GUNTERSVILLE LAKE-GEM OF THE TENNESSEE
by Jim Porter
The two elderly gentlemen were fishing from a small Jon boat, tossing oversized yellow spinner baits in and about the huge patch of milfoil grass. Being a newcomer to the area, I watched rather intently, hoping to pick up on a tip for catching these North Alabama bass. Suddenly, the angler in the front set back hard, his rod tip nearly doubling over into the crystal waters. Even from a distance, the initial boil of the huge fish was visible as he felt the hook and attempted to flee into the cover. Skillfully, the old man moved the bass away from the grass bed and played him down, finally allowing his partner to net the prize. I watched with renewed interest as they admired the trophy and, then, the second angler began to pull up on the anchor rope-or so I thought. I didn't understand why they were so anxious to leave after just boating an obvious seven pound fish. Then I saw what was really happening. That was no anchor rope he was hauling up. It was their stringer-six feet of one-half inch nylon rope-and on the lower end were six more lunker bass between five and eight pounds.
Unable to resist any longer, I eased within talking distance to see if they would share any secrets. Being typical Southerners, they welcomed me over and explained just what was taking place. "Young man, if you are going to bass fish in this lake, you need either a big live well or a strong stringer, like this one here," the angler who had just taken the last fish explained. "This lake is full of big bass and they love this old grass. Get yourself some 20 pound line, a strong rod and the biggest spinner bait you can find."
Once wild and free, the mighty Tennessee River is now tamed by the projects of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Along its rambling course, huge dams of concrete and steel stand as monuments to the most successful flood control and hydroelectric project in history. As a result, thousands upon thousands of acres of rich, fertile bottom land are now in cultivation, saved from the ravages of the Spring floods, and countless homes and industries are fueled by the generated power. Behind the dams, many beautiful lakes were formed, each with its own set of special characteristics and each providing an abundance of pleasure for the angling enthusiast. For all the greatness of the Tennessee River chain, one body of water is special. Guntersville Lake is, truly, the gem of bass fishing waters.
Guntersville, beginning at the Nickajack Dam on the Alabama/Tennessee State lines, is what we call a lowland lake. Except for the trace of the submerged main river channel, it is shallow and infested with sprawling stump beds and milfoil grass. Stretching approximately 55 miles between the dams, Guntersville has a surface area of nearly 70,000 acres and is complemented by numerous large feeder creeks and vast expanses of backwater flats. For nearly its entire length, the high lip of the old channel is either above, or just slightly below, the surface. Largemouth Bass are predominate, with a sprinkling of Kentucky Spotted Bass occasionally found on the rock bluffs near the lower end.
This vast body of water can be divided, at Scottsboro, Alabama, into two distinct sections. Each has its own special topographical characteristics and approaches to locating bass. The Northern portion is basically river terrain and must be fished as such. There is limited backwater area, but some excellent feeder creeks do exist. Relatively narrow, this upper stretch of Guntersville Lake has a discernable current and, accordingly, lends itself to the application of moving water bassin' techniques. One of these, a major year round pattern, is to concentrate on the lodged drift, tree blowdowns and concentrations of stumps which are found along the steeper shoreline areas. Bass will gather in these locations to feed, particularly when the current is strongest. If there happens to be an area of eddy water behind the current flow and drop off line, the fish often congregate in large schools. While these upper river bass are usually smaller, on the average, than their down stream relatives, living in constant current flow has made them much stronger and provided them with a great deal of stamina. Favorite lures for these locations are shallow and medium depth crank plugs and purple or black plastic worms. If the current flow is light, many of the local anglers prefer to drift silently along and flip large jig and pig combinations into the cover. In the early Spring, white or chartreuse spinner baits are very effective. During the cold Winter months, the jig and pig is deadly fished deep off the slope of the channel drop.
Mudd Creek about half way between the Nickajack Dam and Scottsboro, is a favorite bassin' hole for many of the local anglers. It is relatively shallow, with broad flats infested with stumps and milfoil. The channel of the old creek is winding, with many switchback turns and few straight sections. Large stumps and a line of grass mark its edge. Mudd Creek is one of the favorite areas for Bob Ballard, a local Pro and the '85 National Military Bass Champion. Bob's advice is to go to the far back of the navigable portion of the creek, where a railroad bridge crossing exists, and work your way out. In the Spring, he suggests using a spinner bait with a number seven blade around the stumps and newly emerging milfoil. However, the remainder of the year, Bob is adamant on using a plastic worm on the edge of the channel and, particularly, where small cuts or ditches enter the channel. "Mudd Creek is the most consistent location in Guntersville to take large bass on a year round basis," stated Ballard. "You can bang up your boat on the stumps, if you are not careful, but the fishing makes it worthwhile. The main river produces a lot of small bass, while this creek seems to have most of the upper river lunkers. I use nothing but 20 pound line. When a good bass comes on the lure, he's got lots of cover to dive into. You must immediately get his head up and hold it there, or you're as good as tangled."
Beginning slightly above Scottsboro and extending nearly to the lower dam, Guntersville takes on the characteristics of a lake. The main Tennessee River channel is fairly straight, with only slight directional variations, and is marked well with navigation buoys. Great expanses of backwater flats extend on either side of the river channel, complemented by a number of large feeder creeks. Creek names, such as 'Roseberry', 'North Sauty', 'South Sauty', 'Mink', 'Brown' and 'Town', are synonymous with great bassin' waters.
There are three distinct ways to fish this lower half of Guntersville: the milfoil beds and ledges in the back of the creeks and behind the river channel; the edges of the creek channels; and, the edge of the old river channel, itself. Guntersville has such an enormous bass population that determining just where to fish first is a real problem. In the Spring, the shallow flats are obviously the preferred locations to find most bass. However, the remainder of the year, the milfoil-covered river channel break is the most constant producer, particularly of large fish.
Local Pro Sonny Thomas, from nearby Rainsville, is one of the more successful anglers on Guntersville. Some time ago, while filming segments for the Alabama Outdoors television program, Sonny explained his approach to fishing this great lake.
"There are always bass in and around the milfoil," Thomas explained. "I particularly like late Winter and early Spring when the grass is still just below the surface. Find yourself an old ditch or channel out in the flats and fish the shallow edge of it with a Bagley Killer B-2. Any place that is less than ten feet deep will have grass, so these edges are ideal. If the channel runs all the way out to the main river, it can really be productive. As the water continues to warm, the bass will disperse out into the large expanses of milfoil and you need to move with them. I have a thing for using a crank plug, but a white or chartreuse spinner is just as good. After the spawn, many fish can still be taken in the grass flats, but the drops on the main river channel are better then. A six inch worm is best out there. Catching 50 bass a day on this lake is fairly common, if you know where to fish."
The thickly matted grass along the main channel hides many huge stumps left from the timber clearing operations. These are the places that so many giant Alabama bass are taken. Many of the locals parallel the edge of the drop with deep running crank plugs, trying to clip the top of the stumps. Others prefer to toss plastic worms to the edges of the grass and work them down the drop. Either way is extremely effective. In the Winter months, a jig and pig is deadly on the channel break, especially where a creek channel converges. During the hottest parts of the Summer, the grass line produces hair-raising buzz bait action. If you've never seen a swirl the size of a number three wash tub under a buzz bait, you have missed a real bass fishing experience.
Tommy Roberts, another local Pro, likes to concentrate on hard structure. Consequently, he spends a lot of time on the edges of the creek channels and the few rock bluffs in the lower end of Guntersville. Tommy is extremely versatile and goes from plug, to spinner bait, to worm, to jig with equal efficiency. One important technique we learned from him was the utility of a black jig on a rock bluff. While the method is best in the Winter months, he effectively takes bass with it year round. Of the limited population of Kentucky bass in the lake, most are taken while fishing these deeper water locations.
TRIP CHECK REPORT
NAME OF LAKE: Guntersville Lake
SURFACE ACRES: Approx. 70,000
AVERAGE DEPTH: 19 feet
APPROX. SHORELINE MILEAGE: 270
HOW TO GET THERE: Guntersville Lake lies between I-65 and I-59, both running generally North and South, in the North-East corner of Alabama. Scottsboro, on Highway 72, is the ideal place from which to cover the entire lake, particularly the upper portion. The city of Guntersville, on the South end of the lake, is accessible by many main roads, the primary of which is Highway 431.
LAUNCHING RAMPS: Numerous ramps are available along the entire lake, with the majority being on the East side. In the lower end of the lake, the best launch areas are Brown's Creek and the Lake Guntersville State Park. Goose Pond recreation area, slightly below Scottsboro on Highway 79, is the ideal launch for the Northern portion.
WHEN TO GO: There is no bad time to fish Guntersville, except late January and early February, when the weather is extremely cold. The ideal periods for quality bassin' are late March thru Early June and again from October thru early December.
WHERE TO STAY: Numerous motels and camp grounds are available in and around both Scottsboro and the city of Guntersville. The Lake Guntersville State Park lodge is a beautiful, ultra-modern facility that will please the luxury minded. Excellent camp grounds are available at the Park, at the Siebold Creek Recreation Area just North of Guntersville, and at Goose Pond on the upper portion of the lake.
MAPS AVAILABLE: The best maps are the topographical series of navigation charts put out by TVA, series numbers 501 thru 505, and 601. Another good map is the TVA Recreation Map series. Write Tennessee Valley Authority, Maps and Records Section, Knoxville, Tenn. 37902. These can also be found in most tackle shops in the area. Less detailed maps are available from Alabama Mountain Lakes Assoc., PO Box 1075, Decatur, Al. 35602.
WINTER: One quarter to one half ounce black jigs, with a pork trailer. Purple plastic worms are also good in the six inch size. Tennessee Shad and Silver/Black Bagley balsa crank plugs produce as the weather starts to warm, as do white and chartreuse spinner baits.
SPRING: Spinner baits are in their prime during this period, particularly for shallow Largemouths in the grass beds. Buzz baits and other top water lures will produce well. Shallow crank plugs and Hot Spots are excellent worked shallow, just over the top of the emerging milfoil beds. As the bass start to come off the beds, black and purple plastic worms are the hot lures.
SUMMER: Crank plugs and plastic worms will tempt the Largemouth Bass along the edges of the river and creek channels. The favorite plugs are the chartreuse and black Rebel Deep Maxi-R and the Tennessee Shad colored Bagley Divin' B-3. Buzz baits, particularly in the quarter ounce size, are excellent along the grass line of the main river channel. The local anglers prefer white or chartreuse.
FALL: Plastic worms and spinner baits run neck and neck as the best Fall lures. Once the weather starts to get cold, a black jig and pig fished off the creek ledges, main channel drop, and rip rap areas account for many lunkers.
SPRING: Largemouth Bass will be gathering on the drops, just off the spawning flats in the backwaters and feeder creek areas. Once spawning commences, they will be in the milfoil grass and stump bed areas. Never bypass any stump without tossing a worm or spinner bait at it. A spinner bait and a shallow crank plug will be deadly fished across the top of the submerged grass beds.
SUMMER: Concentrate on the edge of the main river channel. The fish will be there. Look for them at the ten to fifteen foot levels, with some up in the grass line early and late. The next best places are the deep ledges of the old creek channels.
FALL: Across the board, this is the best time to fish Guntersville. Largemouths will be active in the grass flats near deep water drops. Go to the spinner bait and the plastic worm and tie yourself to the boat seat. Deep water (at least ten feet) near the cover is essential. Fish slowly and carefully.
WINTER: It can get awfully cold in North Alabama this time of year, but a trophy bass can make it all worthwhile. Go to the steep river and creek channel edges and start with a jig and pig. Also, fish any rip rap you find. A heavy, one half ounce jig is the choice of the locals. Plastic worms also work well. Fish slowly. If a warming trend comes on for a few days, go back to the edge of the milfoil nearest the deep water.
FISHING TACKLE: Most of the local anglers opt for fairly heavy bait casting tackle and 14-17 pound test line. This is dictated by the heavy weed growth in Guntersville. On rip rap, or the few bluff banks on the lower end, medium spinning tackle is fine.
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Write to Alabama Mountain Lakes Assoc., PO Box 1075, Decatur, Al. 35602 or the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel, 532 South Perry St., Montgomery, Al. 36130.
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