March Bass at Tuscaloosa with Brandon Ligon
March is a magical month when the world seems to be waking up after a long winter nap. Signs of spring are slowly emerging as the days get longer and warmer. And best of all, bass are becoming more and more active and getting easier to catch. Lake Tuscaloosa, a nice surprise in a small package, is a great place to take advantage of those active bass right now.
Lake Tuscaloosa is five miles north of the cities of Northport and Tuscaloosa and covers 5885 acres with 177 miles of shoreline. It was created at a water supply reservoir for Tuscaloosa and Northport by damming the North River in 1971.
The lower lake has steep rocky shorelines and the water is usually extremely clear. All the rain this year has put a little stain in it, making it a little easier to catch the spots that predominate in that area.
The upper lake is more river-like and the water is usually a little stained and more fertile than the lower lake. You can catch more largemouth the further up the river you go, and you will find more shallow water cover to fish.
Although there were only five tournaments sent in from there, the Bass Angler Information Team survey shows Tuscaloosa as the second highest lake in the state as far as angler percent success, so you can catch a lot of bass there. In tournaments it ranks first in bass per angler day of all Alabama lakes in the survey, so catching large numbers of bass is not a problem on the lake.
But the bass tend to be small, with an average bass caught in a tournament weighing only 1.47 pounds, 16th of the 20 lakes in the survey. Just over half the bass weighed in are largemouth but that is skewed by the fact tournament fishermen target the heavier largemouth and cull spots with largemouth.
It may surprise many anglers that it takes less time to catch a bass weighing over five pounds in a tournament on Tuscaloosa than many other more well known lakes. Tuscaloosa ranks above Lay Lake, Weiss, Logan Martin, Jordan and several other lakes in the amount of hours an angler has to fish to catch a five pound plus bass.
If you go to Tuscaloosa expect to catch a lot of small spots and largemouth, but if you target bigger largemouth you can catch a five pound plus bass. For those reasons Tuscaloosa ranks fifth in the state in the overall value ranking on the BAIT survey.
Brandon Ligon grew up just five minutes from Lake Tuscaloosa and still lives there. He considers Tuscaloosa his home lake and has fished it all his life, making many trips there when very young with his father. He has become an accomplished tournament fisherman and does well in pot and charity tournaments on the lake.
For years Brandon would fish Tuscaloosa several times each week, hitting it after school and at night, and fishing all the local tournaments on it. He keeps up with the bass there and knows where to find them.
After fishing a few tournaments with the West Alabama Bass Club Brandon started concentrating on pot tournaments on other lakes, too. He became a member of the Grammer Marine Fishing Team and fishes many local tournaments and trails. Last year he slowed down some while he built a house, but the year before he won the Woods and Waters Solo Trail point standings and has done well in many other tournaments on Tuscaloosa.
A five fish limit over 16 pounds is Brandon’s best weigh-in at Tuscaloosa and he has landed a five pound plus spot and a couple of seven pound largemouth from the lake. He says a 15 pound five-fish limit is a good catch here and most limits will weigh less than ten pounds since most will be small spots.
“In late February the bass here start the transition from deep water toward the spawning areas,” Brandon said. The bass move up shallower on points and into the first parts of the creeks. Warm days make them move up more but a cold spell can move them back, so they tend to hold near deep water.
As the days get warmer into March this movement becomes more pronounced and greater numbers of bass can be found shallow. By the end of the month you will catch more bass but they will still be in the same areas, feeding and getting ready for the spawn.
There are grass beds all over the lake and they are a prime feeding area for bass, even before its starts greening up and growing. Baitfish are attracted to the old brown grass to feed and bass follow. As the grass puts out new growth it just gets better.
Rocks are common and rocky points and bluff banks hold bass year round. They move up toward the points at the ends of bluff banks and then up onto the shallow areas of the points as they make their seasonal migration. And wood cover like blowdowns, stumps and logs hold them on those points and other shallow areas.
A variety of baits will catch bass right now and Brandon will have several rigged and ready. A crankbait like a Bandit 200 or 300 series works well on the points, especially early in the morning. In the clear lower lake Brandon will throw a natural color but switches to chartreuse in the stained water.
In late February and early March a jerk bait will often pay off in the clear water, too. Brandon likes a Rogue but says your favorite jerk bait will catch fish, so use the one you have the most confidence in. Rattlebaits like a half-ounce Rat-L-Trap or an XR 50 also catch a lot of fish this time of year.
For slower fishing Brandon says a Carolina rig is hard to beat and will catch a lot of spots on the lake. He likes a Zoom Finesse worm or small lizard in watermelon, green pumpkin or pumpkin in the clear water or something with chartreuse in it if the water is stained. He also throws a small worm on a shaky head a lot on the lower lake and says spots love it.
For a kicker fish up the lake, Brandon will use a jig and pig and flip or pitch it around heavy cover for largemouth. Since the water is usually stained a black and blue combination of jig and trailer usually works well.
Brandon showed me around Lake Tuscaloosa a couple of weeks ago on a cold, sunny day. We hit the following ten spots and fish were on several of them and more will move onto them now.
1. N 33 17.493 – W 87 30.671 – If you put in at the dam run up to the first bend to your left and you will see the North River Yacht Club back in a cove on your right. The up stream point of this cove runs way out and is very shallow on top, only five feet deep 50 yards off the bank. It is a perfect place for bass to move up to feed this time of year since it runs out to very deep water, is shallow on top and leads into a good spawning cove.
You will see some picnic tables on the bank on the point and there is a dock on the upstream side of it where it transitions into a bluff bank. The dock had a rusty tin roof on it. The water near the bank in shallow but it drops off very deep on both sides out on the point.
Brandon says you can catch a thousand small spots here on any day but he got a nice two pound plus spot here the day we fished. It hit his Bandit crankbait and Brandon said he would love to have a limit of them in the tournament he was fishing the next weekend.
Start well off the point and work all the way around it, casting a crankbait over the shallow water and covering it at all angles. Then go back over it with a jig head or Carolina rigged worm. Work from shallow to deep then try deep to shallow.
Before you leave fish up the bluff bank, casting a jerk bait near the rock wall and working it back to the boat. Bass will often hold along this bluff bank and this pattern will often catch fish on all the bluff banks on the lake, but the ones that end in a shallow point near a spawning cove are better this time of year.
2. N 33 18.696 – W 87 31.787 – Running up the river it makes a big sharp bend back to your left. If you go straight ahead and a little to your left you will see a green boathouse with two white doors on the water and a green house on the bank ahead of you. Just upstream is a nice brick house on the bank. Start fishing at the green dock and fish toward the point to your left.
The bottom here is clay and sand but there are good grass beds in the shallows that attract baitfish and bass. Brandon says spots will pull up to the edge of the grass to feed and largemouth will get back in the grass and feed, especially on a warm sunny day. The sun hits this bank all day long, warming the water.
Fish a crankbait or rattlebait along the edges of the grass then work a worm or jig through the grass, hitting holes and pocket in it. Fish all the way out to the point and a little ways around it, as long as there is grass to fish.
3. N 33 20.051 – W 87 32.490 – Run upstream past the two creeks that enter the lake, one on each side, and slow down just before the river makes a hard left turn. Downstream of the point on your left you will see a cove with a no wake buoy in it and a dock with a big “Private No Trespassing” sign on it. There is a gazebo on the flat area of the point and a boat ramp on the bank, too.
Start fishing upstream of this cove, near the point. There is a lot of grass here to fish and you will see a metal post in the water near the point. Fish the shallow grass to the point then work out from the bank, following the point. It drops off fast on the upstream side so cover the drop, then work back to the bank and hit the grass there, too. It does not run too far up that bank and it turns into a bluff bank rock wall.
This point is a good example of the type place Brandon likes to fish from both directions. He says sometimes Tuscaloosa bass will orient one way or the other and want a bait coming shallow to deep or deep to shallow. It is not because of current since there is seldom a current here. But you need to try all directions and let the bass let you know what they want that day.
4. N 33 21.318 – W 87 33.024 – Run up the river to the Highway 69 Bridge and go to the small creek just downstream of it on your right. There is a bluff bank on the last point on the upstream side of the creek and a roadbed comes out off a bank across a small cove from the bluff bank. The roadbed has a danger buoy on it and there is a dock on the bluff bank side.
The road bed runs out shallow from the bank where a barricade has been put up and there is a stop sign there. After the road crosses the cove it runs along the bluff bank, making a shelf off it. The roadbed holds bass from the bluff bank all the way to where it comes out of the water.
Fish from the end of the bluff bank across the cove and out on the shallow area around the danger marker with a jig head worm of small jig and pig like a Bitsy Bug rigged with a small chunk. Green pumpkin and brown colors are best. Work your bait along the bottom of the whole area. Brandon says a these baits are the most effective way to fish this spot.
5. N 33 21.326 – W 37 36.184 – Further up the river the Tierce Patton Road bridge has a long causeway on the right side going upstream. Brandon says if he had to catch a bass on the lake this would be where he would go. Riprap on bridges is almost perfect cover and structure and bass hold and feed on it. There is deep water off the rocks on both sides and the sun warms the rocks, attracting baitfish and bass this time of year.
Keep your boat out from the rocks and cast to them. Brandon says he has tried paralleling the rocks, but there is a good bit of wood cover out from them so it is best to make cast that cover the water from the rocks out to the boat well off them. There is also grass along parts of the rocks to fish. Fish both sides of the riprap like this.
Brandon will start with a crankbait and fish it on both sides of the bridge then work the area with a jig head worm or small jig and pig for less active bass. Some tournament fishermen work this riprap all day, knowing the bass will bite at some time.
6. N 33 21.469 – W 87 36.286 – Just upstream of the bridge is a creek on your left. The upstream point of this creek has an A-Frame house with a red metal roof on it and there is a cut rock seawall running around the point. There is a little pocket just upstream of this seawall where is ends and a dock is in the pocket. The upstream point of the pocket is a block seawall and is rocky.
Brandon will start in front of the A-Frame house and fish a jerk bait up to the next point, casting it right to the seawall and working it back. He will also cover the area with a crankbait and jig head worm. We caught one keeper spot here when we fished and missed a couple of hits so they are already holding on this point. Brandon will hit it quick to see if they are feeding then move on.
7. N 33 22.069 – W 87 35.313 – A little further up the river opens up and makes a bend to your left. There is a big flat point on your left at the bend and it has four danger markers on it. The point runs way out, forming an underwater island, and has some big stumps on it that hold bass. We got one keeper here when we fished and missed several bites.
Back well off the danger markers and make long casts up onto the top of the point and island. Fish the edges of it all the way around the area, probing for the stumps. When you hit one make repeated casts to it. Use all your baits. Brandon says crankbaits, Carolina rigs, and shaky heads all catch fish here. The bass hold here year-round and move up into the shallows in the early spring.
8. N 33 22.821 – W 87 35.323 – Across the open water to the right you will see two big islands. The river channel swings around them to the right on the upstream side of them. There is a channel between them but Brandon says it is full of stumps so don’t try to run it. You can go between the bank and the island closest to it, but you want to fish that island, and you need to fish all around it.
The upstream side of the second island going up is sometimes is a little better and that is where we took the GPS reading, but Brandon will fish all the way around this island, working his jig and crankbait on all the little points and pockets, and fishing the grassbeds and wood cover hard.
This is a big area and you can stay on it all day, going round and round and catching bass. Fish will move into the cover and start feeding all day long so you can keep working it and keep catching fish in the spring.
9. N 33 23.264 – W 87 34.682 – Go up across the big open water toward where the river comes in and you will see a sail boat club back on your left in a cove right where the lake narrows down. From that cove upstream there is a flat bank on your left to the next small pocket. There is a lot of wood and grass to fish along this bank.
Start on either end and fish the whole bank. Wind may make it easier to fish it going one way or the other, and wind sometimes helps when it blows on grassbeds like you will find here. Fish the whole bank with a crankbait and a jig and pig. This is a good area to catch largemouth.
10. N 33 24.088 – W 87 34.826 – Run up above the Highway 69 Bridge and the river will stay to your left. To your right is a creek coming in and you want to go into the mouth of it. A point on ahead of you where two arms split has a “Swimming Water Quality” sign on it that was green the day we were there, but the color can change.
Start near the sign and work all around the island it is on. There are lots of logs and blowdowns to fish here and this is the kind of area Brandon would look for a kicker fish. Flip or pitch your jig and pig to each piece of cover and work it hard. Also fish the grass beds, working points and dips in them, as well as fishing back in them.
These places will show you the kind of spots Brandon catches late February and March bass on Tuscaloosa, and the way he fishes them. There are many other good spots on the lake you can find if you check these out and then look for similar places. You will catch a lot of bass, and there could well be a five pounder in the mix.