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SOUTH REGIONAL

Spotted bass in Alabama, Rainbows in Virginia, Top Tom Spots in Florida, Crappies in Tennessee and more.
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Smith Lake Spotted Bass

The time is now for the biggest spots of the year


Alabama Hard-fighting spotted bass are gearing up for the spawn at Smith Lake, a deep, clear impoundment about an hour north of Birmingham. "Spotzillas" pushing six pounds are caught throughout the year, but there's no better time to target them than October through April.



"February is the best time to catch lots of fish of good size," says Craig Daniel of nearby Cullman, a tournament angler and guide. "In summer you can hardly catch anything, but in February the fish will begin moving up to feed before the spawn, which occurs around Easter."



Daniel targets ledges 20 to 30 feet deep, or even deeper, for bigger spots, using 6- or 8-pound-test P-Line and a four-inch Zoom Finesse Worm. He sticks with natural colors or root beer in winter, working them on a quarter- or eighth-ounce Eagle Claw round jighead. He casts to the ledges, allowing the worm to fall and then shaking it gently.



"You just work the bait off the ledge and shake it," he says. "Raise your rod slowly, shake the rod tip four to five inches and then let it fall. The subtle shaking helps the worm wiggle just enough to make it look natural. These fish are holding on the ledges or right off the ledges, suspended in the water, but they're where they can dive to deeper water immediately."



Smith Lake has a 13-to-16-inch slot limit. State officials are urging anglers to keep smaller fish to help thin the population.



Contact: Alabama Department of Conservation (334-242-3465); Speegle's Marina (256-739-0364); Duncan Bridge Marina (205-387-1208). -Alan Clemons


River Rainbows

Hoping for high water


Virginia Late-winter rains can dictate the number of rainbow trout that run up the Jackson River out of western Virginia's Lake Moomaw. Higher river levels pull
an impressive number of five-pound trout far up this scenic river.



A three-mile special-regulation section (single-hook artificial lures only) is set aside for anglers more interested in catching than keeping, although two fish over 16 inches can be creeled per day. Try single-hook in-line spinners, Rebel Minnows and Rebel Deep Teeny Wee crayfish crankbaits. Fly-anglers do well with egg patterns, Clouser Minnows, Stimulators and Woolly Buggers.



The special-reg section is surrounded by national forest land, but access
is limited to a moderate hike along a gentle trail that parallels the river.
Contact: Warm Springs District, George Washington and Jefferson National Forest (540-839-2521). -David Hart



Big, Easy Trout

The rebirth of Pontchartrain


Louisiana Once, urban runoff and shell dredging polluted Lake Pontchartrain, but dredging came to an end in 1990 and sea grasses have sprouted again, greatly improving water quality.



Now, the lake offers an excellent chance to catch a state-record spotted sea trout. In January 1999, Kenny Kreeger landed a near 12-pounder, currently ranked second in the record book. Dudley Vandenborre landed a 101/2-pounder in April 2002.



Relatively deep compared to surrounding marshes, the lake offers winter refuge to big trout. Many anglers either troll or cast jigs near the pilings supporting the three highway bridges and a railroad trestle crossing the lake.



Contact: Dee Geoghegan Fishing Guide Service (888-773-2536). -John N. Felsher


Top Tom Spots

There are lots to pick from


Florida Two good public turkey-hunting areas in northern Florida are Camp Blanding in Clay County and Raiford Wildlife Management Area in Union and Bradford counties. For spring Osceola turkeys, Green Swamp WMA, near Tampa, is a good bet, as is Kicco WMA on the Kissimmee River and Three Lakes WMA. Kicco offers quota spring hunts, with applications availae from the state. Green Swamp and Three Lakes have general open turkey hunting. Tosohatchee WMA, the five Big Bend WMAs and Nassau WMA are other choice locales.



One of the state's best Type II WMAs is Avon Park, and Osceolas are on the menu. Another good one is Eglin Air Force Base in the Panhandle. Three important Water Management Districts for Florida turkey hunters
are Northwest, St. Johns River and Suwannee River WMDs.



Contact: Kicco WMA (850-488-4676; http://floridaconservation.org/); Avon Park WMA (863-452-4254); Eglin Air Force Base (850-882-4164); Northwest WMD (850-539-5999); St. Johns River WMD (386-329-4404); Suwannee River WMD (386-362-1001). -Bob McNally


The Unknown Oxbow

The best-kept secret in Mississippi oxbow crappie fishing


Mississippi It's no secret that Mississippi River oxbow lakes are hot for early-spawning crappies. What's not so widely known is that Lake Washington, located between Rolling Fork and Greenville, is one of the best for pre-spawn and spawning slabs.



Washington is relatively shallow, but it maintains a constant water level during the spring. "For my money, it's one of the best lakes in the state, if not the entire Southeast. You just have to learn about its odd patterns. Because of its shallow water, you have to fish it differently," says A.E. Smith of the Magnolia Crappie Club.



During the pre-spawn, the fish move up on the flats in five to eight feet of water and you need to troll with minnows at varying depths to cover as much water as possible. Concentrate efforts off the shallow flats where
cypress trees provide spawning cover.



"Usually around the tenth or fifteenth of March, the spawn will start and you can move right up on the
cypress knees and switch to a jig," Smith says. "You won't believe how shallow these fish will get. They'll be in less than a foot of water and will knock the fire out of a jig."
Contact: Peggy Hammond at Roy's Store and Cabins (662-827-2588). -Bobby Cleveland



Reelfoot Lake

Kingdom of crappies


Tennessee If the wind isn't blowing-or not too badly-and you can stand a little chill in the air, now is the time to head out and fill an ice chest with fat slab crappies from Reelfoot Lake. The daily limit is 30 crappies per person with no length limit. You may even tangle with a three-pounder.



The most productive area is the Lower Blue Basin and old Bayou du Chien channel, which has silted in through the years. Submerged cypress trees offer crappies and their main forage base, pin minnows, the cover they need. You're going to get snagged, especially if you're drifting across an area, so be sure to take plenty of light-wire hooks and split shot.



Two popular tactics are drifting across the basin or anchoring in 5 to 10 feet. A depth finder will help determine any subtle breaks or structure. Bites may be subtle, so watch your line carefully. There is no limit to the number of rods you may use, and most
anglers have four to six rods stationed around the boat in holders to avoid tangles and maximize the strike zone.



One other good idea is to anchor at the mouth of a canal where wind is pushing
water and minnows through it. If you can find a downed tree near the canal, fish the limbs thoroughly. After a few warm days, cruise the banks with minnows under corks.
Contact: Blue Bank Resort (877-258-3226).
-A.C.




Alabama

Wilson Lake Smallies: Target rocky, sloping points with suspending jerkbaits for bronzebacks. The fish will be suspended off the points, 8 to 15 feet deep. Cast, work the lure down and let it sit momentarily, before
giving it a couple of sharp jerks. A couple of Storm SuspenDots or lead wire around the hook shank will help you reach better depths. Contact: Troy Jens (256-603-6140).




Rabbits on the Run: Take advantage of the last month of small-game seasons at Demopolis WMA. The 6,952-acre tract is located in west-central Alabama and offers numerous areas for both rabbits and squirrels. The daily bag is eight of each species per day. Contact: David Nelson (334-289-8030).


Turkey Season Opens: Two of the top
areas for turkeys this spring are the Black Warrior WMA in the Bankhead National Forest,
offering rolling terrain and hardwoods, and the Blue Spring WMA in the Conecuh National Forest. The season opens March 15 throughout much of the state, including Blue Spring, but not until April 1 at Black Warrior. Contact: ADCNR (334-242-3465).


State, TVA Agree: Alabama officials recently signed a 30-year lease with the TVA that will enable the state to continue management of all or part of nine public WMAs totaling 45,000 acres. The WMAs, the only ones in the state developed primarily for waterfowl, are
located along the Tennessee River.


Key Dates

February 28: Rabbit, squirrel, raccoon and quail seasons end.

March 6-9: BASSMASTER Tour, Lake Eufaula. Contact: B.A.S.S. (334-272-9530).


Arkansas

Ouachita Lunkers: Target creek channels 8 to 15 feet deep, or shallower water after
several warm days, with half-ounce spinnerbaits in white/chartreuse; jerkbaits in natural shad, crayfish or watermelon; and half-ounce black/blue jigs. For spotted bass, work main-lake humps or creek mouths with jigging spoons or medium-running crankbaits. Contact: Chris Elder (870-867-3323); Hugh
Albright (870-767-2171); Mountain Harbor Marina (870-867-2191).


Nimrod Lake Crappies: If the water's high, fish the flooded brush along the banks. If it's low, target old creek channels five to eight feet deep. Minnows under corks and small tube jigs or hair jigs in white, gray or chartreuse work best. Contact: AGFC (501-323-6300).


Snow Geese: Bald Knob NWR has about 9,000 acres of rice lands and another 3,900 acres of bottomland hardwoods with sloughs and oxbow lakes. Also check the Cache River NWR, which has about 33,000 acres of bottomland forest and 4,300 acres of cropland. Contact: AGFC (501-223-6351); Bald Knob and Cache River refuges (870-347-2614).



Key Dates

February 8: Quail season ends.

February 28: Squirrel, rabbit and autumn archery/crossbow turkey seasons end.


Florida

Lakes Sampson and Rowell: Sampson, at 2,000 acres, and 400-acre Rowell are both filled with bass, sunfish and crappies, but rarely draw a crowd due to their proximity to more popular waters such as Rodman Reservoir and Orange and Lochloosa lakes. They connect via a navigable canal, and good-size boats can be launched from Trestle Road (SE 115th St., three miles west of Starke off S.R. 100). Contact: Slab Fish Camp (904-964-9374).



Boca Grande Sharks: Smal: Take advantage of the last month of small-game seasons at Demopolis WMA. The 6,952-acre tract is located in west-central Alabama and offers numerous areas for both rabbits and squirrels. The daily bag is eight of each species per day. Contact: David Nelson (334-289-8030).


Turkey Season Opens: Two of the top
areas for turkeys this spring are the Black Warrior WMA in the Bankhead National Forest,
offering rolling terrain and hardwoods, and the Blue Spring WMA in the Conecuh National Forest. The season opens March 15 throughout much of the state, including Blue Spring, but not until April 1 at Black Warrior. Contact: ADCNR (334-242-3465).


State, TVA Agree: Alabama officials recently signed a 30-year lease with the TVA that will enable the state to continue management of all or part of nine public WMAs totaling 45,000 acres. The WMAs, the only ones in the state developed primarily for waterfowl, are
located along the Tennessee River.


Key Dates

February 28: Rabbit, squirrel, raccoon and quail seasons end.

March 6-9: BASSMASTER Tour, Lake Eufaula. Contact: B.A.S.S. (334-272-9530).


Arkansas

Ouachita Lunkers: Target creek channels 8 to 15 feet deep, or shallower water after
several warm days, with half-ounce spinnerbaits in white/chartreuse; jerkbaits in natural shad, crayfish or watermelon; and half-ounce black/blue jigs. For spotted bass, work main-lake humps or creek mouths with jigging spoons or medium-running crankbaits. Contact: Chris Elder (870-867-3323); Hugh
Albright (870-767-2171); Mountain Harbor Marina (870-867-2191).


Nimrod Lake Crappies: If the water's high, fish the flooded brush along the banks. If it's low, target old creek channels five to eight feet deep. Minnows under corks and small tube jigs or hair jigs in white, gray or chartreuse work best. Contact: AGFC (501-323-6300).


Snow Geese: Bald Knob NWR has about 9,000 acres of rice lands and another 3,900 acres of bottomland hardwoods with sloughs and oxbow lakes. Also check the Cache River NWR, which has about 33,000 acres of bottomland forest and 4,300 acres of cropland. Contact: AGFC (501-223-6351); Bald Knob and Cache River refuges (870-347-2614).



Key Dates

February 8: Quail season ends.

February 28: Squirrel, rabbit and autumn archery/crossbow turkey seasons end.


Florida

Lakes Sampson and Rowell: Sampson, at 2,000 acres, and 400-acre Rowell are both filled with bass, sunfish and crappies, but rarely draw a crowd due to their proximity to more popular waters such as Rodman Reservoir and Orange and Lochloosa lakes. They connect via a navigable canal, and good-size boats can be launched from Trestle Road (SE 115th St., three miles west of Starke off S.R. 100). Contact: Slab Fish Camp (904-964-9374).



Boca Grande Sharks: Smal

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