Fishing and Floating the Sipsey Fork above Smith Lake
The Sipsey Fork originates at the confluence of Thompson and Hubbard creeks in southwestern Lawrence County. Often referred to by mistake as the Sipsey River (actually a tributary stream of the Tombigbee River), the Sipsey Fork is a tributary stream of the Mulberry Fork, which is part of the Black Warrior River.
The Sipsey Fork flows south-southeasterly until impacted by the impounded waters of Lewis-Smith Reservoir. This section, commonly referred to as Upper Sipsey Fork, lies completely within the boundaries of the William B. Bankhead National Forest. Sipsey Fork is Alabama’s only stream classified as a "National Wild and Scenic River." This classification will insure that Upper Sipsey Fork and its tributary streams will be managed in such a way as to protect and preserve the “…remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or similar values, in free flowing condition” for future generations to enjoy.
Floating Upper Sipsey Fork by kayak or canoe is the ideal method of enjoying its wonder. The aesthetic value alone makes the adventure worthwhile. Frequent rock bluffs rise straight up from the stream’s edge, some in excess of one-hundred feet. Lush vegetation drapes the shoreline, while the surrounding country is hilly, heavily wooded, remote and quiet. The music of water cascading over the many cliffs is a guarantee in the Sipsey Wilderness nicknamed the “Land of a Thousand Waterfalls.” However, do not worry; there are no waterfalls in the stream itself, although a “Class 1” rapid is located south of County Road 60. Other short portages around shoal areas may be necessary, depending on the water level.
Anglers will discover the excellent fishing that the Upper Sipsey Fork has to offer. April-May and October-November are the ideal months. Anglers can expect to catch a variety of fish species such as bluegill, longear sunfish, green sunfish, spotted bass and white bass. Other species possibly encountered are redbreast sunfish, largemouth bass, redeye bass, striped bass (rockfish), and channel catfish. Light-spinning or fly-fishing tackle are the preferred gear. For terminal tackle, anglers can catch bream and bass on small in-line spinners (Rooster Tails, Panther Martins), small crank-baits, plastic grubs, or you may try to “match-the-hatch” while fly-fishing. Anglers should concentrate their efforts to deep pools and current breaks behind boulders or fallen trees.
Three stream expanses on the Upper Sipsey Fork can be float-fished. Equip yourself with a good map prior to casting-off on any one of these floats. The first section extends from the Thompson Creek (iron-bridge) access off Forest Service Road #208, downstream to the Sipsey River Recreational Area at the crossing of Winston County Road #60. This nine and one-half (9.5) mile stretch of stream is within the Sipsey Wilderness where hikers, kayakers, and canoeists can find the solitude and isolation that are part of the wilderness experience. Plan for this float to take ten hours or more depending on the flow and your commitment to fishing. Attempting this stretch should be restricted to the wetter months to avoid having to drag your watercraft over the shoals.
The second float fishing stretch is from the Sipsey River Recreational Area at County Road 60, downstream to the W.T. Mims’ Family Public Access Point at the Highway 33 crossing. This nine-mile length of stream is the most popular and provides excellent sport fishing for both bream and spotted bass. Expect to take about nine hours to float and fish this section. It too can be difficult to float during times of little or no rainfall.
The final expanse would be from the W.T. Mims’ Family Public Access Point off Highway 33, downstream to Payne Creek at Moody Bend, approximately two and one-half (2.5) miles or stretch it to four and one-half (4.5) miles to County Road B15 (Forest Service Rd. 109A) access just downstream of the mouth of Sandy Creek. This stretch of stream will have the slowest current but will provide the angler with the best chance of catching a striped bass (rockfish). To hook that striped bass, fish large baits on medium-heavy tackle in the pools at the tail end of shoal areas during mid-March to mid-April.
Upper Sipsey Fork is one of Alabama’s most precious natural resources. This stream provides recreation to many anglers, canoeists, kayakers, hikers, photographers, primitive campers, and wildlife observers. So enjoy Upper Sipsey Fork, but remember to “Leave It Better Than You Found It!"
For more information on the Sipsey Fork above Smith Lake, please contact the District III Fisheries Office.