A Paddling and Fishing Guide to Alabama’s Lakes

What’s your favorite Alabama lake to fish or paddle?
What’s your favorite Alabama lake to fish or paddle? Tobias Freeman
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Alabama boasts thousands of miles of rivers, creeks, and streams that range from the state’s northern border to the Gulf of Mexico. Several of these waterways have been dammed to generate power or prevent flooding, but the dams have also created spectacular lakes that offer excellent opportunities for fishing and paddling. Whether you fish from the bank, use a power boat, or wet your line from a kayak or stand-up paddleboard, you’ll find a tremendous number of lakes teeming with bass, catfish, crappie, and many other species.

If you’re not really into fishing, you’ll still enjoy paddling these large bodies of water. There are countless quiet coves where you can escape boat traffic and keep your eyes peeled for birds and other wildlife.

If you’re researching places in Alabama to fish and do some flatwater paddling, you might be overwhelmed by the number of choices. To get you pointed in the right direction, here’s a small sample of lakes you should check out. Just remember that all of these destinations require an Alabama freshwater fishing license which you can obtain online.

Wilson Lake

Wilson Lake (also known as Wilson Reservoir) was formed when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) created Wilson Dam to control the flow of the Tennessee River in Florence. Covering 15,500 acres and stretching 15 miles, Wilson Lake is a fisherman’s paradise.

While the main catches on Wilson Lake are smallmouth, largemouth, and striped bass, anglers also try their hand at catching bluegill, redear sunfish, and catfish. If you’re looking for big fish, this is the place to go. Anglers commonly catch five-pound smallmouth bass and nine-pound largemouth bass in the lake. In 1950, the state record smallmouth was caught in Wilson Lake and weighed 10 pounds, 8 ounces. In what was surely a “we’re gonna need a bigger boat” moment, a fisherman hauled the state record drum out of the lake—it weighed 41 pounds, 8 ounces.

As with most major lakes in the state, Wilson is wide, and powerboats can easily ply the waters and troll the banks. But, recreational kayakers and kayak anglers will love exploring the many sloughs and backwaters that finger out of the lake. There are several put-ins along the lake including the Wheeler Lake Public Boat Ramp and Wilson Dam Reservation Fleet Harbor Public Boat Ramp to name only two.

Camping is also available near Wilson Dam itself. A couple of the private campgrounds include Fisherman’s Resort and B&J Campground. On the northeast side of the dam, you will find Joe Wheeler State Park, an amazing resort-style park with all of the amenities you could want including hotels and restaurants.

Bear Creek Reservoir

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Just southwest of Russellville, you’ll find Bear Creek Reservoir, another great fishing and kayaking destination created by the TVA.

Unlike many other TVA lakes, Bear Creek was not formed to generate power. Rather, it’s strictly used flood control. The 12-mile-long lake is considered a wild-and-scenic area, and there is no residential development along its shoreline. Anglers and paddlers will find a peaceful environment where they can escape civilization and just enjoy nature.

For fishing, as with most lakes in the state, the catch is bass and crappie. The thick, brushy shoreline is perfect for chasing crappie, while much of the lake holds largemouth bass that measure up to 22 inches long and weigh as much as five and a half pounds.

Bear Creek is part of a larger float way with exceptional kayaking for both recreation and fishing. At Bear Creek Canoe Run, you can rent kayaks and arrange shuttles to put-in and take-out points. If you don’t want to fish, but you’re interested in kayaking the river, go just below the dam. Here you can access sections of the river with everything from Class I riffles to Class IV whitewater.

You’ll find two nice campgrounds at Bear Creek, both of which are operated by the Bear Creek Development Authority: Horseshoe Bend and Piney Point. Both have clean improved campsites, picnic tables and pavilions, and swimming beaches. Horseshoe Bend also sports a fishing pier.

Lake Lurleen

Located northwest of Tuscaloosa, the small town of Coker is home to Lake Lurleen, a great little state park and fishing spot. Measuring 1.5 miles long and a half-mile wide, the 250-acre lake hosts many fishing tournaments throughout the year with competitors pulling in largemouth bass, bream, catfish, and crappie.

The lake has three fishing piers and ample grassy shoreline for bank fishing. Gas boats are allowed in the lake, but canoers, kayakers, and paddleboarders are welcome to float the calm waters. All three can be rented in the park for $14 an hour with a $5 deposit. Longer rental times or full-day rental rates are also available.

When you’re ready to take a break from fishing, take a hike or bike ride on one of the park’s 23 miles of trails that loop around the lake. Then, spend the night at one of Lake Lurleen’s 119 improved campsites or the plentiful primitive campsites. Visit the park website to find rates and reservation information.

Walter F. George (Lake Eufaula)

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Ask any angler about where the “bass fishing capital of the world” is and they’ll answer without hesitation, Lake Eufaula (also known as Walter F. George Lake).

Situated on the Chattahoochee River, which forms the border between Alabama and Georgia at the town of Eufaula, the 85-mile-long reservoir produces five- to eight-pound bass, but it’s not uncommon to land a 22-pounder. The bass can be found in the thick, matted vegetation along the banks in the spring and early summer. In late summer, they move to the deep channels, and in the fall, you’ll find them in the shallows.

But bass isn’t the only catch. Several fishing websites have called Walter F. George the “catfish capital of the United States.”

Because the lake straddles the state lines, you can use either an Alabama or Georgia freshwater license.

While you can safely kayak or paddleboard along the shoreline, the waterway is a busy one with barge traffic heading to the Gulf, so use caution.

As for camping and boat and kayak launches, take your pick. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) offers 13 day-use parks and four campgrounds. Plus, there’s Lake Point, an amazing resort-style state park with all the lodging options and amenities you could want.

William B Dannelly Reservoir

The USACE created the impressive William B. Dannelly Reservoir by damming the Alabama River west of Montgomery. Measuring 105 miles long, this massive reservoir is in a remote area of south Alabama. Because it’s isolated, it has seen minimal development and boasts 500 miles of shoreline that’s mostly brushy and wild.

Once again, the main catch here is largemouth and spotted bass but the lake is also known for threadfin shad. In spring, you can cruise the brushy shoreline to seek out two other favorites— black crappie and white crappie.

There are many access points for power boats and kayaks, including the East Bank Public Use Area and Shell Creek Park (both of which are located just north of the lock and dam). You can also launch at the beautiful Millers Ferry Campground that is operated by the Corps of Engineers. As with all USACE campgrounds, the sites and bathhouses are clean and there’s plenty to do with playgrounds, hiking trails, and a swimming beach. The campground has 42 improved sites and plenty of primitive sites. Visit Recreation.Gov to get rates and make reservations online.

You’ll find another nice campground at Roland Cooper State Park, which has five two-room cabins, 47 improved campsites, and 13 primitive sites.

Written by Joe Cuhaj for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL.

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