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Tough ‘other’ bass offer anglers hot action in cold water

Spotted bass like this one often hit jigging spoons that resemble small shad or other baitfish. Photo by John N. Felsher

Ferocious, hard-fighting and aggressive, spotted bass populate most Alabama waters, but typically go almost overlooked, particularly in the winter when so many sportsmen prefer hunting to fishing. Most anglers catch them more by accident than intention when seeking largemouth, smallmouth or striped bass, but these vicious predators can challenge tackle anywhere in the Cotton State at any time.

“Spotted bass have a lot of backbone and fight,” says Brooks Holland with Boogerman Guide Service (334-549-2126) in Prattville. “Catching a 5-pound spot is like catching a 10- to 12-pound largemouth. Once, I caught a 6.5- and a 6.75-pound spotted bass on the Alabama River in 10 casts.”

Sometimes called Kentucky spotted bass, spots don’t quite grow as big as largemouths, but they can still top 11 pounds. Phillip C. Terry of Decatur set the Alabama state record with an 8-pound, 15-ounce spot he pulled from Lake Lewis Smith near Cullman. In the Bankhead National Forest, Lake Lewis Smith snakes across 21,200 acres on the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River. Deep, clear and blue, the lake drops to more than 300 feet deep in places.

With a greenish-white coloration, a spot looks very similar to a largemouth, but with a slightly smaller mouth and more black splotches along its lateral line. The defining feature, a rough “tooth patch” on its tongue, distinguishes this species. Once considered a subspecies, but now reclassified as an entirely separate species, an Alabama bass looks almost identical to a spot, but grows a bit larger.

“Spotted bass are found all throughout Alabama,” says Michael P. Holley, a fisheries supervisor for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries in Eastaboga. “We now recognize the spotted bass as the Alabama bass in the Mobile drainage lakes and rivers. I consider a really big spotted bass in Alabama to be about six pounds. A four-pounder is still considered big and bass this size show up more frequently in angler catches. Pound for pound, in my opinion, Alabama bass fight harder than any other species of black bass in Alabama, including smallmouth bass.”

Spots or their Alabama cousins populate almost all waters across Alabama. They prefer current and thrive in rivers like the Tennessee, Coosa, Chattahoochee, Alabama and down to the Mobile River drainage. They also populate the associated reservoirs and tributaries of these and other systems across the state.

While spotted bass look similar to largemouths, they act more like smallmouths and stay very active in cold water. Spots love rocks and flowing water. They frequently stay around main channel points, ledge edges with rock or woody debris, rocky shorelines, sandbars, riprap and similar places. Also look for them near dams and in the backs of creeks.

Spotted bass hit anything that largemouths and smallmouths might strike. Spinnerbaits, crankbaits, slow-sinking jerkbaits and topwaters rank among the best spotted bass baits. They’ll also hit jigs, worms and other temptations. In deeper water, jigging a chrome spoon can produce a lot of action, particularly during temperature extremes in the winter.

“Quite often, I’ll catch largemouths and spots when fishing the same points or ledges with the same bait,” Holland says. “Spots tend to hold on hump edges. Vertically jigging a spoon is a good way to find fish. I’ll jig a spoon or sometimes a lipless crankbait. A drop shot is another good technique. To catch the largest spots from November through January, I recommend using a 3/8- to 1/2-ounce football jig in a crawfish color. A shaky head worm in a green pumpkin, watermelon red or watermelon seed is another great bait for spots.”

In any freshwater system across Alabama, anglers might tangle with a feisty spotted bass. However, some waters consistently produce big fish. No waters produce more impressive spotted bass than the Coosa River impoundments.

“If an angler wants to catch a large spotted bass, then the Coosa River impoundments are where they should go,” Holley says. “Weiss, Neely Henry, Logan Martin, Lay, Mitchell and Jordan are all good fisheries that produce large spotted bass. The Coosa River is fertile with a high nutrient base, so bass have plenty of forage and grow really fast. These lakes also offer the right habitat that spotted bass prefer, such as deep boulders and rocks.”

Holley also recommended Holt Reservoir, a 3,296-acre impoundment on the Black Warrior River near Tuscaloosa. Anglers might also try Harris Reservoir, also known as Lake Wedowee, on the Tallapoosa River near the town of Wedowee.

Other good places to catch spots include the Jones Bluff section of the Alabama River, also known as R. E. “Bob” Woodruff Lake, between Montgomery and Selma. Millers Ferry Lake, also called William “Bill” Dannelly Reservoir on the Alabama River in Dallas and Wilcox counties, can also produce good fish.

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. He’s a professional freelance writer and photographer with more than 2,500 articles published in more than 150 different magazines. Contact him through Facebook.