Fishy River, Beautiful Scenery
It would be hard to find a more beautiful place. The Coosa River and the Tallapoosa River come together near Wetumpka, Alabama to form the Alabama River. It is a meandering river around Prattville in Elmore County Alabama. The river offers plenty of nooks and crannies for serious fishermen to investigate.
I had the opportunity to visit the area recently. Crappie Now, a free online magazine, hosted a Press Camp for outdoor writers with the expressed intent of show casing the great crappie fishing and tourism possibilities attached to the river. Dan “Crappie Dan” Dannenmueller, Crappie Now Publisher, describes the Alabama River as a nutrient rich river that supports the rapid growth of both white and black crappie.
Ziptailz and Road Runner teamed up to catch this Alabama River Crappie
“The river is formed by a series of locks and dams that form pools,” indicated Dannenmueller. “Depending on current, power generation, river stages and weather, numerous crappie fishing techniques will work on the river. Crappies are caught exceeding 2 pounds and some will weigh over 3 pounds.”
The river itself can have strong current when power is being generated or when the river is being pulled down for flood control purposes. Tributary creeks like Swift Creek and places like Cooter’s Pond give Prattville area anglers easy access to the river and also backwater fishing opportunities. There are numerous residential docks that provide some great dock shooting prospects.
Local anglers have nothing but praise for the Alabama River fishing. “I like fishing around the Prattville area because that’s where my first childhood memories of crappie fishing started,” said Jonathan Phillips. Jonathan and his wife Alicia Phillips are frequent competitors on the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters All American Tournament Trail.
“The community is very gracious and receptive to visiting anglers,” offered Jonathan. “I have often had strangers come up to me and offer their best advise about where to catch crappie. One of the Crappie Masters anglers told me that he has traveled all over the country in his fishing pursuits and has never stayed in an area where the people were as nice to be around as they are here on the Alabama River.”
The size of Alabama River crappie is something to note. “That area of the river around Prattville is very scenic and it produces world class sized crappie to boot,” added Jonathan. “There are also lots of beautiful back waters to fish in the creeks off of the river. Plenty of habitat and plenty of bait in the river give the crappie everything they need to grow and be healthy.”
Jonathan and Alicia spend a lot of time spider rigging in the river and the backwaters. He starts his day by positioning his ACC Crappie Stix in Driftmaster Rod Holders. “I like the Driftmaster Crappie Stalker System because each holder is individually fastened to the deck. A bite on one pole will not transfer to another pole. Those Crappie Stalkers let you know exactly where the bite is.”
It is always a good idea to begin spider rigging by probing different depths of water with different colors of baits. Team Phillips often begins testing the water with Road Runner Jig Heads and Ziptailz interchangeable fishing skirts. “I can create any color combination I want,” instructed Jonathan.
Jonathan and Alicia were introduced to Ziptailz at Crappie Masters National Championship at Lake Washington in Greenville Mississippi. “Wayne Rossi, the owner, had just come out with the product,” explained Jonathan. “He had free samples laying out at the seminar. We weren’t doing very well so we decided to pair some up with our Road Runners.”
“It was day one of the tournament and lo and behold Alicia caught what was the big fish of the tournament for a while. She ended up getting beat out but it was in the top two or three of the tournament. That was our beginning with Ziptailz. They worked really well on those Mississippi waters and we have been using them ever where ever since.”
Ziptailz are so easy to use,” continued Jonathan. “People can pick one up and change color and profile of their presentation immediately. We usually put them on Road Runners, but you can also put them on single hooks, treble hooks or anything.”
Once his rods are set out Jonathan likes to position them. “We try to keep our rods at the same level so that if one of the rods don’t look like the others you either have a fish, you’re on structure or you’re on bottom. We begin with our poles set at different depths and rigged with different colored baits.”
“Once we develop a pattern of depth and color we change all the baits to match what has been successful,” added Alicia. “I really like the chartreuse colors. Chartreuse with red Ziptailz is my favorite color here on the Alabama river. Orange and black is another good color. We normally tip with minnows when we are spider rigging. If we are jigging or shooting docs we don’t use minnows.”
”We prefer single jigs,” said Jonathan. “It’s all about the set up. The river has a ton of structure and people using double rigs get hung up a lot. Keeping bait in the water is more important to me. I would rather not be hung up as much. If you spend time getting out of messes, taking time to retie and spooking fish out of the holes that’s just wasted time. Keeping your bait in the water is key to successful fishing.”
“I often go from deep water into shallow as opposed to starting shallow and going out deep. You want to pick your fish off going in instead of going in on them and spooking them. Take a laydown or a tree. It is a good idea to fish out in front of it first before moving in to the base. If you go straight into the base you probably spook your fish at the front and you’re only going to get the fish from one part of that tree.”
Vertical structure should be approached differently. “If you have vertical structure, something coming off the bottom, then we start shallow and work deep, stated Jonathan. “ If the fish are stacked up over something off the bottom you don’t want to drop to the bottom and catch the fish on the very bottom first. When you pull a fish up through the school of crappie they’re all going to spread out on you. In that scenario we start shallow before going deeper. When that bite stops or slows down move on to another spot.”
Most crappie anglers know that you always want to fish above the crappie. “Always listen to the old-timers,” advised Jonathan. “An old timer once told me that if you’re hooking crappie in the bottom lip your fishing to deep. Sometimes they will go down and get it but then rise back up to where they are suspended. Your line will go slack or your pole will come up flat. When you’re spider rigging you don’t always get those nice slamming hits. It may just be a subtle change so you’re always watching the line.”
“Jigging is a whole lot of fun,” said Jonathan. “However, if I’m going after the beasts, the big ones, I can present my bait anyway I want with the spider rigging set up. It’s challenging too. You have to know how to workaround structure and get unhung quickly. You are constantly watching the rods, controlling the boat with the trolling motor and checking the electronics. That’s why Alicia’s role is really important. A lot of time she handles the fish, gets me bait and stuff, so I can stay on that trolling motor. I have to control the boat for the entire time that we’re on the water without ever taking my eyes off the rods and the sonar. It’s a constant job.”
The Alabama River is a world-class crappie fishing destination. Whether you’re favorite way to catch crappie is spider rigging like Jonathan and Alicia, vertical jigging, pulling or casting, the Alabama River has something for you.
Epilogue: There is a lot more to do in Prattville than fish for crappie. Old Town Prattville is full of history. It is known as being one of the first planned communities in Alabama. The architecture features graceful arches, soaring ceilings and vast open spaces. It is hard to miss the interesting brick and stonework that characterize the buildings, all set in a picturesque site alongside Autauga Creek.
Other interesting attractions include the Capital Hill Golf Course at Prattville/Montgomery. Capital Hill was designed by Robert Trent Jones, arguably the premier golf course architect in the world, as part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail that currently consist of 468 championship holes at eleven sites it the state of Alabama. Capital Hill is a breathtakingly beautiful course and currently host to an event on the LPGA Tour.
The Alabama Wildlife Federation operates a unique and amazing educational facility where kids and adults can learn about Alabama’s vast natural resources. Visitors can explore 5 miles of trails with experienced ANC naturalists. There are ponds, creeks and woods to investigate. Visitors can picnic on the grounds and check out the educational movies in the hands-on Discovery Hall.
The area just off Interstate 65 is full of shopping, eating and lodging opportunities. We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites, just a stone’s throw from the Interstate; the Hampton offers clean and comfortable rooms, great Wi-Fi, and efficient workspace in every room. If you prefer you can use their computers and printers in the Business Center and get your daily exercise in the handy workout room. I like to eat a good breakfast before fishing and the free hot breakfast was excellent every morning. They describe their facility as “Small town charm meets big city convenience.” It couldn’t be said any better!
Whether it is fishing for crappie (or other species), playing golf, engaging in other water based activities or simply a restful family vacation, the Alabama River at Prattville, AL should be on your bucket list of places to visit.
For more area information visits the Prattville and Elmore County websites at http://www.prattvilleal.gov/visitors/attractions.html, and http://www.visitelmoreco.com/index.aspx.