On July 2020, I set my alarm for 5:00 am at Brookside City Campground, AL. My goal was to be at Sipsey Fork, some 40 minutes away via rural country roads. I was the first in the parking lot, so I could not talk to anyone to validate if I was fishing in the right spot. I was relying on a YouTube video. I was angling at the wrong access point where the water was as still as a tadpole pool. Sometimes all the research doesn't pay off. I knew this day would get hot with the dog in the car, and I could only stay a couple of hours.
I met a father and son team as I was preparing to leave. They also researched and knew you needed to follow the hydro-water plant fence path, with three more access points to the dam. So, we walked together to the dam without my fly rod! I found the first access point just 1/4 mile after power plant #6 has trout improvements to look like a Montana stream. Hence about 6-8 new fly fishermen looking like Orvis Victoria's Secret Supermodels walked by. Don't get me wrong, there are 13 miles or so of Trout water on the Sipsey Fork, but this area is what I was looking for. Finally, I couldn't stay any longer, so I said goodbye and headed for Chicago. I would have to revisit Alabama Trout around Thanksgiving on my trip to and from Florida.
Move forward, and it is the week after Thanksgiving 2020 on my way back from Florida. I had a great campsite on Smith Lake laid out, but instead, I spent two nights at the lovely I-65 Gov. Guy Hunt Rest Stop. Good thing it rained all night, snowed in the morning and had frost on the ground. Not the wrong place to be, as Sipsey Fork is only 15 minutes away. The short distance made working from my car easy, and then driving to Sipsey Fork to fish.
I arrived at the Riverside Fly Shop on Friday, December 4, 2020, and obtained some sound advice. First, the generation outflow schedule of Smith Dam, which controls the water flows of Sipsey Fork. A dam generation occurred at 3:00 pm, turning a quiet Alabama stream into a large Montana river. The second recommendation was to use a wooly bugger, so I bought two and their last Riverside Fly Shop brand red t-shirt. Lastly, after 3:00 pm, I should drift the wooly bugger right below the dam.
I had only 1 hour between my conference calls to fish access #6; I would have to drive back 15 minutes to my rest stop on I-65 to get enough cell coverage for my afternoon call. So, I decided to bring Brooke Trout (Chocolate Lab). Brooke meant walking 1/4 mile and carrying her down to the river. She just had CCL surgery in September. It had sleeted all night, and fog covered the river, so only one fisherman was in the parking lot getting ready.
Once at access #6, it looked like a rocky black moon. The wet rocks turn deep black and are unbelievably slippery. Brooke and I were struggling to get to the river's main flow. Once, in the river with my waders and dog, I began to cast my wooly bugger with a strike indicator. I never felt comfortable with this setup but continued moving more into the center of the river. Remember I said the rocks were slippery? BOOM, I fell while the other fly fishermen watched in the distance, most likely laughing. I had trouble getting up, and my waders filled up with ice-cold water. Finally, Brooke and I got out of the fork. I had enough time to head back to the car to dry off in 30+ degree weather and make my afternoon conference calls. I arrived back at the dam at 4:00 pm, so I had only about 45 minutes until darkness; it is winter days are short.
I left Brooke in the car on my way to the beginning of the Sipsey Fork just below the dam. I walked down access #6 and the yards of metal walkways on my way. Indeed, the dam generation turns the quiet river about 6 feet and has no way to wade. Once to the dam, I drifted my wooly bugger for about 30 minutes over and over again with no results. I took some great photos, but no Alabama Trout.
I have no conference calls today, Saturday, December 5, at 9:00 am! There was no rush to get to the stream as it was about 31 degrees in the morning, so I stopped into the Riverside Fly Shop again to tell stories and validate my approach today. I would do a double dropper with a strike indicator. The first lure would be a red bead head squiggly worm and a small lite green copper john. I was sure this was the proper setup, and I never changed my rig all day. I got on the river at about 10:00 am at access point #6 with no dog, low water, and dry rocks. Getting to the flow was so easy. I met four other fly fishermen on the river. We conversed for about 2 hours to the canyon's echo, making it easy to hear every word.
I found a nice hole and fished like crazy for about an hour. Over the next 4 hours, I moved up and down the stream. Slowly other anglers gave up and left without a trout. I was alone while the dog slept in the car. The weather warmed to about 55 and sunny, which dried out yesterday's clothes left on my hood.
At about 3:00 pm, a perfect-looking couple, graduate students from the University of Auburn, showed up. She with a baseball cap and ponytail, and he with a felt Brooke Trout colored Stetson. Both had incredible casting motions; she had been practicing all summer. They were with their fathers fishing downstream, heading towards me, and the couple was upstream, heading towards me. The shadows began falling quickly, and I ran out of time. I had only 5 minutes in my mind, and the Alabama Trout would have to wait far into the future. But, on one of my last three casts, FISH ON! FISH ON! Wow, I was so nervous not to lose this one and didn't even use the net just pulled him into the rocks. Good thing the line broke as I lifted the rainbow from the stones; whoa! I quickly got my phone out and took a shot. In my had a beautiful 10-inch rainbow. I took the following picture with fish in my palm and green copper john in my teeth! Working incredibly hard for a trout in a new state and landing one is so high!
I headed to the fly shop wearing my Riverside t-shirt. We swapped stories, and I took pictures. They gave me information on a stocked pond in Mississippi, but that would have to be another trip. I also found out from the graduate students and confirmed by the owner that the fly shop offers camping on their property! Good to know.
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 below the lake's surface and used to spin two turbines to generate electricity in the Powerhouse. As a result, the clear water discharged into the tailwaters remains below 70 degrees year-round and can support 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 3,000 8- to 14-inch rainbow trout every month of the year. 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 five 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 stocked near the dam and access is better, most trout fishing occurs above the Birmingham Water Works Pump Station (BWWPS). However, trout and suitable habitats 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 structures were anchored in the Sipsey Fork immediately upstream of the BWWPS. Anglers immediately began accessing the features via a newly-constructed rock ramp. In addition, twenty-four fish attraction devices were placed in the Sipsey Fork between the BWWPS and the Highway 69 Bridge in the summer of 2011.
A year-round minimum flow has been established in the tailwaters that will mimic more "natural" stream conditions, enhance water quality, lower summertime water temperatures, and improve trout survival.
When electricity is generated in the Powerhouse, water levels in the tailwaters rise 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 regular flow that is safe for anglers and provides a more productive fishing environment.
Alabama's Trout Fishery
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 from the "pull-off" areas to the water's edge are present, but the banks are steep, and anglers must exercise caution. In addition, a large parking area is also 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 is 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 the stream to the Birmingham Water Works Pump Station (BWWPS) contains riffles, runs, and pools and is wadable when electricity is not 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 is 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.
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 yearly. Aquatic insects dominate the diets of rainbows. Larger "holdover" fish consume an occasional threadfin shad. Since water temperatures range from the 40s in the winter to the 60s in the summer, anglers wishing to wade should 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. So, before traveling to the Sipsey Fork to fish, know the generation schedule. Generation schedules are available call 1-800-LAKES-11, 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. However, much of the land bordering the Sipsey Fork downstream of the Hwy 69 Bridge is privately owned. Therefore, anglers must obtain permission from the land owner before 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 west 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.
RIVERSIDE FLY SHOP
17027 Hwy. 69 S ~ Bremen, Alabama 35033
They were fantastic! The owner and team were beneficial and friendly; not all fly shops are nice don't know why. They were the 2nd member to register on my site!
Riverside Fly Shop is a full-service fly shop seeking to support and advance the sport of fly fishing. Riverside is owned and operated by Brandon and Mary Carole Jackson (both avid fishermen), who try to greet each customer with a smile, helpful tips, and information to make each fishing trip successful. Riverside seeks to maintain a wide array of fishing supplies to meet our customers' needs. From flies to fly tying material, rods to rod building felt sole boots to waders, we’ve got it…and most likely in your color or size. Not sure if fly fishing is for you?
I also want to thank the people I met on the river. The man from Colorado and all the other fishermen encouraged me as they were not catching trout either. Plus, the graduate students who love fly fishing get as excited as I am.