By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Alabama is known for some of the best bass fishing in the world. Our state is blessed with an abundance of rivers, reservoirs and waterways teeming with numerous black bass species, which means bass fishing tournaments abound throughout the state. Except for one location – Tuscaloosa.
Stan Adams, Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports’ Executive Director of Sports, and Adam Hollingsworth, president of the University of Alabama (UA) Bass Fishing Team, want to do something about that, and it all starts with awareness.
“If you Google Tuscaloosa and fishing, what pops up is Chuck’s Fish, a restaurant here,” Adams said. “What we are doing is trying to find something that will have an economic impact on the area. We’ve got this river; how do we use this?”
Adams contacted Dr. Hobson Bryan at UA and Bob Hale at L&L Marine in Northport, and they told him Tuscaloosa County was missing out on millions in the economic impact that bass tournaments can produce.
“We’re missing out on between $1.3 million and $3.5 million by not being able to have fishing tournaments on that river,” Adams said. “We knew this was huge. My boss and I went to the Bassmaster Classic in Birmingham right before the COVID shutdown and talked to Kay Donaldson with the Alabama Bass Trail.”
Donaldson, who runs the hugely successful Alabama Bass Trail (ABT), was asked how to get an ABT event in Tuscaloosa to fish the Black Warrior.
“You guys are going to have to start having more tournaments,” Adams said of Donaldson’s response. “Show us you can do it, and we’ll start talking about adding you to the trail.”
Adams said residents around Lake Tuscaloosa, a lake formed by damming the North River, are not interested in expanded bass fishing, which means the focus will be on sparsely populated Holt Reservoir and Bankhead Lake on the Black Warrior.
“It’s really a gold mine down here on the river,” he said. “We’re just trying to figure out how to market it. The more we market it, the more interest there is. That creates demand, and, politically, they’re going to have to build infrastructure because of the demand.”
Adams said he is talking to the City of Northport about building a boat ramp capable of handling larger tournaments.
“They have an area at Bankhead Dam where we want them to build a boat ramp that is six or eight lanes wide to accommodate a lot of boats and add parking,” he said. “I know the state of Alabama is all about fishing, and this is one of the untapped areas.
“Right now, everything is about Alabama football, and we appreciate that. But that’s just seven weekends a year. Fishing is our next focus. It can be a Monday through Friday deal, not just weekends. And we know fishermen come in days before the actual tournament, which has a real economic impact.”
Hollingsworth said Adams reached out for some advice on how to boost the Tuscaloosa area’s reputation for bass fishing. Holt Reservoir is a 3,296-acre impoundment in the picturesque Appalachian Highlands. Up river, Bankhead Lake is 9,200 acres and flows through Walker, Jefferson and Tuscaloosa counties.
“I told them I would absolutely help because I’ve fished these rivers and lakes all my life,” Hollingsworth said. “It’s a very versatile place. You can be throwing a swim jig in one place or be throwing a Shaky Head or jig against a wall in another place. You’re not limited. Holt has stained water with about 2- to- 4-foot visibility. If you go up to the dam (Bankhead), you get cooler water but with current. Going south, it’s warmer and it cleans up a little too. I enjoy fishing Holt because there’s a bigger population of fish, bigger fish as well.”