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By mrl0004
Alabama the Beautiful. I used to think it was just a slogan. I mean, besides football, pine plantations, and large bass lakes I wasn't really sure what was so beautiful about it. That was until I discovered redeye bass, the smallest of the black bass species. Chasing them has led me to places that I never would have knew existed otherwise. Seeing the places they call home, some of the last vestiges of truly wild and rugged country left in the southeast, has led me to work tirelessly advocating for them and the waters they swim in. I'm not sure which I enjoy more, the scenery or the fishing, but the point is that either one makes the trip worthwhile.

Redeye bass are native to a small handful of rivers in the southeast. They have been stocked in a few others to improve the sport fishing quality of those waters, an idea which may have seemed good at the time, but as we now know this can be extremely detrimental to wild and native populations. Regardless, if you want to fish for them in their native habitat, there's a shortlist of creeks and streams where you can do so. They all have different issues ranging from pollution, habitat fragmentation, urbanization, and of course hybridization with other black bass. The latter has been a hot topic, usually among native and introduced populations, but is increasingly becoming more of a potential danger between co-existing native populations.

As recently as 2013, redeye bass have been shown to be a unique species in each of the drainages where they are native. This has been great for fisherman, because that means we want to go catch them all! More on that later...

Fishing for them is a lot like blue lining for brook trout in the southern Appalachians. You are fishing small streams for a fish that rarely grows over a foot in length and maxes out around 1.5-2lbs. However, the experience of fishing for them is the real trophy, or rather getting to hold a black bass with colors like no other.

The first native drainage is one that I've fished the most. The options range from the southernmost end of the Appalachians in Alabama...
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To a little further down in the Piedmont region....
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One of my favorite places is a good drive way up into the hills...
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It takes a little effort to get to...
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Once on the stream you quickly realize this is like no other fishing in Alabama...
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Every little plunge pool likely contains a hungry redeye bass...
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These guys are super aggressive, you'll know within the first 5 seconds of your fly hitting the water if they're there or not...
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The colors are a nice blue hue throughout. Very different than other bass.

They aren't the only critter in these streams though, so I always keep an eye out...
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The places these fish live are truly special....
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Too be continued.....
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Last edited by mrl0004 on Fri Aug 24, 2018 9:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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By mrl0004
Another river that redeye bass are native to, runs right through the heart of Birmingham. Good luck finding any in the main river though, you have to get in the tributaries for the real action. the redeye bass in this stream always seem a little bigger...
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By mrl0004
There are subtle differences between the first two species of redeye bass mentioned above and this one. However, a little studying and you start to recognize color and pattern differences that are discernible without having to get into scale counts, etc. The interesting thing about this species is that they live in the main river, in fact, they're pretty plentiful in the main river. I have also caught my biggest two redeye ever here, both 12.5" long. That's like a 20" smallmouth, because these are also the slowest growing black bass species.
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Had a float trip with a friend where we were holding an event to raise awareness for redeye bass. The rain made things interesting, but nice fish were caught...
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This guy went completely airborne while eating the popper...
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Can't forget the lunch of champions...
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By mrl0004
The last of the 4 redeye bass strongholds in Alabama is one of my favorite. Not only are they genetically different from all other redeye species, but to me they are the most clearly distinguished by coloration. They have orange coloration on their anal and caudal fins, which is actually diagnostic for that species. Their waters are also some of the most beautiful in Alabama.

This species is likely the most imperiled in Alabama due to their range overlapping with the largest coal mines in Alabama. Their range is greatly reduced from a few decades ago.

The trip starts out as most on redeye waters....

Dirt roads and higher elevation
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Once on the water, it doesn't take long to find your quarry...
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The water is usually crystal clear...
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And the fish hungry...
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The deeper you go, the more beautiful and scenic the river gets. No surprise, the fish get bigger too!
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These fish eat a lot of aquatic insects, and a quick look streamside will show you why...
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By mrl0004
As you cross over into Georgia, the fish get a little more colorful. This is probably the most colorful redeye bass species. Again, the fin coloration is diagnostic for this species.
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Oddly enough, the local breweries, Orvis, and TU chapter throws millions of dollars into the put and take trout fishery while native redeye bass and shoal bass are being extirpated from right under our nose. I simply don't get it.
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Last edited by mrl0004 on Fri Aug 24, 2018 10:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
By chadroc
man, that is so damn good. such an interesting fish swimming in beautiful waters. thanks so much for sharing.
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By mrl0004
Continuing across Georgia, another species is less colorful, but still a redeye that lives in beautiful places...
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As we move further across Georgia and even into South Carolina, the last of the 7 species of redeye bass is in the most danger of all due to hybridization with non-native Alabama bass, smallmouth bass, etc. At every sampling there are less and less pure redeye bass, or Bartram's bass as their commonly called here.
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The tributaries are the last strongholds, but most agree it's only a matter of time.
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Streamside bonuses are always welcome...
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By mrl0004
If you're still with me, by now you know these fish live in pristine waters and aren't exactly going to win any size competitions. However, they need some serious conservation measures and at the very least some awareness. I'm doing all I can, but my hope is that you'll come see for yourself.

I wrote a book with that very purpose, and I'm pleased to say it's done way better than I ever thought it would. This is like niche fishing within a niche of fishing. Somehow, the numbers continue to grow...
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Kind of piggybacking off the book, a few friends and I started a grass roots movement a while back where we challenged fly anglers to catch all 7 species in a calendar year, or all 4 species native to the Mobile Basin (in Alabama). The prize is a custom certificate drawn by one of the crew.

We had a kick-off event at a local brewery in Birmingham to go over the rules, educate folks about redeye bass, and explain why they need our help. We had a raffle of prizes donated from local folks with all proceeds going to our local riverkeeper organization. To our surprise, we had 80 people show up.
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We raised $2,600 that day, which may not sound like a lot, but for an event in Alabama about fly fishing for redeye bass, it was huge. Really excited to see how we can grow that into something even bigger.

On a more personal note, after writing the book, speaking at numerous fly fishing clubs, river societies, etc., I decided that I needed to do more. After 10 years of working in human genetics, I decided to go back to school and get a PhD in genetics studying hybridization in redeye bass and other species. Not an easy thing to do with a wife and a 10-month old, but we did and so far I'm glad I did. This is going to be an interesting few years!
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Hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed doing it all. If you know someone high up in Trout Unlimited, Native Fish Society, etc., I would love for them to be aware of redeye bass and hopefully fund some work in native bass work. There are other sport fish out there that aren't salmonids that need love!
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By root wad
A world I never knew existed and will probably never see. I can see why it draws you and really appreciate knowing populations like that still find a way to hang on if someone cares enough to look. That is good stuff right there.
All good stuff Matt. Keep fighting the good fight and learn what you can. Thanks again for introducing me to these awesome fish.

Why aren’t there redeyes in the main river in the river near Birmingham? Are the Alabama bass out competing them there?

I’m most likely going to be coming up one more time this year in a couple of weeks to try and finish the Mobile slam and catch the Coosa and Cahaba subspecies.
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By ...
So you have reached the pintical of sell a guide...boat renter....flyshop hot spotter... Take what you have learned from sportsmen and make it into a trade... Good luck and fuck off...
WTF, Hieronymus

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