By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
There are two upcoming dates that anyone with an interest in freshwater fly fishing should mark on the calendar.
The first is May 4, which is the full moon. Actually, don’t focus on May 4 alone but several days before and after the full moon will be prime times for panfish in Alabama. Bluegill bream will be in a spawning mood around the full moon, and it’s a perfect time to plop a popping bug on or near one of the beds.
In fact, that’s about the only fly fishing I did until I was well into my adulthood. When the bream bedded around the full moon, I’d grab my father’s old Wright & McGill fly rod
The second date(s) to mark on the calendar encompasses the weekend of May 1-3. That weekend in Prattville, a variety of entities will come together to offer an Introduction to Fly Fishing series at the Doster Center in Prattville. The partnership includes the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, Bass Pro Shops, George Williams and the Prattville Parks and Recreation Department. To register, call Prattville Parks and Recreation at 334-595-0800.
For a $5 fee, wannabe fly fishermen can get instruction on everything from tying flies to how to “match the hatch” and proper casting techniques. Of course, there is much more involved. The first session is from 7-8:30 p.m. on May 1, followed by an all-day session on Saturday, May 2, that starts at 8:30 a.m. Participants will be able to fish in Autauga Creek. Sunday’s session starts at 1:30 and includes a question-and-answer period, followed by more fishing.
Doug Darr, WFF’s Aquatic Education Coordinator, said there are plenty of opportunities for fly fishing in freshwater. For the fly-fishing enthusiasts, Alabama does have one year-round fishery for freshwater trout.
“There’s great fly fishing around if people will take advantage of it,” Darr said. “We get anglers from all over who come to the tailwaters at Smith Lake Dam to trout fish. Trout are stocked there every month.
“But fly fishing for trout is just one tiny aspect of the fly fishing Alabama offers. Fly fishing for panfish is a lot of fun. You can catch a big bass on a fly, too. You’ve just got to do a good job of setting the hook.”
Darr said the fly-fishing weekend was scheduled after numerous inquiries about some type of seminar.
“I’ve had quite a few people ask me about a class, and we’ve seen more interest in fly fishing,” he said. “Now the Boy Scouts have a merit badge in fly fishing. The event is open to the public. We hope to get some families involved. There is a $5 fee, but Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries will provide the equipment.”
There has been significant interest in the rainbow trout fishery in the Sipsey Fork below Smith Lake Dam. Although the fishery is not limited to fly tackle, many people enjoy honing their casting skills and their ability to present flies that are readily taken by the trout. The Sipsey Fork on the Winston/Cullman county border is only an hour northwest of Birmingham and is stocked on alternating months by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and WFF.
The reason the trout fishing is available at the Sipsey Fork is the water from the bottom of Smith Lake becomes the outflow in the tailwaters. The water temperature remains below 60 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, which enables the trout to survive. Because the dam is a hydroelectric facility, the water in the tailrace can rise rapidly. Anglers are advised to wear personal flotation devices while fishing the Sipsey Fork. Alabama Power has added stairs and walkways to facilitate access to the Sipsey Fork in several areas.
Darr said Little River in northeast Alabama can produce trout, Coosa bass and panfish. In fact, at one time, the record rainbow trout came from Little River, although the fish likely traveled from Georgia, where the East Fork of Little River is stocked by Georgia DNR.
The bonus to fishing the Little River is even if the fish aren’t biting, the beautiful scenery more than makes up for a lack of fish in the creel.
Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park offers fly fishing at certain times of year. The park, owned by the Alabama Historical Ironworks Commission, sponsors a trout
Madison County State Public Fishing Lake is stocked with rainbow trout during the winter when the water is cool enough for the fish to survive The lake is stocked the Friday after Thanksgiving and is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from late November through January. Trout fishing requires a $5 daily permit in addition to the normal license requirements at Madison County Lake.
There are several species of fish that fly fishermen can target below dams in Alabama. One species doesn’t have much table value but is a blast to hook because of the acrobatics involved. The skipjack herring is like a mini-version of a tarpon, its significantly larger cousin. Skipjacks like fast water and can usually be found below dams on the Tennessee River, Warrior River and in the Sipsey Fork
Striped bass, hybrids and white bass often chase shad on the surface of rivers and reservoirs. Fly fishing streamers can be an effective way catch these fish. But remember that striped bass in Alabama can get very large, so make sure to use the appropriate tackle.
Alabama’s numerous streams can produce several species of bass for fly fishermen. The Mobile River drainage produces Alabama bass. Those species formerly known as redeye bass are now known separately as Coosa, Warrior, Cahaba, Tallapoosa and Chattahoochee bass, based on their respective drainages. Many small-stream bass anglers choose to float locations like Hatchet Creek, Terrapin Creek, Tallapoosa River, Locust Fork and the Cahaba River.
The largemouth bass is Alabama’s state freshwater fish. Fly fishermen can catch largemouths in any number of lakes and ponds on surface poppers, streamers and submerged flies.
“One time my son came up to the house to tell me about a bass that was cruising along the edge of the pond,” Darr said. “I told him he was probably trying to find something to eat. He wanted me to try to catch him. I threw a Rapala (crankbait) out there and he just totally ignored it. I picked up my fly rod with a Clouser Minnow and made a cast. I started retrieving and the fish turned around. He could feel those vibrations and headed for the fly. He picked it up and we ended up with a nice 4- to- 5-pound bass.”
Although the shellcracker (redear sunfish) spawn is likely over, you might still be able to pick up a few random fish. Bluegills will usually spawn on the full moon several times, so be prepared with your popping bugs and Wooly Buggers to land a mess for supper.
“I think fly fishing can add enjoyment for anglers, and it’s well worth picking up the sport,” Darr said. “It’s not the only way to fish, but it’s a whole lot of fun.”
PHOTOS: (By David Rainer) The Sipsey Fork at Lewis Smith Dam is the only year-round trout fishery in Alabama. Trout are stocked monthly for those who love to fish with fly tackle. However, plenty of other fish species, like bass and bream, will readily take a fly in Alabama’s abundant waterways, lakes and ponds.