Fly Casting On Alabama’s Coosa River
On The Fly Freshwater
Article and featured photo by Polly Dean.
We hit the Coosa River in downtown Gadsden before first light. Though the locals in this northeastern Alabama town refer to the water as the Coosa, it is actually the upper reaches of Neely Henry Lake. Here the lake does happen to be narrow and has more of a riverine appearance. The reservoir was formed by the Neely Henry Dam in 1966 for power and recreational use. It has 339 miles of shoreline and more than 11,000 surface acres, as it stretches for more than 70 miles along the river’s original course. Largemouth, Alabama, striped, hybrid and white bass, along with catfish, bluegill and other sunfish all inhabit the lake.
Our targets for the day were bass. Though it was late April, our early morning start was greeted with a temperature in the low 50s, which had us bundled up until the late morning. Still, the river was slick as glass and quite beautiful as it flowed serenely under the city’s iconic bridges. These steel bridges, often lit up, are the pride of Gadsden’s residents, including our fishing guide Frank Roden. Frank is an avid fly fishermen and proud fixture in Gadsden. With his wife Tammy, they are owners and operate the Rainbow City Auction & Fly Shop in Gadsden’s suburb of Rainbow City.
Roden also has 25 years of guiding fishermen under his belt and is a member of the Rainbow Fly Fishing Club. He is pretty hard to miss while fishing the river, since he uses a saltwater flats boat that happened to be perfectly suited for the water and conditions we encountered.
We launched from Coosa Landing in downtown Gadsden and started fishing right there at the boat ramp. The town was just waking up as Frank manned the trolling motor and we began casting our popping bugs in search of hungry bass lying in wait for some hapless prey. Unfortunately, the bite was slow on this shore, so we headed to the other bank to try fishing along it.
I started out with a white Boogle Bug, while my fishing partner Jimmy Jacobs began throwing a larger yellow popper with a nymph trailer. We targeted any structure, vegetation, brush pile or change in bank structure.
Frank instructed us to wait after throwing our bugs for the water rings to completely dissipate before stripping it back. He also advised a slower sliding action of the fly rather than a distinct “pop” for attracting bites. The bass here tend to “sip” the popping bug, rather than make an aggressive splashy strike, though I will say that the aggression of my first take was a splashy one and I was taken by surprise and missed the fish.
The action picked up, whether it was due to the change of location or just the time of day, but we soon experienced more strikes to our popping bugs. There seemed to be a healthy population of bass along this shore, based on the number of hits (and misses) we had. Most of the strikes came very close to the shore where the bank dropped off quickly. The bass also put up a hard fight for their size, including leaping clear of the surface on some occasions. Once white proved to be the color of choice for the fish, Jimmy quickly also changing over to that hue.
After a while the action slowed a bit and Frank headed the boat down river to some huge rocks and steep walls where he often found success. We did pick up a few more bass that were hugging the rocks and preferred this type environment.
Frank suggests using 6- to 8-weight rods, and since these fish aren’t particularly leader-shy, he uses 12-pound tippet. Anglers don’t often encounter large bass, but with the fish living in moving water, the 1- to 2-pounders put up a good fight.
We had a good day, landing about a half dozen bass and even a green sunfish that had more attitude than size! Our surroundings, even though we were floating through the town of Gadsden, were peaceful and scenic. Gadsden does still retain its appearance of a town that thrived on heavy industry decades ago and on riverboat traffic even earlier. Today it is a flourishing and revitalized community full of local shops, restaurants and businesses where proprietors are clearly proud of their city.
Though Frank Roden’s Rainbow City Auction has thousands of square feet of antiques, reproduction furniture and tons more, the fly shop within its confines is an integral part of the business. Frank even offers fly-fishing instructional trips and is happy to field calls for fishing conditions or provide fishing tips for visitors and locals in the area. Frank is somewhat of an ambassador for fishing the Gadsden region. When in the area, be sure to stop by the Rainbow City Auction & Fly Shop.