While Alabama is mostly known as a hotspot for spin fishing, it’s also home to several good places for fly-fishing, and you can chase everything from sunfish to rainbow trout to bass, stripers, and redfish.
Fly fishing is more popular now than ever before, offering anglers a unique challenge and rewarding fight that they just don’t experience when using conventional tackle. For your next fly-fishing trip, consider the following top spots in Alabama.
Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River
The classic image of fly fishing is synonymous with the pursuit of trout, but most water in Alabama is too warm for trout to survive. The exception is the Sipsey Fork branch of the Black Warrior River, the tailwater beneath the Lewis Smith Lake dam. The turbines pull water from the depths of Lewis Smith Lake that’s cold enough to support trout year-round in the tailwater. Since the 1970s, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division has stocked rainbow trout beneath the dam several times a year. Fishermen can chase these fish as far as 12 miles downstream. While the Sipsey Fork is a great destination, the whole Black Warrior River system offers great opportunities to catch bass and panfish.
Coosa, Tallapoosa & Cahaba Rivers
Of course, bass are the main focus of any warm-water fishery. Whether it’s a largemouth, spotted, smallmouth or striper, any average size bass puts quite a bend in a fly rod.
The common thread with the Coosa, Tallapoosa and Cahaba rivers is their accessibility and their abundance of panfish, largemouth, spotted and striped bass, as well as the rare redeye bass. Sometimes referred to as the "Bama Brook Trout," these fish sport vivid blue coloration around the throat and gills and a “chrome” eyelid. Pound for pound they’re some of the hardest fighting fish you’ll encounter in any Southern stream. Redeyes have seven formally acknowledged subspecies specific to the few waterways they natively inhabit, including four in Alabama: the Coosa, the Tallapoosa, the Cahaba and the Black Warrior rivers, making up over half of the “redeye slam.”
The Coosa is one of the longest rivers in the state, forming in Georgia and ultimately flowing 255 miles through Alabama before joining the Alabama River. Largely known for its superb crappie, largemouth and striper fishing, the Coosa has six impoundments forming several lakes, including Weiss Lake and Jordan Lake, which hold some of the best spotted bass fishing in the country. Additionally, some of these lakes have diversion canals that offer the type of small-water fishing that fly fishermen often prefer, even though the canals are sometimes difficult to access.
Contrary to the heavily impeded Coosa, the 194-mile Cahaba River is the longest free-flowing river in the state, and it provides ample opportunities to catch bass and panfish on the fly. The "fall line" (the boundary between the Appalachian Highlands and the Gulf Coastal Plain) basically splits the Cahaba into two distinct sections. The upper half is generally rockier with clearer water, while the lower half of the river has muddy, sandy bottoms, which makes the water cloudier. Still, with all the elements of its lush biodiversity, such as the “Cahaba Lily,” the entire river is quite scenic and a great fishery.
The Tallapoosa is formed by the confluence of Georgia’s McClendon Creek and Mud Creek and runs 265 miles until it joins the Coosa just northeast of Montgomery. Like the Coosa and the Cahaba, the Tallapoosa has a wide range of warm-water fare, including redeye bass, as previously mentioned. A popular section of the Tallapoosa to paddle and fish is from Horseshoe Bend Military Park to Jaybird Creek Landing, just after the river runs into Lake Martin. The entrance into Lake Martin also presents an opportunity to catch striped bass, which are typically associated with bigger water. The guides at East Alabama Fly Fishing are a proven authority on fly fishing in the region, especially on the niche species of redeye bass.
Wilson Lake/Tennessee River
Tennessee River lakes are widely known for their bass fishing, particularly Pickwick, Guntersville and Wheeler lakes. However, Wilson Lake near Florence is often overlooked, resulting in significantly less fishing pressure. Considerably smaller than the other lakes, Wheeler Lake stretches only about 15 miles between the Wilson Dam and the upstream Wheeler Dam. The tailrace behind Wheeler Dam is a known hotspot for smallmouth, although generally with live baitfish. Using a slow-sinking fly line and any number of baitfish patterns, fly fishermen also stand a good chance of hooking up with smallies as well as stripers here. A kayak or boat increases efficiency in fly fishing a lake like this, but bank fishing is a viable option. Overall, the best time to hook up with a smallmouth on the fly is after the spawn in late spring, when the action on top and shallow water is at its peak.
Alabama Gulf Coast
Saltwater fly fishing usually conjures images of a chartered flats boat chasing tarpon or stalking tailing redfish in the marshes, and those are certainly worthwhile pursuits. However, it doesn’t take a professional guide or even a boat to catch saltwater fish on the fly. Every year, thousands of people flock to Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Dauphin Island for beach vacations. Even if you’re staying in a condo, don’t overlook this as a chance to do some fly fishing. Surf fishing in the morning between the breakers and the first sandbar often yields bluefish, ladyfish, whiting, hardtail jack, Spanish mackerel, and maybe even some cruising drum or redfish. If you explore any place where the Gulf connects to a back bay, such as Perdido Pass, you’ll have great access to fish.
The best bet is to watch for action on the surface, like birds feeding, schooling baitfish, or fish simply tailing on the surface. Paired with an intermediate sinking line, a variety of flies can be effective, from baitfish patterns like a clouser minnow or a gamechanger to weighted shrimp and crab patterns.
Whatever species or type of water you prefer, fly fishermen in the South should take a close look at the dynamic waterways of Alabama as they plan their next trip.
Written by Thomas Lambert for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of AL.