with Steven Fikes
If you like fishing for shallow bass you love April. All over the state bass are in the shallows either spawning or feeding after the spawn. If you really like fishing for shallow fish around grass and lily pads you should head to Aliceville on the Tombigbee River. Its backwaters are full of bass feeding around shallow cover right now.
Aliceville, also called Pickensville by some, is an 8300 acre impoundment formed by a lock and dam on the Tombigbee River west of Tuscaloosa right on the state line. The dam was closed in 1980 and water from the river filled many sloughs and shallows on both sides. There a couple of good ramps and some lakeside campgrounds for visiting anglers.
Many bass fishermen from both Alabama and Mississippi fish Aliceville and it hosts a good many club and pot tournaments. In the 2007 BAIT Program it ranked in first place for the bass per angler day and pounds per angler day categories. Combine that with a third place ranking in percent success, fourth in average bass weight and second in hours per bass over five pounds and Aliceville got the top ranking of the 27 lakes in the survey.
Steven Fikes has lived all his live around Tuscaloosa and loves bass fishing. He grew up fishing and got serious about tournament fishing about four years ago. Up to that time he had fished with the Tuscaloosa County Bass Club and some other tournaments with buddies and as a no boater in some BFLs. When he started fishing the BFLs as a boater he did well, qualifying for the All American in 2007 and qualifying for the BFL Regional again last year. He is on the Grammer Marine fishing team and also fishes their tournament trail as well as other local pot tournaments.
Steven fishes Aliceville often and knows what the bass are doing there. He says many bass will spawn on the full moon around March 11 and another smaller wave will spawn on the April 9th full moon. That means right now there are post spawn bass in the shallows guarding fry and feeding as well as pre spawn bass looking at bedding areas. By mid April there will be some post spawn fish guarding fry but most of the bass will be feeding in the shallows through the end of the month.
In an April Aliceville tournament Steven weighed in his best five bass limit in a tournament at 16.25 pounds and had a personal limit while “fun” fishing weighing 21.5 pounds. His best bass from Aliceville is just under seven pounds but he has seen many bigger bass caught there.
Aliceville is full of sloughs and shallow flooded flats covered with hydrilla, milfoil, lily pads and several other types of grass. Some sloughs have cypress trees standing in water six to ten feet deep. All this cover offers bass great places to hold and feed and makes the lake look “fishy” everywhere you turn.
Steven is on the Castaway Rods fishing team and uses their casting rods in a variety of actions to cover the baits he likes to fish in Aliceville right now. He will have a couple of heavy rods and reels spooled with Power Pro braid for flipping creature baits, lizards and jigs into grass and around trees. He will always have a rod and reel rigged with a Zara Spook for fishing open water and a buzzbait tied on for heavier grass cover.
A Strike King spinnerbait is ready to run around grass and cypress trees and he will also use a Bandit Footloose shallow running crankbait to fish over grass that is still under the surface. A floating worm is also a good bait to have ready. He uses Bass Pro Shops Excel monofilament line for baits where it works best and will go to Segar Fluorocarbon if the he needs an invisible line in clear water.
Steven and I fished Aliceville the last day of February – the day after the flooding rains. It was cold and cloudy and the river was running as fast as he had ever seen it and rising all day, pushing water back into the woods. Muddy water was also pushing into the shallows but we were still able to find some clear water to fish, which is important and you can almost always find it even when the river is muddy.
Even under the bad conditions we landed 14 or 15 bass up to three pounds. Most looked like bucks moving in to check out spawning areas so by now many will have spawned and the bucks will be guarding fry and the females will be feeding to recover from the spawn in the following areas.
1. N 33 16.264 – W 88 18.814 – If you put in at Raleigh Ryan Access ramp run up the river to the second opening to your right. It is not the opening at the red channel marker; it is past it and is one of the entrances to Coal Fire Creek. Be careful since it is shallow and there are stumps here. You will go back and turn to your left as you follow the bank. There will be standing trees on your left and you want to go around to the back side of them.
When you get behind the timber there are two good pockets on your left across the timber field. There are lots of stumps under water as well as visible ones and standing trees. Go in carefully to the cove on the left and start fishing near the blown down tree with the big root ball sticking up on the bank. Work to your right, fishing around this pocket, across the point between them and around the next cove, too.
Steven likes to start fishing early moving fast with a spinnerbait or topwater in areas like this. There will be lots of grass to fish and the bass can be anywhere in it. When you catch one, especially if it is a good one, slow down and probe the area carefully with a plastic bait or a jig and pig. Pitch them into holes in the grass and also rig one on a heavy tungsten sinker that will punch through the mats to bass holding under it. Work a floating worm over and through the grass, too.
2. N 33 15.757 – W 88 17.587 – Coming back out the way you went in watch for an opening to your left. There is a big island to the left side and a very small island to the right of it. Start fishing on the point of the big island and fish back into the slough to your left. There is a lot of grass and pads in here and it will get very thick toward the end of April.
Out on the point the water comes up from 11 to six feet deep pretty quickly and the bass will hold along this drop in the grass. It gives them access to deep water so this is a very good place later in April. They can feed all the way back into the slough so work your spinnerbait, shallow running crankbait and topwater all around this slough. We caught four bass and Steven caught one of our biggest bass here when we fished. The water was a good color although many other areas were muddy.
Watch for open areas between grass mats and work your Spook through them. If that does not draw a strike try punching through the mats with a creature bait like a Little Chigger Craw or a lizard. Be ready for a hit as soon as it falls through the mat and set the hook hard. You will need braid and a heavy rod for this kind of fishing.
3. N 33 14.825 – W 88 88.954 – You can go all the way back out the point of the main river where you came in or start working the bank to your left a couple of hundred yards before you get to the river. A ledge with grass growing on it runs out from this bank then drops off fast and is a good area for post spawn fish. Overhanging brush offers some shade, too.
Run a buzzbait over the grass then work your plastics through it. Keep your boat out in deeper water and fish the edges of the grass then work back into it. Here and in all other spots pick apart the cover if you catch a good bass, there are likely more nearby. Watch for patterns, too. If you catch a couple of bass from milfoil but not other grass, concentrate on the milfoil.
4. N 33 15.122 – W 88 18.286 – For something a little different run up to the big grain bins up the river from the campground on your left. Start working the left bank, fishing the docks and riprap along this bank all the way to the barge landing. Fish around the barge if one is there.
A spinnerbait or crankbait is good here and you can also fish a floating worm or jig around the docks.
Fishing upstream gives you more control of the boat and also allows you to fish slower. Work your bait with the current as you work upstream, presenting the bait naturally like a baitfish moving with the current.
5. N 33 15.580 – W 88 18.985 – Run upstream and you will pass some houses on your left. Just above the green channel marker 310.7 in front of one of the houses is the opening to a big creek. Run back in it to the small island on your right. It is across from a big house with a screen porch that runs all the way around it, the fifth house from the end.
There is deeper water around this island and grassbeds fill the shallows near it. Bass hold here both post and pre spawn because of this deeper water refuge and feed in the grass. Fish all the way around the island covering it with all your baits. Steven says grass will often grow to within six inches of the surface out away from the island and you can work a topwater bait like a Spook or buzzbait over it to pull bass up out of the grass.
6. N 33 14.385 – W 88 18.467 – Head back down the river and go into the creek at the upstream end of the campground. Stay near the left bank, there are two more sloughs to your right. Steven runs back to where there are permanent trailers and docks on your left going in. Many of the docks have white PVC post on them. The day we fished the docks were under water and the posts looked like they were just standing in the water.
Fish up this bank, pitching a plastic bait under the docks and to the poles on them. Work the scattered grassbeds around them, too. Steven will fish all the way into the cove where the road runs near the water and there is a private boat ramp. If any bass are still bedding some will be back in this cove then they will move out to the docks and feed post spawn. You can look for beds and sight fish back in here around the full moon in April.
7. N 33 15.014 – W 88 18.660 – Come out of the left pocket and run into the middle arm. Go back until you get to the trailers but watch for stumps in that area. You will be back behind the grain bins out on the river.
Many of the stumps back here have PVC pipe in them to mark them. There is a bed of a half-dozen or so stumps out from the trailers and Steven likes to work the grass all around them. Try to drop your bait down by the stump, too. It will be covered with grass but offers a good holding spot in the grass. Fish all around the back of this slough, working the grass here.
8. N 33 15.308 – W 88 16.677 – Run down the river and go into the cut just upstream of the red channel marker 309.3. This is actually the old river channel and it runs to the far bank with houses on it. Run almost to this bank then swing left, following the bank. You will run past some standing trees on your right. When the open water narrows down to a small channel ahead and to the right there is a big slough full of cypress trees to your left. Steven still calls this the Eagle’s Nest although the nest is gone.
Steven stops out from these trees and works in, casting a Spook around them then flipping a jig and pig or plastic bait to the. The trees are in six to ten feet of water and run a long way up this slough. You could probably stay in here all day fishing trees.
Also try your baits around the grass on the banks of the slough. Steven says you will often catch males guarding fry around the grass but the bigger females are likely to be holding deeper around the base of the trees, recovering from the spawn. Steven said if he had to catch a five pounder he would concentrate on cypress trees here.
Fish trees slowly and carefully and try to find a pattern. Are they holding on the shady side of the tree? Do they want a splash when your bait hits the water or do you need to hit the trunk and let your bait slide into the water? Paying attention to details like those can make the difference between fishing and catching.
9. N 33 14.708 – W 88 16.025 – Go back out the way you came in and when the trees on your left end you will see a big point on your right. It is the right side point of a big cove when facing it. Start on the point and work the grass beds going into this side of the cove.
This is a very big flat and the grass will be all over it. Work all of the right side, looking for keys like where two kinds of grass come together or where there is an isolated patch on top. Keep fishing the area until you find the fish then concentrate on the smaller area and pattern where they are holding. The other end of the slough full of cypress in hole 8 opens here and you can fish all the way through it and come out here, or go in here too.
10. N 33 14.748 – W 88 17.319 – In the back of the big cove above you will see a small island toward the left bank going in and there is a opening to its left. This goes back then opens up. Another cut to the left goes into another pond that is called Clear Hole. The water almost always stays clear in here. Steven says many people go in here looking for bedding bass but they get hammered and are hard to catch.
Check out the ponds and cuts in this area. Steven says he often starts out at the small island at the first cut and is catching bass as other boats go by him further back to look for spawners. Fish all the grass in the cuts and ponds in this area.
Check out these ten spots. There are many others near them that hold bass, these are just some of Steven’s favorites. Once you find the patterns the bass are on and which baits they want you can catch them in other similar areas.
Steven did not fish as hard as he wanted to last year. After some numbness in his left hand he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Fortunately, medication has stopped the progress of the MS and he is able to fish now. Please keep Steven in your thoughts and prayers.