3 Choices For North Alabama Spring Bass
September 28, 2010
April is the month when bass fishing really takes off in the upstate region of the Cotton State. And targeting these three lakes can put you in the midst of that action! (April 2010)
The world of bass fishing stood on its ear in the late 1960s and 1970s when little-known Lewis Smith Lake in north Alabama produced three world-record spotted bass. Having one world-record bass come out of a lake was an almost unbelievable happening, but three records in less than 10 years started rumors about the super strain of Smith Lake spotted bass.
Smith Lake, between Jasper and Cullman, became the mecca of the spotted bass fishing world.
Since that time, the lake has remained a top spotted bass fishery, but has stopped producing large numbers of huge spots.
"Smith Lake was impounded in 1963," explained Keith Floyd, the Fisheries Supervisor for District I of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. "Within the first 10 to 15 years of a reservoir being impounded, it will usually produce large numbers of big bass and other species. We call this the new lake effect. But as years go by, the lake's productivity will decline. The last world record to come from Smith Lake was an 8.9-pound spot caught by Phillip C. Terry on March 18, 1978. There are still nice-sized spots caught at Smith Lake, but I don't think we'll ever again see three new world records come out of these waters."
Deep, clear Smith Lake homed so much cold water in its depths that the DCNR decided to stock rainbow trout in the lake. Rumor had it that the spotted bass had eaten many of the rainbow trout, causing the spots to grow to huge sizes.
"Most of the rainbow trout stocked in Smith Lake were 8 to 10 inches long, making them too big to be preyed upon by spotted bass," Floyd countered. "There's no verification that the stocking of rainbow trout played any role in producing the world-record spotted bass that came from Smith Lake."
Smith Lake Today
In those glory years of Smith Lake, my dad, W.A. Phillips Sr., and I often trolled with a pink-eyed Heddon Hellbender, trailed by a silver spoon tied with 1 1/2-foot monofilament leader on the last treble hook of the Hellbender. Using this tactic, we caught spotted bass, largemouth bass and some nice-sized crappie, and this same technique will produce fish today.
"Right now, Smith Lake has a good crop of bass in it," Floyd said. "Many of the bass will be slot fish or below. The slot limit on Smith Lake is 13 to 15 inches, and any bass less than 13 inches or more than 15 inches have to be returned to the water unharmed."
Floyd continued to explain that there's still a good number of bass over 15 inches at Smith Lake. Ryan Creek is one of the best areas of the lake for bass fishing. This creek that's more fertile than other sections of the lake also seems to have more bank structure to hold bass than many of the rockier areas of the lake.
"In our creel survey at Smith, we've learned that the spotted bass population is about two or three spotted bass caught per one largemouth," Floyd reported.
Smith Lake provides better spotted bass habitat, than it does habitat for largemouth bass. The spots like sheer rock bluffs and rocky points, whereas good largemouth habitat usually includes litter on the bank, grass and wood cover.
"We don't have much of a litter zone at Smith Lake against the bank because of the summer drawdown," Floyd noted. "You see very few flats that support grass, very few trees that have fallen into the lake and little or no brush growing in the lake."
In years past, Smith Lake has humbled some of the most famed names in bass fishing during major tournaments held there. However, Smith can produce 6- and 7-pound largemouths and spotted bass, with April one of the best months to find and catch those bigger fish.
To pinpoint bass this month, Floyd suggested looking for wood structure in the backs of coves, especially if the area has had several heavy rains, and the water level is high. He also recommended looking for the bass in 4- to 6-foot-deep water. Lures like spinnerbaits, the jig-and-pig and soft plastics like worms, flukes and creature baits all catch bass in April at Smith. Consider fishing natural colors instead of bright-colored lures because of Smith's gin-clear water. After the bass pull off the beds, look for them on windy points and windy ledges.
Smith Lake homes some super bass fishing, if you know where to look. Each year right after Christmas, the Alabama Power Company and a legion of volunteers collect discarded Christmas trees and sink them in the reservoir to make fish attractors.
"We've caught lots of fish using electrofishing techniques around these Christmas tree fish shelters," Floyd said. "Because there's so little structure in the lake, these attractors have been really effective for concentrating bass."
You can get a map of these brush shelters by contacting Doug Powell of Alabama Power Company at (205) 664-6189.
Weiss Lake For Bass
Butch Young of Weiss Lake Fishing Guides has guided on the lake for 28 years and has fished the lake all his life. Although known nationally as the "Crappie Fishing Capital of the World," Weiss also has big bass in it. Tournament results reported to the Bass Anglers Information Team or B.A.I.T. survey administered by the DCNR have started showing numbers of big bass there.
"In early April, you can catch the bass at Weiss on a variety of baits," Young emphasized. "Medium-depth crankbaits, lipless crankbaits like the Rat-L-Trap and Strike King's Red Eye Shad, plastic worms, spinnerbaits and creature baits all have been effective."
Young suggested fishing the ends of points, underwater stump rows and brushpiles in 5- to 7-foot water. Weiss Lake probably has more manmade brushpiles in it than any other lake in Alabama. Local fishermen have sunk enough brush in this lake to fill up four freight trains. Just about any ledge, dropoff or point has a brushpile.
During the first part of April, the region from Riverside to Cowan Creek seems the place producing the most bass.
"This area is on the eastern side of the lake and warms up quicker in the springtime than many other parts," Young explained.
Anglers know Weiss Lake as an electronics lake. You have to rely heavily on your depthfinder to locate the underwater structure. By zigzagging back and forth from shallow to deep water, anytime you identify a dropoff, you usually find a brushpile there. Weiss Lake also has a good bit of natural structure li
ke stumprows, rocks and underwater logs in it, too.
You may consider setting up a "milk run" from spot to spot to catch bass at Weiss. Young suggested looking for banks with scattered brush and cover in 5 to 7 feet of water.
"Later during April, those bass move up shallow, and you can catch them around the weedbeds, which really can be fun," Young added. "That's the time of the month when buzzbaits, spinnerbaits and swimming jigs really can be effective around any bank cover or grass you find. We even fish jigs in the weedbeds then and catch a lot of bass."
If you had to bet money on catching bass at Weiss Lake this month, fish the boathouses and docks close to deep-water structure. Bass stage in these types of areas, and at the first of the month, you catch more on the ends of the docks. Toward the end of April, the bass hold closer to the backs of the docks. Flipping and pitching to docks is one of the most reliable tactics for catching bass at any time in April at Weiss.
Lake Harris Catch & Keep
"For the last two years, we've removed the slot limit from the spotted bass on Lake Harris," said Dan Catchings, District II Fisheries Supervisor for the DCNR. "However, there's still a 13- to 16-inch slot limit on the largemouths. Because we've removed the slot limit, anglers have started catching, keeping and eating more spotted bass, which is what we've hoped would occur. We've encouraged the local bass clubs at Harris to catch and keep some of the spots. The Harris bass fishermen have cooperated with us, and now our largemouths are beginning to plump up, and the spotted bass have shown better growth too.
"The spotted bass can outcompete the largemouths," Catchings continued. "Lake Harris is a heavily populated spotted bass lake. One of the best things to help the bass at Harris will be for anglers to catch and eat spotted bass that are 13 inches long or less."
I always find those small spotted bass mighty tasty. My family likes to dredge ice-cold fillets in cornmeal and drop them into hot grease, until they rise to the top. If you're planning to fish Lake Harris this year, and you want to help the lake produce more and bigger bass, catch and eat those tasty little spots.
Harris, a deep, clear and infertile lake, has numerous rocky shorelines and rocky points, which make it ideal habitat for spotted bass. Catchings believes that the best area of the lake for catching both largemouths and spots centers on the State Route 48 bridge and launch site, located about midway down the lake. He recommended that you fish the mouth of Mad Indian Creek, the mouth of Triplets Creek and the points leading into sloughs going downriver. Fox Creek, another hotspot, more than likely will produce some big bass during April.
On Lake Harris, you find the bass holding in 5 to 10 feet of water as the fish are readying themselves to move in for the spawn.
"About two years ago, there was quite a bit of timber removed from the lower area of Lake Harris," Catchings offered. "Since the timber was cut below the water line, if you can find some of those old timbered places, you should be able to catch some good bass there."
Catchings also recommended fishing points with broken rock or riprap. If you're a crankbait fisherman, you have found your hotspot, because Harris bass respond to crankbaits. The shallow- to mid-water crankbaits probably yield the best results in April, and because of the clarity of the water, shad- and natural-colored crankbaits work best.
Lake Harris shares many of the same characteristics as Smith Lake, and you can use many of the same tactics at either this month.
But regardless of which of these three reservoirs you choose, it is hard to go wrong in April.