With more than 77,000 miles of rivers and streams, 41 public lakes and reservoirs, and some of the most varied fish habitat in the nation, Alabama's anglers are never far from productive water. Some waters, however, due to the dynamic nature of fisheries, produce much better than others as cycles peak and ebb. Regardless, there are at least three locations across the Cotton State where anglers can be successful each month of the year.
JANUARY - Lake Martin Striped Bass
"As far as big striped bass, January is an excellent time of the year," said guide Steve Smith (205-365-5226). "It's also a good time to catch numbers of fish because they school in winter."
For big fish, Smith trolls redhorse suckers or big shad behind planner boards in creeks and sloughs with points and humps falling off into water at least 30-feet deep. This technique produces 20- to 30-pound fish. To catch stripers from deep water, Smith finds the fish with sonar and then drops shad to the depth where the fish are holding. He fishes shad on a Carolina rig with a 2-ounce sinker and a 3-foot leader.
OTHER OPTIONS: During the coldest days of January, sea trout often congregate in the deepest holes of coastal creeks and rivers. The best baits are live shrimp, bull minnows and finger mullet. Anglers on Lake Guntersville target giant catfish in the main channel.
FEBRUARY - Jones Bluff Spotted Bass
Winning tournament angler and guide Dustin Connell (email@example.com) rates spotted bass fishing on Jones Bluff as excellent.
"Without a doubt," Connell said, "Jones Bluff on the Alabama River is awesome in February, and I think it gets better every year. I have had days where I caught 25 spots weighing 4 pounds or more."
To find spotted bass, Connell looks for current breaks along the lake's riverine shores. Places known to harbor spots from currents include creek mouths, channel swings and points. Connell says the most productive places have a hard bottom.
OTHER OPTIONS: Another excellent February fishery lies in the Wheeler Dam tailrace where white bass schools feed on shad. Catch these by casting leadhead jigs rigged with white curlytail grubs to eddies. Crappie fishing is also good on Demopolis Lake after a warming trend.
MARCH - Mobile Bay Sheepshead
"Beginning in late February, sheepshead school so thick that if you present your baits correctly, you will catch one right after another," said Stan Crooke, charter guide (firstname.lastname@example.org) "An average fish weighs 4 to 5 pounds, with big fish weighing 10 to 11 pounds."
For boaters, Crooke says the best places to drop baits are rocks, reefs and rigs. If fishing from shore, he recommends the Gulf State Park Pier and the Perdido Pass jetty and seawall.
Whether fishing from boat or shore, Crooke prefers fishing two hours before and after a tide change to take advantage of slower tidal flows to be able to stay in contact with baits without using heavy sinkers. A light sinker is essential for feeling a sheepshead bite.
OTHER OPTIONS: To catch big shellcrackers, head to Yates Lake. Fish wigglers around wood cover from 3- to 6-feet deep. On Pickwick Lake, smallmouth fishing is excellent in the tailrace.
APRIL - Lake Eufaula Largemouth Bass
Though this month has a reputation for producing big pre-spawn largemouth, tournament angler Ryan Ingram of Phenix City claims post-spawn bass offer a more consistent pattern, which can be used from the end of February until the end of May.
"Pre-spawn bass come up and go to the bank so fast that they are not dependable," Ingram said. "If you find them in practice, you will probably be disappointed on tournament day."
To find post-spawn bass, Ingram targets fish positioned on the first drop off adjacent to spawning flats. Work the first contour line by fishing brush piles, snags, stumps and irregularities like points and ditches. Effective lures are crankbaits, willow-leaf spinnerbaits and football-head jigs.
OTHER OPTIONS: To catch large stringers of bluegill, fish Mudhole and Gustins bays and the east shoreline of Chuckfee on the Mobile Delta. Fish two hours before and after a tide change. Also, anglers will find excellent crappie fishing on Aliceville Lake.
MAY - Lewis Smith Lake Spotted Bass
"May is the best time to catch a lot of fish, as many as 100 a day," said Craig Daniel, tournament angler and guide (256-347-4096). "Most of the fish weigh between 1 1/2 to 3 pounds."
Daniel's pattern for catching high numbers of spots is to fish stair-step rock banks. Look for shelves where fish have spawned, places where there is a shelf about 3 feet off the bank and is 5- to 10-feet wide. At the edge of the first step it will drop vertically to a second step and then to a third step. Anglers will find the spots in the shadows of the steps guarding their fry.
Daniel's go-to bait for stair-step fish is a white Zoom Fluke fished at an angle to the shoreline.
OTHER OPTIONS: May is an outstanding month to catch bluegill on Alabama's intensively managed 23 public fishing lakes throughout the state. The best fishing is during a full moon. Below the Bankhead Dam on Holt, fishing for hybrids is good in the current.
JUNE - Weiss Lake Crappie
Another lake with a fishery on an uptrend is Weiss, which is the first impoundment on the Coosa River. National tournament champion and guide David Stancil (www.thecrappieguide.com) of Oxford says Weiss is currently the best lake on the Coosa chain for size and numbers of fish.
Stancil reports anglers can catch limits of crappie in June by fishing cover with four, 12-foot spider rods on the bow. He only fishes with minnows and keeps them within 5 feet of cover.
To find crappie in June, the guide targets flats 12 to 14 feet deep off the main channel on the lower half of the lake. Stancil looks for current breaks in the form of brush piles, stake beds and rocky humps.
OTHER OPTIONS: Offshore fishing for
red snapper is amazing over the state's extensive artificial reefs. Also, Lake Andrews provides excellent fishing for channel catfish during summer.
JULY - Millers Ferry Flathead Catfish
Tournament angler Richard Stocks of Valley Grand recently caught a trophy flathead from the Alabama River below Selma that weighed 48 pounds. He says excellent fishing exists for flathead catfish on Millers Ferry between Selma and Bogue Chitto Creek.
"This area has a lot of timber in 15 to 20 feet of water, and flatheads love to hold around the bases of those snags," Stocks said. "When a yellow cat has a good place, he will not move."
To entice big flatheads, he uses either live bream or goldfish. Stocks believes bait size is an important factor in catching big fish. When targeting trophy-size catfish, he tries to eliminate bites from smaller fish by using big baits. Stocks fishes live baits on 10/0 circle hooks tied to 60-pound-test leaders.
OTHER OPTIONS: Spanish mackerel offers anglers excellent fishing from the Gulf State Park Pier and good fishing from the Fairhope Municipal Pier. Small spoons and jigs retrieved rapidly are deadly for mackerel. Anglers will also find excellent fishing for rainbow trout on Sipsey Fork.
AUGUST - Gulf Greater Amberjack
On August 1, greater amberjack season opens after being closed for two months. These hard fighting fish, known as reef donkeys, can weigh more than 100 pounds. The state record weighed 127 pounds, 12 ounces. Anglers report frequently catching 20 pounders, with an occasional fish weighing more than 50 pounds.
These bruisers work the entire water column around reefs. It's possible to catch them on the bottom when targeting snapper or the surface when chumming for king mackerel.
To target big amberjacks, live bait is essential, with hardtails producing best. Fish big baits on 7/0 or 9/0 circle hooks with a 60-pound-test-floracarbon leader on a fish-finder rig. For fast action with smaller fish, rapidly working butterfly jigs at mid-depths usually draws strikes on the first drop.
OTHER OPTIONS: Another hard-fighting saltwater species to target are bull reds on Dixie Bar near the shipping channel. Live croaker is the best bait for big redfish. Mullet fishing is excellent between Claiborne Dam and Cliff's Landing on the Alabama River.
SEPTEMBER - Sipsey Fork Rainbow Trout
September is an excellent month for wading in the cool water flowing from the base of the Lewis Smith Dam. Fisheries biologists report the chilly water supports a year-round rainbow trout fishery, which is stocked monthly.
Anglers catch the greatest number of trout between the dam and the S.R. 69 Bridge. On this stretch of the stream, anglers are restricted to wading. Wading, however, is not possible if Alabama Power is generating hydroelectricity. Fish with caution and be prepared to move quickly to high ground in the event they release water from the dam.
OTHER OPTIONS: On Lake Logan Martin, trophy blue catfish readily feed during the day when there is current. Look for holes where the creeks meet the main channel above I-20. On Little Bear Creek Lake, anglers experience good fishing for crappie.
OCTOBER - Pickwick Lake Smallmouth Bass
"When we have water release rates from Wilson Dam greater than 50,000 cubic feet per second, fishing for smallmouth is excellent in October," said Brent Crow, tournament angler and guide (www.northalabamabass.com). "On a good day, you can catch 15 to 20 fish, 15 inches or longer, with two to three weighing more than 5 pounds. And you always have a chance of catching a 6- or 7-pounder."
Crow finds the best fishing on Pickwick lies between the dam and the Natchez Trace Bridge.
To fish this area, Crow relies on a 5 1/2-inch swimbait rigged on 1/2-ounce swim head. He casts the lure cross current to rock piles and current breaks with an 8-foot rod then makes a slow, steady retrieve to keep the lure near the bottom.
OTHER OPTIONS: Abundant aquatic vegetation growing out from Lay Lake's shoreline offers excellent fishing for largemouth bass. On Lake Eufaula's shallow flats, white and hybrid bass create a feeding frenzy by attacking schools of shad.
NOVEMBER - Lake Jordan Crappie
To win a crappie tournament on Lake Jordan requires a 2-pound average weight. Tournament angler and guide Jonathan Phillips reports outstanding fishing in November with the arrival of cooler temperatures.
"In November," he said, "crappie suspend. They may only be 6 feet deep in water 30 feet deep. To find suspended crappie, use side-scan sonar to find balls of shad where predators have caused the balls to separate. Then you must decide if bass, crappie or another species is feeding on the shad."
Phillips catches suspended crappie by trolling long-line Roadrunner lures 40 feet behind the boat on 6-pound-test monofilament. He trolls the lures on rods ranging in length from 6 to 16 feet to keep the lines from tangling.
OTHER OPTIONS: In November, the smallmouth bite continues on the Tennessee River, with the Wheeler Dam tailrace on Wilson Lake providing limits of 4- to 5-pound fish. This is also the month flounder make their annual migration back to the Gulf.
DECEMBER - Wilson Lake Blue Catfish
Tournament angler and guide Brian Barton (email@example.com) rates fishing as good on Wilson Lake for the month of December. He reports anglers can expect to get eight to 10 bites a day from blue catfish ranging in size from 10 to 70 pounds, with an average fish weighing 35 to 40 pounds.
"In December," Barton said, "catfish hold on ledges that fall into the river channel or the deepest part of the basin. Usually, they hold on the side with the strongest current. The steeper ledges hold the bigger fish."
To catch fish, Barton trolls downstream at .2 or .4 mph dragging skipjack herring on a Santee rig. On the upper lake, he trolls ledges 25 to 35 feet deep; on the lower lake, he targets ledges 70- to 80-feet deep.
OTHER OPTIONS: This is a good month to catch sheepshead from supporting structures on the Dauphin Island Bridge and the gas rigs in Mobile Bay. On Smith Lake, striped bass fishing is good in the upper creeks.