Sipsey Fork below Smith Lake - Trout Fishing
Fishing the Sipsey Fork
(Smith Lake Tailwaters)
Alabama's Only Year-Round Trout Fishing
Tucked below the 300-foot high Smith Lake dam, the Sipsey Fork holds one of Alabama's unique fisheries. Since 1974, rainbow trout have been stocked into the cold waters of the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River, the tailwaters below Smith Lake. Water is drawn from deep below the surface of the lake and used to spin two turbines to generate electricity in the the powerhouse. The clear water discharged into the tailwaters remains below 70 degrees year-round and is capable of supporting a rainbow trout population.
Currently, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF) through agreements with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Alabama Power Company stocks about 3,500, 8- to 14-inch rainbow trout every month of the year. 3,000 rainbow trout were stocked on November 21, 2013. A quick release system near the Smith Dam fishing platform on the west side of the Sipsey Fork is used to stock the rainbow trout.
The Sipsey Fork is a “put and take” rainbow trout fishery. Creel and possession limit is 5 fish. No size limit, no closed season, nor trout stamp restrict angling, so long as it is by legal means. Anglers may practice catch and release - if they desire, but culling trout (removing or releasing trout from a cooler, livewell, basket, or stringer is unlawful on the Sipsey Fork, from the Smith Lake Dam downstream to the confluence with the Mulberry Fork.
Since trout are being stocked near the dam and access is better, most of the trout fishing occurs above the Birmingham Water Works Pump Station (BWWPS). Trout and good habitat are found along the entire 12.5-mile stretch of the Sipsey Fork, until it reaches the Mulberry Fork.
The WFF continues to work closely with the Alabama Power Company (APC) and Trout Unlimited to enhance in-stream fish habitat on the Sipsey Fork and improve angler access, for the benefit of all anglers. In early 2011, an elaborate combination of rock points, boulders mid-channel and in-stream woody structure were anchored in the Sipsey Fork immediately upstream of the BWWPS. Anglers immediately began accessing the features, via a newly-constructed rock ramp. Twenty-four fish attraction devices were placed in the Sipsey Fork between the BWWPS and the Highway 69 Bridge in the summer of 2011.
Plans in early 2012 call for the Alabama Power Company to develop and construct 7 “improved” angler access sites between the dam and Highway 69 Bridge. These angler access sites will use a series of metal stairs, concrete pads, and rock ramps to allow anglers to hike from the high bank above the tailwaters, to the water’s edge, with a much greater measure of safety. A year-round minimum flow has also been established in the tailwaters that will mimic more “natural” stream conditions, enhance water quality, lower summertime water temperatures, and ultimately improve trout survival.
When electricity is being generated in the Powerhouse, water levels in the tailwaters rises rapidly, as much as 12’-15’ vertically, and water velocities become dangerously swift. Warning sirens notify the public when power generation begins. However, anglers must be cognizant of the changing fishing conditions and quickly get out of the stream and up the stream bank, as the water level rises. Following a water release, it takes several hours for water levels to return to a normal flow that is safe for anglers and that provides a more productive fishing environment.
Cullman County Road 95 runs parallel to and east of the Sipsey Fork. Anglers can park at several “pull-off” areas along County Road 95 and access the stream. Trails leading from the “pull-off” areas to the water’s edge are present, but the banks are steep and anglers must exercise caution. A large parking area is located adjacent to the Birmingham Water Works Pumping Station.
An APC fishing platform is located downstream of the dam and powerhouse on the west side of the Sipsey Fork. The stream's edge in accessible from the east side, Cullman County side. The first 1000’ of the tailwaters is very channel-like and too deep to wade. Downstream, the Sipsey Fork is 75’-100’ wide and looks like many trout streams in the southern Appalachians. The next half mile of stream to the Birmingham Water Works Pump Station (BWWPS) contains riffles, runs, and pools and is wadable when electricity is not being generated. For the next 1.8 miles of stream downstream of the BWWPS to the Hwy 69 Bridge, anglers can fish from the bank or wade, but the center of the channel is 5’-9’ deep. Anglers must walk around the Pump Station to access the eastern bank of the Sipsey Fork, upstream of the BWWPS.
Downstream of the Hwy 69 Bridge, the Sipsey Fork can only be fished from a boat. A private boat ramp is located just downstream of the Hwy 69 bridge. Only unmotorized boats and kayaks may launch and a fee is collected at the nearby Riverside Fly Shop. If you plan to float and fish the Sipsey Fork downstream to the next takeout point, a public boat ramp located off of Hwy 22 in Sipsey (at the confluence of the Sipsey and Mulberry Forks), anglers should plan on spending 6-10 hours on the water.
Light tackle (2-6 lb. test line) is all you need to catch rainbow trout. Spinners, small spoons, salmon eggs, corn, or Power Baits are the “go to” baits. Fly fishing is quite popular. Fly anglers wield long, light rods, 5-weight or less. During the summer and fall, terrestrial insects (e.g. grasshoppers, crickets, beetles and ants) are abundant. Midges are present year-round. Mayflies and caddis flies are present on the Sipsey Fork, but the hatching of these aquatic insects can be somewhat sporadic due to water releases.
Some stocked trout survive a year or more in the Sipsey Fork; 18-inch fish weighing a couple of pounds are caught every year. The diets of rainbows are dominated by aquatic insects. An occasional threadfin shad is consumed by larger “holdover” fish. Since water temperatures range from the 40s in the winter and the 60s in the summer, anglers wishing to wade ought to bring a pair of insulated hip boots or chest waders. Most fly anglers choose to wade.
Remember, as hydroelectricity is generated and water is released from the Powerhouse (on a demand basis) water levels rise rapidly and take some time to “fall” following generation. Prior to traveling to the Sipsey Fork to fish, know the generation schedule. Generation schedules are available on the web at lakes.alabamapower.com → Black Warrior River → Smith Lake in the tabs provided or call 1-800-LAKES-11 → option 3-1-2; but the schedules are subject to change without notice.
Stream frontage on either side of the Sipsey Fork upstream of the Hwy 69 Bridge to the Smith Lake Dam is owned by the Alabama Power Company and anglers can access the stream from APC land. Much of the land bordering the Sipsey Fork downstream of the Hwy 69 Bridge is privately owned. Anglers must obtain permission from the land owner prior to walking or wading to and along the stream bank or in the water.
From I-65, take exit 299 and drive west towards Jasper for 16 miles on Alabama Highway 69. In front of Riverside Fly Shop (before you crossover the Sipsey Fork bridge), turn north onto Cullman Co. Rd. 95. Travel 2 miles to the parking area beside the Birmingham Water Works Pumping Station. To fish the Alabama Power Company fishing platform at the dam, cross the Hwy 69 Bridge east of the fly shop and turn right onto Smith Lake Dam Road. Travel 2 miles and turn right again onto Power House Road. Follow the steep, winding road a half mile to the dam.
The tailwaters also provide a seasonal fishing for skipjack herring (March-April). Skipjack herring swim upstream to spawn, and spawning progress is impeded by Lewis Smith Dam. Schools of herring cruise the Sipsey Fork. Anglers enjoy fighting the fish by hooking them on anything that moves quickly. Shiny lures are best, but the lure movement seems to be what catches a skipjack's attention. Skipjack herring are acrobatic fighters, but their flesh is oily and bony.
Both large "saltwater" striped bass and white bass / striped bass hybrids (also known as wipers) are found in the Smith Lake tailwaters. Some fish are in the area all year, enjoying the abundance of trout. More are present in the spring when spawning urges provoke them into swimming upstream. The Alabama record hybrid striped bass came from the Smith Lake tailwaters.
One reason that brown trout are not released is that the federally protected Black Warrior waterdog lives in this area, so the USFWS has been reluctant to introduce any additional species to this area, especially since brown trout are more predacious.
No special trout stamp is needed, only the normal fishing license requirements. Fishing license information may be found at: www.outdooralabama.com/fishing/freshwater/license/. Your trout cannot be culled once it has been put on a [INVALID]r or in a basket, livewell or cooler.
Possession and creel limits for Alabama public waters are listed at: www.outdooralabama.com/fishing/freshwater/regulations/
Nearby, the US Forest Service has the Bankhead National Forest including the Sipsey Wilderness Area and Corinth, Houston and Clear Creek Recreational Areas, see: www.southernregion.fs.fed.us/alabama/ .
Local information is available for:
Cullman at www.cullmanchamber.org.
Jasper and Walker County at www.walkerchamber.us
Regional information may be found at the north Alabama regional tourism site, www.alabamamountainlakes.org/, call (800) 648-5381, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For resort and camping accommodations, look for Bremen, Crane Hill, Cullman, Cullman County and Double Springs under the page www.northalabama.org/Pages/Outdoors/outmain.html, for motels under "southeast region" of www.alabamamountainlakes.org/, and also in their bed-and-breakfast page under "Lodging."
Talk with anglers that fish the area at www.al.com/forums/fishing.
The Website for the local Trout Unlimited chapter is www.sipseytu.org.
Contact the following fishing guides:
Brandon Jackson, Riverside Fly Shop, email@example.com, 256-287-9582, www.riversideflyshop.com.
The land on the bottom of the stream and land adjacent to the stream may be privately owned, and permission must be obtained from the landowner prior to crossing or wading these areas. Limited access can be obtained from county road bridge right-of-ways crossing the creek. Land above Hwy 69 is owned by Alabama Power Co., and they have been allowing angler access.
The Fisheries Section's District Supervisor can answer specific questions about the Smith Lake's tailwater fishing by sending mail to: Jay Haffner.
Rainbow trout may also be caught during the special winter rainbow trout fishery at Madison County Public Fishing Lake northeast of Huntsville, Alabama. The season begins the Friday after Thanksgiving. Fish are stocked in November, December and January. During December and January, Madison County Public Fishing Lake is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A daily $5 permit is required in addition to normal fishing license requirements.
Trout by Shannon Andress
Alabama Cooperative Extension System
"It shall be unlawful to intentionally stock or release any fish, mussel, snail, crayfish or their embryos including bait fish into the public waters of Alabama under the jurisdiction of the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries as provided in Rule 220-2-.42 except those waters from which it came without the written permission of a designated employee of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources authorized by the Director of the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries to issue such permit. The provisions of this rule shall not apply to the incidental release of bait into the water during the normal process of fishing."
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