Alabama's Panfish Forecast
August 31, 2011
May is one of the top times of the year for catching bedding panfish in Alabama. Here's your guide to some great places for this action right now!
Some years ago my friend J. Wayne Fears of Hampton Cove and I found the crystal-clear waters of an old gravel pit dotted with bream beds about 10- to 15-yards off the bank. But, the bream could see so well that as we walked toward the water, they would disappear off the beds.
Eventually, we had to don camouflage clothing and crawled up to the edge of the water to keep from spooking them. We used 4-pound-test line, clear bobbers and small hooks that we could bury inside the worms we were using for bait. Keeping our rods low off the ground, we cast sidearm.
The clear bobbers were set to allow the worms to fall all the way to the bottom and used only as strike indicators. When we saw the float moving, we'd set the hook and bring the bluegills in, unhook them, and raise lid of our cooler just enough to slide the bluegills into the ice chest. All the while we were still laying flat on our stomachs.
While Alabama is full of bedding bream this month, fortunately most of them are not as spooky as were those fish. Throughout the state you can find waters filled with bluegill and shellcracker beds, along with fish that readily bite.
SHELLCRACKER OR BLUEGILL?
Oftentimes you can find redear sunfish â€” often referred to as shellcrackers â€” mixed in with the beds of bluegills. However, shellcrackers generally prefer to bed in weeds, because they find snails on the stems of those weeds. Their preference for that forage that make-ups an important part of their diet also accounts for their nickname. Although both bluegills and shellcrackers can be caught on similar crickets or worms, the shellcrackers tend to prefer worms.
"When I'm fishing for shellcrackers, I use live night crawlers," said south Alabama angler Gayland Gilliken. "I cut the night crawlers into pieces and then thread them on all the way up to the eye of the hook, so the shellcrackers can't see the hook. I leave about an inch of the night crawler past the end of the hook, so that part of the worm can wiggle and attract shellcrackers.
"I drop my bait right into the grass in any hole I can find in the weeds," he continued, "as well as fishing it along the edges of the weeds. Once I catch a couple of shellcrackers, I hold my boat right in that spot until the shellcrackers stop biting."
FINDING THE BEDS
Bluegills and shellcrackers often bed from the bank out to 20- or 30-foot-deep water. The quickest and the easiest way to locate these beds in shallow water is simply to look for them. The small craters are easily visible.
In deeper water you need to use electronics. When you spot a number of fish congregated on the bottom, that's likely where the bream are nesting.
Another way to prospect for beds in deeper areas is by casting with a bobber and a small Renosky Keystone jig. Set the float to keep the jig, which looks like a small minnow, just off the bottom and reel in the rig slowly. When you get a bite or catch a bream, put your spinning rod and jig down, grab a worm or cricket rig and fish that spot thoroughly. You'll likely discover that you've found the bedding area.
The bream beds in deep water often are on underwater ridges or gravel points that run out into deep water. For your bait rig, use a slip bobber. The slip bobber provides enough weight to cast, while staying back from the beds. The line then slips through the float and let your bait falls to the bottom.
You often locate the biggest bream out in the deeper water, where few anglers look for them.
Once you locate an area where the bream are bedding, start fishing in the deeper edges first. When you hook a fish, it's likely to run to deeper water, away from the other beds.
That way you can progressively move your bait closer to shore, continuing to catch bream without spooking the entire school.
Armed with those tactics, these waters in Alabama are good places for find and catching these hard-fighting ingredients for a fish fry.
Joe Addison is the assistant chief of fisheries for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. He has access to the most recent and accurate information on all the state's bream waters. Here are his picks for the coming year.
Addison named Guntersville Lake on the Tennessee River as the best public waters for bluegills and shellcrackers in the northern reaches of the Cotton State.
"There always has been excellent bream fishing every spring, especially in May, on Guntersville Lake," Addison explained. "You catch bluegills and shellcrackers there, and your catches will average from 3/4- to 1 1/2-pounds each."
Guntersville is fairly shallow and very fertile, which propagates plenty of grass for hiding places for bream. There's also an abundance of hard bottom for bedding areas.
Located between the towns of Bridgeport and Guntersville, the reservoir is Alabama's largest lake. Stretching for 75 miles from Nickajack Dam to Guntersville Dam, the impoundment contains 69,100 acres of water.
Clay & DeKalb County Lakes
Two other productive public fishing sites in north Alabama are DeKalb County and Clay County lakes. Addison said that many fishermen don't realize the state manages its public fishing lakes intensively to produce the most and the biggest fish each year.
"All these lakes are fertilized, limed and managed to grow the biggest fish possible in the quickest way," Addison confirmed. "The bream in these two lakes average from 3/4- to 1 1/2-pounds each."
DeKalb County Lake is a 120-acre impoundment located a mile north of Sylvania off County Road 47. The lake manager can be contacted at (256) 657-1300.
Clay County Lake actually consists of a group of three ponds of 13, 23 and 38 acres. Those are 1 mile west of the east-central Alabama town of Delta on State Route 9. For more information call the lake manager at (256) 488-0038.
In addition to needing a regular fishing license, a daily fishing permit costs $3.00, a boat rental's $5.00, and it costs $3.00 to use the boat ramp. Before fishing, check to see the posted regulations and creel limits.
For central Alabama anglers Lake Demopolis is a primary bream-fishing spot. It's located at the confluence of the Warrior and the Tombigbee rivers near the town of Demopolis.
This very fertile reservoir has plenty of weeds and bedding areas for both bluegills and shellcrackers. Joe Addison said you catch a mixed bag of bluegills and shellcrackers at Demopolis, and these fish may be a little smaller than what you catch on the north Bama waters. Bream of 1/2 to 1 pound are fairly common here.
Demopolis covers 10,000 acres in Marengo County and is the second longest lake in the Black Warrior-Tombigbee system. It extends for 48-miles up the Black Warrior River and 53-miles up the Tombigbee.
Dallas, Fayette & Lamar County LakesThe top central Alabama state public fishing lakes for panfish are in Dallas, Lamar, and Fayette counties. Due to the management program applied to these lakes they each have excellent bream populations.
Dallas County Lake is a 100-acre body of water located 11 miles south of Selma off SR 41. For more details call the lake manager at (334) 874-8804.
Lamar County Lake is a 68-acre pond located off SR 18 roughly 8 miles west of Vernon. Turn onto Lamar CR 21 and travel 5 miles to the lake. The lake manager can be reached at (205) 695-8283.
Sixty-acre Fayette County Lake is located 6 miles southeast of the town of Fayette off CR 26. More details can be obtained from the lake manager at (205) 932-6548.
All three of these lakes charge the $3.00 daily fee for fishing.
The Mobile Delta extends for 30 miles inland from Mobile Bay. The maze of waters offers some productive bream fishing in its 20,323 acres of tidal flows. The angling is especially good on the Lower Delta around the Mobile Causeway.
You may catch bluegills and shellcrackers that weigh as much as a pound each in this area.
The middle Delta, where the marsh grass ends, and the tree line starts, also yields excellent bream fishing.
Gantt And Point A Lakes
Gantt and Point A lakes are two more top bream fisheries in south Alabama Situated on the Conecuh River, both these small impoundments give up some big bluegills and redears. But particularly in the case of Point A, the shellcracker action can be outstanding.
Joe Addison said the waters of these twin reservoirs are quite fertile and weed-filled. Thus they provide excellent habitat for the panfish. Yet, these two sleepers get relatively light fishing pressure.
Gantt Lake holds 2700-acres of water in the community form which it derives its name. It is located north of Andalusia in Covington County, just off SR 29. There are 21 miles of shoreline on the impoundment.
Point A Lake is smaller at 600 acres and is immediately downstream of Gantt. The best access to Point A is via the boat ramp at the Alabama Electric Cooperative Park on Covington CR 59.
Coffee, Crenshaw & Escambia County Lakes
These three state public fishing lakes are all managed intensively for panfish action. They are also ideal for either boat or shore angling,
Escambia County, which is officially Leon Brooks Hines Lake, has 184 acres of water and is located in the Conecuh National Forest. The lake is 23 miles east of Brewton on Escambia CR 11.
For more details contact the lake manager at (251) 809-0068.
Coffee County Lake covers 80 acres and is situated 4 miles northwest of Elba, off Coffee CR 54. The lake manager can be reached at (334) 897-6833.
Fifty-three-acre Crenshaw County Lake sits 5 miles south of Luverne, off U.S. Highway 331, have numbers of bream. For information on its bream fishing call the lake manager at (334) 335-2572.
As with the other state lakes, a daily $3.00 fee is charged for fishing.