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Tips for January and February

Short tips from around the state on some of Bama’s best fishing.

By Eileen Davis

Blue Catfish: Wheeler Lake

One of Bama’s best blue catfish waters, Wheeler Lake frequently produces trophy fish exceeding 50 pounds, with an occasional monster cat exceeding 90 pounds. Tournament angler and veteran guide Brian Barton (brianbartonoutdoors@aol.com) says on an average day in January, clients have a 50 percent chance of catching one blue catfish weighing more than 50 pounds, with two weighing more than 25 pounds.

“Some of my best fishing in winter,” Barton revealed, “is from the Wheeler Dam to Elk River, and specifically, the three submerged locks of the old Muscle Shoals Canal. The locks are easy to find using side scan sonar. They built a railroad bed running alongside the locks, and it’s a fishing highway.”  

To fish the old canal system, Barton trolls between .2 to .4 mph dragging skipjack herring on a Santee rig. Slow trolling is effective when the water temperature is above 48 degrees. 

 

Spotted Bass: Lake Mitchell

“Winter is absolutely the best time to catch spotted bass on Lake Mitchell,” said winning Bassmaster Elite competitor and Coosa River guide Dustin Connell (www.dustinconnellfishing.com). “On average, you are going to catch 30 to 40 fish with many weighing 3 pounds.”

In January, Connell fishes the upper section of this riverine lake. He says the current there is key as it positions fish in eddies, dropoff, shoals, and near rock walls. For Connell, it does not matter how strong the current. He even catches spots when the floodgates are open on Lay Lake Dam.  

To find submerged structure, Connell watches his sonar to search depths 10 to 12 feet deep and prefers to see shad or bass before stopping to fish.

Connell’s favorite lures this month are ¾-ounce chartreuse and white spinnerbaits with double willow-leaf blades and a ½-ounce jigs. He slow rolls the spinnerbait and swims the jig.

 

Striped Bass: Lake Martin

“As far as big striped bass,” said guide Steve Smith (205 365-5226), “January is an excellent time of the year. It’s also a good time to catch numbers of fish because they school in winter.”

For big fish, Smith trolls redhorse suckers or big shad behind planner boards in creeks and sloughs with points and humps falling off into water at least 30 feet deep. This technique produces 20- to 30-pound fish. 

To catch schoolies from deepwater, Smith finds the fish with sonar and then drops shad to the depth where the fish are holding. He fishes the shad on a Carolina rig with a 2-ounce sinker and a 3-foot leader.

During the winter months, Smith targets fish in the Kowaliga area of the lake.

 

Blue Catfish: Wheeler Lake

Dedicated trophy catfish hunters love cold water. In early January a few years ago, Captain Jason Bridges (www.wheelercatsguideservice.com) guided John Nordyke from Missouri to a spot on the lower section of Wheeler Lake to catch a 105-pound blue catfish. 

“Typically, January does not produce numbers of fish,” Bridges revealed, “but it’s an excellent time to catch big fish.”

To find monster catfish, Bridges looks for snags, rocks, and holes in or adjacent to the river channel and secondary creek channels. The 105-pounder came from a concrete and rock structure 45 feet deep on the bottom of the river channel. 

During winter, Bridges concentrates on fishing the lower section of the lake.

 

Striped Bass: Smith Lake

The illegal introduction of blueback herring into Smith Lake has changed fishing there forever. Striper guide Mike Walker reports it has improved fishing, especially wintertime topwater action.

“The herring has really changed everything,” Walker said. “You can find fish in places where they didn’t winter before. And where we had a good topwater bite, we are now experiencing phenomenal topwater fishing. In January, we target big fish.”  

Under normal weather conditions, Walker spends the first half of January catching stripers busting bait on the surface and the remainder of the month fishing baits on downlines. On an average trip, his methods produce between four to eight fish. The stripers weigh 10 to 40 pounds.

To book a fishing trip with Mike Walker, telephone (205) 503-2020 or visit his website at www.striper247smithlake.com.

 

Spotted bass: Lower Coosa River

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 stringers of two to three pound spotted bass, with an occasional six-pound trophy to anchor the stringer.

The best fishing lies on the upper stretches of these reservoirs near the dams where the lake is 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 will break the current and concentrate fish.  

When fishing current breaks, retrieve Bomber 7A crankbaits, 1/4- to 1/2-ounce jigs and pigs, 1/2-ounce spinnerbaits or Rat-L-Traps with the current.  

 

Spotted Bass: Lake Jordan

The Lake Jordan spotted bass fishery is tremendous in February.

“From dam to dam, anglers can catch a 4-pound spotted bass from current breaks,” said winning tournament angler Chris Rutland of Wetumka. “The lake had suffered a downturn, but it’s back. In February, the fish are going to be the fattest that they will be all year.”

To catch spotted bass, Rutland says current is essential as it positions the fish on points and humps. He recommends fishing these structures at depths of 8 to 12 feet.

“My favorite lure for fishing current breaks is a football head jig dressed with a Real Deal Craw by Big Bite Baits. I also fish with a double willow-leaf, one-ounce spinnerbait, a Spro Fat Papa crankbait and a Suicide Shad swimbait by Big Bites Baits. If I can’t catch them on these baits, I am not going to catch them.”

 

Crappie: Aliceville Lake

Crappie angler and District III Fisheries Supervisor Jay Haffner recommends fishing Aliceville this spring for slabs.

“In February, March and April,” he said, when we have three or four days of progressively warming weather, it’s time to go crappie fishing. Anglers may encounter a little muddier water on Tombigbee Reservoirs, but it is possible to find clearer water in creeks and backwater areas. Two of my favorite areas on the lower lake are the shallow areas of Coal Fire and Pumpkin creeks.”  

In 2020, Haffer believes Aliceville will have a lot of 4-year-old crappie. 

To find crappie in February, Haffner uses side-scan sonar to find woody cover 3 to 10 feet deep. When he finds a promising area, he is prepared to entice crappie with either jigs or minnows as you never know which they will prefer.

 

Spotted Bass: Jones Bluff

Winning tournament angler and guide Dustin Connell (www.dustinconnellfishing.com) rates spotted bass fishing on Jones Bluff as excellent.

“Without a doubt,” Connell said, “Jones Bluff on the Alabama River is awesome in February, and I think it gets better every year. I have had days where I caught 25 spots weighing 4 pounds or more. The biggest weighed 6 1/2 pounds.”

To find spotted bass, Connell looks for current breaks along the lake’s riverine shores. Places known to harbor spots from currents include creek mouths, channel swings and points. Connell says the most productive places have a hard bottom.

Connell’s lures for winning tournaments in February are jigs and spinnerbaits. The former weighs 1/2 ounce, dressed with a soft plastic trailer and resembles crawfish. The latter is a willow-leaf 3/4-ounce spinnerbait.

 

Bluegills: Mobile Delta

Former fisheries supervisor Joe Zolczynski of Fairhope considers the Mobile Delta a bluegill destination for the state’s anglers this month.  

“When we get a few warm days in the Delta,” Zolczynski advised, “bluegill fishing can be phenomenal in creeks with deep holes. Anglers will also catch redear and warmouth, but the number one fish would be the bluegill, which weigh about a third of a pound.”

Zolczynski’s favorite places for landing a limit of bream are Sabine Pass, Mallard Fork, Mud Hole Creek and the creek leading into Bay John. 

If you plan to fish from shore, an excellent location is the Meaher State Park Pier on the Highway 90-98 Causeway. The causeway also has many road accessible fishing areas.

 

Largemouth Bass: Lake Guntersville

February is an exceptional month to catch trophy largemouth from Lake Guntersville, but don’t expect a lot of bites. A few years ago, the winning team at the inaugural Alabama Bass Trail tournament brought a five-fish limit to the scales weighing 32.02 pounds. They only culled three fish.

“Guntersville is consistently a big fish lake,” said Damon Abernethy, Assistant Chief of Fisheries. “It has perfect fertility, the water levels are stable year around, and it has bottom contours that support about a 30 percent coverage of aquatic vegetation, which provides a positive environment for largemouth bass.”

In February, Abernethy recommends targeting pre-spawn fish in Mud Creek using lipless crankbaits or football jigs.

For a guided day of fishing on Lake Guntersville, telephone Alex Davis (256) 298-1178 or visit www.spinnerbaitkid.com.

 

Largemouth Bass: Mobile Delta

As our state’s largest wetland, the Delta offers anglers a vast network of bays, small lakes, creeks and rivers to catch large numbers of bass in a variety of situations – even 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 will often get your rod bent immediately as the bass reacts to the jig. Small crankbaits and spinnerbaits also draw hard strikes.