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Four Alabama State Freshwater Fish Records Fall

Date Published: August 7, 2000


Doug Darr
Aquatic Education Coordinator
Montgomery, Alabama
August 2000

Fish records fell faster than water levels this year--and that’s fast. Four state records have either been beaten or tied. New marks were set for yellow perch, redeye bass, yellow bass, and white crappie.

Record size fish are sometimes caught in areas where they are not native. What is good for one fish may not be good for the other fishes, so stocking fish is illegal in Alabama without a proper permit.  Alabama has a number of fish only found in local watersheds, and fish should not be introduced where they are not native. Non-native species will affect the native fauna, including game fish. Yellow perch are native to the Mobile Delta area, but not the rest of the state. The Tennessee River, the Chattahoochee River and the Tallapoosa River now support yellow perch populations, apparently due to angler introductions. Yellow perch are active early in the year and can be caught on minnows. They are excellent eating, but Matthew Patterson is having his mounted.

Last Laugh

It was February 26, 2000. Matthew Patterson had previously fished this spot of Wheeler Rservoir near Decatur with no success. Sometimes the second time is a charm. At the urging of his fishing partners, Steve and Stewart Wakefield, and in spite of high winds, Patterson agreed to try the area again. Wielding a pearl colored sassy shad and a spinner, his first cast near the button bushes yielded a 10-inch bass that threw the bait. The fourth cast struck pay dirt. The fight that ensued had his partners believing Patterson had tied into a smallmouth bass. With one look, Patterson realized he had hooked into a big yellow perch. Once in the boat, his declaration that, "I’ve got a state record here," brought laughs of disbelief from the Wakefields. When he got home nine hours later and called the Decatur Daily’s outdoor writer Paul Stackhouse, Patterson verified he had earned the last laugh with a 1 pound, 15 ounce Alabama State record yellow perch. His catch may qualify for a national record also as the best yellow perch caught on 12-pound test line.

One for the Record

When he grew up fishing with his father and three older brothers, Terry Johnson always thought he would catch a record fish. His family often fished for redeye bass in the mountains. On March 8, 2000, Johnson was not fishing in the mountains; he was fishing in Choccolocco Creek with Tim Wiggins, who Johnson says, "needs to be a guide on that creek." They had used cast nets earlier to catch small fish to use as bait below the remnants of a small dam. The two had caught and released about 20 bass already that day when Johnson brought in a 3 pound, 2 ounce bass while using a 5- to 6-inch sucker for bait. Wiggins came over and just stared at the fish. Johnson wondered what had drawn Wiggins’ complete attention. Finally, Wiggins said, "That’s a redeye bass." They decided they better keep this one – just for the record.

Redeye bass are similar in appearance to shoal bass, but live in different areas. Redeye bass are found in the upper Mobile basin and across the Appalachian Mountains to the Savannah basin. Shoal bass are endemic to the Apalachicola basin in Alabama, Georgia and Florida. One characteristic that distinguishes the redeye bass from both the shoal bass and the smallmouth bass is that the redeye bass have white margins on their top and bottom of the tail fin. Redeye bass also have a tooth patch on their tongue. Shoal bass are different than redeye bass in that shoal bass tend to grow much larger. Since the official scientific description of the redeye bass by Jim Williams has only recently been published, there are few national listings for redeye bass. Johnson’s 3 pound, 2 ounce redeye bass was listed as both the all-tackle world record and as the 14-pound line class record.

Knowledge Pays

Living on Sand Mountain, Dennis Woebbeking likes to fish the headwaters of Lake Guntersville. On the morning of April 12, he was fishing below the pumping station of Coon Creek Management Area. While having success fishing for bream, he decided to fish some cut bait on another rod for something larger. Soon he was battling a larger fish that he assumed was a catfish or a drum. This "catfish" turned out to be a bass. Many anglers will misidentify large fish, because they often look a different than others of their species that are normal in size. This is the case with yellow bass. The distinct yellow belly of a fresh yellow bass may not be yellow on a large specimen. Woebbeking had learned to fish from his grandfather at a young age and had caught his share of yellow bass, including big ones. Woebbeking thought he had a yellow bass even though its color was not typical. Using the Internet to obtain identification clues, Woebbeking found that yellow bass were the only temperate bass with no tooth patch on their tongue. He also found that the second spine of a yellow bass’s anal fin is long--longer than the base of the fin. His detective work paid off, and Woebbeking ended up with an Alabama and national record 2 pound, 8 ounce yellow bass.

Girlfriend Brings Good Luck

All anglers have some great days about which they enjoy reminiscing. Few anglers, however, have as good a day to remember as Jeremy White does about the afternoon of May 8, 2000. Not only was he fishing beautiful Lake Martin but he was also fishing it with his girlfriend. And they were catching fish, too--lots of them. Fishing from the bank near US Highway 280, they used a chartreuse curly-tail jig along the bottom near the old Tallapoosa River channel. They each ended up with their limit of 30 crappie apiece. Lake Martin supports a large population of black crappie, but there are a few white crappie in there too. One of the crappie White caught that day was a 17-inch white crappie that was wide and full of eggs. The certified scales showed the fish to be 4 pounds, 9 ounces. This was enough to best the current record of 4 pounds, 8 ounces. To officially break a record, though, the old record must be beaten by 2 ounces for fish less than 25 pounds. White had tied the record, and he had made some great memories.

Luck, Skill and Knowledge

While it is true that catching an Alabama state record takes a lot of luck, skill and knowledge are also needed. A combination of luck and skill will put your offering close to a big fish. Skill is needed to trick that old fish into taking your offering. Skill is also needed to successfully land the fish. Knowledge is needed to accurately identify the fish. Knowledge is also needed to know what the rules are for certifying an Alabama record and to know what the record weights are. The rules for getting an Alabama freshwater fish certified as a state record include: the fish must be caught legally on pole and line or rod and reel from the waters of Alabama; the fish must be weighed on certified scales and witnessed by two persons other than the angler; the fish must be available in fresh or frozen state to be verified by a Fisheries Section biologist or certified fisheries scientist approved by the Chief of Fisheries; and the notarized application must be submitted within three months and include a picture of the fish. The list of Alabama State Freshwater Fish Records can be found on the Web site for the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries at www.outdooralabama.com/fishing/freshwater/record/state/. You may also obtain the list by calling the Montgomery Fisheries Office at 1-334-242-3471.

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