Mobile Largemouth Options

However much attention saltwater fishing gets down on the Alabama coast -- and it's a lot -- the largemouth bass is still king there. Where in the Delta region will you find the regal fish? (April 2006)

According to Dave Armstrong, district fisheries supervisor, April is a great time to bass-fish the Mobile Delta. His data show the peak of the spawn for largemouth bass ranges from the last week in March into the second week of April.

Indeed, the feeding binge that occurs before and after the spawn is unequalled by any other time of year. During the spawn, fish guarding their nests willingly attack lures worked too close for their comfort.

With so many aggressive fish cruising shallow water, and given so many different places to fish, knowing where to fish is key to success. Choices on the Delta seem unlimited, but water, wind and tide can quickly shut down certain areas. If you find your hotspot unfishable in April, these waters always have another one ready to try.

MOBILE DELTA

Of all the environmental conditions -- tides, temperature, salinity, wind and turbidity -- facing Delta anglers in April, nothing is more important than water levels. They determine a fisherman's strategy here.

For fishing, most anglers divide Mobile's long skinny delta into three sections: the rivers and oxbow lakes above Mount Vernon, where the Mobile River forks into the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers; the lakes and creeks from Mount Vernon to just below McReynolds Lake; and the bays and bayous on the lower Delta, which is also known as the Causeway area.

The upper section, when it's fishable, usually produces the heaviest stringers, while the lower section contains large numbers of bass.

With a drainage area of 43,683 square miles that includes seven major rivers, the Mobile River Basin yields more water per square mile than any river basin in the country. Water flowing from Georgia, Mississippi and 67 percent of Alabama dictates where to fish.

The Tombigbee River is fishable when the river gauge at Leroy reads 12 feet or less. Likewise, the Alabama is productive when Choctaw Bluff reads 20 feet or less.

The mid-section is fishable if the reading at the Barry Steam Plant on the Mobile River is 8 feet or less. In April, it's possible for all gauges to exceed these limits.

When this happens, the rivers, creeks and lakes jump their banks, and the fish scatter into the flooded timber and marshes. But when the water finally recedes into the banks, which river should you fish?

Glenn Wilson, one of Mobile's savvier tournament anglers, offers this example.

"If the Alabama River has been stable for a week, and the Tombigbee has just returned to its banks, fish the oxbow lakes off the Alabama. The water is warmer. Also, it takes a few days for the bass to position themselves on the ambush points where they are going to feed. Once the bass have established their feeding habits, that's where you will want to fish."

James "Rawhide" Smith, another well-known tournament angler from Mobile, prefers falling water as the river gauges move into fishable range.

"Falling water is significant," Smith said, "because big fish don't bite when the water is rising and the river is muddy. With falling water, everything is pouring out of the backwater lakes -- that's when you go up the rivers -- and fishing is great."

When fishing upriver, Smith and Wilson both report that anglers can expect to catch a seven-fish stringer weighing up to 20 pounds, with an occasional big fish weighing more than 7 pounds.

Their approach to catching fish on the upper section differs. Smith's primary pattern is targeting creek mouths, while Wilson fishes in the lakes.

"As the water flows out," Smith said, "the bass move out of the lakes to stage in places where they can ambush bait, which is also flowing out. Actually, anything that drains into the river, no matter how small, will hold fish. But of course, not every inlet will produce. Sometimes, you find fish staging on only five out of 25 creek mouths."

Smith fishes creek mouths thoroughly before moving, since he never knows where the fish stage. However, if an inlet contains either a blown-down tree or a visible current edge, he fishes these first.

"Often," he said, "there's a line where dark creek water meets the muddy river, and bass hold on the line where the water mixes. But my best pattern in April is fishing laydowns at creek mouths. They produce good numbers of fish."

Smith's primary lures for fishing creek mouths are a 200 Series Bandit crankbait in shad or crawfish colors or a 3/8- or 1/2-ounce spinnerbait with tandem willow-leaf blades in white and chartreuse. He slow-rolls the latter to work submerged structure.

Before Wilson launches his boat for a trip upriver, he rigs four rods for fishing the oxbow lakes. The rods are set to fish a Bang-O-Lure, spinnerbait, jig and a Texas-rigged lizard. Wilson uses the Bang-O-lure first.

"The first hour of the morning," he noted, "the big sows on the bed or waiting to go on the bed will take a Bang-O-Lure. Work the lure around the bigger trees off the banks.

"When the topwater bite dies, use a jig or lizard to carefully pick apart available cover, which is mostly cypress trees and lay-downs. Usually, it's calm this time of the day, so these lures work best.

"When the wind starts blowing, move to the windy side of the lake and use a spinnerbait to fish the same types of cover."

Whether it's blow-downs or cypress trees, Wilson said that productive cover is always near deeper water. He often catches 3- to 4-pound bass from this structure in April.

Smith, who also fishes oxbows, advises anglers on how to pick apart blowdowns by using a spinnerbait to fish the shallow water first. Then he uses a 200 or 300 Series Bandit crankbait to search deeper.

"The smaller fish stay shallow and above the larger fish," he pointed out. "The crankbait is for catching big fish.

"Work the lure by running it down to the limb, then pause when it hits and give it a little slack. Often the strike will come when the lure hits the limb or when it backs up."

Smith said that blowdowns in the lakes produce bigger fish than do creek mouths, adding that it's necessary to cull bass on the river to obtain a winning st

ringer in tournaments.

On the Alabama River, Wilson recommended fishing Boatyard Lake and Holly Creek. On the Tombigbee, he said Bates, Three Rivers and Bilbo lakes are all good places to fish.

When high water degrades fishing above Mount Vernon, the Delta's mid-section is the next best place to land a heavy stringer of bass -- places like McReynolds, Mifflin and Tensaw lakes. Of these, McReynolds currently offers the best fishing. At tournaments held on this section, it's not unusual for a 6- to 7-pound bass to win the pot for big fish.

"For both numbers and size," Wilson offered, "McReynolds is one of the hottest places to fish in spring. I've caught more 7-pounders there than anywhere else. It's good because the large grass mats protect bass from fishing pressure, plus it holds plenty of bait."

For fishing McReynolds, Wilson's favorite lure is a 1/4-ounce black buzzbait. When the water recedes, he works it parallel to grasslines.

"Slightly low water pulls the fish out to the edge of the grassline where the water is deeper," he said.

"Another factor is temperature. For a buzzbait to work in April, you need a few days of warm weather."

In this situation, both Smith and Wilson use a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce buzzbait to fish grasslines.

When the water is more than a few inches above the submerged vegetation -- which is mostly coon-tail -- Wilson drifts across the large flats in the back of McReynolds. This gives him an edge over river fishermen who like to cast to visible structure.

"Use a shallow running crankbait," Wilson recommended, "and reel it as fast as you can across the grass. Don't let the fish get a good look at your lure. You want a reaction strike. When the lure ticks the grass, the bass strike. Often you think you have grass on the lure, but it's a bass swimming toward the boat."

If it's calm, fishing conditions on McReynolds are tough. Both anglers advise fishing Texas-rigged worms over the grass, letting your lure sink into holes in the vegetation.

Finally, if rain has inundated the watershed, the only fishing available is in the lower Delta. But that's not bad. This area has recovered from the recent droughts, with anglers catching high numbers of 1 1/2- to 2-pound fish, with an occasional fish weighing 3 to 4 pounds.

"Fishing the Causeway differs from fishing upstream," Smith said. "Bass in the rivers and middle lakes feed on crawfish and shad. In addition to shrimp and other bait, Causeway fish feed on crabs, so the best lure presentation has an up-and-down swimming motion."

Smith and Wilson use a Snagless Sally, which is an in-line spinnerbait, to mimic a crab. Smith prefers black and yellow, while Wilson likes purple, black and blue. Both say it's the most effective lure for fishing the lower Delta.

Wilson fishes the in-line spinner by dragging it through the grass as slowly as possible while keeping the blade turning. As in McReynolds Lake, he uses the wind to drift across the bays to fish the grass.

For big fish, target the bay's many duck blinds. Wilson said they are productive throughout the day.

"If you catch one or two fish off a duck blind," he said, "that doesn't mean you have caught all the fish. They pull in and out of the blinds all day long, so keep returning to places where you have caught fish."

Wilson fishes the blinds with a Texas-rigged Zoom Brush Hog in June bug or chameleon colors.

The shallow bays of the lower Delta offer great fishing, but they too can quickly become unfishable with a low tide and a north wind.

"In April," Smith said, "a north wind will empty the bays. When that happens, fish the channels leading into the bays. Fish the grass lining the channels with a Texas-rigged worm or a spinnerbait."

The most productive bay is Chocolata, also known as Chacalloochee Bay, followed by Grand and Chuckfee bays.

BIG CREEK LAKE

Big Creek Lake lies only 15 miles west of the Delta, but it's like fishing in another part of the state. Anglers who have mastered the rise and fall of the Delta's bays, rivers and oxbows rarely catch fish on their first trip to this lake.

"Many of these anglers," said David Dean of Mobile, "fish with 20-pound-test and a large spinnerbait, as if they were on the river. Big Creek is different. You have to finesse the bass. Anglers who learn the lake enjoy good fishing. It's a dynamite fishery!"

The lake, which provides Mobile's primary supply of drinking water, covers 3,600 acres and is extremely clear and deep. The water originates from six springs and an infertile watershed in adjacent Washington County. The two feeder creeks flowing into the lake contain little sediment, so the water remains clear.

Dean learned to fish clear water in the state's north-central impoundments like Lake Martin. He found those skills worked well on Big Creek, and he's perfected them for the last 13 years.

"While fishing with a friend and his grandson in late March or early April of last year," Dean recalled, "we caught 50 fish and were back home by 10:30 a.m. My heaviest stringer last spring was five fish, weighing approximately 18 pounds."

Instead of targeting big bass, Dean -- who usually fishes with his two sons -- prefers to catch numbers of fish. He said anglers can expect to catch 15 to 20 fish in a half day of spring fishing. An average largemouth weighs one to 2 pounds.

With water clear and stable, wind is the most common environmental condition affecting how Dean attacks Big Creek.

"When the wind is blowing," he said, "the fish move closer to the shoreline and become more aggressive. They're probably following shad. If the surface is glassy, the fish move deeper and spook easily."

On a calm day in April, Dean's primary pattern targets post-spawn largemouths on points and at the mouths of coves in grass 5 to 10 feet deep. He has found a Carolina-rig offers the best presentation in this situation.

"I catch the most fish on a Carolina rig," Dean affirmed. "It's great for making long casts and is effective for fishing grass. Plus, you can feel the grass or lack of grass as you work it back to the boat.

"Vary your retrieve. Then pause and shake your rod tip. Often, bass strike when your sinker hangs on the grass and you jerk to get free."

If Dean is fishing with his sons, he positions his boat about 25 yards from shore and casts perpendicular to the bank. If alone, he fishes parallel to the bank, but moves in closer.

"When possible," Dean advised, "always cast your lures parallel to the banks. If you find the fish holding at a certain depth, this allows you to keep the lure in the strike zone longer. Regardless of whether you are fishing parallel or not, always thoroughly work an area before moving.

"Without question, the biggest mistake I see most often on the lake is anglers who crowd the banks as if they were fishing the river. Usually, their boat is over the fish. They should move away from the banks."

On his reels, Dean spools 12-pound-test monofilament and completes his Carolina rig using a 3/8- or 1/2-ounce sinker with a 3- or 4-foot leader and 2/0 wire hook. The long leader keeps his lure near the top of the grass. A 6-inch Zoom Brush Hog in green pumpkin or pumpkin red completes Dean's rig.

"If there's a wind or it's early in the morning," he added, "move closer to the bank and use a spinnerbait. Recently, the lure has worked well for me. Retrieve it close to the grass, letting the blades tick the submerged vegetation occasionally. Also, if you see any isolated wood, cast past it and bring the spinnerbait to the wood."

Dean uses a 1/4-ounce white spinnerbait with silver tandem willow-leaf blades, and he adds a straight twin-tail grub to the single hook.

To catch numbers of fish, Dean recommended fishing between the lake's boat ramp and Bayou Branch.

"Where the lake narrows," he said, "look for deeper water on the edge of the grass line. This area is great for numbers, so it holds my interest more. There are so many fish in Big Creek, it's really just about learning how to fish the lake."

Big Creek's only boat ramp is located at the end of Howell's Ferry Road, and daily permits cost $5 at the ramp.

For current fishing information on Big Creek or the Mobile Delta, visit Quint's Hardware & Sporting Goods in Saraland, or call them at (251) 679-1300.

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