The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) claims that Neely Henry is one of the best-kept fishing secrets in Alabama. The fishing quality of the 11,235-acre Coosa River reservoir is no surprise to Alabama Elite Series Pro Jamie Horton.
Horton lives two hours from Neely Henry, which stretches 77.6 miles between Weiss and Logan Martin lakes near the towns of Gadsden and Ohatchee just off I-59.
“I fish Neely Henry several times a year,” Horton says. “I won a B.A.S.S. Nation State Championship there in 1999.”
Neely Henry’s largemouth and spotted bass have been packing on pounds like a candy addict in a chocolate factory. Horton credits this to stable winter lake levels over the past five years or so. Before that, Neely Henry was drawn down 5 feet in September and kept there until the following May.
The ADCNR states that the plumpness for the largemouth and spotted bass in Neely Henry is exceptional. In other words, the bass resemble footballs.
Most of the largemouths run 12 to 15 inches with good numbers of 15- to 18-inchers present. Neely Henry is also one of the better spotted bass fisheries in Alabama, with many of these fish in the 14- to 20-inch range.
And you’ll catch quantities of bass along with the quality. Neely Henry ranked third among Alabama lakes in the percentage of successful anglers per trip.
“You can win a tournament with spotted bass or largemouth bass at Neely Henry,” Horton says. “The big decision when I go there is whether to run upriver or down.”
When Horton is after spotted bass, he heads upriver toward the Weiss Dam where there’s usually a current that urges the bass to feed. Then again, Horton claims that largemouth bass are also plentiful in Neely Henry’s upriver reaches.
However, Horton usually runs to the southern end of the lake in April. The largemouth begin spawning in April and shallow Canoe Creek plays host to some of Neely Henry’s heaviest egg-laden females.
Docks and water willows along the shoreline are Horton’s one-two springtime punch. He claims that Neely Henry is one of the two best dock lakes in Alabama, with Logan Martin being the other.
“A lot of tournaments are won here by fishing boat docks,” Horton says.
The water willows get Horton’s attention first thing in the morning. He casts a 3/8-ounce Dirty Jigs Swim Jig tipped with a NetBait Paca Chunk into edge of the grass with a 7-foot, medium-heavy, Halo baitcasting rod and 65-pound Vicious braided line.
Horton keeps his boat close to the grass and makes 45-degree angle casts to the cover. Key targets are points, corners and turns in the grass line.
“Most of the bites come when I swim and pump the jig in front of the grass where there’s only 12 to 18 inches of water,” Horton says.
A Pearl Ghost Shiner jig with a Pearl or Blue Pearl Hologram chunk lights up the bass early on. When the sun gets up, Horton switches to green pumpkin hues.
After the morning grass bite dies, Horton usually concentrates on docks for the remainder of the day, especially when the sun creates dark shadows under these man-made bass haunts. Shallow, permanent docks are the best ones, Horton points out.
He also switches to a 3/8-ounce Dirty Jigs Pitchin’ Jig with a Paca Chunk, because this jig’s head shape works well for the skip-cast. A 7-foot, 3-inch, medium-heavy Halo baitcasting rod with 20-pound Vicious fluorocarbon line serves Horton well for skipping and pitching.
“I pitch the jig to the poles on the front of a dock and skip it way under the dock to reach the back poles,” Horton says. “That’s faster and more efficient than moving your boat around each dock to pitch to the shallow poles.”
Another early morning option is walking a Heddon Spook stickbait or bumping a red crawdad pattern Rat-L-Trap over gravel bars 2 to 4 feet deep for spotted bass. Horton recommends that you try this in the Rainbow City area 4 to 5 miles north and south of the Highway 77 Bridge.
“Hit those gravel bars on the right morning, and you can have 17 or 18 pounds in your livewell real quick,” Horton says. “Then you can spend the rest of the day looking for a kicker largemouth that’ll bump you up to 20 pounds for the win.”
From June through autumn, Horton runs upriver and flips jigs into big laydowns on shallow flats. The trees block the current and provide ideal ambush cover for heavy largemouths.
“You can catch bass by throwing crankbaits round the trees, but most of the ones over 5 pounds come by flippin’ a jig,” Horton emphasizes.
Besides largemouth and spotted bass, Neely Henry offers good fishing for white crappie and striped bass. The stripers make a spring run to the tailwaters of the Weiss Dam where you can catch good numbers of them over 7 pounds.
HABITAT GPS COORDINATES
The Alabama Power Company has improved the fishing at Neely Henry Lake by planting fish habitat. And they provide GPS coordinates to these sweet spots. Get the coordinates here: alabamapower.com/lakes/fishdata.asp.
GO HERE FIRST
Before you visit Neely Henry or any other Alabama reservoir, go to alabamabasstrail.org. Here you'll find detailed information about nine lakes and two major river systems on the Alabama Bass Trail, including fishing locations, productive fishing patterns, local guides, campgrounds and where to stay.