Dense fog smothered the Aliceville Pool of the Tenn-Tom at sunrise, giving an eerie glow to the running lights of the boats stuck in the harbor awaiting safe running conditions.
Many were participants in a local tournament, antsy to get to their honey holes and start catching bass.
We were there simply to look over the lake that straddles the Mississippi-Alabama line south of the lock and dam at Columbus and north of the next one downstream at Pickensville, Ala. — a reason many Bama residents call it Pickensville Lake.
Of course, we were also hoping to feel the pull of bass on our lines, an activity that makes this Tenn-Tom stretch very popular with fishermen.
Once the fog lifted, a shower followed that kept the day damp and skies overcast, which helped set the morning pattern of Wesley Rushing, a part-time guide and tournament angler. With the conditions ripe for shallow water action, we fished grass and lily pads near the ramp.
Rushing suggested tying on any lure that resembled sunfish (bluegill).
“I use a Kevin Van Dam jig made by Strike King with a pair of rattle pods in a rattle collar, then add a trailer made with green yellow curly tail critter bait,” Rushing said. “The bass will tear this bait up when they are up shallow, as they are now. Drench the trailer with a little garlic scent to enhance the bite.”
Rushing cast the lure into the thicker grass and weeds and pulled it near the edge of the weed line. From there he used a steady retrieve, keeping the bait suspended in the middle of the shallow water column. He said bass will most often hit the bait as it clears the weeds and enters the grass.
“A few will blow up through the mat of weeds, but most wait until the bait is in the grass along the edge of the weeds,” Rushing said. “The Corps (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) has been spraying the weeds and killing some of the vegetation in the best bass areas. There is still plenty of grass around; you just have to look for it.
“Bass look at bream-looking bait as a threat when they are spawning. The bream slip into the shallows to eat the bass eggs and fry. Naturally that triggers the bass to eat the bream or scare it from the nest. Later, when the bream come to the shallows to bed, which is several times a year. The bass come to the shallows to gorge on bream. That bite is good in the early mornings, especially on a full moon.”
Wesley used a casting reel loaded with 25-pound braided line. He says the heavy gear is necessary because, when big bass take the bait in the weed mat, it takes strong line to pull the hogs through the vegetation.
“My partner and I won a local tournament last year with 5- and 6-pound bass caught out of the grass,” Rushing said. “As the sun rose higher the bass went to the deeper water near the shallows. We’d look for troughs and cuts and fish them perpendicular to the shore with shad crankbait.”
Steven Fikes, of Northport, Ala., also fishes the grass and pad fields in Aliceville, but uses a speed worm where the grass is thick and chartreuse and black crank baits were the water is more open.
He likes the 8-inch Zoom Dead Ringer with 3/16- or a ½-ounce weights, and when he picks up a crankbait he uses the Bandit 300 series.
“For fishing in treetops and other heavy cover the Bandit works well because it doesn’t hang up much,” Fikes said. “On the Mississippi side of the lake I look for creek mouths and tree tops. Just like up on Columbus (the lake just upriver of Aliceville) a lot of the grass is gone, but it will come back. Where you find grass, you’ll find bass. The pads come on in early summer and grow quickly. Frogs and speed worms are great in the pads, as are critter baits.”
Coal Fire Creek, on the Alabama side is a favorite locale for early morning fishing since there are a lot of treetops and other structure. Fikes also likes to fish the main river (Tombigbee) in Mississippi, where he targets numerous treetops, rocks and other cover to catch summer bass. Either way, he uses the same worm and crankbait patterns.
“In Coal Fire, fish the grass and lily pads on your left early,” Fikes said. “There is a limited amount at this time due to recent grass spraying efforts, but that does seem to make the grass that’s left more productive to fish.
“As the sun rises, move back towards the creek channel and fish stumps and other cover on the creek channel’s ledge (where the actual old channel is, it is generally about a 5-10 foot drop off). Use crankbaits that will go at least 10 feet deep, but be sure to slow down and fish a worm if you get a bite or feel some good cover.”
Rushing and Files both commented on the river barge phenomena related to the bass bite. Where the lake is narrow, or just shallow on either side of the channel, such as upriver of the main lake, barges and towboats push water into creeks and inlets. When the barge passes and the water starts to return to the channel, bass lie in wait hoping to score an easy meal. The barge traffic sets up a feeding frenzy of sorts.
The same is true when the locks are drained and filled for southbound traffic. Fourteen million gallons of water are moved out of the lake, causing an increase in the current, and triggering bass activity.
“There is a lot of water at Pickensville,” said Ken Lowery, a salesman at Pickensville Marina. “Columbus Lake is my home lake, but Aliceville, or Pickensville, is like a second home. The day once was that if you fished a tournament and didn’t have an 18- to 20-pound sack, you’d be tempted to miss weigh-in. Today, if you have an 18- to 20-pound sack, you can’t afford to miss weigh-in because you’d be assured a check.”
Lowery said the difference is the vegetation control over the past decade, which has changed the way people fish on the lake. In years past, he said the only method needed to win a tournament was to fish the grass and weed beds.
Now, he says the bass are still there, you just have to fish harder and smarter to catch them.
“We still have some pad fields and grass here and there,” Lowery said. “A frog bait fished slowly in the early mornings is still a good pick. But as the days warm up and bass go deeper, an Excalibur Black Shad with a square bill is my go-to bait for deeper water.”
An aerial photo or map demonstrates the mass of shoreline the lake offers. Seeing that and thinking of it with that much grass for fishing, one can see why the lake was such a hot destination.
While many feel the lakes of the Tenn-Tom have past their prime, most fisheries biologists say there are excellent age classes in each lake.
Ray Scott, the Bassmaster himself and spokesman for the Alabama Black Belt Region’s fishing resources, said the soil of the Black Belt, which extends from Southeast Alabama into north Mississippi, has the potential for excellent fish production. He points out that Davis Lake in north Mississippi is a regular producer of trophy bass, including the 17-pound-plus fish caught in 2013.
Aliceville is located in the Black Belt region, too, and it’s a border lake with a good reputation and an excellent bass population.
Fikes rates it a “solid 7 on a scale of 1-10.”
Lowery calls it “a good bet, even if much of the grass is one.”