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Entries in Alabama (21)


More States Look to Grow Trophies With Florida-Strain Bass

Tennessee state record bass caught in 2015 at Lake Chickamauga.Can Tennessee biologists turn Chickamauga into another Lake Fork?

Probably not.

That Texas lake is the gold standard for trophy bass fisheries, and duplicating the success there is not a reasonable expectation, especially for a state with a less hospitable climate.

But resource managers are hopeful that they can grow bigger bass in Chickamauga through the introduction of Florida-strain largemouths into the population.

“I’m convinced that Florida bass will grow big in Tennessee,” says Bobby Wilson, assistant director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “I hope that can happen in Chickamauga. And, if it does, we’ll move to other lakes with it.”

So far, Wilson has two very persuasive pieces of evidence to support his conviction: In October of 2009, biologists electroshocked a 16-15 largemouth at Browns Creek Lake, where Floridas also have been stocked. And in 2015, Gabe Keen caught a 15.2 in Chickamauga, good enough to establish a new state record.  

By contrast, the previous record was just 14.5, caught in 1954 at Sugar Creek.

 “We’ve had a few 13-pounders reported by fishermen (from agency lakes),” Wilson adds. “They probably were Florida bass.”

But the verdict still is out on Chickamauga.

The same goes for Lake Guntersville, just to the south in Alabama.

 “We haven’t stocked them (Florida bass) on a regular basis,” said Keith Floyd, a fisheries supervisor for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “It’s been periodically in one or two embayments, to see if we can incorporate Florida genomes into the population.”

Tennessee, however, has been much more deliberate in its approach. After stocking 200,000 fry annually for five years throughout Chickamauga failed to show much of a genetic shift, biologists decided to focus on three creeks for the next five.

“Anglers (at Chickamauga) are saying they are catching bigger bass,” Wilson explains. “And they say that the bass look different from what they are used to seeing.”

Anglers also are catching bigger bass at Lake Atkins in adjacent Arkansas, where the fishery was rehabilitated and then stocked with Floridas. In 2011, anglers caught at least three 12-pound bass in that 752-acre fishery.

Wilson says that his state used criteria from Arkansas and Oklahoma in deciding where Florida-strain bass could be stocked successfully in Tennessee. That turned out to be south of a line from Dyersburg in the west to Chattanooga in the east.

But as Virginia proved during the early 1990s, bass with Florida genes can do well even farther north than that. After being stocked in the late 1980s, Briery Creek Lake yielded a 13-4 trophy in 1992. It followed with a 16-3 (one ounce shy of the state record) in 1995 and 16-2 in 2002. And from 1994 to 2002, it produced the largest bass in the state annually.

“A lot of people are excited about this,” Wilson says about Tennessee’s Florida bass program. “But some don’t want them because they have heard that they are finicky than northern bass.”

And there’s the argument that native bass populations are weakened when Florida bass are added.  “But these aren’t native systems,” the Tennessee fisheries chief points out. “These are manmade impoundments.”

Texas’ long-term success with Florida bass in Lake Fork and other reservoirs provides a strong argument in support of Wilson. And the fact that more than 500 largemouth bass of 13 pounds and more have been entered in its Sharelunker program seems to dispel the “finicky” fear as well.

From my own decades of experience with Florida bass in Florida, Texas, and Mexico, I’ve noted that they can turn off when temperature drops just a degree or two. But I do not believe them more difficult to catch than northern bass. When cold and/or high pressure turns them off, you just have to slow down and adjust your tactics. Instead of throwing a spinnerbait, flip a soft plastic along the edge of a weedline.

Also, I’ve found Florida bass to be, pound for pound, much more challenging fighters than northern bass. A big Florida is like a mean smallmouth with a belly. And I’ve seen 12-pounders tail walk.

Count me as one who is not troubled by the occasional finickiness of Florida bass or the fact that they are being introduced into manmade fisheries in Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, and perhaps other states outside their native range. I’ve been blessed to catch a few double-digit Floridas, and I’d like to see more opportunities for other anglers to do so as well.

Whether Chickamauga and Guntersville are two of the fisheries capable of growing those genetically enhanced big fish likely will be revealed in the years ahead.


New Gulf of Mexico Reef Built with Boilers From Alabama Power

An artificial reef is being built in the Gulf of Mexico with two, 100-ton boilers recently removed from Alabama Power facilities, plus a 195-foot barge that will be sunk along with them.

Alabama Power and the Marine Resources Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation are partners in the project about 25 miles south of Dauphin Island. Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) helped develop the project.

"Alabama's Marine Resources Division has been a leader for decades with inshore and offshore artificial reef systems," said AWF Executive Director Tim. L. Gothard.

"The Alabama Wildlife Federation firmly believes that properly engineered artificial reefs provide ecological benefits and unique fishing opportunities for anglers--- a true win-win."

Go here for more information and photos.


What's Wrong With Lake Guntersville?

Long noted as one of the nation's best bass fisheries, Lake Guntersville has taken a great fall, failing to earn a spot in the top 10 among Bassmaster's 100 Best Bass Lakes for 2016. Additionally, it ranked just fifth in the southeast, with Santee Cooper claiming the top rating.

"It used to be that just about anybody with a reasonable knowledge of bass fishing could come here and catch a nice bunch of fish once they learned the basics of the lake," said guide Mike Carter. "Now, it's almost impossible for people without inside knowledge here to catch much of anything."

That's a far cry from 2011, when Alabama pro Aaron Martens said Guntersville was his favorite fishery in the spring "because you catch 100 fish a day and they're big . . . If you can find grass and stumps, you're really looking good. Once you find them, you can catch a lot."

What's going on at Guntersville in 2016?  Theories abound, as guide Mike Carter and his wife Sharon have formed the Lake Guntersville Conservation Group to examine the decline and seek  solutions. State representatives, as well as biologists from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and Auburn University are involved.

Auburn fisheries scientist Matt Catalano said that an absence of big fish is not the problem, pointing out that the impoundment has more bass over 20 inches now than in any previously surveyed years. Rather, the number of 15- to 18-inch fish has fallen 30 to 40 percent below its 2011 peak.

"The lake had an outstanding year class in 2008 when a huge number of the fish that were hatched survived to eventually become adults, and by 2011, anglers were seeing the results of this year class in their catches. There were more 15- to 18-inch fish than ADCNR had ever recorded in a continuing study of over 20 years at the lake," he explained.

"But as fish get older, there's a natural mortality as well as some fishing mortality, and not only that the larger fish are harder to catch. They're more wary because they've been caught and released, and they're not in the same places that the smaller fish are most of the time."

As a guide who spends many days on the lake, Carter, meanwhile, sees other possible contributors to the decline, including intense  pressure from both tournament and recreational anglers, as well as illegal harvest of bass in the spring by bowfishermen.

"Particularly in summer, a good number of the fish that go through the weigh-in process just don't make it because of the heat and the low oxygen," Carter said. "When you have thousands of fish being weighed in every weekend in these big events, even though most survive release, the ones that die have an impact."

Tightening harvest restrictions likely would not help, Catalano said. "We tag a lot of bass on this lake and the number of returns we get give us some idea of what the harvest is relative to the number of fish. It's pretty minimal. We think natural mortality is a far larger factor here. That means tighter harvest rules probably would not have a measurable impact."

Stocking with Florida strain bass holds more promise, but even that is not guaranteed to help. "Stocking a lot of young fish on top of a healthy native population usually doesn't have much of an impact because the habitat is already full," the Auburn biologist said, adding that it could be beneficial during a year when the natural spawn is down.

Quite possibly, he explained, Guntersville simply is experiencing a natural downturn following the bountiful year class of 2008.

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)


Alabama Team Planting Aquatic Vegetation to Improve Bass Production in Reservoirs


With hundreds of fish attractors in place, Alabama's new Habitat Enhancement and Restoration Team now is looking at improving spawns and fry survival.

"Since the program started (2015), we've put out a little more than 1,000 structures," said Kyle Bolton, habitat coordinator for the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF). "Most of those have been used for fish attraction as opposed to fish production. We are starting to move into fish production enhancement things like planting native vegetation."

Efforts include test plantings of buttonbush in Lake Martin, Logan Martin, Smith Lake, and Weiss Lake.

 "They're all over Smith Lake, but we're trying to plant them in areas where they're void of them," Bolton said.

Additionally, WFF partnered with Alabama Power to transplant water willows on Lake Martin.

"We're shooting to do that again this year on both Smith and Martin," the habitat coordinator explained.  "Water willow provides refuge for all types of juvenile fish. Hopefully that refuge will allow those fish to recruit to catchable size."

Fish attractor projects for 2016 include deploying 100 spider block structures each in Lewis, Smith, Little Bear, and Cedar Creek.

Attractors already in place include bamboo structures in West Point, Weiss, Jordan, and Logan Martin, with plans to also add them to Upper Bear Reservoir on Bear Creek. The Weiss project included assistance from Alabama Power, Weiss Lake Improvement Association, and Cedar Bluff High School Bass team.

Volunteers are a critical part of the team because of funding limitations. "We try to get bass clubs, schools, local homeowners, and boat owners associations involved in these habitat enhancement projects," Bolton said. "A key aspect in any habitat program is developing partnerships."

The federal Sport Fish Restoration program provides most of the financing, with money from sales of freshwater fishing license plates also assisting.

Fish attractors are not pinpointed with buoys or other markers. But their locations are available through GPS coordinates that can be accessed on's interactive map.

"It will also tell you how many fish attractors were put out, the depth, and the date the attractors were installed so you can tell if they have been in there long enough to attract fish," Bolton said. "It usually doesn't take long."

Update on Fish Attractors

"We just put out 100 spider blocks at Smith Lake, and next week we're putting another 100 each at Cedar Creek and Little Bear Reservoirs in north Alabama," Bolton told Activist Angler on Aug. 4.

"One-hundred-fifty porcupine fish attractors each are bound for Martin, Yates, Mitchell and Smith Reservoirs sometime in the next couple of months! We're staying busy."


Big Bass Secrets Revealed by Angler Who Feeds, Catches by Hand

Thousands, perhaps millions, worldwide have watched the video of an Alabama farmer catching a 16.03-ounce bass by hand. Few, however, know the rest of the story.

First and foremost, Robert Earl Woodard's capture of a largemouth just a half-pound off the state record wasn't a one-time stunt. It was the culmination of nearly 40 years of practice. If the retired physical education teacher and football coach isn't the only fisherman catching  bass this way, he certainly is one of the more experienced.

And the knowledge that he has gained about bass behavior during those decades can be as valuable to rod-and-reel anglers as any shared by the best pro fishermen and fisheries scientists.

"First bass have different personalities," said Woodard, who has studied the fish, as well as cattle, all his life and writes about being  a hard-working farm boy and outdoorsman during a simpler time in a book, The Way It was Back Then.

Lying on his belly at the pier on his five-acre lake, he has learned to recognize them by these individual differences and, as a consequence, has given them names.  For example, the 16-pounder is Kickin' Bass. She earned that label by the way she flips her tail and slaps the water with ferocity after taking a bait.

"But she's also very cautious," Woodard said. "She will suck the bait out of your hand without making contact."

On the other hand, Dynamite will explode out of the water to take a bait, while Jaws, another double-digit lunker, "will bite your thumb and make it bleed," the Alabama native said. Jaws has been caught three times.

Then, there's Bullet, who will knock the shiner or brim out of Woodard's hand, and Sneaky, a smaller male, who hides under the pier and waits for just the right moment to steal an offering before a larger female can grab it. Other bass, meanwhile, are more anti-social, and, consequently, so unnamed.

"We think some never come to the pier," he said. "I saw one with a white spot on top of her tail. And after she went off bed, she went straight back to her territory."

And not only are the bass at Woodard's pier unique individuals, they seem to be able to tell the difference among people.  "I can feed them, and others can't," said the farmer, who pats on the dock as a way of telling the bass that dinner is being served. "Maybe it's the way I present the bait in the water," he added.

"And they feed better when I'm by myself and quiet. They stay back when other people are with me."

Plus, he noted, this observation made him realize that whenever "we can see them, they can see you."

Their above-water-water vision also allows them to distinguish the difference between baits, Woodard added, and an experiment confirmed for him that "matching the hatch" often is important.

"The pond is full of brim, and so that's what I was feeding them," he said, adding that he decided to spice up the menu with shiners.

"I put the brim in my left hand, the shiner in my right, and threw them out," the retired coach said. "Nine times out of 10, the bass would take the brim, and they seemed to make the decision while the bait was in mid-air."

Now, he's offered shiners enough that the bass also will accept them--- when they're feeding. Sometimes, they will go two or three days without showing up at the dock.

And sometimes when they do show up, they'll eat, but not nearly as aggressively as they will on other days. "If the bait's not big enough, bass will stay three feet down and watch," Woodard said. "It's like they don't want to waste the energy for a 3-inch shiner."

Other times, they will take three or four baits directly from his hand and then back off, waiting for him to toss them more to eat. "But if a big bass is still looking at a bait, the smaller ones will stay away," he said. "There's definitely a pecking order."

When a big bass is hungry, however, it can gobble up seven 4-inch brim or a pound (25 count) of shiners.

Not surprisingly, weather can take away their appetite. "They don't seem to like rain and storms (for hand feeding)," Woodard said, adding that maybe they gorge on food washed into the lake by runoff.     "The first day after the rain, they're not hungry. But the second day, they eat."     

And finally, there's this for rod-and-reel anglers to ponder:  "When I catch a bass and then turn it loose, the others leave with it," Woodard said.

On the other hand, he has caught Jaws and other bass multiple times, and Kickin' Bass is once more coming to the dock for dinner.

(A variation of this article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)