Tuscaloosa area is home to hot spots for spotted bass

Alabama Living Magazine

Anglers hoping to catch giant spotted bass traditionally head to the Coosa River, but another Alabama stream also holds trophy spots. 

“The Black Warrior River can produce some big spotted bass,” reports Russell Jones with Alabama Guide Services in Tuscaloosa. “Several times, I’ve caught five spotted bass totaling more than 25 pounds. The biggest spot I’ve ever caught weighed 6.4 pounds.”

Named for a native chief called Tuskaloosa, which means “black warrior” in the Muskogean language, the Black Warrior River begins west of Birmingham and flows 178 miles until it hits the Tombigbee River at Demopolis. Along the way, it runs through a series of dams, separating the river into pools. Major pools include Holt Reservoir, William Bacon Oliver Lake and City Pool. Altogether, the Black Warrior system drains about 6,300 square miles.

Russell Jones with Alabama Guide Services shows off a spotted bass he caught on a shaky head jig tipped with a worm trailer while fishing on the Black Warrior River at the Oliver Lock and Dam in Tuscaloosa. Photo by John N. Felsher

Lake Tuscaloosa, named for the city it serves and for the native chief, provides water for the city and county of Tuscaloosa. It covers roughly 6,300 acres about five miles north of Tuscaloosa. The North River flows out of Lake Tuscaloosa into the Black Warrior. Throughout the entire system, anglers can catch a variety of fish, especially big spots.

“Where the North River hits the Black Warrior, water is usually cooler because it’s coming off the bottom of Lake Tuscaloosa,” Jones explains. “Up the North River is a great place to catch hybrids and striped bass with large live baits or swim baits.”

When barges pass through the locks or the dams run water, that creates current throughout the Black Warrior system. Current stirs of baitfish and repositions spotted bass behind structures.

“For spots, current is the key,” Jones says. “Often, they’ll set up behind a rockpile. I work a bait downstream to the pile and then stop the retrieve so it sinks behind the obstruction down to where the fish are.”

The river separates the cities of Tuscaloosa and Northport. Between the cities, the Oliver Lock and Dam offers a great place to launch and fish. A spillway flows over the structure, creating a waterfall. The falling water cools and oxygenates the system. People can also fish off the bank in several places.

“Where the dams generate current is always a good place to fish for spotted bass,” Jones says. “Early in the morning, I like to throw topwater baits around the rocks and the dam. The river is a good place to fish spinnerbaits and crankbaits. I also like to flip a jig around laydowns.”

From the Oliver spillway, people can run all the way down to Demopolis and fish rocks, fallen trees and other structures. Anything its largemouth cousin might hit, could tempt a spotted bass. Spots especially relish threadfin shad so lures that mimic shad work best. Often, anglers catch spotted bass and largemouths at the same time on the same baits, but they will know when a big spot hits.

“Fighting current all the time gave spotted bass a vicious attitude,” Jones says. “Many anglers believe they hooked into a much larger fish than they did, especially when spots get out into the current. When feeding, spotted bass are very aggressive. After hooking one fish, the angler might see 10 or 12 other bass trying to get that bait out of the hooked fish’s mouth.”

Just upstream from the Oliver Lock and Dam and minutes from downtown Tuscaloosa, the City Pool, also called Riverview, usually offers good spotted bass action. It normally carries significant current. Farther upstream, Holt Reservoir covers roughly 3,300 acres about five miles northeast of Tuscaloosa. John P. Nichols pulled the state record blue catfish from Holt Reservoir, a fish weighing 120.25 pounds.

“Holt is probably the most diverse pool in Tuscaloosa County,” Jones says. “It has a great population of spotted bass. Holt is a well-rounded fishery that can hold a lot of boats for a tournament. On the Black Warrior system, it’s common to catch several species in the same day. Besides bass, anglers might also catch stripers, hybrid bass, catfish, drum, crappie, white bass, bream and other fish.”

Visitors can find many restaurants and accommodations in the Tuscaloosa area. During University of Alabama home football game weekends, rooms everywhere book fast.

For area information, call Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports at 205-861-8563 or see visittuscaloosa.com.

John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer who lives in Semmes, Ala. He also hosts an outdoors tips show for WAVH FM Talk 106.5 radio station in Mobile, Ala. Contact him at j.felsher@hotmail.com or through Facebook.

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