An outdoor writer’s convention in Huntsville Alabama led this old salt to think more about the freshwater fishing of his youth. I have to admit to being a die hard saltwater angler since moving to Florida, but visiting the beautiful area surrounding Huntsville brought back memories of crappie, bream and bass from my Kansas upbringing.
Having left the seasonal color change of fall long behind since moving to Florida the hillsides outside Huntsville were a welcome site. The leaves were just beginning to turn showing that the promise of fall and the beauty of nature were close at hand.
I was interested in the fishing around Huntsville and found there were many possibilities. Visiting with other attendees at the conference and a few locals led me to identify Lake Guntersville as a prime fishing location for visitors and locals alike.
Highway 431 that took us to Huntsville meandered through the mountains of the Appalachian range and the town of Guntersville about 40 miles south of Huntsville. I later learned that the town is described as a peninsula city. The charming town sits on the banks of Lake Guntersville. It seems that when the Tennessee Valley Authority created the Guntersville Dam it almost surrounded the town with water.
When the lake filled with Tennessee River water there were 950 miles of beautiful meandering shoreline and 69,000 acres of water. Today, accolades for the Alabama town include "The Best Lake in Alabama" from Southern Living, "100 Best Places to Live in America" from Relocate America and the "Top 10 Fishing Towns in America" from Field & Stream.
The people of the area are unbelievably courteous, accommodating and friendly. The geography and outdoor environment of the area is nothing less then stunning. The more I found out about the area the more I wanted to find out about the fishing. Thoughts or returning, when I had time to fish, filled my head. One thing for sure, when you want to find out about the fishing in an area the best place to go is a local fishing guide.
Captain Mike Gerry operates Fish Lake Guntersville Guide Service and is a recognized expert on the lake. He describes the impoundment as, “The best of all the lakes in north Alabama for bass fishing and the number three lake in the country according to Bass Times.”
He identifies bass, crappie, catfish and bream as the major species anglers seek. Captain Mike reports that the lake is covered in milfoil and hydrilla making it outstanding for fishing bass in the grass. Other prime characteristics of the lake are old roadbeds with stump lined edges, boathouses and underwater ledges.
Milfoil is a feathery looking foliage that forms dense mats of vegetation on the surface of the lake. Hydrilla is a thicker looking plant with whorls of 4 to 8 leaves along the stem, giving it an almost rope-like appearance. Hydrilla also forms dense mats of vegetation on the surface, characterized by sporadic wholes in the mat. The challenge of fishing either of these grasses is getting the bait to the fish.
The edges of these grass mats are the easiest to fish, but not just any edge. Captain Mike gives some great tips for fishing the grass in Guntersville that will work in other lakes too. “First thing I look for is bait activity,” says Captain Mike. If you pull up to a grass line and after fishing a few minutes you don’t see bait moving about, it’s time to move on.”
The next thing to look for in the grass edge is structure. Use your sonar unit to watch for stumps or debris. “If there are stumps or debris on the break lines there is a good chance you will find bass.” Finally, look for grass lines that have definition in the form of points, indentations, or thickness. These characteristics give the bass an ambush point and increase the angler’s chances of success. “A straight edge on the grass eliminates the ambush areas and generally the bass aren’t there.”
Another favorite of Captain Mike are the stump lined roadbeds of Lake Guntersville. He groups the roadbeds in with other subtle structure that requires using scanning technology to locate. It can include deeper creeks, rock ledges, or deeper grass edges that bass use to migrate from one area to another. “I believe that as the number of fisherman increase the bass get smarter and relocate to the not-so-obvious locations to escape the fishing pressure!” He says the grass always looks good causing anglers to disregard the migration paths used by the bigger and smarter fish.
Boathouses provide an often overlooked source of some quality bass as anglers leave the ramp on plane running for their favorite grass beds. Captain Mike says all boathouses are not created equally, but a little research can identify the good ones. “The first thing I look for is water at the end of the boat house to be somewhere close to 8 feet deep. This means that there is sufficient depth for the bass to move deep if spooked in some way.” The next element of success is related to the age of the boathouse. Newly built boathouses have not had the opportunity to establish habitat for natural bait. The bait doesn’t stay around the cleaner, newer wood. No bait, no bass.
The final factor and maybe the most important is where the boathouse sets in relation to natural migration pathways. “A boat house that has close proximity to a creek and or an old road bed always holds bass. The proximity to these natural elements allows the bass to migrate from the creek or roadbed to the shade of the boat house.” Boathouses, according to Captain Mike, create cover where the bass can hide from the sun,especially if they have bait around them. Anglers should need no more convincing than that to make boathouses part of their fishing patterns.
Ledge fishing at Guntersville Lake is among the best in the country. The secret in Captain Mikes words, is to separate the “community holes” from the “difference makers.” Captain Mike studies maps and charts to determine the ledges he wants to fish. The difference makers can be subtle drops of one or two feet, a turn or gap in the ledge, or an old underwater pond near the ledge. Once the preferred ledges are found Captain Mike offers this advice. “Many times the key is boat position where things like wind, current and approach all enter into the equation. Anglers could very well be moving past the fish because they are fishing from the wrong angle.”
So what is the right angle? “There is no clear cut way of knowing, but working structure from different angles by turning your boat and approaching from different sides does work. The next important thing is not to make just one cast and change angles, if the structure looks fishy make repeated casts to each side to prove that a fish is there or not.”
On the topic of lure selection, Captain Mike recommends starting with baits you can cover some ground with. “Search baits like spinner baits or crank baits allow you to fish quickly and cover enough territory to find a key spot holding big fish and could very well be the sack you’re looking for.”
Of course if you are fishing the matted areas of surface grass choose weedless lures that will allow you to move in close and pitch to the holes in the mat or use heavier rigs that will get you down below the grass mats.
All this new information leaves my brain racing, my mouth watering and my feet itching to return to the Huntsville area and particularly to fish Lake Guntersville. My wife, on the other hand, is anxious to return for the beauty of the area, the relaxation it offers, and a reintroduction to the changing colors of fall.
Photo Credits: Captain Mike Gerry
Top: Capt. Mike with a nice Guntersville bass
Middle: The grass line in the background produced this healthy Guntersville bass
Bottom: Boathouses like the one shown in the photo line the lake shore and produce monster bass
Editor’s Note: Captain Mike can be reached by phone at 256 759 2270 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.