Fish and Fishing in the Sipsey River

The Sipsey River, or “Sipsey River Swamp” as it is sometimes known, is one of the most fascinating and unique rivers in the State.  Its watershed is long and narrow and begins when several headwater tributaries converge near the Marion and Fayette county lines. The SipseyRiver is one of the last wild, free flowing swamp streams in Alabama, and it is considered one of "Alabama's Ten Natural Wonders."  Wandering through Fayette, Tuscaloosa, Pickens and Greene counties, this 92-mile long river is estimated to contain approximately 50,000 acres of bottomland wetlands and swamps, which ranks it as one of the State’s largest wetland regions.  The vegetation and trees are diverse and varied, ranging from bald cypress swamps to tupelo gum trees, swamp cottonwood, southern red oak, American elm, sweetgum, yellow popular and American beech. 

Sipsey River, AlabamaUnlike its more widely known, but more environmentally troubled neighbor, the Cahaba River; the Sipsey River does not receive the attention or publicity of this small river to the east.  However, both systems share an ecological richness and wide diversity of riverine habitats which make them both unique and valuable aquatic resources to Alabama.

The Sipsey River is home to many types of mussels. A total of 37 species has been reported from the drainage. This represents one of the best remaining and most intact mussel communities left in the United States. These mussels have interesting names, such as the southern fatmucket, yellow sandshell, and Alabama orb. Freshwater mussels thrive in free-flowing riverine habitats with clean water and gravel bottoms. These conditions remain on the Sipsey River because there are no major dams. Also, many areas of the Sipsey retain their swampy bottomland forest floodplains. Such areas help remove silt and pollutants from runoff during rain events and maintain good water quality in the river.

Besides the diverse mussel population, the Sipsey River provides refuge and habitat for about 102 species of freshwater fishes which include darters, gars, shad, shiners, and suckers. Several rare fish of the Sipsey River may eventually qualify for special conservation status, the southern walleye and America eel.  Popular sportfish species include largemouth bass, spotted bass, catfish, crappie, pickerel, and various sunfish (bream).

On December 23, 1937, the Alabama Legislature declared the Sipsey River navigable "from its mouth to George Humphrey's in the County of Marion," Act No. 55, page 43.

The Sipsey River offers quality recreational opportunities to those who find pleasure in canoeing secluded backwater areas or bank fishing off the main river channel.  Boat access to the SipseyRiver is limited due to its rural nature and lack of paved access.  However, two public access areas are available for boaters to use: the Cotton Bridge Landing off Pickens County Highway 2; and the Vienna Landing located on Gainesville Reservoir which is approximately 1.5 miles from the mouth of the Sipsey River.   The Army Corps of Engineers has future plans to develop one additional public use area on the Sipsey River near Gainesville Reservoir adjacent to Alabama Highway 14.  The access area near the U.S. Highway 82 bridge in Tuscaloosa County is currently closed due to highway construction work. The height of the Sipsey River and estimated flows near Elrod are provided by the US Geological Survey.

Alabama's Forever Wild Land Trust Program purchased the Sipsey River Swamp Tract in June of 1999.  This track consists of over 3,000 acres of bottomland forests and swamp lands located in Tuscaloosa County, and lies within the flood plain of the Sipsey River. Managed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ State Lands Division, this property was purchased for habitat preservation, education, scientific research and public recreation.  Along with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, organizations such as the Alabama Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited and the Center for Freshwater Studies at the University of Alabama continue in their efforts to protect the SipseyRiver and its associated wetlands and forests through proactive conservation efforts.

The Sipsey River Swamp and associated wetlands is one of Alabama’s most unique and valuable aquatic resources.  The rich diversity of its forests, mollusks, fish, waterfowl and wildlife have qualified this watershed to be named as one of Alabama's 10 natural wonders.  Through the efforts of the Lands Division and private conservation groups and organizations, the Sipsey River will continue to provide a lasting conservation heritage for many generations to come.

For more information about the Sipsey River, please contact the District III Fisheries Office.