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B.A.I.T. Report Shows Great Bass Fishing

By DAVID RAINER

With Alabama struggling through a multi-year drought in 2007, many anglers had an idea that the fishing would also suffer.

However, according to the Bass Anglers Information Team (B.A.I.T.) report, that assumption was wrong, dead wrong.

Surprising both anglers and fisheries biologists with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, bass fishing in 2007 was outstanding, according to the tournament reports filed by tournament fishermen from Alabama and bordering states who fish Alabama waters. The report is comprised of 22 lakes that had at least five tournament reports. The lakes are ranked according to five indicators – percent success, average bass weight, bass per angler per day, pounds per angler per day and hours per bass five pounds or larger.

Fisheries Biologist Damon Abernethy, who compiled the B.A.I.T. Report, said anglers did have to find new water to fish.

“I thought last year, because of the drought and low water, it seemed to have a negative effect on my fishing,” Abernethy said. “We did a poll with all the members who participate in this program and I think 81 percent of them felt like fishing was on the decline. But the information they sent to me proved otherwise.”

Abernethy said Lay Lake is a good example of what happened last year. Lay is known for its fishing in the grass. During the drought, the areas that usually had the productive grass were dry as a bone.

 “The same thing happened to me,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of places I like to fish. With some of these lakes down five, 10, 20 feet, you’re not going to be able to fish those places. Some of my favorite places were high and dry. I think that’s the reason people felt the fishing wasn’t as good. They went back to places where they had always been able to catch fish and didn’t do as well. But, they evidently went somewhere else and caught fish. And that’s statewide. They weighed in more fish last year. Some lakes were up and some were down. But when you average it all out, people caught considerably more fish.”

Abernethy said Alabama’s river and reservoir system is a resilient fishery, adapting to changing conditions.

 “Actually, our reports have been pretty consistent through the years,” he said. “Like I said before, we have some lakes that go up and some that go down. But statewide, it’s been consistent since 1986.

“In fact, most of our lakes are on the way up. Sometimes you can look at certain lakes and you can determine what is going on. If you look at Lake Mitchell and how it’s spiking up right now – that’s due to a strong year class in 2001. In three years, those fish reach 12 inches and are starting to be weighed in at the tournaments. Mitchell may end up being No. 1 in 2008. Then, when those fish start dying out, it will move back down again. It’s the natural cycle. Every now and then, you get a really good year class and the fishing will be great until they die out. Then you’re waiting on another one of those bumper crops to come through. There’s nothing you can do to make that happen. You just have to have all the right environmental conditions.”

According to the data provided through the 2007 tournament reports, more bass were caught per day, which resulted in more pounds weighed in per day. The average size of the fish, which hovers around 1.8 pounds each year, didn’t change, but people caught more fish.

“That’s the reason all the numbers went up,” Abernethy said. “And the number of hours it takes to catch a five-pound bass is continuing to fall. It’s almost down to where it was before the largemouth bass virus hit in 1998. When it was at its worst, it shot up to 800 or more hours. Before the virus hit it was between 250 and 260.

The Largemouth Bass Virus swept through Alabama and the South, then went through the Midwest and finally up North. The virus killed many of the larger fish in the lakes and reservoirs.

“To my knowledge, there are only a couple of lakes that have had it more than once, and I think they are both in Wisconsin,” Abernethy said. “I don’t know if they’ve built up an immunity or what. But it will slam a lake and it will take years to recover. A five-pound bass is at least seven or eight years old. So once you wipe those out, it’ll take a little while to get those back.

“But the number of hours to catch a five-pounder is moving back down and this year it was 307. So we’re getting real close to the pre-virus average.”

According to the 2007 B.A.I.T. Report, the overall winner (drum roll please) – Aliceville, an 8,300-acre Tombigbee River impoundment in west central Alabama.

“According to the criteria we use, the best lake overall for the past year was Aliceville,” Abernethy said. “Logan Martin was atop the percent success chart at 92 percent. Lake Martin was next, and those two lakes are always at the top or near the top. Then you go all the way down to Lewis Smith Lake, which was at 54 percent. But Smith is a hard lake to fish and it has a slot limit, so that will skew that number on Smith.”

Aliceville, meanwhile, was third in percent success, fourth in average bass weight, first in bass per angler per day, first in pounds per angler per day and second in hours per bass five pounds or larger for a total score of 104 points.

Second place went to Pickwick on the Tennessee River with 97 points, while Wilson, another Tennessee River lake, took third at 75.

“Pickwick really shot up,” Abernethy said. “Pickwick was middle of the pack last year, so it really improved. Pickwick is very current related. And, of course, the Tennessee River was not affected by the drought as much as the rest of the state.”

One of the more consistent lakes in Alabama is Neely Henry, according to Abernethy.

“It manages to stay good throughout the year,” he said. “It’s a good place to fish in the summer. If you look at the numbers, it doesn’t get bad in the summer, like everywhere else. That’s a jewel in the summer when all the other lakes are in the dog days. Neely Henry doesn’t really have any dog days.”

Visit www.outdooralabama.com/fishing/freshwater/where/reservoirs/quality/ to view the complete report.

PHOTO: Professional bass angler Russ Lane of Prattville unhooks a five-pounder pulled from Alabama waters.

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