Fly Fishing for Redeye Bass
In late July, I made a brief detour to Daphne, AL, while en route to visit my parents in Pensacola. I was ahead of schedule (a rarity) and decided it was the perfect opportunity for Maedbh and I to visit Peter Jordan at the Lost Angler Fly Shop. We hadn’t seen Peter since he presented at the Gulf Coast Classic in early May, and I wasn’t about to turn down the opportunity to chat with Peter while test-casting a few new rods.
Among the topics we touched on (as I tried out TFO’s new Blitz fly rod) was Peter’s upcoming Tin Cup Challenge. A charity event hosted at Braided River Brewing in Mobile, the Tin Cup raises funds for the Mobile Baykeeper while challenging anglers to test their accuracy at 20, 40, and 60 feet. A fan of all things beer & fly fishing, it didn’t take much to sell me on attending and I committed before the date was even set.
When it just so happened that Maedbh would be out of town on the date in question, the wheels started spinning. Before long, what was originally a solo day trip to Mobile had morphed into a plan that would see me ping-pong across Alabama in search of Redeye Bass with fellow RSFF member, Robinson Almeida.
Represented by four species in the state of Alabama, the “Redeyes” are small, drainage-specific members of the genus Micropterus that extend across the southeastern US (AL to SC). Referred to by some as “Alabama Brook Trout,” these fish are a blueline angler’s dream and have even inspired a Slam, similar to the cutthroat and native trout slams promoted in western states.
Far from an expert on the subject, I won’t attempt to delve into the biology or taxonomy of these fish, but will refer anyone who might be interested to two sources:
Both are excellent resources for anyone interested in pursuing these unique little fish.
The Tin Cup Challenge
Hitting the road midday on Friday, September 8th, we dropped Maedbh at the airport and headed east for Mobile. Arriving around 5pm, we joined Peter, the local ESFF crew, and members of the Mobile Baykeeper at Braided River Brewing for an evening of beer, tacos, and friendly competition.
While my accuracy proved less than stellar (perhaps I should blame the beer), it turned out I had brought a ringer. Still fairly new to fly fishing, Robinson outpaced the majority of the 20+ angler field and found himself in a shootout for 1st place as the competition drew to a close. Finishing the night ranked 3rd after the shootout, it was an impressive showing by a young angler as he held his own against some seasoned folks sporting $1000 rods marketed for their accuracy.
Eventually bidding farewell to Peter and our fellow anglers at the Tin Cup Challenge, we made our way north. We’d be starting Saturday morning in the Tallapoosa drainage outside Auburn and had some ground to cover if we wanted to hit the water early.
On the road a little later than intended, we arrived at our destination shortly after 9 AM. A trickle of a tributary, we weren’t feeling particularly confident in our decision as we spread out in search of deeper pools.
Spooking a number of small Tallapoosa Bass along the way, I eventually stumbled upon a slow, deep run perhaps a quarter-mile upstream from our starting point. Tying on a small, black damselfly imitation, I began casting from my knees in an attempt to not spook the fish visible in the crystal-clear waters.
After working my way through a series of Redbreast Sunfish (A Lifer that would allow me to attain GCCFFI Suncatch Expert status!), I eventually struck gold (rather Tallapoosa Blue) and brought my first (and only) Tallapoosa Redeye to hand. One of the smaller bass I’ve landed, it was still a monumental catch in my eyes and marked my second Lifer of the trip before 10 AM.
Calling Robinson to come join, we continued to work the stretch of water in high hopes that more Tallapoosa Bass would follow. While none did, the redbreast proved abundant and willing to take a variety of flies on top and below the water’s surface.
While the following few stops looked promising, they too produced little more than a string of sunfish. And, with the day passing quickly, we bid farewell to the Tallapoosa drainage and began a trek northwest towards the Coosa.
Coosa or Bust
A little behind schedule following our struggles with Tallapoosa Bass, it was late afternoon by the time we arrived at our first pinned location within the Coosa Drainage. A beautiful stretch of water, it was clearly popular with anglers and swimmers based on the accumulation of trash that extended from the road to the water.
Bass were present though, both Coosa Redeye and Alabama, and we quickly spread out and began working the water. The fish again proved skittish, however, and they often disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. Allowing the water to settle as I snapped photos of Robinson casting downstream, a few fish eventually returned. And, with some effort, I managed to hook three and land one Alabama Bass before calling it quits. My third lifer (and sixth species) of the trip, the day was shaping up nicely as evening began to set in.
Squeezing in one last stop towards the southwestern edge of the Coosa drainage and hurried to try and add one more redeye species before the day way through. While I failed in this regard, Robinson came through. Adding a beautiful Coosa Bass shortly before the sunset. Content with our day and having added a few Green Sunfish (species seven for me), we called it a night. Grabbed a bite and found a hotel that would place us near to our Sunday morning starting point.
Warriors Before Breakfast
Intent on starting our day at a local nature preserve, we rose early in hopes of beating the crowds. The result, unfortunately, was a locked gate and notice that the park did not open until 9 AM. Quickly pivoting, we tracked the stream’s path on Google Maps and found our way to where it interested with a highway just a few miles upstream. Slipping down the embankment (again littered with trash), we struck gold almost immediately as both of us were hooked up within half a dozen casts.
Splitting up from there, I made my way upstream as Robinson made his way to a deep pool downstream of the bridge. The result was some of the best fishing of the trip as I proceeded to land a number of similarly sized Warrior Bass (4th Lifer) intermixed with Bluegill and a lone Striped Shiner. Downstream, Robinson’s luck continued as well as a second Warrior Bass came to hand along with a slew of Green Sunfish and his first Creek Chub. Eventually working our way back to the truck, we made a brief (but uneventful) stop at the nature preserve before turning our attention to the Cahaba Drainage.
Last Stop: Little Cahaba
As afternoon approached, we made one last stop before beginning the long drive home. Though we had entered the weekend with a few options for targeting Cahaba Bass, we threw those out the window on the advice of Peter. The Cahaba was his home water, and he was insistent that we stop along one particular stretch of the Little Cahaba before heading home.
A beautiful stretch of water, it was also popular with the locals. And, to little surprise, a few sat sunbathing in submerged beach chairs as we approached the water. Thankfully, they seemed to be content to stay near the entry, and we quickly made our way to undisturbed waters just upstream.
Beginning the session with a small foam popper, I was hooked up within moments and quickly brought my first Cahaba Bass to hand (my 5th lifer of the trip for those keeping track). Shortly after, Robinson followed suit. First with a nice Alabama Bass (his first) and then a Cahaba Redeye of his own. Working our way upstream, we each continued to catch the occasional fish including one small Cahaba that fell for a large Peanut Envy streamer.
Beyond briefly losing my phone on the bottom of the river, it was a perfect end to our trip.
Snapping one final shot of the trash we’d cleaned up along the way, we called it a trip and began the five-hour trek home. In just over two days, we’d covered 1100+ miles, fished four watersheds, and landed 10+ species including numerous lifers. Add in some beer and tacos with new and old friends on Friday evening, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better way to spend a weekend.