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Tips for July and August
Short tips from around the state on some of Bama’s best fishing.
By Eileen Davis
King Mackerel: Orange Beach
During the summer months, king mackerel provide exciting fishing for families and seasoned anglers alike. The bite is sometimes sporadic, but when a king strikes, it’s as if you hung a passing submarine. Even a small king will have your reel’s drag smoking.
Veteran guide Captain Don McPherson reports an average king weighs 8 to 10 pounds. “There’s always an opportunity to catch a much larger fish,” McPherson said. “Alabama’s record king was caught in 2012 and weighed more than 69 pounds.”
Productive techniques for teasing kings include chumming at anchor over structure, drifting live baits or slow-trolling baits and lures. These techniques work offshore, and they work nearshore in shallow water. Of these, trolling is popular nearshore, especially for families.
To book a fishing trip with Captain McPherson, call (251) 981-8047 or visit www.getawaygulffishing.com.
Whiting: Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
One way to beat the summer heat is an early morning trip to the beach to catch whiting from the surf. An onshore salty breeze improves attitudes and expectations. A whiting looks like a redfish without the spot, and they are good fighters. The state record is 2 pounds, 15 ounces.
When packing for your vacation, take a 6-foot medium-action rod with 12-pound-test monofilament. Also take your beads, weights (1/4 to 1 ounce) and swivels for tying a Carolina rig, plus a pack of 1/0 hooks. At the beach, buy a pound of fresh shrimp at the fish market for bait, and you are ready to hit the surf.
The best places to cast are cuts in the sandbar. Whiting move from the Gulf through the cuts to feed in the trough between the sandbars.
Greater Amberjack: Orange Beach
With the opening of amberjack season on August 1, offshore anglers have an opportunity to tangle with these hardy reef donkeys. Twenty-pound AJs are common and 40- to 50-pound fish are not unusual. Occasionally, anglers land 60 pounders.
AJs offer fast action and don’t hesitate to attack artificial lures or live bait. Since AJs hunt in schools and can be anywhere in the water column, 9-ounce butterfly jigs on 60-pound-test leaders provide for quick hook-ups. Lower the jig to the reef, then lift the rod and reel as fast as possible to recover 20 to 25 feet of line. Pause, lower the rod tip and repeat. Expect to receive a hard strike on the first drop from a 20 pounder.
To target big AJs, leave the jigs in the tackle box hook. Instead, hook a lively hard tail (blue runner) on a 7/0 or 9/0 circle hook with an 80-pound-test leader.
Largemouth Bass: Pickwick Lake
“Ledge fishing on Pickwick,” said Damon Abernethy, Assistant Chief of Fisheries for the Alabama DCNR, “is far and away above all other summer fishing. When you find a school of fish, it’s possible to sit in one place and catch 30 to 50 largemouth. It’s fun to catch fish averaging 3 1/2 pounds on nearly every cast. Ledge fishing is best from late May through July.”
To find aggressive schooling bass, Abernethy uses side-scan sonar to search main river ledges. Often, he will idle for more than a mile before seeing a large school of fish.
To catch fish, Abernethy recommends anglers fish with a variety of lures. “Identify seven or eight baits you like to throw on ledges,” he said, “and rotate through them every 10 or 15 minutes. Eventually, you will figure out what they want. Deep crankbaits are always good, so are football jigs and 10- or 11-inch worms. Swimming a jig close to the bottom is effective.”
Largemouth Bass: Warrior Lake
According to biologists and anglers, the largemouth bass fishery on Warrior Lake is on an uptrend with good numbers of 2-pound bass. These young bass are an angler’s best friend when conditions are tough. Located between Eutaw and Tuscaloosa, this riverine lake has plenty of weedbeds and river ledges to support productive summer patterns.
Early morning, work weedbeds by sliding a surface frog over the vegetation. Afterward, search the cooler water under weeds by flipping creature baits.
By far, though, the primary pattern in August is hitting stumps and humps on the river ledges with crankbaits or a jig and pig.
To fish the lower lake, the Corps has a ramp at Jennings Ferry, which is off County Road 14.
Rainbow Trout: Sipsey Fork
Depending on the time of the year, the water temperature in the tailwaters below Smith Dam range from the mid-50s to the mid-60s and is cold enough to support trout year round. The cold water flowing from the bottom of the lake also makes the upper Sipsy Fork ideal for fishing in the dog days of summer.
To sustain the put-and-take fishery, the Alabama DCNR stocks about 1,500 pounds of 8- to 15-inch trout every month, usually on the third Thursday. Occasionally, in summer that number can more than double.
Access to the tailrace is via Cullman CR 95, which parallels the Sipsey Fork. The road leads to excellent parking areas and from there it’s a short walk to one of the seven staircases down to the water. If you walk ½ to ¾ mile above the pump station, you will find the best trout habitat on the river.
Anglers catch the greatest number of trout between the dam and the S.R. 69 Bridge. On this stretch of the stream, anglers are restricted to wading. Wading, however, is not possible if Alabama Power is generating hydroelectricity. Fish with caution and be prepared to move quickly to high ground in the event they release water from the dam.
Light tackle is all you need to catch rainbow trout. Spinners, small spoons, salmon eggs, and corn, are excellent baits. Fly-fishing is popular with light rods.
Flathead Catfish: Millers Ferry
Perfect habitat and low fishing pressure make Millers Ferry a top destination for flathead catfish. The fertile waters of the Alabama River combined with the many sweeping river bends filled with snags and logjams provide prime holding areas for the secretive adult flatheads. Due to Millers Ferry’s distance from metropolitan areas, flatheads do not receive significant recreational fishing pressure, nor do they receive substantial harvest from commercial fishing.
Night fishermen catch good numbers of yellow cats weighing up to 30 pounds on limb lines, trot lines and rod and reels. To cover as much water as possible, arrive on the water before dark to set out limb lines upstream from the bends in the river. Then anchor upstream from a logjam or a creek mouth for a night of fishing with rods and reels.
Unlike blue and channel catfish, flatheads are predators. Most anglers use live bream, but bullheads catch more fish.
Flathead Catfish: Claiborne Lake
As summer temperatures hover above 95 degrees on Claiborne Lake and day becomes insufferable, night fishermen are waiting for the sun to sink below the trees to start working the banks. They use the remaining light to tie their limblines to overhanging branches.
To target 20- to 40-pound flatheads, live bullheads work best, but if you want smaller fish to fry, 4-inch live bream works well. Position your baits upriver of deep holes and logjams.
Claiborne is the last reservoir on the Alabama River. The lock and dam, which is near Monroeville, did little to change the look of the great Alabama, as it failed to flood the river’s steep banks.
Like the spotted bass upstream, Claiborne’s catfish feed best when the water is moving.
Flathead Catfish: Conecuh River
From Andalusia to the Florida border, the Conecuh River provides a flathead fishery supporting cats weighing more than 40 pounds. It also holds plenty of delicious 5 pounders.
At night, flatheads leave their ambush points in debris filled holes to feed on sunfish, bullheads and just about anything that swims. The first hours after dark and the last hour before light are best, so it’s not necessary to fish through the night.
Arrive before sunset to catch a dozen bream or bullheads before setting up on sandbar to fish the opposite bend in the river. Fish the live bait on a slip-sinker rig with a 5/0 hook.
Blue Catfish: Guntersville Dam
July is a great month to catch blue cats larger than 20 pounds from the tail waters of Guntersville Dam. The hotter it gets the better the fishing. Drawn to the cool currents of the tailrace from the lake below, these river fish offer anglers an opportunity to land a trophy weighing nearly 100 pounds.
To catch these big brutes, you will need a heavy-action bait-casting rod rigged with at least 20-pound-test line and a size 4/0 to 6/0 hook tied to a 50-pound leader. You’ll also need a supply of 2- to 4-ounce sinkers.
As the water leaves the dam, it creates a series of humps and holes that serve as current breaks for the catfish. Local anglers have found that drift fishing is the best method to find tail-water cats. It’s essential for the bait to drift near the bottom, so adjust your sinker weight accordingly.
Blue Catfish: Holt Reservoir
Best known for its bass fishing, Holt Reservoir now holds the state record for blue catfish. John Nichols of Tuscaloosa caught the 120-pound, 4-ounce monster on March 9, 2012.
In August, trophy catfish are scarce, but this is a great time to go jugging at night on this river-run lake. Holt offers outstanding fishing for three-pound cats, just right for the skillet.
The tailwater upstream holds fish and is popular, but there’s plenty of excellent fishing along this narrow winding body of water, which stretches for 18 miles. There are many creek mouths and small pockets along the shoreline for fishing jugs.
As for bait, Nichols’ big fish found chicken gizzard irresistible. Still you can’t go wrong with fresh-cut baitfish, fresh chicken liver or even commercial attractor baits.
Channel Catfish: Bankhead Lake
For the end of summer, take the family jug fishing at night for channel catfish on Bankhead Lake. Jugging for catfish is pure fun-filled anticipation for kids.
Bankhead contains 9,200 acres and is the second largest lake on the Warrior River. Located approximately 15 miles west of Birmingham and 30 miles northeast of Tuscaloosa, the reservoir flows through Walker, Jefferson and Tuscaloosa counties.
When setting out jugs on Bankhead in summer, look for structure that intersects the water column at depths of 4 to 10 feet on the main lake. Shallow sloping points, flats with stumps and dropoffs along the channel are all good places to drift jugs for catfish. Adjust the length of the lines to keep the hooks off the bottom. Also, the main lake has current for drifting jugs.
Summer-time cats are not picky. Chicken liver is popular, cut shad is effective and dip baits are easy.
Channel Catfish: Gainesville Lake
As temperatures peak in August, catfishing sizzles on Gainesville Lake. The Tombigbee is very fertile, and the river at Gainesville receives light fishing pressure. This combination provides an excellent opportunity to catch high numbers of channel cats.
To avoid the heat, plan on arriving at your fishing spot an hour before sunset to set out limb lines, set poles or jugs. With your gear set, it’s time to anchor at a creek mouth and cast out a few lines. Although on a good night, your gear will start dancing before reaching the creek, and your coolers topped off in a couple of hours.
Channel cats are not picky feeders, but it’s best to use fresh cut shad to take advantage of the big blues that cruise the shallows with their smaller cousins.
Channel Catfish: Lake Andrews
During the dog days of summer, catfishing offers fast action across our state. One lake often overlooked is Lake Andrews, which is located below Lake Eufaula on the lower Chattahoochee River. Andrews offers outstanding fishing for three-pound channel cats, just right for the skillet. It’s not unusual to catch a fish on your first rod while baiting the second.
To escape the hot weather, anglers should plan to fish from late evening into the night. The best fishing occurs when there is a strong current, as it forces the fish in predictable yet easy to find locations. Every point, logjam or creek mouth may hold a fishing bonanza.
The most effective baits on Andrews for channel catfish are fresh-cut shad, shrimp and chicken livers. Scheduled water release times for the dam are available by calling for the generation schedule at 1-866-772-9542.