|Wade In To Catch Guntersville Bream
|By Joe DiPietro
Originally published in the May 2012 issue of AON
Want to get the same joy out of catching bream that you did as a kid? Try doing it with a fly rod, and the nonstop action that is bream fishing is sure to bring back the child-like fascination with catching the fish.
That is exactly what happened to Lake Guntersville fly fishing guide Shannon McCurley, of Gadsden, in the mid-90s.
“I used to bass fish a lot,” Shannon said. “Then my brother bought a fly rod around 1995, and I asked him if I could try it out and started catching bream. It didn’t take very long, and I was hooked.”
It also didn’t take long after meeting Shannon at Lake Guntersville on an April morning before I realized why fly fishing for bream is so easy to fall in love with. The understanding of Shannon’s love for bream fishing came more for me in the beauty of wading a big flat on an early morning, “the quiet” many fly fishermen describe and the surrounding landscape and wildlife.
Casting flies has its advantages and disadvantages over using baits and conventional tackle. Choosing to fly fish is not about trying to catch more fish, rather it’s about catching fish in a more challenging and different way.
If fly-fishing is something new, anglers need not be concerned since fly fishing for bream is an excellent way for beginners to learn, Shannon said.
“It’s a little more laid back than other sorts of fly fishing,” he said. “You don’t really have to worry about mending or managing your line much. The fish aren’t that hard to catch. So, you can pay attention to what you’re doing with your cast and everything else a little better.”
The three classes of flies most often utilized for bream fishing include nymphs, subsurface flies that represent small insects and crustaceans; streamers, flies that mimic larger underwater prey like small fish, crawfish and salamanders; and dry flies, topwater flies that imitate various flying and terrestrial insects and dying baitfish.
“Nymphs and streamers are the best bet as far as locating fish,” Shannon said. “But, the dry flies and poppers are a lot more fun.”
The excellent number and size of bream in Lake Guntersville combined with the huge expanses of prime bream habitat make it one of the best reservoirs in Alabama to cast a fly for bream.
After assembling our 5-weight fly rods and climbing into our waders, Shannon and I set off across Guntersville City Park in search of a suitable flat to fish.
A heavy rainstorm and winds the night before had the area of the lake around the city of Guntersville stirred up, and nearly white capping. We made our way to the edge of the water, and I tied on a small nymph. Shannon put on a wooly bugger. We waded out into a flat and began casting.
Before the first full moon in May, “the bream will be moving up into the shallow coves with grass and sand getting ready to spawn,” Shannon said. “You want to look for shallow flats adjacent to areas of deeper water. The closer deeper water is, the better. Those places offer fish the safety of deep water and the shallow water they need to spawn in.”
Early in May, the bream should be in about 4 feet of water.
“As the water warms up, the bream tend to move out into deeper water,” Shannon said. “Sometimes where the fish were in 4 feet in May, they’re in 8 feet the next month.”
When casting nymphs, they should be allowed to sink nearly to the bottom and then slowly retrieved by stripping 3 to 6 inches of line. The same concept applies to streamers; however, they are often stripped back a little more quickly and erratically.
After a handful of casts, Shannon was hooked up with his first bream. The fish fought hard for its size before Shannon landed, then released it.
Once the first full moon in May gets here, the bream will move onto their beds and become even easier targets for fly fishermen. The heavy grass in the lake will also begin to really pick up significant amounts of growth by the time the bream go on the beds.
“The grass makes all the difference in the world,” Shannon said. “It’s got such a variety of food in it and plenty of places to hide.”
While we continued making our way across the first flat we fished, Shannon buttoned up with another fish. This time, though, it was a small yellow bass.
“I’ve caught all kinds of fish other than bream doing this,” he said.
It wasn’t too much longer before I hooked up with my first bream. Despite that we’d each caught fish within the first 30 minutes of the day, Shannon pressed on.
“The muddy water can goof with the fishing, and I can’t fish a popper when the water is this rough,” he said.
We climbed out of the water and walked toward another flat alongside the park.
“You never want to sit still when doing this,” Shannon said. “Work each cove until you feel like you’ve covered it well and move on.”
I changed to a wooly bugger, and Shannon tied on a squirrel-tail clouser before stepping into the next cove. In a matter of a couple of casts I was hooked back up. The fish fought like a big bream and had me awfully excited, until I got the feisty little fish in and realized it was a striped bass of about a foot long.
Shannon managed to land a couple more bream from our second spot before he made the call to load up in the truck and move to another portion of the lake.
“Hopefully, we’ll find some clearer, calmer water,” he said.
Thankfully, there’s no shortage of areas to wade-fish Lake Guntersville.
“I spend about 75 percent of my time wade-fishing for bream, compared to fishing from a boat,” Shannon said. “There’s a lot of public access, and most of them have good wading areas.”
Some of the top spots to get started wading for bream include the areas around Guntersville State Park, Guntersville City Park, Scottsboro City Park, the many state boat ramps and the Goose Pond Colony boat ramp.
“Part of the reason there’s so many places to fish is because the lake is about 90 miles long,” Shannon said.
We made the short drive over to Guntersville State Park and parked at one of the public boat ramps. Shannon led the way along the shoreline to a suitable cove, and we slipped back into the water.
On my second cast with a wooly bugger I had a good bream, and before I could land the fish, Shannon had managed to hook a fish, too.
I made another cast to the same spot and hooked up again.
“Pay attention to where you caught that fish,” Shannon said. “Sometimes the strike zone is a pretty small area.”
Over the next hour Shannon and I each caught and released nearly a dozen bluegills, shellcrackers and redbreast sunfish up to about 3/4-lb. Then the bite started to slow down a bit, and Shannon shifted gears from a clouser to a nymph.
“If you’re going to change anything, I’d do something like going from a popper to a nymph,” Shannon said. “I wouldn’t try just changing color.”
When we’d each caught a couple more fish, Shannon suggested we launch his boat and head across the lake to try to get out of the wind in secluded coves to try fishing topwater.
“Using the boat gives you the advantage of getting to deeper water and fishing some of the less accessible areas and islands,” Shannon said. “But, to me, the disadvantage of it is that it can make it harder to fish sometimes, too. I feel like I fish better when I’m wading.”
Following a short run across the lake, Shannon throttled down his fiberglass center console and we tied on poppers.
Even though the prime topwater bite for bream typically ends by mid-morning, Shannon was able to find a bream willing to smack his white popper in no time.
“I love seeing them come up and bust a popper,” Shannon said. “It’s got to be the most fun way to fish for bream.”
The method of working the popper Shannon employs involves casting the popper as close to the bank or structure as possible. He then makes a few repeated violent strips in order to make the popper stir up the surface and make noise. If nothing smacks the popper after it’s pulled away from the bank or structure, it’s time to pick it up and cast again.
Shannon and I proceeded to beat the banks of many more secluded coves, and we were able to produce many fish from each one. Many of the strikes we had on poppers came after the stripping action had stopped, so not picking the popper up too soon for another cast is important, too.
In total, Shannon and I easily caught more than 25 bream each in a little more than five hours of fishing.
“If you fish a bed right, 30- to 50-fish days are entirely possible,” Shannon said.
At the end of the day, putting a finger on exactly why he loves fly fishing for bream proved tough for Shannon.
“It’s all aspects of this type of fishing that keeps me doing it—from tying the flies, to finding the fish, to the actual fishing,” he said. “I always compare it to turkey hunting or duck hunting. There’s a total involvement in all aspects of what you’re doing. There’s just no other sort of fishing like it that I’ve found.”
Before getting started fly fishing for bream, there’s a small laundry list of items anglers need to have. Most importantly, a fly rod and reel, a vest or something to carry gear in, and waders for when it’s too cold to wet-wade.
Just how expensive or fancy an angler’s fly gear is has almost nothing to do with the number of bream they’ll catch. Truth is, a cheap fly rod combo will catch just as many bream as one that costs thousands of dollars.
In general, Shannon recommends using 7 1/2- to 9-foot fly rods in weights 3, 4 or 5, with matching-sized reels and fly line.
“You could go smaller, but I don’t because you stand a pretty good chance of hooking something else, too,” Shannon said.
To be the most comfortable and the least restrictive of a fisherman’s range of motion, Shannon said to use breathable waders. Wading boots with felt or rubber soles work well on Guntersville because there are not large slick rocks in most places.
When it comes to fly selection, “Keep it simple,” is Shannon’s advice.
Some of the best nymphs include prince nymphs, pheasant tails, damsel fly nymphs and rubber-legged copper johns in sizes 12 and 14.
The top streamer patterns are olive, crystal, black and brown wooly buggers in sizes 12, 10 and 8; squirrel tail, chartreuse, and brown-and-white clousers, in sizes 10 and 8.
For dry flies, sliders and poppers in size 8 are hard to beat. There are countless popper and slider patterns commercially available. Many of them can be tied at home with relative ease, too.
‘Arcado’s Miss Prissy’ is my all-time favorite popper pattern,” Shannon said. “It’s really hard to beat an all-white popper.”
Other good popper and slider colors include yellow and chartreuse.
Dry flies like Chernobyl ants and tan or orange Humpys also work well.
Using a 9-foot long tapered leader with a section of 4X or 5X tippet material is the best way to go. The long leader is crucial to getting subsurface flies to sink quickly into the strike zone.
The Rainbow City Auction and Fly Shop in Gadsden carries the only wide selection of fly fishing equipment and gear in the Guntersville area, according to Shannon.
For more on Alabama fly fishing or to book a trip or fly fishing lesson with Shannon, call (256) 936-5612 or visit <www.NorthAlabamaFlyFishing.com>.
Wading With Conventional Gear
Though catching Guntersville bream on a fly may be one of the most fun ways to catch fish, it’s certainly not the only way—or the most common or easiest way—to target bream on the lake.
Using ultralight/light spinning gear spooled with 6-lb. test monofilament line is all you really need to get started.
Crickets are among the best live baits for bream. Fishing a cricket on a size 8 hook with a piece of spilt-shot about a foot above the bait works well.
This rig works well when dragged slowly across the bottom, or when placed a few feet below a cork.
This tactic also works well with nightcrawlers, redworms, mealworms and catalpa worms.
Fishing small curly tail jigs and in-line spinners are the best baits for the artificial-lure crowd.
Small Beetle Spins are among the most effective artificial baits for bream, but be sure to use the smallest size available to avoid missing too many hits.
Shannon’s tactics for wading the flats and coves or beating the banks are the same for conventional fishermen as they are for fly fishermen. You can wade the boat ramps and parks with a spinning rod and catch a mess for the fryer just like you can with a fly rod.