Cut off from the main flow long ago when the Alabama River changed course, Jackson Lake now flows around an island like a rubber tire surrounding a wheel hub. Boaters could circle the island and return to the original launching spot if not for a causeway that connects Jackson Island to the mainland near Millbrook in Elmore County.
“I know from growing up in Millbrook that Jackson Lake Island is one of Elmore County’s premier outdoor venues.” recalls Lisa Van Wagner, executive director for the Elmore County Economic Development Authority. “People from all over the Southeastern U.S. come here to visit because it’s a unique combination of recreation and tranquility for the entire family. Plus, people of all ages enjoy visiting with the goats and sheep that roam freely all over the Island. Fishing, camping, kayaking, relaxing – it really has everything you need for the perfect outdoor getaway.”
Besides attracting the attention of Hollywood, crappie, catfish and bass anglers also love the lake. The old oxbow still connects to the Alabama River through two narrow channels, rising and falling with water levels. The river periodically replenishes the fish populations whenever it rises. Water fluctuations also fill the lake with plentiful shad, providing good forage for bass, crappie and other fish.
Jackson Lake averages 20 feet deep at normal river levels. Some holes drop to about 28 feet deep. Two small creeks flow into the lake. Abundant old cypress trees, mostly on one side of the lake, stand in water one to six feet deep, depending upon the river level.
More known for crappie numbers, the lake produces many fish in the 9- to 12-inch range all year long. Anglers might catch some in the 1- to 2.5-pound range, possibly a few bigger ones.
“In the summer, crappie usually stay right on the bottom,” says Steve Brown, a professional crappie angler from Millbrook. “The lake has a lot of structure and crappie love structure. They feel comfortable around it. On bright, sunny days, fish get on the shady side of that cover where it’s a little cooler. Since the oxbow still connects to the Alabama River, some current flows through the lake, so the water doesn’t get stagnated.”
Many crappie anglers dangle live minnows from bobbers dropped next to standing tree trunks. Others troll live bait, jigs or crankbaits through deeper channels or work multiple baits simultaneously on spider rigs. Some people fish with a long single pole.
With the single-pole technique, anglers can accurately and subtly drop jigs, flies, live bait or other enticements next to flooded tree trunks and stumps. Let light lures sink naturally. If nothing hits, jig it up and down a few times. During hot summers, lethargic crappie like more subtle movements. Sometimes, just slight boat movements create enough action to provoke a strike.
Probe every possible hiding place in the trees, knees and other cover where lunkers lurk, particularly those in the shade. In the summer, fish usually prefer the cooler shady spots, but could lurk anywhere around cover. Work a bait completely around any cover whenever possible.
Crappie probably receive the most attention, but bass anglers also make good catches in the lake. Those old trees and stumps make great places to look for feeding crappie and bass. Bass hit a variety of natural and artificial temptations. Catfishermen can find great channel cat action in the lake and might catch some blues or flatheads. For whiskered giants, head to the nearby Alabama River channel.
Many anglers use high-tech sonar units to find fish. With such gear, sportsmen can see and track individual fish holding in structure and target that particular whopper. Anglers can even see the movement of their baits on the screen and how fish react to them.
Jackson Island remains in private hands. However, people can cross the causeway to visit the island for a small fee. Anglers can launch boats on the island or fish from the bank. The shorelines provide outstanding bank fishing opportunities for bass, crappie, bream and catfish.
Also, people can picnic or camp on the island if they wish. The protected waters of the lake provide an ideal place to paddle a canoe or kayak to fish or observe nature. After the movie production ended, the film crew abandoned Spectre, so movie fans can visit the island to see the old movie set.
While in the area, history buffs might want to tour Fort Toulouse-Jackson National Historic Park in Wetumpka. The French built the original fort in 1717. A replica fort now stands there.ν
For more information about visiting Elmore County, see elmoreeda.com.