When you’re on the Sipsey Fork wading in cool, clear water on a rock shoal fighting a rainbow trout, you might forget you’re fishing in Alabama. In the fall, when the humidity lifts, the Sipsey Fork branch of the Black Warrior River hardly resembles a typical Alabama stream.
Since 1974, officials have stocked the Sipsey Fork with rainbow trout several times each year, placing the fish below the Alabama Power Company’s Lewis Smith Lake Dam, about 14 miles northeast of Jasper. The dam’s turbines draw water from deep in Smith Lake, and it’s cool enough to support trout in the tailwaters year-round for about a 12-mile stretch. Many people are surprised by the fact that Alabama has one of the southernmost year-round trout fisheries in the nation.
According to OutdoorAlabama.com, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF) stocks the Sipsey Fork with around 3,000 8- to 15-inch rainbow trout every month through agreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Alabama Power Company. They alternate between batches of 7- to 13-inch fish and bigger 11- to 15-inchers, depending on the month.
While it’s certainly a far cry from Yellowstone, the Colorado River or other famed fishing destinations, the Sipsey Fork’s unusual conditions make it a trout oasis for fishermen in the Deep South.
The creel and possession limit of five fish is one of the few restrictions on trout in the Sipsey Fork. Also, there is no size limit, trout season restriction, or trout stamp requirement. (Of course, an Alabama freshwater fishing license is mandatory.) However, culling trout from a cooler, livewell or stringer is illegal.
Needless to say, a "put and take" fishery like the Sipsey Fork gets a lot of fishing traffic, but you can generally find some luck, as the stockies are not as finicky as wild trout. Some fish do make it out of the immediate tailwater area and move further downstream to deeper water. Holdover trout that survive the first year after stocking evolve into more elusive and exciting fish to catch.
The Alabama Power Company owns the land on either side of the Sipsey Fork upstream of the Highway 69 Bridge, and anglers are allowed to access the river from this land. If you want to access the river from land below Highway 69, be aware that much of this is private property, and you might have to get permission from landowners.
The portion of the river that you can wade lies above the Birmingham Water Works Pump Station located at the end of County Road 95, where there is also a designated parking area. From the dam to the pump station there are four access points, which provide most of the best fishing.
There are also well-maintained access points at several locations from the pump station downstream to the Highway 69 Bridge. All of these access points consist of metal staircases and walkways that stretch from the banks to the water, and one structure even accommodates those with physical disabilities. While it’s not possible to wade all the way across the river in these spots, you’ll have ample opportunities to pursue fish that are sitting in deeper water farther away from the dam.
Downstream of Highway 69, you’ll need a boat for fishing. There’s a private boat ramp just below the bridge, where anglers can launch non-motorized vessels for a small fee (collected at the Riverside Fly Shop). If you wanted to spend a full day on the water, you could float downstream to the confluence of the Sipsey Fork and the Mulberry Fork, where there is a public ramp.
Before you head to the river, always be sure to check the generation schedule. The Alabama Power Company provides real-time info on generation and water levels, and the Riverside Fly Shop is another great resource. You can also call 1-800-LAKES-11 for generation info. These schedules are always subject to change without notice, as water is released on a demand basis. If you happen to be in the river when the generation alarm sounds, don’t waste any time and get out immediately. Water levels can rise 10 to 15 vertical feet in mere minutes. With that said, generation doesn’t mean the end of a fishing trip; it only rules out wading. The Fly Shop will happily rent you a kayak so you can continue fishing.
While conventional tackle with spinners, corn, eggs, or Powerbait will definitely attract bites, fly fishing is a great option that many anglers find more rewarding.
With regard to flies, your best bets are zebra midges, scuds, sow bugs and nymphs. Slumpbusters, wooly buggers and other small streamers see success as well, and olive and black are go-to colors. Ants, grasshoppers and other terrestrials are viable dry fly options, as they’re prevalent on the banks of the Sipsey Fork in the warmer months. Given the year-round presence of midges, a dry-and-dropper rig with a midge is always worth considering. Caddis and mayflies work sometimes, although the hatch of aquatic insects can be unpredictable because of the generation.
On the Sipsey Fork, you can target natural rock ledges and pools that can hold fish, but there are also in-stream rock and wood structures that the WFF installed a few years ago. There are several of these structures upstream of the pump station and even more spread out between the pump station and the Highway 69 Bridge.
For specific directions, water conditions, fishing reports, generation schedule and other details, check out the following resources:
Written by Thomas Lambert for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of AL.