Yellowhammer Angling Options

When it comes to fishing, the Heart of Dixie takes a back seat to no state. Here's a look at three dozen great angling destinations for 2004.


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By Mike Handley

If you like to fish and you live in Alabama, you are living in the right place. Very few spots on Earth can offer as many angling opportunities as the Heart of Dixie.

Regardless of the time of year, it seems the fish are always biting somewhere - from the Tennessee River to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Tombigbee River to the Chattahoochee. That said, here's a road map to some of the state's best fishing destinations.

In its heyday, Harris Reservoir (known locally as Lake Wedowee) yielded some unbelievable bass, some of which topped 16 pounds. A story even circulated a few years ago that a 17 1/2-pounder, which would have been a new state record, was found floating dead there.

Nowadays, however, the bass run much smaller - though still "keepers" by tournament standards. Also, thanks to a decade-old slot limit, the fish are growing up.

The upper portion of this Tallapoosa River lake is mostly river channel. The lower two-thirds, from the power line crossing on the Tallapoosa River arm down to the dam, looks bassier, featuring numerous creeks, sloughs and points. You will also find standing timber, bluff walls, clay or rocky shorelines and points, stumps, blow-downs and sunken roadbeds. All are perfect places for flipping a black-and-blue jig for some largemouth action.

During the winter months, you find water 6 to 8 feet shallower than in summer. So don't base your strategy on what's available before the drawdown.

Alternatives: Try fishing a jigging spoon on most any of the Coosa River lakes. Both bass and crappie will hit this shiny lure. Also, now is a great time to tie on a hair jig and go after sauger on Wilson Lake.

Because the fish are scattered right now throughout Weiss Lake, most crappie fishermen have not yet begun targeting them. It might be more fun to go in March or April, when you can anchor in one spot and fill a cooler, but anglers willing to burn a little gas can get a jumpstart on a fish fry.

For starters, you have to cover a lot more water. The best way to do this is to troll 1/32-ounce jigs of varying colors at different depths and speeds until you find the combination that entices the most strikes. Whenever we have had two or three warm days in a row, the conditions are perfect.

Trolling requires knowledge of the lake's underwater contour, unless you want to break off a lot of jigs. Thus, an initial sweep of the area with a depthfinder is mandatory. Look for deep water adjacent to long points and flats.

Alternatives: Lake Martin is best known for its feisty spotted bass, but now is a great time to corral its largemouths in the logjams up Elkhatchee and Wind creeks. Anglers on Pickwick Lake, however, are targeting smallmouth bass.

Spotted Bass
Thundering turkeys and blossom-laden dogwoods usually spur sales of minnows, cane poles, quills and marabou jigs at Tuscaloosa-area bait shops as fishermen head out for crappie. Yet savvy anglers know that it's also the best time of year to play tug-of-war with the feistiest fish swimming in Holt Reservoir.

This stretch of the Black Warrior River yields phenomenal spotted bass, especially at the onset of spring.

Five-fish limits during tournaments on Holt often push a whopping 30 pounds, with all of them spots!

The key to catching the fish is not to put all of your eggs in one basket. In four hours on the water, you should try a variety of lures - topwater poppers, floating worms, crankbaits, Carolina-rigged lizards and spinnerbaits.

Alternatives: Don't be surprised if the bait shops in Greene, Sumter and Pickens counties are sold out of minnows right now. The crappie fishing at Gainesville Lake is at its peak. And if you want quantity and quality papermouths, drown your minnows in Millers Ferry Reservoir.

This mouth might be your best chance of the year to jack the jaw of a really big largemouth on Weiss Lake! The "Crappie Capital of the World" is fast earning a reputation as one of Alabama's top bass fishing destinations as well.

Because of the numerous stump-filled flats, Weiss isn't an easy lake to navigate. Newcomers should consider hiring a guide to introduce them to the channel markings as well as a few great angling sites.

For more information about fishing guides, call the Alabama Mountain Lakes Association toll-free at (800) 648-5381.

Alternatives: April is the month for cobia fishing off the Gulf Shores beaches, and live eels are the cobia's favorite food. Over on the Georgia border, roe-laden sow bass are plentiful on Lake Eufaula.

Most crappie fishermen wait all year for the spring spawn, when America's favorite panfish are in the shallows. That is when crappie fishermen like Lomax Dunham of Goodwater can fill a cooler with papermouths.

The key, of course, is knowing where to find the fish. Lake Martin is chock-full of manmade brushpiles - specifically, Christmas trees sunk by both bass anglers and crappie anglers. If you have a graph depthfinder aboard, you'll see that the crappie resemble little round ornaments on those trees, which could be as deep as 30 feet.

Whether you prefer dunking small minnows or casting feather-tailed jigs, you can be at the dock at dawn and back home before noon with a generous limit of papermouths. Use no heavier than 4- or 6-pound test line, since the water is crystal clear.

Alternatives: Pound-sized shellcrackers await fishermen who wet their lines in the Conecuh River this month. The bluegills are also bedding and biting at state-owned Monroe County Lake.

Tossing lures that resemble threadfin shad in the upper end of Wilson Lake in June can produce plenty of action from fiesty hybrid bass. Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Hybrid Bass
You do not need a tackle box filled with $6 lures to catch hybrid bass below Wheeler Dam this month. A few No. 4 hooks, some lead split-shot, and a bucket full of live threadfin shad (known locally as yellowtails) prepare you for the action.

The time of day doesn't much matter, and the weather isn't important. What does matter is having water coming through the Tennessee Valley Authority dam to create current.

Yellowtails are occasionally available at nearby Fisherman's Resort at $10 a pound or more, but many people prefer dipping up their own next to the dam wall. If you can't buy or catch them, try fishing a big lead-headed jig with a chartreuse plastic grub.

Alternatives: The bassin' is excellent on Lake Guntersville this month, and the biggest bites come at dawn and dusk. This is also the month the World Champion Bowfin Tournament is held on the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

Channel Catfish
July nights are the perfect time to catch Mr. Whiskers cruising the many flats on Millers Ferry Lake. Set out a flotilla of 20-ounce bottles with drop lines baited with crawfish in the evening.

Three feet of line is sufficient. Reflective tape makes the bottles glow under a spotlight; fill each with a handful of small rocks. The rocks rattle whenever a fish hits, and you can often hear the strike even if you can't see it.

Watch your jugs for a couple of hours, but the fish are more apt to bite after you call it a night. This is another good reason to concentrate your efforts in the flats as opposed to the main-river channel, which could take your jugs downstream and prevent you from ever finding them. In the flats, they are waiting for you when you return.

Alternatives: Red snapper can be caught pretty much year 'round, but July is a great time to combine vacation with a productive fishing trip out of Orange Beach. While you're down there, you do not have to go far to tangle with bull redfish. Thirty- and 40-pounders are stacking up along the Dixie Bar off the coast of Fort Morgan at the mouth of Mobile Bay, and they love live croakers!

Not many people in Alabama intentionally try to catch carp, though Yankees and Europeans are noted for living to do battle with the Rodney Dangerfield of freshwater fishes. Still, in the Cotton State, they "don't get no respect."

"When's the last time you hooked a fish that fought so hard and ran with such strength that he came close to taking your rod away from you?" retired engineer Bud Yancey asked.

Retired longtime director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Charles Kelley often espoused the fun of catching and releasing "bugle-mouth bass" from his dock on Jordan Lake. He baits them up by the hundreds with dry dog food and slips a kernel of corn on a small hook attached to a fly rod. Then he just holds on to the fishing rod for dear life!

Alternatives: If you just can't stand the heat, get some live shad and try nighttime fishing for striped bass on Smith Lake. This is also a perfect time to hook up with giant king mackerel. Try trolling hardtails near the oil rigs offshore of Dauphin Island.

Trout fishermen have long known that the key to success on any body of water is to "match the hatch." The same can be said for catfishing, especially where shad are the main food source.

But you won't have to buy or make an artificial lure to resemble Mr. Whiskers' favorite fare this month on Bankhead Lake. A few tosses of a cast net will collect all the bait you need. The schools of shad are plentiful, and the shad are now big enough to ensnare in the average size net.

The most productive spots for taking the catfish are sharp bends in the main-river channel. Most of the flatheads seem to be prowling the Locust Fork arm of the reservoir. Another popular catfishing spot is the Gorgas Steam Plant, up the Mulberry Fork, where big blue cats congregate near the hotwater discharge.

You can also catch hand-sized shad in the nearby intake pond with tiny fly jigs. Be sure to use the entrails as well as the traditional cut bait.

Alternatives: You won't have to go far from the beach to troll for king mackerel along Alabama's coast. Meanwhile, big spotted bass are gorging on the plentiful shad in Jordan Lake.

Speckled Trout
There are two reasons that many saltwater fishing rodeos are conducted along the Gulf Coast in October. First, local businesses and charter boat captains are trying hard to finish their short year by luring a last wave of fishermen. Second, these business folk can make good on their offers, since Perdido Bay is chock-full of speckled trout right now.

Red snapper might have put Orange Beach on the map, but opportunities abound inshore as well. The angling for seatrout is cheaper for both the captains and their clients. And best of all, the haul may even be a mixed bag of trout, redfish, pompano, sheepshead, bluefish or ladyfish.

Tangling with any of these denizens of Perdido Pass is a blast with spinning tackle. You can go farther into the bay, of course, but there's plenty of action between the Alabama Point Bridge and the end of the gulf-side jetties. Success depends upon the tide.

Alternatives: If you can buy or catch your own gizzard shad - as well as keep them alive - you can do battle with stripers on Lake Martin this month. Anglers who know how to fish a topwater rat enjoy some of the best bass fishing of the year around Lay Lake's weedbeds.

Striped Bass
While most people associate live shad with striper fishing, this is the month when the linesides will r

ise to the surface to inhale topwater lures on Smith Lake. The explosive strikes make catching them even more fun.

All of the guides who make their living chasing these freshwater behemoths prefer the short topwater bite to all other methods. The real monsters are just as apt to take the lure as the smaller fish are.

One word of advice for those seeking the legendary 30-pounders - do not skimp on the size of the lures. Bigger is better in this case.

Alternatives: Aliceville Lake's bucketmouths are filling their gullets right now in preparation for the coming winter. But if you want to stick a knife into a filet, try for crappie on Lake Martin. The fishing is easy if you have the electronics to find them.

The majority of bass tournaments at Lake Guntersville are held in the springtime, when landing a 5-pound or bigger largemouths is almost routine. But the fishing can be just as productive in the winter, if the temperature is warmer than usual.

"Some days you might not be able to buy a bite," warned Donnie Hudson of Remlap. "But if you get two or three warm days in a row, the bass could get aggressive."

Hudson recalled a Christmas day on the lake when he boated 45 bass before lunchtime, all in shallow water and most while flipping. If he does not get a bite on a 3/8-ounce jig, he switches to a dark-colored Carolina-rigged lizard.

Alternatives: Weiss Lake's hordes of crappie are schooling up on the stumpy river ledges, and they cannot resist minnows. West Point Lake's largemouths are also looking for an easy meal, if you're providing it on a warm day.

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