River. Nor does it typically attract the big-name tournaments that Guntersville, Wheeler and Pickwick draw.
Wilson bass fishing has been especially good over the past couple of years, and prospects look excellent for this spring.
Abernethy spoke mostly about Wilson's largemouth population when he pointed toward the positive trend. However, he was quick to point out that the lake's smallmouth population has not fallen off any. Wilson produces some giant smallmouth bass, and some of the best smallmouth fishing of the year typically occurs during the spring.
Only 15 miles long, Wilson is substantially smaller than the other reservoirs along the Tennessee River. It impounds a very large river, though, and definitely fishes like a big impoundment. Current and current breaks are major factors that affect fish-holding areas, and the biggest fish in the lake tend to relate to the lake's main body.
During March, many largemouths and smallmouths alike are along the edges of the main river and in the lower ends of the major creeks. Largemouths generally stay out of the strongest current and relate to docks, brushpiles, riprap and other cover. Smallies hold over rocky points, often near spawning pockets and over flats between the channel edge and spawning areas.
Large numbers of smallmouths --including some very large fish -- also concentrate in the Wheeler Dam tailwater during March. Anglers find the fishing good in this area at the headwater of Wilson. Drifting live yellowtails (threadfins shad) on split shot rigs below the dam is the usual tactic. Alabama's state-record smallmouth, a 10-pound, 8-ounce giant caught by Owen F. Smith in 1950, came from the Wheeler tailwater. Although that was 60 years ago, many anglers believe there are state-record fish or even world-record fish swimming in Wilson Lake.
Arguably, the best overall lure for largemouths and smallmouths alike on Wilson Lake during March is a suspending jerkbait such as a Rattlin' Rogue. Fished slowly, with alternating twitches and pauses, a Rogue imitates a winter-slowed baitfish and looks like an easy meal to a largemouth or a smallmouth.
An important note about March fishing on Wilson Lake is that prevailing spring winds go directly against the current, and the main body of the lake can become dangerously rough in a hurry. Anglers need to watch the forecast and consider the conditions for their return trip when they venture up or down the lake.
The minimum size for smallmouth bass on Wilson Lake is 14 inches. There is no minimum size for largemouths or spots. For information about guides, ramps and area lodging, visit Alabama Mountain Lakes at www.northalabama.org.
Moving just one lake downstream along the Tennessee River, Pickwick Lake has been a good producer over the past couple years. Abernethy expects more of the same in 2010. Like Wilson, Pickwick has a larger number of largemouths than smallmouths. Its smallmouths grow to heavyweight proportions, though, and March is a great time to target big fish of either species.
Pickwick is a big lake, impounding 50 miles of the Tennessee River, with waters in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. Its waters cover 47,500 acres. The lake's character varies enormously based on rainfall in the vast Tennessee River watershed, but during March, there tends to be at least some current pushing through the lake most of the time. Most anglers contend that condition is best for bass fishing.
Recent sampling work has shown that Pickwick's bass are in outstanding condition. Electro-shocking surveys conducted in the spring of 2008 showed that Pickwick largemouths were fatter on average than bass in other Alabama reservoirs. The population was dominated by 8- to 12-inch fish, but those fish have had two years to grow since that sampling was done.
Many of the same patterns that work well on Wilson tend to apply to Pickwick during March. The fish relate mostly to the main-river channel, to cuts just off the river channel and to the extreme lower ends of major creeks.
Jerkbaits are tough to top if the water is clear. Lipless rattling crankbaits, chartreuse-and-white spinnerbaits and jig-and-grubs also work very well during March.
The tailwater area just below Wilson Dam produces excellent smallmouth fishing during March, especially when plenty of water is running through the dam. Good prospects extend several miles downstream of the dam, with the fish holding over inundated shoals that run roughly from the dam to the lower end of Seven-Mile Island. In addition to live bait, anglers do well with shad-imitating swimbaits, grubs and tubes in the tailwater section.
Alabama's minimum size for smallmouth bass at Pickwick is 14 inches, with no minimum size for largemouths or spots. A reciprocal agreement allows Alabama-licensed anglers to fish all of Pickwick. However, fishing regulations for each state apply in its waters, so check creel and possession limits before crossing state lines with fish. For information about Pickwick boat ramps, fishing guides and lodging, visit the Colbert County Tourism Web site at www.colbertcountytourism.org.
"Eufaula has always been a very cyclic
al bass lake," Damon Abernethy said, "and it seems to be in an upward trend right now."
Sometimes called "The Bass Capital of the World," Eufaula has a deep tradition as a top-producing bass lake and is the host site of many tournaments. The lake impounds 45,180 acres of the fertile Chattahoochee River and backs up a couple of long creeks and many coves and shallow flats along the main river. Last spring's sampling efforts revealed a healthy largemouth population, with very good size distribution and plump bass. Eighteen percent of the bass were 3 pounds or larger, and biologists even shocked up one 10-pound-plus fish.
During the first part of March, many of the bass may still be along the main river or in the mouths of the creeks. They move up as the month progresses, though, and by the end of March, most bass should be shallow, relating to water willow, alligator weed and other cover. March at Eufaula is classic bass fishing at its best, with fish in all the places where it looks like they should be. They will be hitting spinnerbaits, soft-plastic jerkbaits, plastic worms or shallow-running crankbaits fished around the grass and other cover.
As spring progresses and continuing into the summer, the bass move shallow in the morning and hit topwater lures or weedless soft-plastic lures fished around the vegetation. The Zara Spook is a particularly good choice for this early-morning action.Later in the day, they move to channel edges, both in the major creeks and along in the lake's main body. During the day, medium- to deep-running crankbaits and Carolina-rigged worms account for a lot of Lake Eufaula bass.
Although largemouths clearly are the main attraction at Lake Eufaula, the lake also supports a good population of spotted bass. Spots are especially abundant around the U.S. Highway 82 causeway and along bluff banks near the causeway. Finesse worms fished on shaky heads work very well for catching spots both from the causeway itself and from nearby bluffs.
A reciprocal agreement between Alabama and Georgia allows anglers to fish anywhere on Lake Eufaula with a valid license issued by either state. A 14-inch minimum size applies to largemouths only. There is no minimum size for keeping spotted bass. For information about boat launching, fishing guides or area lodging, visit the Eufaula-Barbour County Chamber of Commerce at www.eufaulachamber.com.
"One very nice thing about Lay Lake is that there is something for everybody," biologist Abernethy said, pointing out that the lake offers excellent opportunities for both spotted bass and largemouth bass.
Different sections of the lake vary dramatically in character and therefore in the ways they are most effectively fished.
Spotted bass aren't secondary to largemouths on Lay Lake. In fact, this Coosa River impoundment is better known nationally for its fat spots than for its largemouths. Spots up to about 18 inches abound throughout riverine portions of the lake, and there are plenty of larger spotted bass available. While the spots get the attention at Lay Lake, the largemouths do extremely well in this lake year after year, according to Abernethy.
The most recent management report for Lay Lake rated both the largemouth and spotted bass populations as outstanding and includes several year-classes of bass. A creel survey summarized in the same report showed high catch rates for largemouth and spotted bass and extremely high release rates.
Lay Lake covers 12,000 acres along the Coosa River in east-central Alabama. Its upper end is highly riverine with abundant ledge habitat and offers great spotted bass fishing in the current. The mid-lake section shallows up substantially and provides great largemouth habitat, with broad flats bordering the old river channel and large impounded creek arms feeding the main lake. Farther downstream, the lake goes through the "Narrows," necking down very tight between bluffs before opening one more time near the dam.
March temperatures and the amount of rainfall in the Coosa River watershed can vary enormously, and so do the tactics commonly used by local anglers. Even with moderate conditions, it's not uncommon for shallow-water specialists to catch largemouths by flipping into a couple of feet of water on the same day as deep-water specialists are catching spots with finesse worms fished on drop-shot rigs in 30 feet of water.
Lipless crankbaits definitely rank among the most widely used largemouth lures in the creeks and the backwaters through the lake's mid-section during early March, as do spinnerbaits and jigs. By the end of the month, far more bass will have moved shallow.
Lay Lake falls under general statewide bass regulations. Seven boat ramps provide boating and bank-fishing access to the lake.
Anyone who doubts that big things sometimes do come in small packages has never visited Dallas County or Escambia County lakes during the spring. The two lakes together cover less than 300 acres, but both have earned statewide acclaim for their bass fishing. These Alabama State Public Fishing lakes serve up fine bass fishing.
Located just south of Selma, Dallas County Lake covers only 100 acres. But those acres are power-packed, as this highly fertile and well-managed lake supports an outstanding bass population that includes more than a few big fish. Through much of the year, most anglers who visit Dallas County Lake will be targeting abundant bluegills, catfish or crappie. During the spring, though, the big largemouths become more active and accessible, and rightly attract the interest of at least a few serious bass fishermen.
Lake managers maintain several marked fish attractors in the lake, and the bass utilize these before and after the spawn. Stumpfields in the northeastern corner of the lake also tend to hold fish during early spring.
As March continues to warm, the fish move all the way to the banks and spawn around shoreline cover.
Moving from Dallas County almost to the Florida state line, Escambia County Lake (officially known as Leon Brooks Hines Lake) lies tucked away in rural Escambia County. This gem of a bass lake covers only 184 acres, but dozens of double-digit weight bass have come from its fertile waters over the years.
Fishing is good year 'round, but the biggest fish in the lake move shallow to spawn during late winter and early spring, and that's when the real giants are usually caught. Serious trophy fishermen target the lakes biggest bass by sight-casting jigs or soft-plastic baits to bass that are guarding beds.
Both Dallas County Lake and Escambia County Lake have excellent facilities, with clean restrooms, concessions, rental boats and good bank-fishing access. Personal boats may be used, but a $3 launch permit is required and outboard motors may not be used. A daily fishing permit is also required.
Both lakes are managed with restrictive harvest regulations, but those regulations are subject to change. The current regulations are always posted
at the lakes.
Because lake hours can vary and local conditions can cause unexpected closures, call Dallas County Lake at (334) 874-8804, or Escambia County Lake at (251) 809-0068 before heading out.