Throw a line in North Alabama and it’s destined to land in one of the world’s finest bass lakes. The rivers of North Alabama drain the foothills of the Appalachians, and in systems like the Tennessee and Coosa Rivers, chains of lakes are packed full of the best freshwater habitat you could imagine.
“You cannot draw a 50- or a hundred-mile circle on Google Maps anywhere in the country and have the amount of fishing access and the diversity of fisheries that you can in North Alabama. And so much of it is just tailor-made for kayak fishing,” regales Chad Hoover, who moved his Kayak Bass Fishing headquarters to Huntsville, Alabama on the edge of Wheeler Lake.
For Hoover, it’s not just the number and caliber of lakes that makes North Alabama so special, but the vast experiences they offer. Some, the largest and most accessible in the state. Others, wild and hard to reach. No matter which, kayak anglers have sloughs, creeks, and channels to stretch out and explore. It’s inevitable: any direction a kayak angler chooses, they will find their best days of fishing on the lakes of North Alabama.
The largest lake in Alabama is renowned for targeting the ultimate trophy of freshwater game. Lake Guntersville is stacked with largemouth, and the sheer size of it at 75 miles long means there is plenty of room to seek out your own slice of bassing paradise.
Head for the boat ramp at Lake Guntersville State Park, and make your way into the weeds. The shoreline surrounding the state park is cut with coves for a kayak to stalk toward the mouth of, and sling topwater bait for bucketmouths lying in wait. The quality of largemouth fishing and the magnitude of aquatic terrain continually makes the Big G a stop for major tournaments including the Kayak Bass Fishing Series and North Alabama Kayak Anglers Trail Series.
Visiting anglers can camp right at Lake Guntersville State Park, or treat themselves to fine accommodations at the nearby Dream Ranch hunting retreat.
Wheeler Lake may be a close second to Guntersville in size, but when it comes to what counts for anglers, fish surveys say otherwise. Wheeler Lake boasts an impressive number of largemouth, and plenty would argue it’s the best fishing lake in the state of Alabama.
Wheeler stands out for more than fat largemouth though; its well-oxygenated waters are swarming with feisty smallmouth, too. Stop into West End Outdoors near Athens for a report and fill your crate with tackle. Then join the hub of the Wheeler fishing scene and make basecamp at Ditto Landing. From Ditto Landing, you can head up to the churning tailwater coming out of Guntersville Dam, or cruise down the backwaters at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.
Sandwiched between larger reservoirs of the Tennessee River system is 15-mile-long Wilson Lake. What Wilson lacks in size it makes up for in diverse habitat. Whether you are hunting for smallmouth, catfish or stripers, Wilson has you covered with cliff bands, stumps, sloughs and channels. Best of all, the compact size of Wilson lets you shift gears quickly and fish different terrain or technique.
Staying at the cabins at Doublehead Resort puts kayak anglers right in the action at Wilson Lake’s upper reach. Doublehead is located on Town Creek, opening into an expansive cove of weeds and islands. From here you can head out toward the tailwater of Wheeler Dam, or cross the lake and fish the productive banks along Bluewater Creek.
The moving waters of Pickwick Lake are more characteristic of a river than a reservoir. It’s one of the few lakes you’ll find in the country where you can net not just trophy-sized large and smallmouth, but spotted bass as well. Name a kayak fishing series—Hobie B.O.S., Bassmaster, or NAKA Trail—and Pickwick is constantly slated for competition.
Pickwick is a hot spot no matter the season. Summer is prime time to troll for fat catfish. And the bite doesn’t die off in winter when kayak anglers are treated to targeting sauger, the hard-fighting tasty relative of walleye. After a day on the water, take a drive to enjoy a refreshment, share fishing tales, and get a night’s rest under the cliffs and waterfall at the Rattlesnake Saloon & Seven Springs Lodge.
Away from the Tennessee River system on the eastern edge of Alabama, kayak anglers will find the “crappie fishing capital of the world.” Weiss Lake impounds the Coosa River, one of the main sources of the Alabama River.
While Weiss cuts as deep as 60 feet, its sprawling shallows are full of stumps and rocks making for excellent black and white crappie habitat. So pack the light tackle and have a blast, because these slabs are pound-for-pound just plain fun to fight.
You can take in the morning view of the lake and strategize the day from your cabin porch at Cowan Creek Resort. Cowan Creek also has a tackle shop and boat ramp, so this fish camp has everything a kayak angler could need.
Neely Henry Lake
The secret is out on Neely Henry Lake. This reservoir on the Coosa River downstream from Weiss Lake is an Alabama bass mecca that will reward kayak anglers with the best adaptable techniques for lake fishing. If you hit the water early you can work grass lines for largemouth as the sun rises, then throw lures under docks and other structure as they take cover in high sun.
A full day on the lake is sure to leave you satisfyingly exhausted. When it does, refuel at Local Joe’s in Rainbow City with a piled plate of barbecue.
Bear Creek Reservoir
Bear Creek Reservoir stands unique on a list of the best kayak fishing lakes in Alabama. With a Wild and Scenic designation there is no development on this winding waterway. Bear Creek Reservoir, also known as the Big Bear, is one of four lakes in the chain of the Bear Creek Lakes. The lake is known for holding some of the cleanest water of any reservoir in the Southeast, not to mention plenty of bass.
You can stay right in the heart of Big Bear and launch your kayak at Horseshoe Bend Campground. Once you know a thing or two about fishing Big Bear, join the annual tournament here hosted by the West Alabama Kayak Anglers.
Lewis Smith Lake
Tracing the shoreline of Lewis Smith Lake is like etching a seismograph into a map. The small creeks feeding Smith Lake cut countless coves. The lake is deep, the deepest in Alabama, and its edges rise with towering cliffs.
The challenge of Smith Lake is landing the spotted bass that prefer the deep, clear water here. These fish aren’t easily fooled, though, so if you need time to chew on a technique, paddle over to the Golddiggers Bar & Grill at the Lakeshore Inn for some grub. If you can’t figure the Lewis Smith spottys out, switch gears and try for the striped bass here, some of the heftiest in the state.
You could spend a lifetime learning how to fish the endless lakes of North Alabama, and that’s before adding the possibilities only a kayak can reach. We’re all for adventure, but there’s no sense missing out on the knowledge the finest anglers in the state have already accrued. One of the best ways to get the scoop is tuning in to the Alabama Bass Trail Podcast. When you’re ready, load up your boat and head for the most diverse fisheries the Southeast has to offer.