Year-round rainbow trout fishing below Smith Lake is reeling in anglers.
Finding a spot to reel in rainbow trout year-round in Alabama can be a challenge, but one location in north Alabama provides the fish with an adequate habitat for survival and a showcase for anglers.
In the shadow of Lewis Smith Dam — which stands 300 feet tall and stretches 2,200 feet long — water flows into the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River. The river, fed by cold waters pulled from the depths of Smith Lake, offers the fish cool enough temperatures during the hot summer to survive. Despite the heat, the water never warms above 70 degrees, providing the one spot in Alabama where trout can be caught year-round.
The Smith Dam tailrace, which is the area below the dam where water leaves the hydroelectric facility, requires restocking regularly to maintain a growing population of trout.
Trout have been stocked in the river since 1974. In the early 2000s, Alabama Power partnered with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other groups and proposed improvements for the tailrace.
“The plan was developed to improve access to the tailrace, provide habitat enhancements to improve the fishery and the fishing in the tailrace, and it also developed a minimum flow system in the tailrace that would provide a 50 cubic-feet-per-second flow at all times,” said Jason Carlee, Environmental Affairs supervisor with Alabama Power.
Once improvements were made, APC installed steel public access staircases and walkways that replaced muddy footpaths. Log banks, boulders and rock crevices were installed to serve as protection for the fish.
The final installment of the plan was creating a minimum flow from the dam during times when hydroelectric generation was not needed, which now allows the fish to remain in their natural habitat when the units are not generating. This flow has enhanced tailrace anglers’ experiences, drawing more and more fishermen to the area.
Alabama Power’s investments with stakeholder groups have continually advanced the growth of the trout population and helped attract more anglers. ADCNR Fisheries Biologist Jay Haffner said 35,000 trout are stocked annually through its collaboration with Alabama Power, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Dale Hollow National Fish Hatchery.
Recently, Alabama Power partnered with ADCNR to release 1,800 rainbow trout into the tailrace.
“Due to the unique habitat, the Smith Dam tailwaters provide an excellent location for stocking rainbow trout,” said Chris Greene, assistant chief of fisheries for ADCNR. “Through a cooperative agreement with Alabama Power, we are now pleased to offer anglers more frequently stocked and larger fish.”
Trout fishing below the dam has been an economic gain for the area, said Linda Lewis, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County.
“The chamber has led the way for more than a decade in recruiting fishing tournaments to our area and understands the meaning of tourism dollars,” Lewis said, estimating the impact between $1.5 million and $2 million for each event.
“By stocking trout below the dam, it will provide additional recreational opportunities to our area and will continue to attract avid anglers and their families to the community,” Lewis said.
Walker County and Cullman County, which lie on each side of the river, will continue to see economic impact as word spreads to anglers in Alabama and beyond of this little-known trout bastion.