Birmingham's Backyard Bass

Alabama's largest city has a number of bass fishing options very near at hand. Here's a look at a few of those fishing holes.

Topwater lures fished around springs on Island Lake both early and late in the day can fool the spotted bass. Photo by John E. Phillips

By John E. Phillips

If you are a bass fisherman, the largest metropolis in the Cotton State is probably not the first place you think of in relation to your favorite sport. Yet, you can find plenty of great bass fishing right in the back yard of downtown Birmingham. Inland Lake, Lake Purdy and the Locust Fork of the Warrior River all contain tremendous, but often underutilized, bass resources. When you consider that anglers sometimes catch 8- to 14-pound largemouth bass and 5- to 7-pound spotted bass from Inland Lake and Lake Purdy, you may want to take a weekend off from the big waters and check out these smaller, close to home reservoirs. Let's take a look at these three Birmingham backyard bass bonanzas and learn how and when to fish them.

INLAND LAKE
Jason Redding is the lake manager at Inland Lake, a 5,000-acre impoundment with 56 miles of shoreline and a length of 7 1/2 miles from the boat landing to the dam in Remlap. Serving as one of the water-supply reservoirs for the city of Birmingham, Inland abounds with spotted bass, largemouths, a few redeyes and even some smallmouth bass.

"However, there wasn't a single smallmouth caught last summer at Inland," Redding reports. "The lake also has a large number of saltwater stripes and hybrid bass. These were added to the lake to help control the gizzard shad population in Inland. Next to spotted bass, the stripers are the most-often-caught bass in the lake."

Because of the habitat created by Inland's clear water and rocky shoreline, spotted bass dominate the lake. Still, Inland has some nice largemouths.

"When someone does catch a largemouth at Inland," Redding quickly adds, "it's usually a trophy fish. We had three 8-pound largemouths come in to the boat dock at the lake last year, as well as plenty of 4- to 6-pound largemouth bass."

"The largemouth bass is an incidental catch for the Inland Lake spotted bass fisherman," Redding continues. "Inland has so many spotted bass that very few of our anglers deliberately fish for largemouths."

In the summer there are mainly two places on Inland where spots are caught. The spotted bass hold either in the cooler water of the spring-fed feeder creeks or around the deep points on the main lake. In the creeks around the springs, the bass hold in 4 to 12 feet of water. But if you fish out on the points, expect to catch the spots all the way down to about 35 feet.

"The bass concentrate around the springs because cool water comes into the lake during the hot summer months," Redding reiterates. "You can locate underwater springs in Box Creek, Needham Creek and Hatchet Creek. You also find cool water coming in from Highland Lake, the lake above Inland Lake. Two creeks near the boat landing are also spring-fed."

Redding has specific recommendations regarding lures when it comes to fishing in creeks.

"A 1/4-ounce spinnerbait in either white or chartreuse," he recommends with no hesitation. "Or use a double-willow-leaf spinnerbait or a 4-inch finesse worm fished with a jighead. The favorite colors of the spotted bass for hitting plastic worms include red bug, June bug, watermelon and chartreuse/pepper. At night, fish a black 1/2-ounce spinnerbait. I use 8-pound-test line, regardless of which lure I'm fishing creeks with."

He went on to recommend tossing and twitching topwater jerkbaits at dawn or tossing stickbaits both early and late in the day.

When Redding moves out on the points, he switches to a 1/4-ounce jighead with an 8-inch black plastic trick worm.

"I not only fish this worm on the points, but Inland has a lot of deep rocky banks on the main lake," Redding advises. "So, I'll cast to these banks, let the worm fall and then hop it along the bottom."

Although you catch an occasional largemouth on the points and along the rocky banks, most of those bass come from 6 to 20 feet of water in the creeks. You are likely to have the most success fishing for bass early and late in the day during the heat of August, but generally you can take a limit of spotted bass without too much difficulty.

"We have so many spotted bass up here that we encourage our fishermen to keep the smaller spots and eat them, but release the bigger spots," Redding mentions. "We ask our anglers to always release the largemouths they take, because we don't have that many of them."

Regardless of which species you do target, there are some good-sized bass to be found here. When the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries electrofished Inland last year, the effort produced 20 spotted bass of 5 pounds or better and 20 largemouths of the same size during about an hour of shocking.

Although not members of the black bass family, stripers and hybrids add to the fishery on Inland. At first light when the fish come up on the surface and start chasing shad is the time to target them.

Plastic jerkbaits, chugger- or popper-style topwater lures, and big stickbaits can all be used to catch these surface-busting linesides.

"Inland also has some anglers who come up here and fish with downriggers and live shad and catch good numbers of hybrids and saltwater stripers," Redding advises.

Smallmouth bass have almost vanished from the Inland Lake fishery. At one time, the reservoir produced a number of smallmouths; however, low water levels on the lake during droughts the last two or three years may have caused the population to crash. If so, apparently the smallmouths have not made a comeback.

"Some biologists believe that the spotted bass are out-competing the smallmouths for food. I believe that the smallmouths have just about played out at Inland," Redding concludes.

To reach Inland Lake, travel north from Birmingham on State Route (S.R.) 75 towards Oneonta. In the town of Allgood, turn at Jet Pep service station and the sign for Inland Lake. Go four miles to dead end at the lake.

To launch a boat at Inland costs $5 per day, or you can rent a boat and a motor at

the lake. For more information on Inland Lake, contact Jason Redding at (205) 274-6090.

LAKE PURDY
Because of Lake Purdy's proximity to Birmingham, most area fishermen often overlook it. For some reason, they all seem to incorrectly believe that they have to travel more than an hour from Birmingham to find good fishing.

But Lake Purdy, located 25 minutes east of downtown Birmingham on S.R. 119 and about four miles north of U.S. Highway 280, offers some highly productive bass fishing. But you have to learn how to fish it.

Lake Purdy is another of Birmingham's water supply facilities. In order to protect it from foreign vegetation, no private boats are allowed on the reservoir. This restriction also keeps fishing pressure on the lake down. You can, however, rent boats at the lake and bring your own motor.

Purdy is also a clear lake whose waters are dominated by spotted bass habitat. Lake Purdy is not stocked with hybrids or stripers.

"We have a really good shad population in the lake," says Ken Delap, the manager of the lake.

"In early March, I caught a 9-pound largemouth, and my fishing buddy caught two 7-pound largemouths from Purdy that same day," he continues, "so you can't disregard the largemouth fishing in the lake either."

Delap, however, points to late February and early March as the time for successful largemouth fishing at Purdy. During the summer months, the spotted bass rank as the dominant bass in the catch.

In order to find these spots in summer, you have to fish deep. This requires using a depthfinder to locate humps, ridges, creek channels and other offshore cover. You can bring your own portable depthfinder or rent one at the lake.

"One of the really neat aspects of fishing Lake Purdy," Delap says, "is you can fish the shallow-water wood cover and catch largemouths, or you can move offshore and fish the underwater structure and take spots. For this reason, early and late will be the best time to catch the largemouths in the shallows. Then you can move out and catch spotted bass later in the day."

Another trick for finding the fastest action in summer months is to become nocturnal and do your fishing at after dark. Fortunately, the lake is so close to town that it is possible to fish late and still get back to Birmingham in time for bed and work the next day.

To catch bass this month at Purdy, fish a Carolina-rigged 6-inch plastic worm.

"I like to use a worm on a 3-foot leader," Delap reports. "If the bass aren't taking the worm on the bottom, I fish a floating worm on a Carolina rig, two to three feet off the bottom. Carolina rigging seems to be the best way to catch limits of nice spotted bass on offshore structure all summer long."

The lake manager also has some specific areas of the lake he targets during the summer heat.

"Some of the best areas to fish for bass in the summer at Purdy include right out in front of the boat landing on Sunken Island; the ridge between Sunken Island and Goat Island; and Picnic Point, just past the dam, which is about 2 1/2 miles from the boat landing. This point extends out about 400 to 500 yards and is an ideal place for fishing a Carolina-rigged worm.

"Then two points down from the boat landing," Delap adds, "you see a deep little pocket, which tends to hold bass throughout the summer too."

For more information on Lake Purdy and its facilities, as well as nighttime bass tournaments held there, contact Ken Delap at (205) 991-9107.

LOCUST FORK OF THE BLACK WARRIOR RIVER
The Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River stretches from its junction with the Mulberry Fork at Howton's Camp on Bankhead Lake northward almost to Guntersville. Along this course, anglers are offered a two-tiered fishery. On the lower end, the river gives up numbers of spotted and largemouth bass. On the upper end of the Locust Fork, you find primarily float-fishing opportunities for spotted bass.

"The upper end of the Locust Fork, north of Jefferson County, homes some of the premier canoeing and kayaking waters in the state," says Jerry Moss, longtime fishery supervisor for District III. "This upper section of the Locust Fork is where you find some virtually untouched spotted bass fishing, but very little if any largemouth fishing.

"There's bad news and good news about the Locust Fork," Moss adds. "We have some problems on the lower end with silt caused by upstream erosion. Siltation is beginning to clog up the access. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has contacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to try and obtain a grant to have this lower section dredged to permit more access to fishermen and boaters."

When it comes to lures on the Locust Fork, anglers have success with 4-inch slider-type worms, small inline spinners in 1/16-ounce sizes, and small minnow-imitating crankbaits. On the lower portion of the river, fish the same types of baits but increase the size of the offerings a bit, since both spots and largemouths are likely to be present.

To reach Howton's Camp from Birmingham for access to the lower river, get off I-59 at the Hueytown exit and follow C.R. 46 (Taylors Ferry Road) until it dead ends.

To learn more about canoe or kayak fishing the Locust Fork, check out Alabama Float Trips and Canoe Rides, by John Foshee, or Paddling Alabama, by Joe Cuhaj and Curt Burdick. Either can provide details about put-in and take-out points, plus what you can expect along the way.

Although it is a major metropolitan area, the environs of Birmingham have plenty of good bassin' action in the back yard. These hotspots close to downtown promise better-than-average bass-fishing opportunities, especially for small-boat owners and anglers on foot this summer.



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