The Coosa River, flowing through central Alabama, is interrupted by a series of hydroelectric dams that form lakes Weiss, Neely Henry, Lay, Logan Martin, and Jordan. The scenic lakes provide Alabamians with electricity and some great fishing. When I asked expert bass angler Randall Tharp where he wanted to go for great February/March fishing, he replied, "Coosa River, and we're fishing for spots. These lakes all offer the best spotted bass fishing in the country; a 7 pounder is 'just another' good fish. The bass are pre-spawn in in February and March, and all the Coosa River lakes fish about the same this time of year."
Author's note: The Coosa River lakes are renown for big spotted bass. Recent scientific advances have found that the bass in the Coosa River are actually a different species of black bass, formally named the Alabama bass. They look almost identical to spotted bass elsewhere, but they are a different species and they grow much larger than spotted bass.
Tharp is a fan of "keep it simple." Under any weather conditions, big Alabama bass congregate in the dam tailwaters gorging on big shad. Crankbaits and ¾ or 1 ounce spinnerbaits with #5 willow leaf blades to mimic the lakes' abundant large shad will catch fish. Tharp likes to get his boat right in the flow and drift downstream dragging a football jig. He upsizes or downsizes his jig so it is just bumping along the bottom.
A warming trend and sunshine will push the Alabama bass shallow. Head for the shoreline-growing water willow (aka "gator grass"). Where the water willow is open, fish a ½ ounce big-blade spinnerbait or a crankbait. Where the grass thickens and forms mats, flip a ½ ounce jig. These mats might be little spots 2 to 4 feet in diameter, or they might be long stretches. Pitch to the edges and every hole you can find. Under clear-water conditions, Tharp favors green pumpkin jigs; stained water calls for black/blue jigs and trailers.
A winner of the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup and 2016 Bassmaster Classic contender, Tharp has come a long way up the bass fishing ladder in a short period of time. Whether competing or fishing for fun, Tharp always challenges himself to become a better angler.
Tharp's thought for the day: fishing different waters and for different species is a great way to improve your fishing skills.
Contacts: Coosa Riverkeeper, Reeds Guide Service, Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources
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