Out of State Destinations: Black Warrior River

Russell Jones with Alabama Guide Services shows off a couple spotted bass he caught on an Alabama Rig holding swimbaits while fishing on the Black Warrior River near in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

Get a lock on hot Alabama spotted bass action

Most Louisianans know the city of Tuscaloosa for college football, but people can do much more in this part of Alabama. For instance, the Black Warrior River offers some of the best trophy spotted bass action in the nation.

About a 5-hour drive from either New Orleans or Monroe, Tuscaloosa derived its name from a native chief called “Tuskaloosa,” which means “black warrior” in the Muskogean language. The Black Warrior River begins west of Birmingham and flows 178 miles to the Tombigbee River at Demopolis. Along the way, it runs through a series of dams, separating the river into pools. Major pools on the river near Tuscaloosa include Holt Reservoir, William Bacon Oliver Lake and City Pool.

Lake Tuscaloosa provides water for the city and county of Tuscaloosa. It covers roughly 6,300 acres about five miles north of Tuscaloosa. The North River flows out of Lake Tuscaloosa into the Black Warrior. Throughout the entire system, anglers can catch a variety of fish species.

“On the Black Warrior system, it’s common to catch several species the same day,” said Russell Jones with Alabama Guide Services (205-454-7313, www.alabamaguideservices.com). “Besides largemouth and spotted bass, anglers might also catch stripers, hybrid bass, catfish, crappie, white bass, bream and other species. Up the North River is a great place to catch hybrids and striped bass.”

Alabama bass

However, most anglers come for the big spots, also called Alabama bass. When barges pass through the locks or the dams run water, that generates current throughout the Black Warrior system. Current stirs up baitfish and positions spotted bass behind structures.

“The Black Warrior River can produce some big spotted bass,” Jones said. “Where the dams generate current is always a good place to fish for spots. I’ve caught 5-fish bags of spots totaling more than 25 pounds. The biggest spotted bass I’ve ever caught weighed 6.4 pounds.”

A shaky head jig tipped with a worm trailer can be a highly effective temptation for both largemouth and spotted bass. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

The river separates the cities of Tuscaloosa and Northport. Between the cities, the Oliver Lock and Dam creates a great place to launch and fish. A spillway flows over the structure. Falling water cools and oxygenates the system. People can also fish off the bank in several places.

“For spots, current is the key,” Jones said. “Early in the morning, I like to throw topwaters around the rocks and the dam. I also like to throw spinnerbaits and crankbaits. Often, spots set up behind a rockpile. I work a bait downstream to the pile and then stop the retrieve, so it sinks behind the obstruction down to where the fish are.”

What to throw

Anything a largemouth might hit would tempt a spotted bass. Spots especially relish threadfin shad, so lures that mimic baitfish work best. Anglers frequently catch spotted bass and largemouth on the same baits in the same places, but they will know when a big spot hits.

“Fighting current all the time gave spotted bass a vicious attitude,” Jones said. “Many anglers believe they hooked into a much larger fish than they did, especially when spots get out into the current. When feeding, spotted bass are very aggressive. After hooking one fish, the angler might see 10 or 12 other bass trying to get that bait out of the hooked fish’s mouth.”

Upstream from the Oliver Lock and Dam and minutes from downtown Tuscaloosa, City Pool, also called Riverview, usually offers good bass action. It normally carries significant current. Farther upstream, Holt Reservoir covers roughly 3,300 acres about five miles northeast of Tuscaloosa. Holt Reservoir produced the Alabama state record blue catfish at 120.25 pounds.

“Holt Reservoir is probably the most diverse pool in Tuscaloosa County,” Jones said. “It has a great population of spotted bass. It’s a well-rounded fishery that can hold a lot of boats for a tournament.”

From the Oliver spillway, people can run south about 60 miles to Demopolis. This riverine stretch holds many rocks, fallen trees and other structures. Thoroughly probe downed trees with jigs.

More to do

Visitors can find more to do in the Tuscaloosa area than just go fishing. Art fans might want to visit the Kentuck Art Center and Festival (www.kentuck.org) in Northport. The art festival takes place in October, but people can see murals painted on walls of many buildings as part of the Alabama Mural Trail anytime.

Football fans would like to visit the Paul “Bear” Bryant Museum (bryantmuseum.com). Nature lovers might tour the Alabama Museum of Natural History (almnh.museums.ua.edu.) Barbecue lovers should check out the Wings and White Sauce Bar-B-Que Trail.

During college football season, lodging fills quickly on home game weekends, so book early. Many people camp at Lake Lurleen State Park (www.alapark.com/lake-lurleen-state-park) nine miles northwest of Tuscaloosa and fish in the stocked 250-acre lake. For other lodging, I recommend the Hampton Inn Tuscaloosa University on Harper Lee Drive for its outstanding service.

For more info, check out visittuscaloosa.com.

About John N. Felsher 43 Articles
Originally from Louisiana, John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer, broadcaster, photographer and editor who now lives in Alabama. An avid sportsman, he’s written more than 3,600 articles for more than 173 different magazines on a wide variety of outdoors topics. He also hosts an outdoors tips show for WAVH FM Talk 106.5 radio station in Mobile, Ala. Contact him at j.felsher@hotmail.com or through Facebook.