Tips for November - December

Short tips for trips from around the state to some of Bama’s best fishing.

By Eileen Davis

Smallmouth Bass: Wilson Lake

This world-class smallmouth fishery on the Tennessee River is so good that Damon Abernethy, Assistant Chief of Fisheries, makes an annual fishing trip there in October or November. Depending on the weather, Abernethy says fishing can be better in October, but it’s more consistent in November in both the Wheeler and Wilson trailraces.

Of the two trailraces, Abernethy recommends the Wheeler Dam tailrace for anglers who have not fished these areas before. He says there are dangerous areas below the Wilson Dam as the water is shallower.

“A good day of fishing,” Abernethy said, “below either dam would be 15 to 20 smallmouth over 4 pounds. You will also catch plenty of smaller ones. We do catch 6 pounders, but it is rare. We also catch a variety of other species. Just about every species swimming in the lake will be there in the fall. It’s a great place to take a kid fishing.


Smallmouth Bass: Pickwick Lake

“Fishing Pickwick in November offers anglers a chance to catch a giant smallmouth of a lifetime,” said winning tournament angler and guide Jimmy Mason of Florence. I have several clients that catch 7 pounders every November.”

To connect with a trophy bronzeback, Mason recommends drift fishing river ledges from Florence down to the Waterloo area with live threadfin shad.

“It’s just like summer ledge fishing,” he continued. “Use sonar to look for fish along the deeper ledges, offshore rock piles and deep bluffs. The key is to find hard breaks created by vertical deepwater structure.  When the fish are feeding, anglers will find them positioned on top of the structure.”


Smallmouth Bass: Pickwick Lake

The hottest smallmouth bite on the planet begins in October and last well into December on Pickwick Lake. Incredible days of fishing arrive with cooler water temperatures and consistent water release rates between 70,000 and 150,000 cubic feet per second for a 24-hour period from Wilson Dam.

Skilled anglers can catch 25 of the brown fish on a trip and put together a 5-fish bag weighing 25 pounds. Occasionally, a big fish weighs 7 pounds.

A top lure for fall is a 3 ½-inch tube in crawfish colors. Spinnerbaits in ½- to 1-ounce weights are also essential, especially in turbid waters.

For a guided trip to catch smallmouth on Pickwick Lake, contact veteran guide Steve Hacker. Visit www.tva.com for the water discharge rate forecast.


Crappie: Lake Martin

Except for the spawn, there’s no finer time to go after slab-sized papermouths than November, as the fish feed heavily in preparation for winter. Finding shad in the shallows is a primary 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 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 two or three pounder for lucky anglers.

For information on Lake Martin and the surrounding area, visit the Lake Martin Tourism Association website. To book a guide, contact C&M Guide Service.


Crappie: Lake Eufaula

Crappie guide Gary Clancy rates fishing as excellent on Lake Eufaula in November. If the lake does not experience a severe cold front, he says anglers routinely catch limits of slab-size crappie from brush piles located near ledges.

“Use your depthfinder to find brush piles next to creek channels,” Clancy advised. “Crappie are structure orientated fish and either hold above, beside or in the brush. In November, you will find fish 15 to 30 feet deep.”

When Clancy finds a brush pile, he marks it with a buoy and positions his boat within casting range. Clancy works the cover with 1/16- or 1/8-ounce jigs rigged with 2-inch curly tail grubs in chartreuse or pearl colors.

To arrange a fishing trip with Gary Clancy, telephone (334) 464-0881 or visit his website.


Striped Bass: Lake Martin

During November, target Martin’s big striped bass by slowly dragging large and lively gizzard shad 40 feet behind side planner boards. An average striper on this rig weighs more than 20 pounds, with an occasional 30 pounder.

Deploy two planners on each side of your boat to search the Tallapoosa River or Elkahatchee Creek. The boards allow you put the bait on top of fish in shallow water without spooking them. Plus, they cover a lot of ground.

Since big fish do not travel in schools, this technique does not produce high numbers of fish, but many think this method will produce the next state record from Martin. To minimize a big striped bass swallowing the hook, fish live bait on a 5/0 Daiichi circle hook.

To book a guide trip, call trophy striper guide Steve Smith (205 365-5226).


Striped Bass: Lewis Smith Lake

During November, Smith’s striped bass forgo their search for schools of baitfish to take up ambush positions at creek mouths and funnel points. This annual staging of strips occurs as declining water temperatures force shad to leave the backs of creeks.

Once a school of strips is found, they provide anglers an opportunity to catch high numbers of fish and the possibility to return to fish the same location another day. Congregating shad in late fall may hold in the same location for one to three weeks, depending on fishing pressure.

Look for striped bass at the mouths of Crooked, Little Crooked and White Oak creeks. Also check the long point in Lick Creek. In November, expect to find the fish holding 38 to 45 feet deep.

To book a guide trip, call veteran striper guide Bill Vines at 205-647-7683.


Speckled Trout: Coastal Rivers

Plentiful, sporting and delicious, the speckled trout ranks first as the states inshore saltwater gamefish. With the arrival of cool weather, anglers will find specks have moved into our coastal rivers. Bon Secour, Dog, Fish, Fowl and Magnolia rivers offer excellent fishing for two- to three-pound fish.

These beautiful fish live on a diet of shrimp, small fish, worms and small crabs, but the most popular bait from their fare is live shrimp. However, small baitfish catch the biggest fish. Specks will also readily strike artificial lures like lipless crankbaits and grubs fished on jig heads.

Call Hoppe’s Fishing Camp at (251) 479-8302 for current fishing information. Hoppe’s is a popular departure point specks, as it lies on the north side of the Dog River Bridge on the Dauphine Island Parkway.


Blue Catfish: Logan Martin

Big cat action begins in November on Logan Martin and just gets better as waters cool during the month. Skilled anglers frequently catch blues weighing 20 to 40 pounds from this Coosa River reservoir, which is about 30 miles east of Birmingham.

Locate big blues by drifting baits in open water over an uneven bottom on the lower section of the lake. Humps, ledges and creek junctions are especially productive with shad present. Often, sonar shows cats suspended off the bottom below a ball of bait.

Without question, the best bait for blue catfish is fresh skipjack herring. Fish it on a dropper rig made of 40-pound-test fluorocarbon and a main line of 65-pound-test braid. Depending on the wind, sinker weights vary between 1 and 6 ounces.


Redfish: Orange Beach

Here’s the perfect Christmas vacation for the avid angler: A trip to balmy Orange Beach to catch tackle-wrecking redfish weighing 20 to 30 pounds.

From late October through December as water temperatures cool, huge schools of red minnows and menhaden move into the area followed by schools of bull reds. “It’s a natural setup for winter fishing,” Captain Don McPherson said, “as all the ingredients come together to form this great fishery.”

Often, these schools are easily found by watching for diving birds just past the second sandbar from the beach. While the birds attack from above, big reds churn the surface to foam by slashing through the bait.

If you find reds under dive-bombing birds, fish poppers or stickbaits on the surface. If not, troll deep-diving crankbaits in water 15 to 35 feet deep. A Mann’s Stretch 25+ is a good search bait.

To book a guided trip, call Captain Don McPherson at (251) 981-8047, or visit his website.


Flounder: Alabama’s Artificial Reefs

As the water cools in the fall, flounder migrate out of the rivers and bays towards the Gulf. In December, many of these delicious fish use our artificial reefs as feeding stations, current breaks and staging areas to spawn.

If you find flounder concentrated on a reef in water less than 60 feet deep, it’s possible to catch 50 fish in a day. Most fish will weigh 1 to 5 pounds, with an occasional doormat tipping the scales at 8 pounds.

The first choice for bait is live menhaden up to 3 1/2 inches long. If they are not available, cut squid into 3 1/2- by 1/2-inch strips. Drift these baits inches off the bottom on a Carolina rig.

For an up-to-date listing, including maps and GPS coordinates, visit the DCNR website.


Spotted Bass: Lake Jordan

During the first weeks of December on Lake Jordan, 3- and 4-pound spotted bass slash through schools of shad with aggression. As water temperatures decrease at a faster rate, fishing sizzles.

The most important factor for spots this month is current, and the best current flow occurs within 5 miles of the Mitchell Dam. Current triggers a feeding response in fish weighing more than 3 pounds and positions them in predicable locations, which include rock piles in the middle of the river and points.

Fishing in the strong current requires a chartreuse 1-ounce spinnerbait with two No. 4 willow-leaf blades. Using a long rod for distance and fluorocarbon line for depth, make a cast against the current so the lure descends to the bottom before passing the current break.

For a guided day on the water, contact John Pollard, telephone (334) 221-2068.


Spotted Bass: Jones Bluff

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 to catch these hard-fighting fish. As the first impoundment on the Alabama River, the lake’s riverine banks and fertile flowing waters support a growing population of spots weighing more than five pounds, with some topping six pounds.

Depending on the weather, water temperatures in December usually allow 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.

Fish cover and structure near these current breaks with spinnerbaits or jig-and-pigs.  The best fishing for spotted bass is from Swift Creek downstream to the dam. 


Largemouth: Mobile Delta

When the north wind blows, the shallow waters of the Delta offers die-hard bass fisherman fast action. Anglers report catching 100 bass on an average day. These fish will measure between 12 and 16 inches.

Past winters have found bass concentrated in holes at the mouths of Bay Grass, Bay Minette Basin, Big Bay John, Chocolata Bay, Chukfee Bay, Delvan Bay, Johns Bend and Justin Bay. Of these, Chocolata and Chukfee produce the bigger bass.

To duplicate the presentation of the bass’ forage, which consist of shrimp, small crabs and bait fish, anglers recommend casting small grubs and Rebel Wee-Rs.


Crappie: Tombigbee River

According to fisheries biologist, crappie on the Tombigbee River above Demopolis Lake have spawned successfully for many years. Spawning conditions – both temperature and water levels – have produced and abundance of fish. Fish that bite willingly in December.

In fact, it’s an excellent time to catch trophy-size fish provided you can find them. Since our weather varies greatly this month, the fish may hold anywhere from 3 to 20 feet.

Start your search at creek mouths by fishing cover on the edge of drop-offs. A vertical presentation works best as crappie will hold tight to cover. If the water temperature has dropped below 50 degrees, expect to find the fish holding near the bottom.  Often smaller crappie hold a few feet above the big fish, so fish 4 to 8 feet deeper before moving.


Crappie: Weiss Lake

When the weather turns cold, Weiss Lake offers anglers an opportunity to catch large numbers of crappie weighing 1 to 1¼ pounds from dense schools of fish. The cold concentrates the fish at the warm water discharge pipe on the Chattooga River near State Route 60, and also in the warm spring water flowing into Spring Creek.

At the discharge pipe, the Float-N-Fly technique will quickly find and catch fish. Tie two 1/16-ounce deer-hair jigs on the line about a foot apart. In Spring Creek, slow troll the shallow water near the shoreline with 1/32-ounce jigs.

To book a day of guided crappie fishing on Weiss, call Pat Trammel.


Blue Catfish: Wilson Lake

Tournament angler and guide Brian Barton rates fishing as good on Wilson Lake for the month of December. He reports anglers can expect to get eight to 10 bites a day from blue catfish ranging in size from 10 to 70 pounds, with an average fish weighing 35 to 40 pounds.

“In December,” Barton said, “catfish hold on ledges that fall into the river channel or the deepest part of the basin. Usually, they hold on the side with the strongest current. The steeper ledges hold the bigger fish.”

To catch fish, Barton trolls downstream at .2 or .4 mph dragging skipjack herring on a Santee rig. On the upper lake, he trolls ledges 25 to 35 feet deep; on the lower lake, he targets ledges 70 to 80 feet deep.


Blue Catfish: Wheeler Lake

Wheeler Lake is one of the best places in the nation to catch a monster blue catfish. Winning tournament angler and catfish guide Jason Bridges biggest fish weighed 105 pounds. And even in the coldest weather, he managed to catch trophies weighing more than 80 pounds.

To catch fish when water temperatures are in the 50s, Bridges drifts skipjack herring through the cats’ deep wintering holes next to the river channel. If water temperatures fall into the 40s, Bridges uses his i-Pilot controlled trolling motor by Minn Kota to remain stationary over the hole.

In winter, he says the best wintering holes are on the lower lake between Decatur and Wheeler Dam.

To book a trip with Captain Bridges, telephone (256) 738-9461.


Striped Bass: Smith Lake

The illegal introduction of blueback herring into Smith Lake has changed the way veteran striper guide Bill Vines finds fish. “Except to spawn,” he said, “bluebacks stay in open water 40 to 60 feet deep. They also like to roam, so side scan sonar is an important tool in locating schools. Sometime you will see stripers, but you will see big balls of baitfish.”

It is illegal to use herring for bait, so the guide uses gizzard shad he catches with a cast net. To cover the water column, Vines fishes with eight baits: four on down rods, two behind planner boards, and two below corks drifting behind his boat.

“The best fishing days are gray and dreary,” said Vines, “and the numbers can be very good because of the schools of stripers. We catch a lot of fish weighing more than 20 pounds and occasionally catch a 30 pounder.”