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Tuscaloosa Wants in on Bass Tournament Bonanza

Adam Hollingsworth of the University of Alabama fishing team shows off a nice bass that was caught in Holt Reservoir. Photo by David Rainer

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.”

Hollingsworth and UA partner Hunter Luke landed several big fish during the tournament at Ross Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi. Photo courtesy of Adam Hollingsworth

While Hollingsworth is more than willing to help with the marketing, his role is actually fishing as a member of the UA team. Hollingsworth is considerably older than his UA fishing teammates. The 34-year-old former policeman, Army veteran and current member of the Army National Guard decided to go to UA to get his degree in criminal justice to further his career in law enforcement. He’s graduating this week with almost a 4.0 average and plans to enter graduate school.

Before Hollingsworth became president of the UA bass fishing team, he helped get uniforms and graphics for the anglers’ boats, and he started adding sponsors to fund the expenses.

“Being this old in college is kind of weird,” he said. “I just try to be a role model for the other members of a team.”

Hollingsworth said he’s been hooked on fishing since he was limited to a cane pole and a bucket of minnows.

“I had a crappie rig and put a minnow on it and threw it out,” he said. “A big ol’ largemouth ate it. There were some people fishing right up from us, and their mouths dropped.

“That’s what really sparked my love for it. I kind of got away from it when I was in the military. When I got back here in 2012, I started fishing again. I got with my buddy Dwayne Allen, and he showed me pretty much everything. I learned how to fish a swim jig from him.”

Although Hollingsworth has a few plastic worms in his tackle box, they rarely see the daylight. Fishing slow is not his game.

“I like to fish fast,” he said. “I’ll get out a Shaky Head if that’s the last thing I can think of to catch a fish. Most of the time, I’m going to have a swim jig or a jerkbait in my hands. If it’s early in the morning, I’ll walk a Spook and throw a buzzbait. I like to move fast and cover a lot of water. In the summer, I will throw a crankbait.”

The UA fishing team competes in the Strike King-Bassmasters College Series, the Abu Garcia College Series, the ACA (Association of Collegiate Anglers) Bass Pro Shop Series and the Southern Collegiate Series, which will hold its state championship at Lake Eufaula later this month.

“I went to Eufaula for the first time two years ago,” Hollingsworth said. “That was the first time I’d seen gators on the water. I saw gators almost as long as the boat I was in. I thought, ‘Oh, my gracious.’ And I wasn’t far from Lakepoint State Park.”

After Eufaula, Hollingsworth and his fishing partner, Travis Pattillo, will be headed to Michigan to fish in Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay.

“That’s going to be a trip,” Hollingsworth said. “We’re going to have three teams there. I’ve never been there. Travis has never been there. What I’ve heard is it’s a Disneyland of smallmouths. We were just warned about the waves. I’ll have to learn how to drift fish.”

While he’s fishing in the South, Hollingsworth loves to fish for bedding bass.

“It’s a game, and I like that challenge,” he said. “It’s a competitive thing between me and the fish. I’ll lock onto a fish for an hour, especially if I see it getting madder and madder. When they flare their gills or turn sideways, you know it’s on.”

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Holt Reservoir holds largemouth bass and spotted bass, like this nice one Hollingsworth landed with a jerkbait. Photo by David Rainer

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