Interested in fishing in Tuscaloosa County? Longtime fisherman and native to the area, Dalton Bobo, shares insights and tips to springtime bass fishing in Tuscaloosa County.
Editor’s Note: Dalton Bobo, longtime resident of Northport, Alabama, rose to nationwide bass-fishing fame at the 1997 Bassmaster Classic held on Logan Martin Lake near Birmingham, Ala. On the final day, Bobo went to the scales with the winning bag of bass. But before Bobo’s limit of bass was weighed, the officials determined that one of his bass had died and imposed a 4-ounce penalty that was deducted from his total fish weight. He lost the Classic by 1 ounce and its $100,000 prize. However, that loss catapulted Bobo to a 14-year professional bass-fishing career, after which he guided for several years on the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa County.
Tuscaloosa’s Warrior River – The Best Place Bobo says to Train Tournament Bass Fishermen:
I enjoy fishing the Warrior River from below Lock 17 – the Holt Reservoir – all the way downriver. This section of the Warrior River can prepare a tournament fisherman for almost any type of water a bass angler may compete on, and I’ve fished here all my life.
What most people don’t realize is that the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa County is a very-diverse fishery. Bankhead Lake (the reservoir above Lock 17) and Holt Lake (below Lock 17) on the River both can be considered highland-reservoir types of lakes or mountain lakes. Numerous creeks run into Bankhead and Holt, and many hollows dump fresh water into the Black Warrior River system after a rain. These two lakes are in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. They’re fed by the Mulberry Fork and the Locust Fork that come together to create the Black Warrior River. The lower end of Holt Reservoir is almost in the city limits of Tuscaloosa. When you leave Holt Lake and go downriver, you’re moving into Oliver Lake, which is more of a coastal plains kind of lake. The Black Warrior from Tuscaloosa south is a lowland type of river.
If a tournament angler learns to fish the upper lakes (Bankhead and Holt) of the Warrior River in Tuscaloosa County, he’ll become schooled on how to fish highland reservoir types of lakes. If next he goes to just below the city of Tuscaloosa to the Oliver pool, he’ll learn how to fish lowland lakes. The water at Oliver is more dingy, often contains a lot of stain and color and has natural creeks and oxbow lakes and sloughs coming off its main river channel.
Here in Tuscaloosa and Northport, Ala., we have one of the most-diverse fisheries anywhere in the nation. Also, in the upper portion of Bankhead Reservoir is Smith Lake Dam that backs up to Smith Lake – a big, clear, deep highland reservoir that feeds into the Black Warrior River. Because the water is pulled from the bottom of Smith Lake, even if the Tuscaloosa area has giant rains, the water can be gin clear above Bankhead Lock and Dam and the headwaters of Holt Reservoir. In fishing Tuscaloosa County, there’s enough diversity to help train any tournament fisherman to fish a wide variety of water.
Bankhead and Holt Reservoirs Grow Big Bass:
To catch big bass, both Bankhead and Holt reservoirs in Tuscaloosa’s Black Warrior River are where you can get your string stretched and make the drag on your reel squeal. These two impoundments have blueback herring in them that they’ve never had before. The blueback herring – a large forage fish – has helped to grow bass bigger and quicker than they’ve grown in the past, while feeding primarily on threadfish shad and bluegills.
Three years ago, most bass tournaments held on these two lakes would be won by a five-bass limit of 16-17 pounds. Now, three years later, a five-fish limit of 23-24 pounds of bass is needed to win a tournament at either lake. The big bass caught in any tournament there could weigh 9-10 pounds. For tournament fishermen who keep up with the stats on lakes and the tournament online, they know to even have a chance at winning, they’ll have to have upwards of a five-fish limit of 25 pounds. And, if you expect to catch the big fish of the tournament, that big bass will have to weigh 8+ pounds. I really believe that the blueback herring that have been introduced to the lake is the main reason for the growth of the bass in those two reservoirs in the northern part of Tuscaloosa County.
A good number of saltwater stripers and hybrid striped bass live in Bankhead and Holt reservoirs too that definitely will bow your rod, stretch your string and make your reel sound like a siren going off when those big fish pull the drag so fast off your reel.
Lake Tuscaloosa is a water-source lake for the cities of Tuscaloosa and Northport. Spotted bass, largemouth bass and some good-sized crappie fish live there. But the bass population and the size of those bass is declining.
Below Holt in Tuscaloosa County is Oliver Reservoir that’s more of a riverine kind of lake with little backwater and feeder creeks. Some 6-8 pound spotted bass have been weighed in at Oliver Lake during tournaments. When you leave Tuscaloosa and go downriver, for about 40 miles is typical river habitat with laid-down trees, stumps and grass, making Oliver one of my favorite places to fish for bass. Sandbars on Oliver are where the bass often tend to congregate. You can have a really fun day of bass fishing on this downriver stretch of the Black Warrior River below the city of Tuscaloosa. I catch about as many largemouths on this section of the river, as I do spotted bass.
Below that 40-mile mark, you’ll start finding creeks, backwater sloughs and numbers of cypress sloughs that hold good numbers of bass. On that lower end of the Black Warrior River from Akron to Demopolis, you’ll find more sloughs and backwaters than are in that first 40 miles below Tuscaloosa.
Pluses for Bass Fishing at Bankhead, Holt and Oliver Lakes:
One of the plusses for bass fishing here in Tuscaloosa County is that you don’t have to drive very far in a boat or a car from the cities of Tuscaloosa and Northport to experience some really-good bass fishing. All three reservoirs have some water generation (current) flowing through them, especially in the spring and summer. Current tends to make bass bite better. If you lock-up from the Oliver pool that’s in the City of Tuscaloosa, you have about a 17-mile-long body of water in Holt Reservoir with plenty of creeks and hollows and natural runoffs where bass tend to hold, besides on the main river system.
Then you’ll go into Bankhead. If you have a good day, and the bass are really biting, you may catch 40 or 50 fish – not on every day, but on many days. An average day will be catching 17 to 25 bass.
To catch some of the biggest bass in the Warrior River, fish in April. As the weather begins to warm up and the big momma bass are migrating to the banks, spinnerbaits and chatterbaits may produce a 7-9-pound bass for you. The last time I fished at Bankhead, I caught an 8-pound, 9-ounce bass.