Southern Hospitality: Alabama’s Redeye Bass

Southern Hospitality:
Alabama’s Redeye Bass
by Chris Lynch

As a kid, I never really did much fishing. It was not a family pastime of ours. My first exposure to fly fishing was at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico when I was 16, and I absolutely loved it. Why I didn’t further pursue it in the next 15 years, is anybody’s guess.

When I moved to Montgomery, Alabama (I’m active duty United States Air Force), a new coworker of mine was a fly fishing nut. I started hanging out with him, and the fire was lit. While reading up on everything I also discovered tenkara… So, against his suggestions, I got a simple tenkara setup (Daiwa Kiyose) along with a “western” fly fishing outfit (Echo 4-weight).

Fast forward three years; I’m fishing almost exclusively tenkara, although I still have a (different) 4-weight rod and reel setup for when I feel the itch.

Alabama is NOT what you think of when somebody mentions tenkara. It just is not. Most anglers here have no clue what it is, what it means, or why you would use it. Most non-anglers are even more confused by it. In my local fly fishing circles, I’m “the tenkara guy,” and the source of a lot of ribbing, but I have managed to convert a few over in the process.

So, what do I target down here in the Deep South, when I don’t have trout?

Redeye bass!

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To further specialize in my tiny niche of tenkara in Alabama, my favorite species to pursue are the little-known group of bass that are native to the Mobile basin, known simply as “redeyes.” In 2013, redeyes in Alabama were split from the single Micropterus coosae species into four separate but unique species based on their respective watersheds and slight morphological differences: Micropterus coosae (Coosa River), Micropterus cahabae (Cahaba River), Micropterus tallapoosae (Tallapoosa River), and finally the Micropterus warriorensis (Warrior River). There is also the Micropterus chattahoochae in the, you guessed it, ‘Hooch, but it’s essentially extirpated from any flows within Alabama, and found exclusively in Georgia now.

These bass are small (8 to 12-inch average adult length), need clean, flowing water, and are very spunky, eagerly attacking topwater flies such as dries, poppers, and bugs, or even streamers. They also are mostly found in beautiful places, not unlike trout. This has given them the popular name of “Bama Brookies,” for the obvious similarities they share with everybody’s favorite native Eastern trout (char!).

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My first time on a redeye stream (in the Coosa drainage, near Mount Cheaha, Alabama’s highest point), I landed several, and started a bad addiction. These fish are so much fun to chase and catch! That was in summer of 2016, and I’ve since caught all four Mobile basin species, and intend to do it again this summer.

My usual tackle for redeyes has evolved as I’ve gotten more specialized with them as my favorite fish to target. I’ve found a softer, full flex rod with sufficient length, is my preferred method. Rods like the Daiwa Seiryu-X 45, Nissin Royal Stage or Pro-Spec in 6:4, or a longer Air Stage (390) work very well. Realistically, most redeye streams in Alabama are open enough to allow casting a longer rod like these, but there are some tributaries where a shorter one comes in handy.

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Redeyes eat a lot of the same kind of things that trout do; crawfish, insect larvae, and smaller fish. In the early spring or fall, when water temperatures are still a little on the low side, you will get most of your bites sub-surface with nymphs or streamers. In those conditions I have had good success with large (size 6-10) nymphs and kebari, like Chris Stewart’s “Keeper Kebari.” This is about where the traditional tenkara aspect of chasing redeyes ends for me though… so you may want to put on your blinders if you aren’t ready for some blasphemy!

In the hotter months, which are typically April to October in Alabama, the most fun way to catch a redeye is on the top. Whether this is dries, poppers, hoppers… it’s all about big (and often) yellow flies. Redeyes eat a ton of terrestrials, so I’ve had great days where I had a giant foam hopper on all day and it just got destroyed. However, they still act like trout in that if you miss a hookset, you might as well give up on that run, as they’ll be spooked out. These are not dumb sunfish, you still need to be on your game! One of the most popular, if not the most religiously-celebrated, flies for redeye is the Booglebug, a popper made right here in Birmingham, Alabama. People like to say you can use any color you want for redeyes, as long as it’s yellow. This has been pretty accurate from my experience.

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32884867_2000967323246619_4397607453777199104_n.jpgA good buddy of mine, Matt Lewis, recently published a book, (THE book, by the way), about these guys, Fly Fishing for Redeye Bass,” and it is the best single source of information if you have any desire to learn more about them or attempt to catch one for yourself. Matt has helped to organize a Redeye Bass Slam challenge where you can either target the four Mobile basin species, or go after all of the recognized species in the South, which comes out to seven if you count the Altamaha and Bartram’s.

A lot of what Matt is trying to do is bring attention to these awesome and unique fish, which have quite specific habitat requirements and can bring a lot of fun to anglers. Currently, Alabama has some of the most relaxed environmental protection laws in the country, while hosting some of the most diverse and rich habitat. Fortunately, we have some very active riverkeeper organizations here in the state who are working very hard to raise awareness about these issues, and fight against the many abuses of our resources.

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So, while Alabama is definitely more closely associated with college football than fixed line fly fishing, the various species of energetic redeye bass you’ll find within the Yellowhammer State will definitely provide enough southern hospitality to make your tenkara rod feel right at home.

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This article originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

Do you have a story to tell, a photo to share, or a fly recipe that’s too good to keep secret? If you would like to contribute content to our next issue, click HERE for more details.

The Summer 2018 Issue of Tenkara Angler Is Now Live!

It’s my pleasure to announce that the Summer 2018 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine is now live!

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Since this magazine is crowd-sourced, it’s always interesting to see what folks decide to send in, and the content compilation for this issue was no different.

While the backbone of the magazine is still solidly based in tenkara & trout, it was fascinating to see the amount of (warm water) fixed line fly fishing articles that came in this time around. There was an interesting read on chasing carp with a tenkara rod, two separate (but related) articles on catfish, bass, & bluegill, and finally, an awesome “destination” piece that takes us to Alabama for “‘Bama brookies.” You’ll have to read it to see what that’s all about…

It’s also worth noting that about 3/4 of the authors were new to Tenkara Angler with this issue. While you’ll get to “meet” them in the pages, I did want to give a shout out to returning authors Adam Klagsbrun, John-Paul Povilaitis, Brad Trumbo, Robb Chunco, Jack Harford, & Anthony Naples. The magazine wouldn’t be where it is without your dedication.

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As usual, it will be available as a free e-magazine over at Issuu, HERE.

And also available for sale as a physical magazine and PDF download in the Blurb bookstore, HERE.

Enjoy!

 

Summer 2018 Issue: Call For Submissions

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Did you enjoy the Spring issue? Are you ready for the next one?

Today we’ll “officially” open up the Summer 2018 issue for submissions (although it’s really never officially closed). I’m really optimistic about this next issue, as there are already two good articles in hand…

As always, any and all topics are fair game – fishing reports, gear reviews or releases, destination travel, essays, poetry, fiction, photography, art, whatever – as long as it’s tenkara, fixed-line fly fishing, or conservation related. Similar to prior issues, the tenkara community will craft the contents of the issue.

I’m headed to the Midwest Tenkara Fest in Wisconsin in early May, so I’m going to try and get some interesting material for the next issue (& Tenkara Angler’s social media) there. Fingers crossed…

(And don’t forget, if you are a company that submits content, please don’t hesitate to also submit an ad for your services; inclusion is the least I can do).

If you are interested in contributing, I’ve outlined some simple parameters for content submission HERE.

The deadline for content submission will be June 8th, 2018 (give or take a few days), with the target publishing date toward the end of that same month.