According to research by fisheries biologist, past tournament results and angler comments, 2014 is shaping up to be great year for bass fishing in Alabama. Across the state, anglers are preparing to begin their yearly fishing season, and March is the perfect month to launch a fishing trip.
The reasons are many, and they make it easier to find and catch fish. Weather is more predictable in March. Bass are distracted by the approaching act of reproduction. Fish often travel identifiable routes to spawning areas. And most importantly, it’s one of the best months for catching big, pre-spawn bass.
To help with your bass fishing destinations this spring, here are six top destinations across the state.
Largemouth, Smallmouth & Spotted Bass
Since the turn of the century, Guntersville Lake has placed at or near the top of the big bass category in the Bass Anglers Information Team report (B.A.I.T.). The category is for the time required to catch a fish larger than 5 pounds and was compiled from 49 tournament reports throughout the year.
During those tournaments, anglers weighed in nearly 11,000 pounds of bass having an average weight of more than 3 pounds. In March, though, it’s possible to weigh in a 5-pound average.
Damon Abernethy, supervisor for Fisheries Development, prepared the report and says the 69,100-acre lake on the Tennessee River has ideal largemouth bass habitat.
“Guntersville is consistently a big fish lake,” Abernethy explained. “It has perfect fertility, the water levels are stable year around, and it has bottom contours that support about a 30 percent coverage of aquatic vegetation, which provides a positive environment for largemouth bass. It’s absolutely the perfect reservoir.”
Abernethy plans a fishing trip to Guntersville every spring, usually in March or early April.
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“It depends on what you want to accomplish,” Abernethy said. “If you want a trophy largemouth, plan on fishing Guntersville in February. Catch rates are low, and many anglers will not catch anything when it’s cold. But in March and April, the fishing is always good, and we never have a bad trip. Guntersville is amazing.”
In February, Abernethy recommends fishing Mud Creek as the water there warms first. As winter turns to spring, he moves down the lake to the spawning areas in Chisenhall and Siebold creeks for pre-spawn and bedding fish. By April, he is targeting post-spawn bass beginning to stage on major points leading out of the spawning pockets.
According to Abernethy, the best lures for late winter and spring fishing on Guntersville are lipless crankbaits, jerkbaits, football jigs, swimbaits, Texas-rigged lizards, buzzbaits, Zara Spooks and Pop-Rs. The lipless crankbait is for late winter and the topwater lures are for post-spawn bass.
For a guided day of fishing on Guntersville Lake, telephone Alex Davis at (256) 298-1178 or visit his web site at www.spinnerbaitkid.com.
Largemouth, Smallmouth & Spotted Bass
As a smallmouth bass destination, Pickwick is already a national treasure for bass fishermen. But wait, there’s more! Pickwick just keeps getting better. The 43,000-acre lake on the Tennessee River also offers exceptional fishing for largemouth bass.
The latest B.A.I.T. report rates Pickwick near the top in average bass weight, pounds per angler-day, and hours to catch big bass. What the statistics do not reveal is that March is a prime time for smallmouth and June is a prime time largemouth.
Five-pound smallmouth are common in March. With longer days and warmer temperatures, fishing improves significantly during the month. Yet, fishing can suffer if the TVA is not generating power.
Plan to fish during a 24-hour discharge rate of 40,000 cubic feet per second, more is better. Then concentrate on fishing a gravel, rock or shell bottom at least a quarter mile from the bank. In early March, fish 16 to 20 feet deep. As the water warms into the mid-50s, fish 12 to 14 feet deep.
The best smallmouth lures for March offer little drag to the current. These include bucktail jigs, curly tail grubs and tube lures with the lead head in the tube.
As temperatures increase into June, largemouth replace smallmouth as the bass to catch.
“I take a trip to Pickwick every June,” Abernethy said. “When the fish move to the ledges on Pickwick, you can sit in one place and catch 30 to 50 fish at times. If you find four or five schools like that, sometimes you can catch 100 fish a day. It’s unbelievable to sit in one place and catch a fish on nearly every cast. Two years ago the average size was 3 1/2 pounds.”
Abernethy uses side-scan sonar to search the river ledges from just above Bear Creek downstream to the dam. When he finds them, Abernethy relies on football jigs, deep-diving crankbaits and 10-inch worms.
For information of flow rates from Wilson Dam, check the TVA’s forecast on the Internet at www.tva.com.
Largemouth & Spotted Bass
South of Lake Guntersville on the Chattahoochee River, Lake Eufaula is another big bass lake represented in B.A.I.T. reports. In fact, this 45,000-acre reservoir has made the top five for big bass more often than any other lake in the 26-year history of the report.
Ken Weathers, District IV supervisor contributes Eufaula’s long-time success to a number of factors.
“It’s fairly fertile,” Weathers said. “The Chattahoochee Valley has a lot of natural fertility, so it’s a productive system. Also, there is not an over abundance of bass reproduction because there are so many different competitive species. The lake is relatively shallow, and instead of having cover everywhere, the bass are concentrated on points, drop-offs, man-made brush piles and the edge of vegetation.
“Last year with the water level staying high and aquatic vegetation coming back, anglers had a really good year on the lake. We are seeing more hydrilla, but there is also alligator weed, coontail and water willow.”
Weathers said water levels affected more than Eufaula’s vegetation. “With the water staying high we also had a great shad year. We conducted a shad sample the third week of August and found tremendous numbers of threadfin shad. Growth rates going into spring ought to be really good — the bass are healthy and plump.
“As far as big bass, there are not tremendous numbers of big fish, but anglers have a real good chance of catching a bass weighing more than 5 pounds. March is a big bass month. If the weather is stable, it is the best time of the year to fish.
In March, look for pre-spawn and spawning bass on the flats in Wylaunee and Cowikee creeks at depths of 5 to 10 feet. Work wood cover with spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and swimbaits. For fast action, target migrating fish in the creeks and ditches leading to the spawning flats. Use crankbaits or spinnerbaits and cast parallel to the creeks and ditches.
For current fishing information, telephone Young’s Big Mouth Shop at (334) 687-3200 or visit the shop on North Eufaula Avenue.
Largemouth & Spotted Bass
In the latest B.A.I.T. report, Bankhead Lake was the top lake in the overall quality indicator rankings and came in second behind Guntersville in the big bass category.
Better known to anglers as the Warrior River, Bankhead Lake covers 9,200 acres and draws fishermen from Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. This riverine lake stretches for 89 miles, beginning downstream of Holt Lake running upstream to Lewis Smith Lake.
District III fisheries biologist and supervisor Jay Haffner has worked Bankhead for more than 20 years and was not surprised by the lake’s first place finish in the annual report.
“Bankhead has always been a good lake,” Haffner said, “but these last two years it has been exceptional.”
To experience the best fishing Bankhead has to offer, Haffner recommends visiting the lake from late February through April.
“No doubt about it,” Haffner revealed, “give me three nice warm sunny days in a row after February 15 and it’s time to start bass fishing.”
Being a river-run lake, Bankhead does not have an abundance of backwater.
“If you like to spend the day fishing in a creek or slough and avoid the river,” Haffner advised, “this is not your reservoir. This lake requires versatility. There are times when it’s necessary to target spotted bass on main river bluffs or sandy areas on the river for spawning spots. Often, you find largemouth on the main river flats. I have shocked up some huge largemouth on Bankhead’s flats next to wood cover.”
The flats are the old submerged banks of the river.
“It looks like the river channel reaches from bank to bank,” Haffner observed, “but the channel occupies the middle and there is a flat on one side or the other.
“I think many anglers look at Bankhead’s proximity to Birmingham and avoid the lake. Yes, it is close, but it’s a terrific bass fishery and should not be overlooked.
There are no public ramps on Bankhead. For a complete listing of private ramps, visit: www.outdooralabama.com.
Largemouth & Spotted Bass
“Lay is known as a largemouth lake,” said Mike Holley, District II fisheries biologist, “but right now it has an excellent spotted bass population. In the most recent B.A.I.T. report, spots made up about 78 percent of the fish caught during tournaments on Lay.”
Located 35 minutes south of Birmingham off I-65, this 12,000-acre lake has proven habitat for producing big spotted bass.
“We sampled Lay in the spring 2013,” Holley reported, “and found the number of fish over 17 inches was off the charts compared to previous samples. It’s the highest we have ever seen on Lay. Their condition was excellent, and they were shaped like footballs.
“Almost all these fish are age five and have provided a great couple of years of fishing. I don’t know how long it will persist, but at least for this spring it should be excellent.”
Holley says a 5-year-old bass on Lay measures 15 to over 20 inches and weighs 2 to 4 pounds.
To target big spots, Holley recommends fishing from late February to mid-March.
“Early spring is the optimal time to go after big fish,” Holley advised. “Look for them on structure in close proximity to deep water. That does not mean they are not going to be shallow. Fish on or near creek channels with shallow rocky habitat. It’s where big fish move to in the spring.”
He continues, “Main-lake, rocky points is another place close to deep water to catch spots. The fish also hold on ledges and humps where there are rocks.”
Main-lake spotted bass are accustomed to feeding when there is a current running and are more willing to attack a reaction lure.
Holley adds, “With current, expect spots to take a crankbait or even an umbrella rig. Without current it’s necessary to slow down and use a shaky head with a finesse worm.”
For current fishing information, telephone or visit the Paradise Point Marina located on Paradise Point Road off State Route 28. Their telephone number is (205) 669-1515.
MILLERS FERRY LAKE
Largemouth & Spotted Bass
Millers Ferry is the second of three reservoirs on the Alabama River and lies between Jones Bluff and Claiborne Reservoirs. The distance from dam to dam is about 105 miles, with the upper 70 miles being riverine. For the remaining distance, the lake is a typical lowland reservoir with flooded feeder creeks, fields, and timber. These very different habitats support excellent fishing for largemouth and spotted bass in their respective areas.
Dave Armstrong, supervisor for District V, which covers the southwest part of Alabama, says Millers Ferry is the place to fish for bass in his district.
“The best place to fish for both size and numbers is Millers Ferry,” Armstrong reported. “It is on an upswing and productivity has been good. The lake has fertile water, a good shad population and stable water levels, so bass fishing is good.”
Anglers competing in tournaments in March need at least a 4-pound average to win. Last March, one winning stringer averaged 4.8 pounds.
In early March, largemouth stage on points in creeks with a shallow bank and series of small points. These creeks cross flats, and the points taper off toward the channel to a depth of about 12 feet. The best points contain submerged wood cover, and year-after-year these same points produce quality fish.
On a sunny day, largemouth are aggressive and attack spinnerbaits worked through wood cover. This pattern produces a 4-pound average on a good day in Bougue Chitto, Pine Barren and Chilatchee creeks.
To target spotted bass in March, fish the submerged riverbank where it turns from clay to pea gravel or from red soapstone to clay. Fish 50 yards either side of the transition. Boulders, stumps or snags in the transition area greatly increase its fishing holding capacity.
Cast deep-diving crankbaits to search the transition zone. Once you have located the fish, switch to jig.
If the water is clear in early March, fish for spotted bass. If the water is muddy from spring rains, largemouth fishing is best.
For current fishing information, telephone Loftins Bait Shop at (334) 682-9304 or visit them on the Camden Bypass in Camden.
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