Current games on the Alabama River

PRATTVILLE, Ala. — The Alabama River is home to a vibrant population of largemouth and spotted bass. That means having the benefit of targeting both species while doubling the odds of a solid tournament limit.

That is true for some fisheries with largemouth and spotted bass. Not here. Sometimes it takes the sum of both to equate to success.

Such is the case for many anglers at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open #2 presented by Allstate.

The river is producing mixed bags of largemouth and spotted bass. The largemouth are in spawning mode. Meanwhile, the spots are coming from river channel ledges that make this fishery one of the best.

The spotted bass on this river are very current oriented. There’s plenty of current. The challenge is to know when it moves, and that depends on the generation schedule of Alabama Power Co.

Gerald Swindle learned long ago to avoid tying the generation schedule to a tournament strategy. There are many variables affecting the schedule, from upstream flow and rainfall to electric needs of the utility’s customers.

“If you run 40 miles on this river and get set up only to find the schedule is off then you are busted,” he said. “I learned through trial and error that you go fishing on this river based on the current conditions.”

Swindle rolls with the flow, quite literally.

“If I go out on the river and there’s current then I’ll rig up and fish for the spots.”

He avoids the river channel in slack current. That’s because of the river’s abundance of sloughs and backwater areas, such as Cooter’s Pond at the weigh-in site.

That also means burning fuel. Today Swindle estimated using 35 gallons to fill a limit that has the Alabamian in 21st place.

Stephen Browning, the tournament trail’s noted river expert, burned fuel too. Sometimes it’s the only way to produce in the fickle nature of river fishing.

"I didn’t have a bite until 10:30 this morning but I found something along the way that has potential for tomorrow.”

What that might be is a mystery. However the run-and-gun, junk-fishing approach has a clear benefit here. The more water covered the more is gained in knowledge and by process of elimination.

“I just ran and looked for current breaks of any kind along the shoreline,” he added. “Those are a given for finding bass on a river, but you’ve got to keep moving to find what the fish are doing.”

Jordan Lee currently is 8th place with 15 pounds, 5 ounces. The Bassmaster Elite Series rookie fished here often during his collegiate career at Auburn University. Like Swindle, he knows better than to trust the generation schedule. Lee also understands how boat pressure can adversely affect the spotted bass.

“Two hundred boats puts a lot of pressure on this fishery and especially the spotted bass,” he said. “When the generation schedule is off that means you have fewer chances of catching them.”

Lee’s approach is to find an alternative to avoid the duplication of presentations and patterns.

“Finding something just a little different than what everyone else is doing is really a big key here,” he added. “I’ve done it and the good thing is I don’t need the current to make it happen.”

On a river where current can mean boom or bust that’s a good option to have in play.