Alabama River Flatties
by Ron Presley
One of Alabama’s best kept secrets
It would be hard to find a more beautiful place. The Coosa River and the Tallapoosa River come together near Wetumpka, Alabama to form the Alabama River. It is a meandering river around Prattville in Elmore County Alabama. The river offers plenty of nooks and crannies for serious catfish anglers to investigate.
The river includes a series of locks and dams that form various pools to fish. It is a nutrient rich river that supports rapid growth of local fishes. Depending on current, power generation, river stages and weather, numerous catfishing techniques will work on the river.
The river can have strong current when power is being generated or when the river is being pulled down for flood control purposes. Tributary creeks like Swift Creek and places like Cooter’s Pond give Prattville area anglers easy access to the river and it’s accompanying pools.
B’n’M prostaff anglers, Joey Pounders and Jay Gallop, made the trip to Prattville to check out the river. Both are serious and well-known flathead fanatics with a fondness for anchor fishing. It was the tournament partner’s first trip to the Alabama River.
“I have only fished the Alabama River once, said Gallop. “But based on what I found, I am ready to return. It is perfect for targeting flatheads. The river is characterized by depths and structure that we like to target. I have a second trip scheduled in May.”
“I am with Jay,” said Pounders. “I am ready to return. We were getting trophy cat bites in mediocre spots. Jay and I didn’t have a lot of time to scout the river, but still had some good action. I believe that place may be on fire throughout the year and nobody truly catfishes it enough to know.”
Anchor Fishing the Alabama River
Flatheads are occasionally caught using dragging techniques, but Pounders and Gallop advise that fishing on the rope will outperform other techniques if you are targeting flatties.
“When looking for an anchor spot just keep in mind, trees, bridges, and any structure that breaks the current,” advised Pounders. “These are good starting points.”
“We all know that most fish like to hang out in deep holes,” offered Pounders. “But that’s not the only place to catch them. I always look for trees in the water that were washed out when the water was high. I also look for eddies near the bank. Fish love to hang out around the seam of the current. I also like points in a section of the river where another source of water is being fed into the channel. Bait fish tend to hang out in these areas and catfish will follow them in there at times.”
“Picking out the perfect spots on a river takes a lot of homework,” added Gallup. “It helps to have a decent sonar, one that will at least show you structure. The time you spend riding around and scoping out the area can pay big dividends. It also helps you choose the spot that will allow you to pull in and tie off so you can get your baits in the perfect location.”
“For anyone fishing it for the first time, I’d choose that portion of the river right below the Coosa River,” offered Pounders. “That would will eliminate a lot of water. That area is narrow and tends to have continuous current. Find some deeper holes and fallen trees. You would be likely to find plenty of action, especially in the winter and spring.”
Once a fishing location is found, Pounders and Gallup like to nose the boat right into the bank and tie off. Then they set their rigs out the back and to the side of the boat.
“I actually use old excavator teeth that come off the bucket as throw weights to tie off with,” explained Gallop. “I am using 16 to 20 feet of small rope. “I throw them at the bank, in the bushes, over logs and trees and pull the boat into the bank, and tie the loose end to the boat. The teeth are really easy to retrieve when you’re ready to move. Just giggle it and shake it a little and they usually come right off whatever you threw them in.”
“Once you are tied up be as quite as possible so as not to disturb the fish under the boat,” continued Gallop. “Noise travels thru water really well. When I’m swimming and I drive under water I can still hear a lot of what is going on up above. If I can hear I know the fish can too. Ideally you want to tie up between 25 to 50 feet from the structure your trying to fish. That will make it easy to place your bait where it needs to be.”
Equipment and Rigging
Pounders and Gallop agree, when targeting monster flatheads, that a good spinning outfit is best. They just want to hold the line, flip the bale and let it fly for a smooth and easy cast. It is all about presenting fresh, live bait to the flatties.
They choose the 10-foot B’n’M Silver Cat Magnum for its backbone and soft tip. They add vintage model Daiwa Silver Series saltwater reels spooled with 80- to 100-pound braid.
“I like using a long rod,” explained Pounders. “I throw a lot of live bait and you can use the length of the rod to toss the bait, instead of having to sling it hard like you would with a 7-foot rod. That soft presentation from a long rod and a spinning reel translates into longer bait life and more fish.”
“I like the Silver Cat Magnum for its heavy action back bone,” added Gallop. “You gotta’ have it to haul in that trophy fish. The soft tip is just as important, because it will allow you to see the bite a lot easier. And, if you’re using live bait it gives some peace of mind to know that your bait is still alive when you see that tip wiggle.”
According to Gallop the line strength is not necessarily for the 80- and 100-pound fish, but for its abrasion resistance. If you’re fishing in trees and structure your line can take a beating. It can rub up against a lot of things before you land the fish. In fact, it is a good idea to check the line periodically for wear and tear. If it looks fatigued you may want to cut off a few feet and re-tie your rig.
Pounders and Gallop agree that a three-way swivel rig is the way to go for anchoring near structure.
The strongest line in their preferred rig is the mainline which they attach to a three-way swivel. A sinker drop is tied to the side of the swivel and a hook drop is tied to the bottom. The sinker drop is the weakest line so it can break in case of a hang up.
“An example of our rig is 80-pound main line, 15 to 18 inches of 60-pound hook line, and 48 to 60 inches of 25-pound sinker line. This long weight line will help elevate the bait above structure so the fish can see it better,” Pounders said.
Water Depth and Fishing Time
Water depth is another important variable when looking for flatheads. A lot of anglers don’t realize just how shallow a flathead will feed. If the bait is shallow the fish are shallow. I is not unusual for them to move several times during the day to fish different depths. Regardless of depth, fishing near cover is a must, according to both Pounders and Gallop.
“Fishing early morning and late in the evening tends to get better results,” said Pounders. “I’m not sure if they are shallow because of the shad or because of the thermocline. Either way, if shallow doesn’t work I usually try to find something a little deeper.”
“If they aren’t coming to you, then you have to go to them,” declared Gallop. “You may have to change how deep your fishing. If you’re not getting any action, try a lot of different depths. I have caught flatheads anywhere from 10 to 60 feet of water.”
The B’n’M team likes to change depths 10 feet at a time, going from shallow to deeper. They keep doing it until they find the best bite. They recommend giving a spot about 30 minutes at most. They believe that if there’s a big cat in there, chances are he will take the bait in that amount of time. When the bite is really tough, they spend even less time. If you stay longer, they say you are just wasting time.
“When we first start fishing in the morning I like to fish anywhere from 15 to 40 feet deep,” instructed Pounders. “Later in the day, if the sun is bright, we fish 30 to 50 feet. We always save deep holes for later in the day. If it is overcast or raining, then all spots and depths are on table.”
Deciding on what bait to use will depend on the location. Whatever is natural to the area should be high on the list. The Alabama River has a good population of shad and that is Pounder’s and Gallup’s choice.
“Being a flathead fisherman, I usually try to catch some shad everywhere I go,” instructed Pounders.
They have perfected a team approach to catching shad. Gallop runs the boat forward while Pounders “speed casts” a net, usually in a body of water that ends back off the river. It is an unbelievable cast net technique that allows them to push bait to the back of a slough with rapid fire casts. Once the back of the slough is reached a good number of shad can be netted together.
They also have a well aerated tank on board to be sure the shad stay lively.
“Although they can be very aggressive when they first hit, blues tend to be more short-winded, offered Gallop. “I’m not saying the blues don’t fight hard, but it’s kind of like they give up at times. Flatheads have a steady pull about them the whole time. After you hook into them they are steadily trying to go back to the bottom or to some nearby cover or structure. They will definitely test you, especially if they are able to make it back to the tree or ledge. At times I have had to untie from the bank and actually go to whatever I was hung in to get the fish out.”
“We are usually fishing trees,” added Pounders. “Our first thought is to get them out as fast as possible for the first 5 to 8 feet of reeling. After that the key is keeping pressure on the fish, but not jerking or fighting him too hard. Anglers should use steady pressure and definitely use your drag.”
“We set the drag at around 5 pounds, but also work the spool with our fingers to apply more drag if needed. The key is not to allow the fish to rip the hook out of his mouth by you having to much pressure when the fish makes a sudden move or dive.
“It is also very important to keep its tail from hitting the line,” continued Pounders. “Tail slapping is the best way for them to attact the line and possible dislodge that hook. Tail slapping can’t always be prevented but by keeping good pressure and the rod tip high it gives you the best chance. Finally, having a partner to shuffle rods around and dipping the fish is not to be underestimated.”
First Time Anglers
Pounders and Gallop have some advice for anglers new to the flathead game. They have invested plenty of time into learning what they share and serious flathead anglers would be wise to listen.
“First, find some heavy structure and fish directly in the middle of it,” advised Pounders. “Don’t worry about getting hung, just worry about what may bite. Second, use a good 7/0 to 10/0 hook so you can have plenty of room for bait on it and have enough hook left to stick the fish. Third, don’t spend all dang day in just a few spots.”
“Putting in time on the water and doing you home work is going to pay off,” added Gallup. “You have to get out there for a couple of hours and just use your eyes and your sonar to look around. Make sure you are fishing the best holes on the stretch of river that you are fishing. That is necessary requirement for fishing any new location.”
Pounders and Gallop are sponsored by B’n’M Poles, Driftmaster Rod Holders, Vicious Fishing, Betts Nets, Team Catfish/TTI Blakemore, Bottom Dwellers Tackle, Harvest Clean Soap, Krusher Marine Products and Barnes Marine.
Epilogue: There is a lot more to do in Prattville than fish for crappie. Old Town Prattville is full of history. It is known as being one of the first planned communities in Alabama. The architecture features graceful arches, soaring ceilings and vast open spaces. It is hard to miss the interesting brick and stonework that characterize the buildings, all set in a picturesque site alongside Autauga Creek.
Other interesting attractions include the Capital Hill Golf Course at Prattville/Montgomery. Capital Hill was designed by Robert Trent Jones, arguably the premier golf course architect in the world, as part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail that currently consist of 468 championship holes at eleven sites it the state of Alabama. Capital Hill is a breathtakingly beautiful course and currently host to an event on the LPGA Tour.
The Alabama Wildlife Federation operates a unique and amazing educational facility where kids and adults can learn about Alabama’s vast natural resources. Visitors can explore 5 miles of trails with experienced ANC naturalists. There are ponds, creeks and woods to investigate. Visitors can picnic on the grounds and check out the educational movies in the hands-on Discovery Hall.
The area just off Interstate 65 is full of shopping, eating and lodging opportunities. We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites, just a stone’s throw from the Interstate; the Hampton offers clean and comfortable rooms, great Wi-Fi, and efficient workspace in every room. If you prefer you can use their computers and printers in the Business Center and get your daily exercise in the handy workout room. I like to eat a good breakfast before fishing and the free hot breakfast was excellent every morning. They describe their facility as “Small town charm meets big city convenience.” It couldn’t be said any better!
Visitors to the area can fish for crappie, catfish, or other species. They can play golf, engage in other water based activities or simply enjoy a restful family vacation from a base camp in Prattville, AL. It is definitely a location to put on your bucket list of places to visit.
For more area information visits the Prattville and Elmore County websites at http://www.prattvilleal.gov/visitors/attractions.html, and http://www.visitelmoreco.com/index.aspx.