March 03, 2015
Alabama offers world-class fishing for smallmouths, largemouths and spotted bass," said Damon Abernethy, fisheries development supervisor for the Department of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. "There are other states with high-quality fishing, but we have so much more diversity."
Abernethy contributes the state's diverse world-class fishing to the nutrient rich watersheds in the northern part of the state and the Tennessee River. The terrain in Alabama's watersheds varies from the lower Appalachian Mountains in the northeast to the Mobile Delta in the southeast, and it creates a perfect situation for producing excellent fishing.
"We are very fortunate to have a lot of high-productivity lakes," Abernethy said, "and they always support a high density of sport fish."
Alabama is home to 45 reservoirs, but not all offer world-class fishing. There are, however, enough to provide anglers from across the state with excellent fishing this spring.
"For big largemouths, Lake Guntersville is amazing," said Abernethy. "I take at least two fishing trips a year to Guntersville, and the fishing is always good."
Winning tournament angler and veteran guide Mike Carter of Flatrock has fished the lake for 37 years, and agrees with Abernethy.
"Guntersville is a very fertile lake with plenty of grass," Carter said, "so the fishery produces good numbers of big fish every year. An average bass weighs 3 to 4 pounds, and we catch a lot of 5- to 6-pound largemouth. A couple of years ago on March 6, I caught a 12-pounder that Governor Bentley had his photo taken with."
According to Abernethy and Carter, March is a great month to fish Guntersville. Typically, anglers catch bass on pre-spawn patterns.
"The numbers of bass are phenomenal in March," Carter said. "If you find the right flat and grass edge, it's not unusual to catch 40 to 50 fish. Usually, they are staging, getting ready to spawn." Carter fishes two primary patterns in March. The first is to work hydrilla or grass points 8- to 10-feet deep. He uses side-imaging sonar to search grass edges with specific characteristics.
"Often, you find a flat with grass that gradually tapers out to deeper water, but these flats are not likely to hold fish," said Carter. "Look for a flat next to deep water, or any oddity in the contour line on the edge of the grass. Both points and indentions have the possibility to hold fish."
Carter saves these promising spots as waypoints on his GPS and then run-n-guns the waypoints until he finds fish. If the weather turns sunny for a few days, Carter switches to his second pattern, which is to fish primrose stubble 4 to 6 feet deep. He says primrose stubble is difficult to find in March unless you have mapped it the previous summer or fall when it was growing above the surface.
"March is a fantastic time to fish primrose grass," Carter revealed. "You can catch a lot of big fish on this pattern. In fact, I caught the 12-pounder for the photo with the governor, an 8-pounder and a 4-pounder all from the same patch of primrose that morning."
To fish grass edges 8 to 10 feet deep, the guide's favorite lures are a 1-ounce Rat-L-Trap and a 1/2-ounce Rocker Jig by Choo Choo Lures. If there is current or wind, he throws the big, lipless crankbait, otherwise he uses the jig. For primrose, Carter uses a 3/8-ounce swim jig.
One of the best-kept secrets outside the Guntersville area is the great fishing the lake offers from shore. Abernethy reports there is an on-going study with Auburn University that includes in-depth creel surveys.
"We have actually found bank anglers are catching fish at about twice the rate as those in the boat," said Abernethy. "There are many bridges with causeways, and it's common to see anglers fishing from the bank. There is no place in our state where you can do better fishing off the bank.
"Randy Howell won the Bassmasters Classic on Guntersville, and he could have easily have caught those fish standing on the bank."
Once again, Carter agrees with Abernethy. "It is fascinating how many people fish from the bank," Carter said. "They out fish a lot of people in boats, especially in those areas with riprap, where the fish stage before moving into the creeks."
For bank fishing, Carter recommends working riprap in the North Sauty and South Sauty creeks with a 1/2-ounce Rat-L-Trap.
"We only have three lakes on the Tennessee River where anglers catch significant numbers of smallmouths," Abernethy said, "Of those, I don't think you can beat Pickwick if you want to catch a smallmouth weighing more than 6 pounds."
Long-time guide Roger Stegall has won more than one tournament with a bag of Pickwick bronzebacks. He holds the record for the five biggest smallmouth bass ever weighed in during a FLW event. Stegall caught those fish on March 17 many years ago, which weighed 27.6 pounds.
"Over the years," Stegall observed, "Pickwick has had its ups and downs. I believe we are currently in an uptrend. This year, I have caught more fish weighing up to 5 pounds than I have in the last 6 years. It is very promising.
"March is the best month to fish, and your odds of catching a 5- to 8-pound smallmouth are really good, probably better than anywhere else in the country."
To catch pre-spawn fish in March, Stegall looks for pea gravel bars, secondary ledges, cuts and points off the river close to spawning flats. He also says many fish spawn on humps away from the banks.
Instead of fishing the popular tailrace on the upper lake, Stegall targets these bottom features between Seven Mile Island and the Pickwick Dam. He uses Humminbird side and down imaging to find promising spots.
"Unlike largemouth, smallmouth do not go to the bank to spawn," said Stegall. "Some spawn as deep as 12 feet."
According to Stegall, the best lures for spring are football jigs, grubs and spinnerbaits. The latter works best if there is a current. It is also the lure he used to set the smallmouth record.
Stegall says most anglers do not like the best weather for catching smallmouth.
"The worst weather is when you are going to catch smallmouth," he advised. "The fish are more active on rainy, windy days."
Upper Jones Bluff Lake
One of the primary tributaries forming Jones Bluff is the Coosa River, which flows from Lake Jordan above Wetumpka. From the dam to Wetumpka, it has numerous class II rapids.
"The river near Wetumpka is a tremendous place to fish for spotted bass," Abernethy said, "but traveling upstream requires a special boat. Anglers often float downstream in canoes or kayaks."
Mark Syck is a winning kayak tournament angler and owner of Stoddard's Bait, Tackle (334-478-3899) in Wetumpka and has fished the river for 14 years.
"The fishing is phenomenal, and it is good year 'round," said Syck. "Usually though, fishing is at its best in April. Anglers catch many 10- to 14-inch fish and 18-inch fish are common. At kayak tournaments, we determine the winners by the total length of the three longest fish. However, a good winning weight for three fish is 15 to 16 pounds."
Syck's favorite places to catch spotted bass are the pockets of calm water behind boulders. Spots ambush passing prey from these breaks. To find submerged boulders, Syck interprets patterns made by the water.
"For submerged boulders," Syck said, "look for a "V" on the water. The larger the "V" the closer it is to the surface, and the easier it is to make an accurate presentation. Cast to the front of the boulder, so the current pulls the lure into the slack water behind the rock."
When Sych is not targeting boulders, he fishes the banks on the straight sections between the riffles.
To fish the river's structure and cover, Syck's lures include 3 1/2-inch swimbaits, shaky head finesse worms, buzzbaits, and plastic frogs.
To rent a fishing kayak for a float trip, contact Coosa River Adventures at 334-514-0279.
Anglers recognize Lake Eufaula as one of the country's premier reservoirs for largemouth bass fishing, but the fishery is cyclic. Fortunately, anglers are currently experiencing excellent fishing and report an uptrend in fish size.
David Caylor of New Brockton is one of those anglers. Last March, he and his partner won the first Alabama Bass Trail tournament held on Lake Eufaula with a winning weight of 25.19 pounds.
"Fishing on Lake Eufaula in March is magical," Caylor said. "Fishermen can go and really enjoy bass fishing; it's a good time to learn how to bass fish. On a good day, it's possible to catch 20 to 30 quality fish."
The pattern Caylor and his partner used to win the tournament produced both pre- and post-spawn largemouth. They fished a hard clay bottom with a mixture of gravel in 8 to 10 feet of water. The bottom had a gradual taper to deep water and was located at the entrance to a protected spawning flat.
"All but one of the fish we caught had spawned," Caylor said. "Fish stage on these areas before and after spawning. On most lakes it's like a two-lane highway with the pre- and post-spawn fish moving in and out, but on Eufaula it is a super six-lane highway."
Caylor says having a migration route for the fish to follow to and from the spawning flats improves fishing. Creeks, ditches and roadbeds make good routes.
"Roadbeds are ideal," Caylor advised. "Once used to transport people before the river was dammed, they now serve as highways for fish moving to shallow water."
Caylor's lures for March and April are 1/4- or 3/8-ounce Dirty Jigs with an Arky head, 3/4- or 1-ounce spinnerbaits, along with medium-diving, square-bill crankbaits by Jackall. Eufaula's stained water allows Caylor to fish all these lures on 40- to 80-pound-test braid line.
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Whether targeting largemouth or spotted bass, Lay Lake offers anglers amazing fishing. The riverine section, which is about the first 20 miles below Logan Martin Dam, creates excellent habitat for spots. Mid-lake, largemouths thrive in its grassy backwater. Deep and rocky, the lower lake produces both species.
"Lay Lake is on fire," Abernethy said. "The average size of the fish has increased significantly in the last 4 or 5 years. During the last few years, tournament anglers have caught some monster fish. It's common for a largemouth to weigh more than 9 pounds."
Chris Rutland of Wetumpka is a winning tournament angler who appreciates Lay Lake's versatile waters. In March, Rutland targets largemouth in the protected backwater areas where the water warms first.
"It's much easier to catch fish when you know exactly where to find them," Rutland explained. "When largemouth are not feeding, which is most of the time, they hold in the hollow space under thick mats of grass. For about an hour a day, fish actively feed where water willow and coontail grass grow on points."
To catch largemouth in the grass, Rutland uses spinnerbaits, chatterbaits and swim jigs. Rutland says this is an excellent month for catching good numbers of 3- to 4-pound spotted bass on the upper lake.
"In March," he said, "we tend to receive a lot of rain, which generates a lot of current and color in the water. These are great conditions for catching spotted bass. If the water is dirty, look for fish 3 to 5 feet deep. If the water is clear, they will hold 6 to 10 feet deep."
According to Rutland, the best place to find spotted bass is on the upper lake over a hard bottom with a current break. He says the fish hold on the edge of the current. He usually targets spotted bass with 1-ounce spinnerbaits and 3/4-ounce jigs. Get information at Paradise Point Marina, (205-669-1515).
Of course, there are many other locales for catching bass — largemouth, smallmouth and spots — in Alabama, but anglers should consider these five.