A Full Year Of Bama Angling
September 28, 2010
From the Tennessee River to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Chattahoochee River to the Tenn-Tom Waterway, Alabama is blessed with great fishing waters. Here's a look at 36 of those destinations for this year.
By Eileen Davis
Whether you are new to fishing or you're a seasoned pro, here is a year of great Cotton State fishing trips guaranteed to challenge, enlighten or thrill.
JANUARY It's never too cold to catch spotted bass on Jordan, Lay and Mitchell lakes. In fact, Coosa River anglers claim the tougher the conditions, the better the fishing. Despite the fishing pressure these fertile lakes receive from Birmingham and Montgomery, they consistently produce good catches of 2- to 3-pound spotted bass, with an occasional 6-pound trophy to anchor the stringer.
Lower Coosa River
The best fishing lies on the upper stretches of these reservoirs near the dams, where the lakes are riverine and the current is strong. To catch spots under these conditions, anglers fish vertical banks, looking for large rocks, points or undercut banks that break the current and concentrate fish.
When fishing current breaks, retrieve crankbaits, 1/4- to 1/2-ounce jig-and-pigs, or 1/2-ounce spinnerbaits with the current.
Other Hotspots When the water temperature falls below 50 degrees on Lake Eufaula, vertically jig spoons along the main-river channel on the lower lake to catch trophy largemouths.
For smallmouths, anglers find good action fishing the edge of Wilson Lake's deep river channels.
FEBRUARY As our state's largest wetland, the Mobile Delta offers anglers a vast network of bays, small lakes, creeks and rivers in which to catch large numbers of bass in a variety of situations - even during floods! Pre-spawn bass measuring 12 to 16 inches feed heavily in the shallows created by the high water. Fortunately, high water also allows anglers into areas not usually accessible.
During February, bass concentrate in Briar, Dead, Dennis, McReyonlds and Mifflin lakes as well as Little Bayou Canot. If there's a cold north wind blowing, also fish Chocolata and Chukfee bays.
Flipping a jig-and-pig next to wood cover in extremely shallow water often gets your rod bent immediately. Small crankbaits and spinnerbaits also draw hard strikes. For current fishing information, call Mizells Fish Camp at (251) 626-5323.
Other Hotspots On Wheeler Lake, fresh-cut shad fished in heavy cover on the outside bends on the river catch trophy blue catfish.
February is an excellent month for catching large grouper from deep water off Orange Beach.
MARCH Many crappie fishermen overlook this Coosa River impoundment near Gadsden, but it could be the state's best papermouth lake. This 11,000-acre reservoir is becoming a hotspot by consistently producing heavy stringers of 1 1/2- to 2-pound crappie in March, with the occasional fish weighing between 3 and 4 pounds.
Neely Henry Lake
The Neely Henry crappie fishery is the result of nutrient-rich water supporting a dynamic shad population. Also, submerged timber, which is perfect crappie structure, stands on the edge of the lake's many creek channels. Look for schools of crappie feeding in Beaver, Shoal and Big Canoe creeks.
To find concentrations of fish, try trolling with several poles, each baited with crappie jigs tipped with minnows, rigged for 12 to 15 feet.
For information or guide service on Neely Henry, call Charles Slaton at (256) 442-2588.
Other Hotspots During pre-spawn on Lake Eufaula, use your water temperature gauge to find the coves on the east shore with the warmest water, then cast a Texas-rigged lizard to the big female largemouths.
Saltwater anglers find cobia arriving off the coast at Orange Beach this month, as well.
APRIL In April, rising water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico signal the start of the western migration of cobia, a run that offers big-game fishing to anglers just off Orange Beach. These powerful dark brown fish, which range in size from 5 to more than 100 pounds, can quickly strip line from your reel. Big fish tend to lead the run. Our state record was caught in mid-April and weighed 117 pounds, 4 ounces.
Sight-fish for cobia using live bait rigged on 30-pound-class baitcasting or spinning rods and reels. Croakers, eels, pinfish, sea catfish, shrimp or crabs retrieved in front of cruising fish can start a good fight.
To book a fishing trip or obtain more information, call Capt. Chip Day at (251) 981-1943.
Other Hotspots On Lake Eufaula, fish for 3- to 5-pound hybrids busting the surface and hitting any lure that imitates shad in Barbour and Cheneyhatchee creeks.
Fishing for spawning shellcrackers on Gantt Lake is another way to fill your cooler in April.
MAY For the month of May, Alabama offers anglers such a vast range of opportunities that it's difficult to decide where to fish. A top pick for the sheer joy of fishing and the resulting delicious meals is bluegills. The largest reservoir in the state, Lake Guntersville consistently produces heavy stringers of fish weighing 1 to 2 pounds.
Beginning two weeks before the first full moon in May, fish for pre-spawn and spawning bream in 3 to 7 feet of water. Look for beds in areas with an early growth of milfoil on small humps, points and sandbars. Anglers report good fishing in Short and Town creeks.
Instead of fishing crickets and wigglers on long poles, try casting a 1/32-ounce jig tipped with a cricket and fished under a weighted float about two feet off the bottom.
For current fishing information or bream guide service on Lake Guntersville, call Charles Slaton at (256) 442-2588.
Other Hotspots Topwater fishing for largemouth bass on Jordan Lake should be great now.
On the coast, you can catch plenty of big red snapper from Alabama's many artificial reefs.
JUNE Smith Lake's clear, cool, infertile water supports one of the gr
eat striped bass fisheries in our state. This extremely deep reservoir has three forks formed from the Rock, Ryan and Sipsey tributaries, which sprawl across Cullman and Winston counties. Smith's open-water habitat consistently produces fish weighing 16 to 18 pounds, with big stripers weighing more than 40 pounds.
To locate monster-sized fish, start fishing in the late evening and use your depthfinder to search deep water for a large school of shad with big stripers lurking below. Once located, lower a live gizzard shad down to the waiting fish. You can also find stripers feeding near dock lights close to deep water.
For guide service on Smith Lake, call Dale Welch at (256) 737-0541.
Other Hotspots There is plenty of great fishing for bluegills on the Tennessee River this month as the mayfly hatch stimulates a feeding frenzy. Try fishing popping bugs on a fly rod or small in-line spinners on ultralight gear.
Speckled trout anglers shouldn't miss the great night fishing on the Intracoastal Waterway at Gulf Shores.
JULY Among the several excellent catfish waters Alabama has to offer, Gainesville Lake, on the Tombigbee River, is one of the best. Gainesville boasts a healthy population of big blues - anglers have caught many trophy-sized cats weighing between 50 and 100 pounds.
If we have very little rain during July, the best place to fish is near the surface in water less than 8 feet deep. Conversely, during periods of high water and fast current, fish deep in the main-river channel.
Look for big fish below the Tom Bevill Lock and Dam (on the upper end of lake) and just above the Heflin Lock and Dam (on the lower end of the impoundment).
Crawfish, minnows and worms make the best baits during hot weather months.
For current fishing information, visit Hubert Ferguson at the H&B One Stop in Pickensville, or call him at (205) 373-6696.
Other Hotspots In July on the Alabama coast, try your luck landing smoker king mackerel by slow-trolling live menhaden or ribbonfish on downriggers set for 20 feet.
Also, topwater bass fishing is exciting on the Warrior River in the early morning.
AUGUST From Andalusia to the Florida border, this southeast Alabama river provides a good mix of blue, channel and flathead catfish, but it's the flatheads that have everyone fishing. While an average cat weighs between 5 and 12 pounds, anglers have caught plenty of big fish weighing 30 to 47 pounds.
During summer, you find flatheads holding in deep water along outside bends of the river. The best bends lie at the end of long runs and below a riffle. The riffles oxygenate the water, while the long run produces plenty of food that washes into the hole.
Successful anglers fish live sunfish - the bigger the better - on a slip-sinker rig with a 5/0 hook and a 1- or 2-ounce egg sinker.
Call Carolyn Jones at Stokes Sporting Goods in Andalusia at (334) 222-1225 for current fishing conditions.
Other Hotspots As the water leaves Guntersville Dam, it creates a series of holes where big blue catfish wait for a passing meal. Drift-fishing fresh-cut bait produces fast hookups in August.
On Millers Ferry Lake, crappie fishing is good on the main-river channel.
September is the time to tangle with some largemouths on Lake Eufaula. Photo by Stephen E. Davis
SEPTEMBER Cooler nights and water temperatures offer anglers two late-summer patterns for catching largemouths on Lake Eufaula - targeting deepwater ledges and targeting the backs of creeks. Fishing the latter produces aggressive topwater strikes from schooling fish, while the former yields 6- to 8-pound bass from the river channel.
If you want to catch large numbers of bass - as many as 100 a day - look for large schools of shad in the back of Soapstone, Bustahatchee and Little Barbour creeks. Hold your rods tight as the splash and gurgle of buzzbaits, chuggers and stickbaits draw repeated strikes from aggressive largemouths.
For big bass, however, you must methodically fish the main-river channel below the U.S. Highway 82 Bridge. Focus on ledges in 6 to 15 feet of water, looking for a change in depth or direction. Drag Carolina-rigged worms off these ledges to catch a limit of 6-pound lunkers.
Other Hotspots For big flatheads of up to 40 pounds, try the tributaries of the Warrior River.
On Guntersville, September is a great time to fish weedbeds for largemouth bass.
OCTOBER One of Alabama's outstanding fishing destinations for October is the tailwater area below Wheeler Dam. This tailwater offers anglers some of the best smallmouth fishing in North America. In many states, anglers consider a 4-pound bronzeback a trophy, but in North Alabama a fish has to weigh at least 7 pounds to be considered a trophy. On a good day in October, anglers can expect to catch 20 smallmouths, with many weighing more than 4 pounds.
Drift-fishing live shad in the dam's swift current catches more big fish than any other method. Maneuver your boat within a safe distance from the dam, then cut your motor and fish. For even faster action, cast toward the schools of shad holding along the concrete walls.
For information on fishing conditions or help with locating camping, lodging and guides, call the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau at (800) 344-0783 or visit their Web site, which is located at www.colbertcountytourism.org.
Other Hotspots On Logan Martin Lake, cast spinnerbaits, tube lures and grubs parallel to banks above the I-20 bridge to catch large spotted bass.
This is also a prime month for red snapper fishing in our coastal waters.
NOVEMBER Except for the spawn, there's no finer time to go after slab-sized papermouths than November. The fish feed heavily in preparation for winter, and finding shad in the shallows is a p
rimary pattern for autumn. On Lake Martin, crappie tend to hold near cover, making them easier to find.
The best fishing exists on the upper end of the lake. According to biologists, this area is definitely more fertile and has better crappie recruitment than the lower lake. Of the large numbers of fish that anglers catch, 30 to 40 percent may fall below the 9-inch limit. However, the remaining crappie more than fill a daily limit of keepers, plus there's an occasional 2- or 3-pounder for lucky anglers.
For current fishing information, visit Mike's Bait & Tackle on U.S. 280 or call them at (256) 329-9107. Information is also available online at www.lakemartin.com.
Other Hotspots November is an excellent month for catching 2- to 3- pound speckled trout from our coastal rivers.
It's also a great time for catching smallmouths on Pickwick Lake.
DECEMBER Alabama is home to some of the best spotted bass fishing in the United States, and Jones Bluff is one of the premier waters in the state for catching these hard-fighting fish. As the first impoundment upstream of the mouth of the Alabama River, the lake's riverine banks and fertile flowing waters support a growing population of spots weighing more than 5 pounds, with some topping 6 pounds.
Depending on weather and water temperatures, December usually allows spots to continue their heavy feeding on shad throughout the month. Look for big spots to hold on gravel bars and humps in 6 to 15 feet of water or on any structure that offers a break in the current.
The best fishing for spotted bass is from Swift Creek downstream to the dam. For current fishing information, call Big Bass Bait & Tackle at (334) 365-0600.
Other Hotspots During December, anglers catch large numbers of aggressive largemouths in the lower section of the Mobile Delta using small grubs and crankbaits.
If you want to use heavy tackle this month, try winter fishing for giant blue catfish below the Wilson Dam.
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