The current Bass Anglers Information Team — or B.A.I.T. as it’s commonly known — annual report shows anglers caught more fish, larger fish, and weighed in heavier limits than at any time during the report’s history.
The report is prepared by Damon Abernethy, supervisor for fisheries development at the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and based on information submitted from bass club tournaments.
Since the beginning of the B.A.I.T. program 25 years ago, it has served as a valuable tool for biologists and fishermen and helped to bring awareness to changes and trends in our fisheries.
It’s also a great resource for planning a fishing trip. With that in mind, we selected the three lakes with the highest overall quality indicators and will reveal why they are top destinations.
For the remaining three destinations covered, we used the B.A.I.T. report, but also talked with anglers and biologists to discover hotspots for this spring.
Whether fishing the Tennessee River, the Mobile Delta or points in between, there’s a bass ready for a fight on this year’s best bassin’ waters.
“Guntersville is a bass factory,” remarked Abernethy, who has fished the lake for 25 years. “It has ideal fertility and habitat for bass. Considering everything, it is one of, if not, the best reservoir in the country.
“Anglers are not likely to catch a 15-pound bass; it’s not that kind of fishery. But in March, tournament anglers could weigh in a 5-pound average. There are not many reservoirs where fishermen can catch that many fish over 5 pounds in one day or one trip.”
At 69,100 acres, Guntersville is Alabama’s largest reservoir and the first of four impoundments on the Tennessee River within the state. The lake has stable water levels and abundant shallow water; both are significant factors in growing aquatic plants.
In turn, the weeds shelter forage species and allows them to grow larger. Prey size is important. For maximum foraging efficiency, large bass require large prey to grow well.
Guntersville supports largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, but most anglers target ol’ bucketmouth for it size and numbers. In March, prespawn behavior dominates where and how to catch largemouth.
“The first area that usually turns in February,” Abernethy revealed, “is Mud Creek. It’s a shallow creek, and the grass usually starts growing there first. As the water warms, the action moves slowly down the lake towards Guntersville.
“In March, the key to success is finding fresh green growth. It can be hard to find. Look in good spawning creeks like Chisenhall and Siebold creeks. A common mistake anglers make is fishing too deep. Target fish in water 6 feet deep or less.”
For fishermen not familiar with the lake, Abernethy recommended fishing scattered patches of grass with a Rat-L-Trap. He said it’s an effective search bait. Often, the strike occurs when it is jerked free after hooking a stalk of grass.
When Abernethy finds fish, he switches to a jerkbait. Instead of jerking, ripping or twitching, Abernethy says just letting it sit there often works best.
To find grassy areas quickly, this veteran of Guntersville uses side-scan sonar.
“It’s clearer, covers more of the bottom and can cut the number of passes to check an area by 70 percent,” Abernethy said. “It is a faster way to find habitat.”
For a guided day of fishing on Lake Guntersville, telephone Alex Davis at (256) 298-1178 or visit his web site at www.spinnerbaitkid.com.
As the last Tennessee River impoundment in the state, Pickwick is nothing like Guntersville. Fertility is similar, but it’s a winter drawdown lake and the topography does not support the weed growth of its larger cousin. Nevertheless, Pickwick is renowned for its world-class trophy smallmouth bass fishery.
Pickwick flows north for much of its 52-mile length, with the lower section belonging to Mississippi and Tennessee. The first 12 miles below Wilson Dam, with its long narrow tailwater, partially submerged Seven-Mile Island, abundant gravel bars and jagged stump rows, are particularly good for smallies. This in combination with the current from the turbines creates prime smallmouth water.
Bronzebacks weighing 5 to 7 pounds are common in late February through the first half of March.
“Early in the year,” Abernethy revealed, “tournament anglers target smallmouth. They are apt of win a tournament with largemouth anytime, but the prespawn bite is so strong anglers focus on smallmouth.”
Successful smallmouth anglers on Pickwick know how to read and fish current.
“Current below the dam is key; the flow stimulates feeding activity,” Abernethy continued. “Anytime there is current it is going to greatly improve fishing. In the spring, the turbines run consistently.”
Abernethy has one caveat.
“March weather can be brutal or it can be good. Fishing success goes hand-in-hand with the weather. If you plan a trip six months in advance and the weather is nasty, you could be disappointed. It’s a high risk, high reward scenario.”
Traditionally in March, one of the most productive lures is a smoke-colored, 4-inch grub rigged on a 3/16-ounce jig head. Last spring, many large smallmouth fell for 1-ounce Bottom Dweller spinnerbaits by Strike King and Storm’s Wildeye Swim Shad.
If the water release exceeds 70,000 cubic feet per second, fish these lures on shallow structure near deep water, as the strong current positions baitfish near rocky points and gravel drop-offs.
If the tailrace does not produce a smallmouth bite, Abernethy recommended fishing Coffee Slough for largemouths.
“This area has plenty of cypress trees,” he said, “and is an excellent place to flip for largemouth.”
For guide service, call Steve Hacker at (256) 760-8090, or visit his website at www.smallmouth.com.
For the latest information on reservoir elevations and flow rates, call the TVA’s Reservoir Information Line 1-800-238-2264 or visit the website: www.tva.gov/lakes/wlh_r.htm.