November 29, 2012 by Shaye Baker
With all the facets of media these days, we are constantly blasted with sales pitches for one "top-notch fishery." Others claim, "You can catch a hundred fish a day here." Or, "Trophy smallmouths roam these waters." And my personal favorite is, "If you want to catch the fish of a lifetime, this is your place." Unfortunately, few fisheries live up to the hype. It's fair to say that with the exception of a few, typically all the hoopla turns out to be false advertising. Reason being, the true lunker lakes, the hidden gems, the fisheries that do hold fish of a lifetime, are by and large well-kept secrets. Anglers don the persona of pirates when it comes to these fisheries. They smirk at others who are ignorant to what lies just down the road as they hoard all the treasure for themselves. This level of secrecy makes it almost taboo for a writer to as much as utter the name of certain lost lakes. But every now and then one of these lakes leak out. The limelight has skirted one such fishery recently. It's a certain stretch of water where fish of a lifetime really do live. And in the last couple of years, the veil has lifted to the point that I no longer have to worry about retaliation for spilling the beans. The Black Warrior River is a little-known fishery in northwest Alabama from which local anglers have plucked giant bass for years. A waterway where spots in the 4- to 6-pound range abound and are frequented with the intermittent 7-plus. With the popular pools of Oliver, Bankhead and Holt near Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, the Warrior is gaining publicity for it's giant spots. But what many outsiders still don't realize is the number of massive largemouths that live in the river. But local Blake Nick is not outsider. "One day we'll catch a 20-pound bag of spots and then the next day we'll catch 23 pounds of largemouths and only one or two spots," said Nick, of Adger, Ala. Though Nick now spends a lot of his time traveling the country with the Walmart FLW Tour, a large portion of his years spent fishing have been on Bankhead and Holt. "The cool thing about the Warrior River is each lake fishes different," said Nick. "Each one has big spots and heads on it but the cover is different and the current is different. Holt has a lot stronger current and is primarily rock so it sets up better for spots but Bankhead has a lot more creeks with shallow cover and grass so it sets up better for largemouths." Figuring out when and where to target each species is easier said than done. Jigs, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and spoons are all good tools this time of year but the diversity of the lakes can throw a kink in any initial game plan. "It's not as easy as it sounds," added Nick. "It's taken me years to figure this place out. It's a great place to fish but there are little deals that make all the difference when it comes to catching the big ones. You need to be on the main river and a jig is always a great bait to throw on Bankhead or Holt." Nick suggests that you target current breaks when the water is on and when it's not. The fish on the Warrior base their entire lives around the current that races through almost every day. "Fish any kind of current breaks you see," Nick advised. "Even down river where you have to use your imagination. Even though you can't see the current, its still rolling over those points and rocks. I like to use an 1/8-ounce Bitsy Bug jig with a little Zoom trailer to catch those big spots." Depending on the strength of the current you'll likely have to upsize, but the jig is definitely a favorite of Nick's. And why wouldn't it be considering it helped him capture his personal best spot at 7.2 pounds. This giant, though a freak of nature, is no freak to the Black Warrior River. Nick has caught "a bunch" right at 7 pounds. In addition to its isolation, there are a couple other factors that make the Warrior such a perfect breeding ground for giants - namely an abundance of current and shad. And as anyone knows nowadays, when there's an abundance of shad and current, there's a good chance you can get bit on an umbrella rig. Therefore, the Black Warrior has become the testing grounds for The Yellow Hammer Rig. Blake Nick and one of the two Yellow Hammer co-founders, Kyle Mabrey, spent a large portion of last year's off-season tinkering and toying with the rig in order to keep it on a constant evolutionary track. The duo has spent hundreds of hours doing field research with different wire combinations, paint schemes, weights, blades and other bells and whistles to figure out what would trigger the most and biggest bites. Their efforts to keep the bass constantly guessing have revealed an entirely new level of potential that the Warrior offers. "We've had several 23- to 25-pound days on the Yellow Hammer Rig and we even had one 30-pound day down there this winter," said Nick. A 30-pound bag is something that few people will ever be fortunate enough to catch. A bag that only a "top-notch fishery" could yield. A waterway filled with "fish of a lifetime." There are few widely known fisheries that live up to the hype that they are shrouded by. Fisheries like Okeechobee, Falcon, Guntersville, St. Clair and a handful of others. Dare I say as time goes on, the Black Warrior River should make the short list. Side note: Perhaps one of the most unique boat wraps that you'll see on the FLW Tour is Nick's. In bright red print atop a blue and black camo background the wrap simply reads, 147 Million Orphans. Where most anglers brand their title sponsor, Nick's boat instead bares the insignia of a foundation intending to "impact the lives of children through the provision of food, water, and medicine." Nick and his wife Jennifer met the founders of 147 Million Orphans and felt an instant connection through their shared passion for children. "I know it sounds weird for a country boy from Alabama that fishes for a living to care so much about something like that but I just love kids," said Nick. "I wouldn't want my kids to not have parents or a family and I don't think other kids should be without them either." "Jennifer and I had talked about it and we decided that if I couldn't get a title sponsor then we would just wrap the boat in 147 million orphans. "We were looking through some stuff one night about boat wraps and we saw a statistic saying that about 147 million people see a wrap in something like one or two years. That was just kind of like our sign that we needed to go with 147 million orphans." The rest is, as they say, history. Nick spent what some might call his breakout year campaigning all over the country for the cause. With two third-places finishes during the 2012 season, Nick gained a lot of publicity for a worthy cause in a sport filled with compassionate, family-oriented people. To say the least, 2012 has been good to both Nick and 147 Million Orphans. "If I ever am fortunate enough to have a title sponsor, there will always be a place on my boat and jersey for 147 Million Orphans," said Nick. If you would like to learn more about 147 Million Orphans or make a donation, please visit www.147millionorphans.org.