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Logan Martin
Battle Logan Martin Stripes and Hybrids From the Bank
The Neely Henry tailrace provides a bank-fishing bonanza.
 
By Chuck Burns
Originally published in the April 2009 issue of AON
 
Fishermen eager to take part in the springtime hybrid and striped bass migration jockey for position on the Ragland side of Neely Henry Dam.
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Landlocked saltwater striped bass and their hatchery-crossed offspring, hybrid bass, methodically migrate to the headwaters of Logan Martin Lake, just below Neely Henry Dam, each spring.

During this migration, fishermen don’t need a big bass boat and a bunch of fancy, high-tech gadgets to get in on the rod-snapping action, and they can catch more than their fair share of stripers and hybrids by casting the right type of tackle from the northern bank of Logan Martin Lake.

Yes, ever-elusive deep-water striped and hybrid bass can be caught while simply standing along the bank of Logan Martin Lake. Not just one fluke bite here and there, but consistent, dependable and pretty close to predictable striper and hybrid bank-fishing action is taking place below Neely Henry Dam right now.

The 15,263-acre Logan Martin Lake is most noted for its exceptional largemouth bass and spotted bass fishing, but there is no denying that it increasingly is becoming well known for the abundanance of striped bass lurking in its waters. DCNR stocks three to five striped bass for every acre of the lake each year. If you do the math, that equates to a lot of stripers.

Logan Martin starts its flow just south of Neely Henry Dam and stretches south for a total distance of 48.5 miles before meeting its terminus at Logan Martin Dam. But despite the lake’s abundant acreage and almost 50-mile long stretch between dams, it seems that each spring every striped and hybrid bass in the lake makes its way to the headwaters of Logan Martin Lake. I’m not going to say that catching these feisty fish is as easy as shooting them in a barrel, but with the incredible number of stripes and hybrids swimming below the dam this April, it’s pretty close.

This annual springtime migration upriver triggers pandemonium in the stripe-fishing community. Boat ramps south of Neely Henry Dam become clogged, and the dam ends up looking like it is about to be assaulted by an armada of fishing boats.

Just before the switch is flipped to turn on Neely Henry Dam’s power-generation turbines, a loud siren bellows across the river. This alarm is intended to warn fishermen that the river is about to rise and the water is going to turn from a placid stream to a raging whitewater hazard. But when the ever-ready stripe and hybrid fishermen hear the forewarning noise, they interpret it as signal that the monster linesides are ready to fight. It’s not uncommon to see 20 different boats of fishermen barrel upstream, fight for a position to drop a hook in the turbulent tailrace and then drift downstream in hopes of catching one of the many mammoth striped and hybrid bass skulking beneath the water’s surface.

According to information obtained from the DCNR, the spring run starts as early as March and can last through the summer. It’s been my experience that stripers and hybrids can bite well in March, and that the action will pick up when the water temperature starts warming.

Striped bass are notorious for seeking out cool, oxygenated and flowing water. Late March and early April usually is the best time to start going after the fish below the dam.

Once you start consistently catching stripe and hybrid bass in April, the fish will, for the most part, bite aggressively for the remainder of spring and into summer. Hot, stagnant water is not a healthy environment for stripes.

During the heat of the summer, stripes will remain drawn to the Logan Martin headwaters because of the favorable conditions created while the Neely Henry Dam power generators are running.

I’ve been in the middle of the chaos before and learned quickly that operating a boat below the Neely Henry Dam while the turbines are running takes nerves of steel. As I fumbled to drop my line and keep from tangling up with my fishing buddies, I had to keep a close and careful eye on where my 50-year-old fiberglass boat was being pushed by the raging river. I held a rod in one hand and the tiller handle on my old 1972 Johnson 25-horsepower outboard in the other. If I was distracted for the slightest moment while attempting to fish, I risked ramming into one of the many other boats on the lake or plunging into the rip-rap that lined the river banks. The entire time I was only in partial control of where my boat was headed. It was as if I was playing a life-sized version of bumper pool with the many boats competing against me and the jagged rocks that were just daring me to drift their way. Through all of this bedlam I was able to take note of how the boat-sinking rip-rap was serving as stable fishing ground for anglers standing along the bank. Typically, when I fish this tailrace, I’m one of those fishermen on the bank and have, with many of the other bank fishermen, caught cooler loads of big stripes and hybrids. True enough, anglers who know how to run the tailrace in a boat can score some phenomenal catches, but I realized after my boating attempt that I could do much better if I returned to the bank.

Both hybrid bass and saltwater striped bass are stocked by the DCNR. Most anglers are aware of the saltwater stripe-stocking programs on Alabama lakes. But often there seems to be some confusion as to the origin of the hybrid bass. Hybrids result from DCNR’s efforts to artificially spawn male white bass with female striped bass at a state-operated hatchery.

Saltwater stripes are the larger of the two, with yearly growth of roughly 20 to 24 inches in length. The adult hybrid grows from around 10 to 15 inches in length a year, and they don’t live as long. That being said, the stocky hybrid seems at times to offer a tougher fight, pound per pond, than the elongated saltwater striped bass. One distinguishing feature that separates hybrids from saltwater stripes is the hybrids’ lateral lines. The lines running along the side of a hybrid bass are broken, whereas a stripe’s lateral lines are continuous.

Not too long ago I spoke to Dan Catchings, the District II Fishery Supervisor for Alabama’s Department of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF), about stripe biology.

When I asked Dan why stripers don’t naturally spawn in lakes such as Logan Martin, he explained that stripes need at least 80 miles of river to facilitate a hatch.

Stripe eggs need to remain suspended in the water and not settle to the bottom. If stripe eggs get silted over, they can’t hatch. Weiss Lake, unlike Logan Martin, has a naturally reproducing striped-bass population because of its lengthier flow. In order for Logan Martin to maintain catchable numbers of stripers and hybrids, state biologists have to stock the reservoir.

The tactics employed to catch big stripers and stout hybrids below Neely Henry Dam are the same. The key to catching fish is knowing the dam’s power-generation schedule. This simply means knowing when Alabama Power Co. (APCO) will be running the dam’s turbines. Neely Henry Dam has three generators, each of which is rated at 24,300 kilowatts. The number of generators in operation has an incredible effect on the striped bass and hybrid bass bite. Stripes and hybrids are drawn to the cool, oxygenated and moving water resulting from hydroelectric-power generation. If there are not any generators turning the dam’s turbines, then striped and hybrid bass will not be active.

After many years of fishing from the banks below Neely Henry Dam and observing hundreds of other fishermen fishing from the same banks it seems that the best odds for catching several striped and hybrid bass are along the western bank of Logan Martin Lake, also referred to as the “Ragland side” of the dam.

Ragland is a small town located west of Neely Henry Dam. The dam’s generators are located along the eastern side of the Neely Henry Dam. Standing along the west bank of Logan Martin allows fishermen to cast for stripers and hybrids and maintain lure control while the turbines are running. Fishing from the eastern bank of Logan Martin can be a little tougher because fishermen are positioned much closer to the raging water kicked up by the turbines.

The best time to fish the Ragland side is when two generators are in operation. When two turbines are moving water, the current seems to be just right for catching fish along the western rip-rap bank. If three turbines are running, many stripers and hybrids can still be caught, but the conditions for catching the fish are not exactly ideal. The water level is higher, and the current is not as favorable. When one generator is turning a single turbine, the action dies down tremendously.

You don’t want to plan a lineside-fishing excursion below the dam and then find out when you get there that the power company isn’t generating power that day. To prevent showing up below Neely Henry Dam on a day that isn’t favorable for fishing, call 1-800-LAKES 11. This number, provided by APCO, will guide you to a great deal of information concerning APCO lakes, including hydroelectric-dam generation schedules.

The generation schedules detail how many turbines will be running at the dams. If you find that two or three turbines will be running the day you plan to fish, you are in business — the stripes and hybrids will be ripe for the taking. I don’t know about you, but I can say with certainty that it’s not too often that I find a public fishing area where I can call ahead to see if the fish are biting.

The time of day also has some effect on how well the stripes and hybrids will be biting. Although fish can be caught throughout the day as long as Neely Henry’s turbines are churning the water, the best times to fish from the bank are during the early morning hours and late in the evening.

The all-around best bait for hooking stripers and hybrids is a 4-inch, white twirl-tail grub on a 1-oz. lead jig head. Having a heavy jig is a necessity when fishing in the swift tailrace; without enough weight, your lure won’t be able to sink as it should. Jig-head colors that have proven successful in the past are pink and chartreuse. The rigging is simple — just tie the jig head with the white twirl-tail grub body to the end of your line, and then begin casting.

Other lures that work well below the dam are swimbaits attached to a heavy jig head.

Swimbaits that seem to be the most popular among bank fishermen are those that resemble shad minnows and that are pearl colored.

Live shad is favored bait for fishermen running the tailrace in a boat. From a boat, the bait can drift without interference.

Fishing with shad from the bank would certainly entice a bite, but due to the number of fishermen lining the bank, allowing the bait to drift for a long distance would cause a line-tangling catastrophe. The best options for casting after stripers and hybrids from the bank are artificial baits such as grubs and plastic swimbaits that can be fished successfully while maintaining a steady retrieve.

You want to use a sturdy line, but at the same time you want it to be small enough to get the most distance out of your cast. Anywhere between 10- to 14-lb. test monofilament spooled to a medium- to heavy-action spinning rig works well. Keep in mind that stripes and hybrids are tough brawlers. Reeling them in against a swift current can be challenging. Be sure to set your drag to provide just enough resistance without snapping your line during the fight.

In April, when the big stripers and hefty hybrids are congregating at the Logan Martin headwaters, a great number of anglers line the river banks to get in on the action. Be careful not to cast parallel to the bank. If you do, you’re likely to tangle with three or four other lines. Seasoned dam anglers have learned that casting as far as they possibly can while keeping their line perpendicular to the bank is the best way to hook fish. It’s best to reel your jig in at a moderate speed. If you reel too fast, the bait will not fall deep enough to trigger a bite, and if you retrieve your lure too slow, it won’t stay suspended and end up snagging the lake bottom.

Over the years, a lot of fishermen have lost their lures to the bottom of the river channel while fishing below Neely Henry Dam, and with those lost lures several yards of line often stayed attached. The lake bottom is covered with spider webs of monofilament waiting to snag a jig head that sinks deep enough. It might take a few casts and a couple of lost jigs to figure out the most appropriate speed for retrieving your lure, but in the end the fish-catching experience you will have will be far more valuable than the tackle you had to sacrifice to get there.

The rip-rap banks below Neely Henry Dam can be tricky to negotiate. Always step lightly, and be aware of wet, slippery rocks as you make your way down to the water’s edge. It’s not uncommon for anglers to lose their footing and end up badly bruised.

I always have chosen to carry my rods and other tackle in one hand and in my pockets while keeping my other hand free. Having one free hand is a plus in case I lose my balance and need to catch myself. Too, take the sirens seriously. When you find a flat and stable hunk of rip-rap to fish from while two generators are running, plan on your fishing platform being under water if the siren sounds for a third generator to be cut on. The water will rise rapidly, and you will need to move up the rip-rap bank quickly to higher ground. This doesn’t mean that you have to stop fishing and leave the bank for the day; you just have to be prepared to move your fishing location vertically, up or down, depending on how the water level fluctuates.

Fishing for April stripers and hybrids at the Logan Martin Lake headwaters is convenient, easy and economical to outfit. With about $3.50 worth of lead jig heads and plastic grub bodies you’re ready to take on some big fish.

When you get home from work on Friday, call 1-800-LAKES 11. If two turbines will be running at the dam Saturday morning, you’re in business. The fish will be biting. There will be plenty of friendly fishermen there to show you the ropes in case you are a first timer at fishing from a bank below a dam. I guarantee that you will be glad that you went.
 
 
 
 
 
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