Alabama’s Summer Of 2005 Hot With Freshwater Fish Records

Four Alabama freshwater fish records were set during the Summer of 2005.  Although none of these fish are frequently sought for table fare, they all provide good sport for anglers.  The green sunfish record was set twice in a Walker County private pond.  The bowfin record was set from Lake Tuscaloosa.  A new species, skipjack herring, was listed as a record when a fish heavier than the one-pound minimum was submitted.

Commonly found in almost all of Alabama’s freshwaters, green sunfish frequently take advantage of new ponds.  The relatively large mouths of the green sunfish allow them to eat both aquatic insects and small fish.  Green sunfish are found everywhere and are easily caught which makes them very popular with young anglers. The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division does not supply green sunfish in ponds  because they typically do not grow as large as bluegill or the redear sunfish, also known as shellcracker.  However, when largemouth bass are deposited into a pond where only a few green sunfish live, green sunfish can grow to a large size.

A pond in Walker County yielded record green sunfish on August 8 and August 10.  On August 8, while bass fishing with his cousin Caleb Miller, Reid A. Winchester of Parrish, Alabama, caught a one-pound, four-ounce green sunfish on a blue plastic lizard.  On August 10, Miller was back at the same pond bass fishing with a blueberry Zoom worm and red hook.  Miller, also from Parrish, caught a one-pound, nine-ounce green sunfish.  Both fish were twelve inches long.  Winchester's fish had a girth of 11½-inches, and Miller's fish had a larger girth than its length, 13-inches.  Stephen McArdle of Birmingham caught the old Alabama record, a 15-ounce green sunfish, on April 28, 1985, from Bayview Lake.

Relatively large mouths, metallic blue streaks on their heads, and blue spots on their bodies help anglers identify green sunfish.  The edges of the pelvic, anal, caudal, and soft dorsal fins of green sunfish are yellow to orange, becoming much brighter during the spawning season.  Rounded pectoral fins are another important character in the identification of green sunfish.

Bowfin are an ancient type of fish that have the ability to use atmospheric air. This air breathing ability is one reason that bowfin are more commonly found in sluggish waters with overhanging canopy. The most common place in Alabama to find bowfin is the Mobile Delta. David C. Wood caught the previous Alabama record bowfin, 17 pounds, 12 ounces, from the Mobile Delta on August 13, 1978.  The Mobile Delta even has a fishing tournament devoted to bowfin. 

Lake Tuscaloosa, with it clear, deep waters, is about as different from the Mobile Delta as night and day. However, on July 31, 2005, Nelson Ray Sansing, of Sawyerville, Alabama, hooked and landed an 18-pound, 6-ounce bowfin from Lake Tuscaloosa. Sansing watched the monster come up and take his June bug colored trick worm.

Anglers can easily recognize bowfin by their long dorsal fins that extend more than half the length of the fish. Bowfin also have a rounded caudal tail fin and small anal fin.  Mature male bowfin have a prominent black dark spot at the base of their caudal fin.  Adult bowfin have large mouths that contain many sharp, canine teeth. In the Southeast, anglers may have more names for bowfin than any other fish species.  They are known as: grinnel(l), cottonfish, brindle, blackfish, mudfish, dogfish, shoepike, cypress bass, cypress trout, choupique, scaley cat, buglemouth bass, German bass, spottail, grinner, and grindlefish.

While bowfin are most commonly found in sluggish waters, skipjack herring are often found in, or near the swiftest waters.  Herring have a streamlined shape and deeply forked tail typical of fish that rely on speed in open water.  Skipjack herring often attack fast, flashy lures. Anglers enjoy catching skipjack herring, as they frequently jump during the fight.  The shape and coloration of the jaw of the skipjack herring are keys to distinguishing this fish from other members of the herring family. The lower jaws of skipjack herring protrude considerably in front of its upper jaws, and the edges of the jaws are completely pigmented. The jaws have an upward slant allowing skipjack herring to better feed upwards in the water column.

Steven L. Jones of Mt. Olive likes to enjoy quality time with his father. Their idea of fun is fishing together while catching 40 or 50 fish during the weekend.  While using various jigs and Rooster Tail spinners upstream of Holt Reservoir’s dam, a 1-pound, 7-ounce skipjack herring hit Jones’ chartreuse jig. Since Jones knew that there was not an Alabama record for skipjack herring, he certified the weight and sent in an application.  He hoped that by establishing a record, it “will encourage some fun competition for those who love to fish.”

To improve your knowledge of how to have fun while fishing, visit the fishing section of this Web site. It also contains more information on green sunfish, bowfin, skipjack herring, and most species in Alabama.  The site has pictures of these fish, including pictures of the new Alabama record bowfin and Alabama record skipjack herring.