Birmingham Bassin'

Here are four options for catching bass near the state's largest city this month. All are close by -- and at this time of the year, they should be red-hot! (May 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

May is arguably the best month of the whole year for bass fishing in the Cotton State, and you don't have to go far to find exciting action if you're in the Birmingham area.

Lots of bass have just come off the bed this time of year. They're hungry after the rigors of the spawn and often go on a feeding binge that can be pure magic for anglers.

A few bass will not yet have spawned and you still find bedding fish in May, and those bass can be picked up with sight-fishing techniques. It's one of those months when a whole lot of different types of fishing can be productive.

Four great places to try for those bass in May are within an hour of Birmingham. Those are Logan Martin, Inland, Bankhead and Holt lakes.

Chris Stephenson has spent a lifetime pursuing bass all across the state, but the Birmingham-area lakes are his home waters. He has won an estimated 40 bass tournaments on these impoundments over the years.

Here are his tips on fishing these waters, along with insights from Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries biologists Rob Andress and Jay Haffner.

LOGAN MARTIN LAKE

Logan Martin is a Coosa River reservoir approximately 30 miles east of Birmingham. It is 48 1/2 miles long and covers 15,263 acres.

Both largemouth and spotted bass are present in the lake, and the DWFF reports that both species show above-average growth and are in excellent condition. But the DWFF also calls the Logan Martin spotted bass fishery one of the best in the state.

Rob Andress said the last fish sampling done there in the spring of 2005 gave the District II fisheries office plenty to be excited about. In general, there are good numbers of bass in lots of different size classes.

"In a nutshell, our sampling work has indicated that the bass in Logan Martin are in excellent shape," Andress emphasized.

The biologists found that there were strong year-classes of largemouth bass from the 2003 and 2004 spawns. Those bass are now becoming the size that anglers like to catch.

They found excellent growth rates for all Logan Martin bass compared to other waters in the state.

They also noted strong 2002 and 2003 year-classes of spotted bass.

Andress said that you can look at the fish in Logan Martin and see what good condition they're in.

"They're plump," he noted.

The DWFF reported that Logan Martin's largemouths are abundant in the 12- to 18-inch size range, while many of the spots are in the 14- to 21- inch range.

Logan Martin continues to rate as a winner with anglers, too. In a survey of fishing tournaments, Logan Martin came in at No. 4 overall for quality. It ranks No. 2 in the state among tournament fishermen for bass caught per day.

Angler Chris Stephenson agrees with that assessment.

"It's a real spot-heavy lake," Stephenson said. "But there are good numbers of largemouths too."

The angler added that bass fishermen here can expect roughly 70 percent of their catch to be spotted bass and 30 percent largemouths. Stephenson said you catch trophy-class fish at times on the lake, the kind of bass that will really surprise you.

He urged anglers not to overlook the topwater bite early in the mornings in May on Logan Martin.

"It can be phenomenal," Stephenson suggested. "You want to fish something like a Zara Spook on rocky points. If it's windy, a buzzbait that really rattles and churns can be good."

Stephenson likes to target seawalls, too, making a parallel presentation to the structure if he can. Points with brush in the water can also be good.

Later in the day, he likes to throw trick worms around any grass or other cover that he can find. Spinnerbaits are also good for this fishing.

Stephenson's favorite colors are pink or yellow for the worm and white-and-chartreuse with gold blades for the spinnerbait. He prefers a willow leaf blade in front of a small Colorado blade or a tandem set of willow leafs on that spinnerbait.

"The tandem willow leaf looks just like two or three shad swimming together," he stated.

Crankbaits are also excellent choices in May on Logan Martin, especially later in the day.

"I like the Bandit 300 series, chrome with blue back," Stephenson said. "Crankbaits work all day long. Other good colors are pineapple or purple splatterback."

According to the angler, you can always count on a limit of bass by fishing jighead worms and grubs around boat docks.

"Green is a good color for these baits," he noted.

If you can sneak off to fish during the week, you have a lot less fishing pressure to contend with, Stephenson noted. You can just about count on several tournaments happening every Saturday at Logan Martin during the spring.

INLAND LAKE

At 1,557 acres, Inland Lake is considerably smaller than many of the other public impoundments in Alabama. Stephenson calls it a "mini Smith Lake" because of the deep, clear water and rocky bluffs.

The reservoir is off State Route 75, less than an hour's drive from Birmingham. It's on the Blackburn Fork of the Little Warrior River and was built by the City of Birmingham as a water supply lake back in 1939.

"It's one of the prettiest lakes you'll ever visit," Chris Stephenson said. "There is just a scattering of homes around this lake. It's very clear and very deep."

Because it is so small -- and because electrofishing techniques don't work very well on deep-water lakes -- state biologists don't sample the fish population on Inland on a regular basis.

"It's relatively infertile compared to some of the other lakes nearby," biologist Rob Andress said. While a

Logan Martin bass looks nice and fat, an Inland bass will typically be thinner.

But Andress noted that the last sampling they did several springs ago turned up quite a few largemouths in the 15- to 20-inch range.

He said the fishermen they've talked to at Inland seem to be content with the lake, but he noted that it takes some specialized fishing to be successful here.

"The anglers we spoke to were catching fish in 15 to 30 feet of water at night and 30 to 40 feet during the day," the biologist explained.

The spotted bass shocked up during the last sampling were mostly in the 7- to 11-inch range.

"There are a lot of small spotted bass with some larger largemouths mixed in," Andress offered.

Chris Stephenson likes to fish plastic grubs when he visits Inland Lake. He generally uses smoke color on a 1/8-ounce leadhead.

"You go smaller because it is so clear," the angler emphasized. "Going smaller also makes your lure fall slower, and you want that."

You can back way off rocky points and bluffs and fish a topwater. Stephenson said that technique of making long casts is similar to how you might fish for smallmouths on more northerly waters.

"You can catch some pretty good fish at Inland doing this," Stephenson added.

Crankbaits also work well, as do spinnerbaits. The crankbaits should match the color of baitfish, while solid chartreuse seems to be a good spinnerbait color.

Light spinning tackle is a good choice on Inland Lake because of the clarity of the water.

"There are a lot of spots in this lake," Stephenson said. "A lot of them are in the 10- to 15-inch range."

A creek feeding into the lower end of the lake is a good place to spend some time.

"You need to watch the water levels on this lake," the fisherman concluded. "There are times when the water is so low that you can't even launch a boat."

The lake's primary boat ramp is on the upper end; there is a nominal fee to launch.

BANKHEAD & HOLT LAKES

These lakes on the Black Warrior River west of Birmingham don't draw nearly the fishing pressure of Logan Martin to the east. But Chris Stephenson said they're great places to go to have a good time and load the boat with fish.

"You need to be fishing these lakes in the spring, especially Bankhead," he pointed out. "You can fish the weedbeds and the blown-down trees. It is close-contact fishing at its finest. You can catch 100 bass a day here in the spring."

Stephenson likes to look for downed trees in 5 to 10 feet of water. Then he works a jig-and-pig around those trees.

"You can pick up some nice fish doing this," he noted.

He also likes to jig around any weeds he can find.

"You might catch a 7-pounder on one cast and then the next fish you get is only 6 inches long and you snatch it clean out of the water," Stephenson said.

Holt covers some 3,296 acres, and Bankhead another 9,200 acres. There is a lot of structure in the water in terms of weeds and trees, and that makes both real bass havens.

The lakes are often thought of as sister lakes because the same fishing patterns work equally well on both.

District III fisheries biologist Jay Haffner said Bankhead is by far the better of the two lakes. Forestry and mining activities on surrounding lands have negatively impacted Holt.

"The creeks have silted in on Holt, so we're 50 years too late to fish them," he said. "But Bankhead is a really nice stretch of river."

According to the biologist, Bankhead has a lot of varied habitat, and that's what makes it such a good lake. There are bluffs, rocky points and ledges to fish for the spotted bass. But there are also creeks, standing timber, shallow flats and weeds to fish for largemouths.

Light spinning tackle is a good choice on Inland Lake because of the clarity of the water.

"It is excellent largemouth bass habitat," Haffner emphasized.

Another strong selling point is its proximity to Birmingham. Haffner said it's a great place to fish if you don't want to fight the crowds on the Coosa River or make the long drive to Guntersville.

"You can fish close to home and the fishing can be terrific," Haffner said.

The timber laydowns and other woody cover are good places to find fish. Haffner said the backwaters are better places to find largemouths.

"The main river is a lot like the Coosa in that there are bluffs, ledges, chunk rock and points that are good habit for spotted bass," Haffner said.

Chris Stephenson said Bankhead and Holt are relatively easy to fish because you can turn off your electronics and just target the visible structure and catch lots of fish.

In fact, he still sees people "jiggerpoling" with long poles and bait on the lake.

"It's an excellent way to catch bass here," he noted.

Whenever he's on Holt or Bankhead, Stephenson keeps one rod in the floor of his boat with a Rat-L-Trap or Li'l George tied on.

"You see some spots that school up on this lake," he explained. "You might hear them breaking the water as they chase baitfish. You turn around and there they are. If you've got that rod right there, you can just pick it up and throw to them and usually you catch a fish real quick."

Stephenson calls the structure fishing on these lakes "fisherman friendly," since you just troll down the lake and throw at anything that looks fishy.

In addition to the jig-and-pigs, either spinnerbaits or topwater lures also work well here. Soft-plastic worms and lizards are other good baits.

The DWFF characterizes the largemouth population on these lakes as above average.

The spotted bass have modest numbers of 8- to 13-inch fish, but lower number of larger fish. Better opportunities for anglers to catch spotted bass are found in lower sections of the reservoir.

There are several marinas and fish camps on Bankhead Lake that provide boat docking and storage, fueling facilities, launching ramps, restaurants, groceries, bait and supplies.

There are five public facility use areas and 14 user-fee areas located on Bankhead Lake.

The DWFF fish sampling on the lake has shown abundant numbers of largemouth bass up to 18 inches and moderate numbers of larger bass. Spotted bass up to 15 inches are abundant, with moderate numbers of larger fish.

Holt Reservoir has both modern and primitive camping areas, plus several day-use areas for picnicking, swimming and sightseeing.

There are two private marinas for boat docking and storage. Six public facilities with bank and boat access for anglers circle Holt Reservoir.

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