As temperatures heat up and summer approaches, families start thinking about taking vacations. The anglers might want to go to the best fishing spots, while others might prefer different activities. Try one of these places for all-around family fun.
In 1939, the Tennessee Valley Authority completed a dam across the Tennessee River about 10 miles from the town of Guntersville in Marshall County. This created not only the largest lake in Alabama, but also one of the best fishing reservoirs for decades. Last year, Bassmaster magazine ranked Lake Guntersville as the sixth best in the nation for bass.
Guntersville runs for 75 miles along the river and covers 69,100 acres. Every year, the lake produces many largemouth bass exceeding 10 pounds and countless fish in the 3- to 8-pound range. The lake also produces smallmouth bass exceeding 5 pounds, along with excellent crappie, bluegill and redear sunfish action. The Tennessee River also holds some blue catfish that top 80 pounds.
"Without a doubt, Lake Guntersville is one of the premier bass lakes in the nation," advised Mike Iaconelli, former Bassmaster Classic champion. "It's an amazing numbers lake, but can also produce giant bass."
On the eastern shoreline, Lake Guntersville State Park covers about 6,000 acres just northeast of the town of Guntersville. One of the "resort" state parks in Alabama, the park offers excellent lodging and dining accommodations. The largest state park lodge in Alabama can house about 1,000 people in hotel rooms or suites and offers first-class dining.
Surrounded by forests teeming with wildlife, the staggered three-story guest wings of the lodge fold into the mountain, and the architecture blends into the cliff, becoming part of the scenery rather than attempting to overcome the natural contours.
"People come from all over to look at the layout of the lodge so they can model their programs after it," advised Stephen S. Johns, Lake Guntersville Resort State Park Lodge general manager. "Guests can look out from their balconies and watch the sunset over Lake Guntersville. People come here because it's a family oriented facility where people enjoy good quality time together."
Guests may also select mountaintop chalets or lakeside cabins with modern conveniences, primitive camping in designated sites or parking recreational vehicles. Visitors can often walk right outside cabins or camping areas and start catching bluegills, channel catfish and other species from park shorelines. People who don't own a boat can rent one from the Town Creek Fishing Center on Alabama Highway 227.
When not fishing, guests can play the Eagle's Nest Golf Course or participate in various outdoors activities, including hiking, mountain biking and other activities. The park offers hikers about 36 miles of trails over varying terrain.
Along The Way
While in the area, many people visit Cathedral Caverns State Park (www.alapark.com/cathedral-caverns-state-park) south of Scottsboro to marvel at Goliath, one of the largest stalagmites in the world. It measures 45 feet tall and 243 feet in circumference. The cave entrance measures 126 feet wide and 25 feet high. Inside the cave, visitors can also see a "frozen" waterfowl, a stalagmite forest and other natural wonders.
At the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (rocketcenter.com) in Huntsville, about 37 miles away, people can view space program technology and artifacts. Some exhibits include massive Saturn V rockets, an Apollo command module, moon rocks, space flight simulators and other technology used to put humans into space.
Another top fishing destination, Lake Eufaula covers 45,181 acres along the Chattahoochee River and spans part of the Alabama-Georgia border near the town of Eufaula. Officially named Walter F. George Reservoir, the impoundment ranks No. 21 on the 2015 Bassmaster magazine list of the top 100 bass waters in the United States.
Over the years, the lake has produced many double-digit bass, but also holds good spotted bass, crappie and catfish populations. Although channel catfish remain the most abundant whiskered species, the lake produces some monster blue cats and a few flatheads.
About seven miles north of town, Lakepoint State Park (www.alapark.com/lakepoint-state-park) covers 1,220 acres. Lakepoint Marina rents boats slips and provides launching facilities. Anglers can also rent small fishing or pontoon boats. All along the park, anglers can fish from shore.
Visitors may choose from several lodging options. Lakepoint State Park Resort Lodge offers guests more than 100 hotel-style rooms or executive suites, a restaurant, a convention center, meeting rooms and banquet halls that overlook the lake. The Water's Edge Restaurant can seat up to 225 people.
"We do a variety of meals, but it's casual dining," explained Sharon Matherne, Lakepoint State Park general manager. "Fishermen can come here with their families for a nice meal. We offer an excellent grilled tilapia dinner. We're also known for our catfish and chicken meals."
In addition, guests may stay in one of 29 cabins or 10 lakeside cottages. For those who like to rough it, the park campground provides 192 improved campsites for recreational vehicles. When not fishing, park guests may use the 18-hole golf course, picnic areas, tennis courts or swimming pool.
Along The Way
On the undeveloped northern section of the lake, the 11,160-acre Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge provides opportunities for hunting, fishing and hiking. The refuge spreads across parts of Barbour and Russell counties in Alabama plus Stewart and Quitman counties across the Chattahoochee River in Georgia.
For history buffs, the town of Eufaula dates to 1816 and includes more than 700 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While many Southern towns burned during the Civil War, Eufaula survived intact. In April 1865, Union forces approached the city, but the mayor at the time convinced the Union commander to spare the town since Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had already surrendered his army in Virginia. Therefore, many antebellum homes in the historic district remain occupied to this day.
GULF SHORES/ORANGE BEACH
To the south, Gulf State Park (www.alapark.com/gulf-state-park) occupies some of the most desirable real estate in Alabama. It covers about 6,180 acres on the Gulf of Mexico between the towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. While enjoying area beaches and waters, people might spot the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy aerial demonstration team stationed at nearby Pensacola Naval Air Station, passing overhead.
"We're one of the most popular parks in Alabama all year long," explained Lisa Laraway, the park superintendent. "People come here from all over the country, particularly in the winter. Most people come here for the beach, but we have plenty of reasons for people to visit."
In nearby waters, anglers might catch speckled trout, redfish, flounder, sheepshead, red snapper, cobia, king mackerel and other species. Some boats head farther offshore to tempt marlin, sailfish, tuna and wahoo. On park grounds, anglers can fish three natural spring freshwater lakes. Connected by canals, Little Lake, Middle Lake and Lake Shelby total about 900 acres. The largest, Lake Shelby, spreads across about 750 acres. Anglers may launch their own boats into the lakes or rent canoes from the park.
"They are freshwater lakes, but they connect to the salt marshes and Little Lagoon," explained Randy Stultz, park manager. "Saltwater from prior hurricanes got into the lakes and mixed with fresh water. Now, anglers can catch bass, redfish, crappie, speckled trout, flounder and other fish in them. I've even seen mangrove snapper and tarpon come out of the lakes."
Guests may rent cottages overlooking Lake Shelby, cabins on the lake or cabins in secluded in pine forests. Along the lakes, campers may erect tents or park recreational vehicles at nearly 500 improved campsites complete with water, sewer and electrical hook-ups.
Anglers without boats can fish from the beaches or the park pier. The pier extends more than a quarter mile into the Gulf and includes fish cleaning stations, a restaurant and a store where patrons can purchase supplies and refreshments or rent fishing gear.
"People catch just about every type of saltwater fish off the pier," explained David Thornton, local sportsman. "We catch a lot of big bull reds. They also catch Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle and other fish. Occasionally, someone even catches a tarpon."
Along The Way
The towns of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores offer dining or recreational activities typical of beach resort communities. Some activities include zip lining, dolphin excursions and catamaran dinner cruises. Some people enjoy visiting the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo (www.alabamagulfcoastzoo.org), home to more than 500 animals.
History buffs may tour Fort Morgan (www.fort-morgan.org) at the entrance to Mobile Bay. The fort garrison participated in the largest naval battle of the Civil War. In 1864, a Union fleet and landing force fought against Fort Morgan, Fort Gaines across the bay and a Confederate fleet for control of Mobile Bay.
Near Fort Morgan, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge covers 6,816 acres. One of the largest remaining undeveloped tracts of land on the Alabama coast, the Perdue Unit preserves beaches, sand dunes, scrub forest, freshwater and salt marshes. Hikers can walk on four trails totaling five miles.
PUBLIC FISHING LAKES
Families on a budget looking for relaxing day trip might visit one of the state public fishing lakes. The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division manages 23 lakes in 20 counties, ranging in size from 13 to 184 acres for a total of 1,912 acres.
"These lakes are set up for the public to fish," said Matthew Marshall, state lakes coordinator. "We wanted to provide a fishing opportunity in areas of the state that lacked sufficient waters. Most public fishing lakes are in rural areas that don't have many lakes. All of these lakes offer abundant family fishing opportunities."
Anglers pay a small daily fee to fish, but children less than 12 years old can fish for free. In addition, non-fishermen never pay a fee so family members who don't fish can still spend time with loved ones.
"The fee goes toward paying for the operation and maintenance of the lakes," Marshall explained. "All of these lakes have ample amounts of bank access, as well as ramps for launching boats. People can bring their own boats or rent aluminum johnboats with trolling motors and batteries. Concessions sell bait, tackle and refreshments. All of the lakes have fishing piers extending out over the water."
The state periodically stocks each lake with bass, bluegills and redear sunfish. Each winter, the state stocks channel catfish in all the lakes and hybrid striped bass and crappie to some.
"Monroe County Lake has one of the highest catch rates," Marshall said. "Barbour and Dallas are also very good. Dallas County Lake produces a lot of large bluegills and redears. It's also a good crappie lake. Barbour produces a lot of bass, bluegills and redears with some quality sizes. We recently started stocking hybrid striped bass into Walker County Lake and Lamar County Lake."
Escambia County Lake, the largest lake in the system, probably offers anglers the best opportunity to catch a double-digit largemouth bass. Also called Leon Brooks Hines Lake, it sits in the middle of the Conecuh National Forest about 23 miles east of Brewton. It also produces good numbers of 3/4- to 1-pound bluegill and redear sunfish.
Limits and regulations may vary from lake to lake. For the full list of the lakes and more information, call 334-242-3471 or see www.outdooralabama.com/alabama-state-public-fishing-lakes.