Without great luck, the most important factors for angling success are fishing the best water for the target species at the right time. Fortunately, Alabamians have some of the best fishing locations in the nation for many species.
Whether fresh or saltwater, peak fishing times often depend on weather conditions. While a brutal winter will delay and compress peak periods for springtime, a mild winter shifts the best fishing forward on the calendar.
Here are places, times and tips for many of Alabama's popular species to help you plan some new and exciting fishing adventures for 2015.
Smith Lake Striped Bass
The illegal introduction of blueback herring into Smith Lake has changed fishing there forever. Striper guide Mike Walker (www.striper247smithlake.com) reports it has improved fishing, especially wintertime topwater action.
"The herring has really changed everything," Walker said. "You can find fish in places where they didn't winter before. And where we had a good topwater bite, we are now experiencing phenomenal topwater fishing. In January, we target big fish."
Under normal weather conditions, Walker spends the first half of January catching stripers hitting bait on the surface and the remainder of the month fishing baits on downlines. On an average trip, his methods produce between four to eight fish weighing between 10 and 40 pounds.
Other Options: This month also offers good fishing for trophy largemouth on Millers Ferry, as the females are prime for the coming spawn. A vertical presentation with a Hopkins spoon on the edge of the current is effective. Also, saltwater anglers find success catching amberjack from offshore reefs.
Lake Guntersville Largemouth Bass
February is an exceptional month to catch trophy largemouth from Lake Guntersville, but don't expect a lot of bites. Last year, the winning team at the inaugural Alabama Bass Trail tournament brought a five-fish limit to the scales weighing 32.02 pounds. They only culled three fish.
"Guntersville is consistently a big fish lake," said Damon Abernethy, supervisor for Fisheries Development. "It has perfect fertility, the water levels are stable year 'round and it has bottom contours that support about a 30-percent coverage of aquatic vegetation, which provides a positive environment for largemouth bass."
Abernethy recommends targeting pre-spawn fish in Mud Creek using lipless crankbaits or football jigs.
Other Options: Starting in mid-February on Weiss Lake, crappie anglers catch heavy stringers by trolling 1/16-ounce jigs along submerged creek channels. Large schools of females suspend in the channel. This is also a good time to catch spotted bass on Lake Jordan.
Mobile Bay Sheepshead
Beginning in March, veteran guide Captain DeJuan Tedder (www.gulfadventures.net) targets sheepshead moving into Mobile Bay. He says waves of migrating fish stage on concrete structures, steel pylons and rocks. Nearly everything that breaks the current with barnacles attached attracts fish.
"These structures hold good numbers of sheepshead weighing 5 to 10 pounds," Tedder said. "It's not unusual for clients to catch a 10-fish limit from one spot."
To catch fish, Tedder positions his boat on the down current side of the structure and has his clients lower live shrimp to the bottom on a Carolina rig with a No. 2 kahle hook. He uses enough weight to hold the bait near the structure.
Other Options: On Wheeler Lake, anglers catch 3- to 5-pound largemouths from secondary points and ditches leading into bedding areas. Anglers target the pre-spawn bass with jigs and spinnerbaits. Also, bream fishermen will find shellcrackers cruising bedding areas on Gantt Lake.
Millers Ferry Lake Crappie
"Millers Ferry is a really good crappie reservoir," said Tommy Purcell, District V fisheries biologist. "We were there in the spring of 2013, and the crappie fishing was amazing. We went back last April to sample for bass and found the same thing with the incidental crappie we caught."
According to Purcell, the best fishing for crappie is from Chilatchee Creek to the dam. From late March to early May, anglers report catching high numbers of keeper fish with a few weighing 2 pounds or more.
During this time, crappie are either spawning or migrating to spawning areas. It's not unusual to catch spawning fish throughout the month.
For current fishing information, telephone Loftins Bait Shop at (334) 682-9304 or visit them in Camden.
Other Options: During April, fishing for hybrid bass in the tailwaters of the Neely Henry Dam is excellent. With only one turbine running, it's possible to wade fish from the east bank. Also, fishing for shellcrackers is excellent on Yates Lake.
Lake Martin Spotted Bass
In May, winning tournament angler and veteran guide Chad Miller targets Lake Martin's spotted bass at night. Anyone can easily find where he catches fish, as the lighted piers facing the main lake attract hungry bass, crappie and striped bass.
"On a good pier," Miller said, "you may see 50 to 75 spots feeding around one light. The action is intense until the fish realize you are there, and then it's time to move to the next dock."
Miller catches good numbers of post-spawn fish weighing between 1 and 2 pounds, with the occasional 3- to 4-pounder by working the outside edges of the circle of light with small crankbaits and shaky head worms.
Other Options: Bluegill fishing at Lake Demopolis is excellent as the fish are bedding. The best fishing is usually around the time of the full moon. Also in May, anglers catch post-spawn crappie next to grass beds on Gainesville Lake.
Monroe County Lake Bluegill
Looking for a place to catch bluegill where an on-site manager and dedicated fisheries biologists intensively care for the fishery, and where anglers catch good numbers of fish weighing 3/4 of a pound? If so, look no further than Monroe County Lake. Tommy Purcell is one of the biologists responsible for the fishery on this 94-acre lake. He says one reason for the excellent fishing is the strong population of bass.
"The bass feed on the smaller bream," Purcell explained, "and the ones that survive grow large."
To catch bluegill from the bank, Purcell recommends fishing submerged bush near the wooden and earthen piers. In June, the lake is open Tuesday through Sunday. Before making the trip, call the lake manager at (251) 789-2104 to verify the schedule.
Other Options: Chaotic federal fishing regulations make it difficult to forecast red snapper season dates for the Gulf. However, when it's open, the fishing is excellent. It's also a good month for crappie on Weiss Lake.
Orange Beach King Mackerel
During the summer months, king mackerel provide exciting fishing for families and seasoned anglers alike. The bite is sometimes sporadic, but when a king strikes, it's as if you've hung a passing submarine. Even a small king will have your reel's drag smoking. Veteran guide Captain Don McPherson (www.getawaygulffishing.com) reports an average king weighs 8 to 10 pounds.
"There's always an opportunity to catch a much larger fish," McPherson said. "Alabama's record king was caught in 2012 and weighed more than 69 pounds."
Productive techniques for teasing kings include chumming at anchor over structure, drifting live baits or slow-trolling baits and lures. These techniques work offshore, and they work near shore in shallow water. Of these, trolling is popular near shore, especially for families.
Other Options: July is a great month to catch delicious flathead cats on Logan Martin Lake. At night, fish the cuts in the river-run bank with live bait. On Holt Lake, night fishing for blue catfish is also excellent.
Sipsey Fork Rainbow Trout
The coolest water with the best fishing this month flows from the base of the Smith Lake Dam. The tailwaters remain below 70 degrees year 'round and have supported hatchery-raised rainbow trout for 40 years. Through agreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Alabama Power Company, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division stocks about 3,500 8- to 12-inch rainbow trout monthly.
According to Jay Haffner, district fisheries supervisor, anglers have a unique opportunity to experience stream fishing for rainbows on many different levels. He says the purist fly fisherman can catch rainbows on a small midge imitation, while a novice can connect with wigglers. Above the S.R. 69 Bridge, anglers are restricted to wading. For more information, telephone the Riverside Fly Shop (256) 287-9582 or visit www.riversideflyshop.com.
Other Options: For a relaxing late summer evening of fishing, drift jugs down the river-run on Lake Andrews for channel catfish. Bait the hooks with shrimp or fresh chicken liver. To catch mullet, fish the lower section of Alabama River below Claiborne Lake.
Jones Bluff Lake Flathead Catfish
Jones Bluff on the Alabama River produced the current state record flathead in 1986. The giant yellow cat weighed 80 pounds. For anglers in the know, this stretch of the river yields 20- to 40-pound fish and many eating-size flatheads.
In September, winning catfish angler Richard Stocks of Valley Grand finds big fish in the river's deep hard-bottom holes, and he catches eating-size fish from the snags along the riverbank on the lower part of the lake. The best time to fish is when Alabama Power is generating electricity.
To access the upper lake, use the ramp off Highway 31 at Coooter's Pond. For mid-lake, use the ramp at Swift Creek and on the lower lake, there is a ramp north of Edsons.
Other Options: Offshore, one of the best-tasting reef fish is the vermillion snapper. Four pounders eagerly bite cut squid. On Lake Eufaula, crappie fishing is excellent at night with lights.
Pickwick Lake Smallmouth Bass
For the best trophy smallmouth fishing, Alabama's Pickwick Lake is the place to catch a 6-pound bronzeback. In fall, the tailrace below Wilson Dam is a smallmouth magnet.
Tournament angler and guide Brent Crow of Hartsell said water release rates are the most important factor in his success when fishing the tailrace.
"Release rates more than 50,000 cubic feet-per-second (cfs) offer good fishing and rates between 80,000 to 100,000 cfs is when I have my best luck."
Crow's favorite lures for catching smallmouth are 4- to 6-inch swimbaits weighing between 3/4 to 1 1/4 ounces or an Alabama Rig.
Other Options: If you want heart-stopping strikes this month, cast artificial frogs and rats to largemouth on Lake Guntersville. Work these baits over thick growths of aquatic vegetation. This is also good month for catching a limit of slabs on Cedar Creek Lake.
Lake Eufaula Crappie
Crappie guide Gary Clancy rates fishing as excellent on Lake Eufaula this month. If the lake does not experience a severe cold front, he says anglers routinely catch limits of slab-size crappie from brush piles located near ledges.
"Use your depth finder to find brush piles next to creek channels," Clancy said. "Crappie are structure orientated fish and either hold above, beside or in the brush. In November, you will find fish 15- to 30-feet deep."
When Clancy finds a brush pile, he marks it with a buoy and positions his boat within casting range. Clancy works the cover with 1/16- or 1/8-ounce jigs rigged with 2-inch curlytail grubs in chartreuse or pearl colors.
Other Options: In November, find smallmouth action on Wilson Lake in the Wheeler Dam tailrace near current breaks. Also this month, striped bass fishing is good in shallow water under pier lights on Neely Henry.
Wheeler Lake Blue Catfish
Wheeler Lake is one of the best places in the nation to catch a monster blue catfish. Winning tournament angler and catfish guide Jason Bridge's (www.wheelercatsguideservice.com) biggest fish last year weighed 92 pounds. He also managed to catch an 82-pound trophy despite the cold weather.
To catch fish when the water temperatures are in the 50s, Bridges drifts skipjack herring through the cats' deep wintering holes next to the river channel. If water temperatures fall into the 40s, Bridges uses his i-Pilot controlled trolling motor to remain stationary over the hole. In winter, he says the best wintering holes are on the lower lake between Decatur and Wheeler Dam.
Other Options: Schools of menhaden find themselves under attack from above by flocks of birds and from below by schools of redfish within sight of Orange Beach. If you don't see birds, troll deep-diving cranks to find fish. December is also a good month to catch striped bass on Lake Martin.
There are, of course, numerous other places for anglers to try their luck, but these 36 should be considered.