Alabama offers plenty of great fishing waters, and most anglers have their favorite spots to cast for trophies. But with temperatures warming up and the school year winding down, this is the perfect time to focus on a different kind of destination: the best locations for a family fishing trip. The goal this month is to find waters where your kids can actually catch fish, and perhaps enjoy some fun diversions along the way. Here are a few places where you can make some memories.
A wise man once said, “Most good memories come from the outdoors. Nobody fondly recalls the times they spent watching television or staring at a computer.”
Most people probably started fishing by threading a worm on a hook dangling under a bobber and plopping it next to a stump or fallen tree to catch a fat bluegill or feisty catfish. Fortunately, Alabama offers many places where families can enjoy all kinds of outdoors activities, as well as catch some fish.
Commonly referred to as “The Shoals,” or the Quad Cities, the towns of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia and Sheffield in Lauderdale and Colbert counties in northern Alabama all offer access to Tennessee River lakes. On any given day, anglers might catch a dozen or more species, including largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, several varieties of sunfish, catfish, white bass, striped bass and more.
The westernmost of “The Shoals” lakes, Pickwick Lake spreads across 47,500 acres and runs 53 river miles from the Wilson Dam at Florence to the Pickwick Dam at Counce, Tenn. One of the top bass lakes in the nation, Pickwick holds some 10-pound largemouths, along with monster smallmouth bass.
“Pickwick has really become one of the best bass lakes, not only in Alabama, but in the entire South for both largemouth and smallmouth,” said Tim Horton, professional bass angler from Muscle Shoals.
On the other side of Wilson Dam, Wilson Lake runs 15 miles along the river and covers 15,930 acres. Situated between Pickwick and Lake Wheeler, the state’s second largest lake can produce big bass and catfish. It holds the Alabama state record for smallmouth with a 10.5-pound fish.
The entire system offers anglers outstanding catfish action. Legendary for producing big catfish, the Tennessee River holds some blue cats topping 100 pounds and giant flatheads nearly as big. For anglers just out to fill a freezer with filets, anglers can find many places to catch channel catfish up to 10 pounds, particularly near the Wilson Dam.
“The Tennessee River is well known for producing big catfish,” said Brian Barton, catfish guide (www.brianbartonoutdoors.com) from Muscle Shoals. “I’ve had days near the Wilson Dam when I’ve caught more than 100 catfish. My personal best is a 75-pounder. I know of at least one 93-pounder caught in Lake Wheeler and a couple fish in the ’80s.”
The area near Wilson Dam offers several areas where people can fish from the bank. This includes McFarland Park on the Florence side of the river near the mouth of Cypress Creek. Families can camp or park a recreational vehicle along the river shoreline and fish from the bank or a pier at Cypress Creek.
Just to the east, people might want to stay at Joe Wheeler State Park (www.alapark.com/joe-wheeler-state-park). The resort park covers 2,550 acres on Wheeler Lake near Rogersville. People can fish from the banks throughout the park or from a pier. Many people bring their own boats or rent a park boat to go out on the lake. While not fishing, visitors might enjoy 18 holes of golf, hike the trails or dine in the resort restaurant.
State park visitors can stay in the resort hotel. Some prefer to rent cabins or lakeside cottages. Some people might want to rent the special Fisherman’s Cabin, located near the boat launch at First Creek. It comes with an outside connection where folks can keep batteries charged among other amenities.
Along The Way
While in the Shoals area, visitors might want to tour the Alabama Music Hall of Fame or see where Helen Keller grew up in Tuscumbia. Every summer, people attend the play, “The Miracle Worker,” about Helen Keller’s life and education from Annie Sullivan.
For a taste of the Wild West, visit the Rattlesnake Saloon (rattlesnakesaloon.net) in Tuscumbia and dine under a rock. Built under an ancient natural rock outcropping, the western style saloon offers such items as snake eyes and tails (stuffed jalapeno peppers and green beans), rattlesnake eggs (fried jalapeno poppers) and monster burgers. Visitors can sleep in grain silo converted into a condominium.
People can also pay homage to hunting dogs at the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard, more commonly known as the Coon Dog Cemetery. Free to the public, this parcel of sacred ground on the Freedom Hills Wildlife Management Area near Cherokee honors more than 300 dearly departed coon dogs buried there since 1937.
Buying, keeping and maintaining a boat to venture offshore can run into serious dollars, but people living near the Alabama coast can find excellent fishing even without putting a boat in the water. Sometimes, they even catch big fish.
The Gulf State Park Pier extends 1,540 feet, or more than a quarter mile, into the Gulf of Mexico between Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. Depending upon the time of year, anglers can catch almost anything that swims in Alabama coastal waters.
“People catch just about every type of saltwater fish in Alabama waters off the Gulf State Park Pier,” remarked David Thornton, a regular visitor to that structure. “The pier gives anglers without access to boats a good opportunity to catch really big fish like king mackerel, jack crevalle, cobia and tarpon, but they can also catch many inshore species. Occasionally, someone even hooks a sailfish.”
Many people fish off the far end for the largest species, as the end of the pier spreads out into an octagonal shape, providing ample room for anglers targeting king mackerel, tarpon and other species. While the Octagon remains popular with anglers seeking large fish, some people prefer to fish closer to shore for speckled trout, redfish, whiting and flounder. Anglers can also catch black drum, Spanish mackerel, croakers, pompano, bluefish and more.
“The pier offers one of the best fishing experiences on the Gulf Coast,” said Chris Sherrill. “With some live shrimp and a little cutbait, people can wear out the fish sometimes. I’ve caught tripletail, black seabass, pompano, monster jack crevalle, a real variety of fish. I take my four children out there with light tackle and they catch pinfish, flounder, trout and redfish. I’ve caught trout bigger than 5 pounds. It’s a perfect place to spend a family day.”
Anglers in south Alabama can also fish from other piers. The longest privately owned pier on the Gulf Coast, the Cedar Point Pier in Coden near Dauphin Island offers good action for inshore species, such as redfish, speckled trout, black drum and flounder. Several piers along the eastern shoreline of Mobile Bay also offer anglers good access to inshore species. The Fairhope Municipal Pier in the town of Fairhope extends 1,448 feet into the bay and can offer excellent fishing opportunities.
Farther up the bay, people can visit Meaher State Park in Spanish Fort. Anglers can fish from a 300-foot pier with a 200-foot “T” at the end. In the rich estuary, anglers might catch redfish and flounder or freshwater fish, such as bass and catfish, often at the same time.
The Perdido Pass area near Orange Beach offers many places to fish without a boat. Perdido Pass separates Alabama Point from Florida Point at the mouth of the Perdido River about two miles west of the Alabama-Florida line. Some people walk out on the jetties to fish the pass. Others stay on the beaches and seawalls to catch sheepshead, pompano, black drum and redfish.
“Alabama Point near Orange Beach is a good spot to catch redfish and other fish,” said fishing guide Glenn Flowers, (cathunters.net). “That area has a lot of places where people can fish off the bank, seawalls or docks if they don’t have boats. At times, people can sit right there on the seawall and catch redfish, one after another. The seawall around Perdido Pass has some lights that really draw in the baitfish at night.”
Almost any public beach from Dauphin Island to the Florida state line can provide good action for wade fishermen. On Dauphin Island, the Fort Morgan Peninsula and other beaches, surf anglers can hope to catch redfish, pompano, speckled trout, whiting, flounder, Spanish mackerel and other species.
Along The Way
People visiting the Orange Beach-Gulf Shores area can take their pick of lodging and eating facilities. The entire coastline offers just about any type of facilities and entertainment found in beach resort towns. People might want to take a sunset dolphin cruise, visit the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo or explore Civil War forts. At Dauphin Island, visitors might want to take a tour of the Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab to see exhibits and interactive displays on the diverse life and complex ecosystems of Mobile Bay.
Rather than pay hotel prices, many people stay at Gulf State Park on the beach between Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. The park offers modern and primitive camping and rents cottages.
For people between the Tennessee River and the Shoals area, the state manages 23 small lakes in 20 counties to give families more fishing opportunities. These lakes range in size from 13 to 184 acres for a total of 1,912 acres.
“The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division has an alternative for those who need productive fishing spots closer to home,” wrote N. Gunter Guy Jr., commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources in a recent magazine article. “Since its inception in the late 1940s, the Alabama State Lakes Program has provided quality fishing at an affordable price in areas of the state that lack sufficient natural waters to meet the needs of the public.”
Each lake contains populations of largemouth bass, bluegill and redear sunfish. Each winter, the state releases channel catfish into the lakes. These lakes typically remain open for public fishing from Feb. 1 until November 30.
“The WFF intensively manages each lake to provide quality fishing on a sustained basis,” Guy wrote. “Hybrid striped bass are stocked annually in Walker County Lake and anglers are catching plenty of them. Rainbow trout are stocked each winter in Madison County Lake.”
These lakes typically exist in family friendly parks suitable for bank fishing. Anglers can also fish from piers and some lakes allow anglers to bring gasoline-powered boats. A few park lakes rent boats. Some sell bait and tackle. Some allow night fishing.
Most lakes contain good bass and bluegill populations. For bass, try Escambia County Lake, the largest in the system. It can produce bass in the 10- to 14-pound range. Also called Leon Brooks Hines Lake, Escambia County Lake covers 184 acres of the Conecuh National Forest near Brewton. The lake produces excellent catches of bluegills and redear sunfish.
“As with most small impoundments, lakes and farm ponds, WFF managers try to maintain a balance that will provide good fishing for both bass and bream,” Guy wrote. “Dallas County produces huge numbers of bluegill, so it’s a great place to take kids because there will be constant action for the youngsters to enjoy. Lamar and Clay are other good bluegill lakes. Monroe County has excellent bream fishing with a tremendous shellcracker population, but there are some big bass, too.”
For crappie, anglers might consider fishing Bibb County or Clay County lakes. Bibb County Lake covers 100 acres about seven miles north of Centreville. A mile east of Delta, the Clay County complex actually offers anglers choices of 13-, 23- and 38-acre lakes. For catfish, try Marion County, a 37-acre reservoir six miles north of Guin.