|“Old Man River”|
"Ol’ Man River, that Ol’ Man River
"Ol’ Man River" was the most popular song in the 1927 musical Show Boat. Even though I’m not a big fan of musicals, I sing this song, much to the dismay of my fellow canoeists, every time I float the Tallapoosa River that dissects my area of Cleburne County. As the hot temperatures of August roll slowly along, take the time before summer’s over to enjoy some of Alabama’s scenic small rivers.
The Tallapoosa River begins in Paulding County, Georgia, and runs southward and westward into Alabama. It joins the Coosa River near Wetumpka to form the Alabama River. On the more narrow, northern sections of the river in Cleburne County, you’ll find historic bridges, dizzying rock outcroppings and gently rolling farmland. As far as living creatures, you are likely to see deer, turkey, beaver, duck and a multitude of freshwater fish species.
What To Bring
What to bring to the river depends upon what you plan to do while on the river. I usually go for two purposes. First, if I’m taking children down the river, the objective is to simply float, swim and see the natural sights of the river. If I’m fishing, the gear amount is increased. For simple floating and sightseeing, you’ll want a stable watercraft like a wide-bodied canoe or a flat-bottom jon boat. Be sure to make each passenger wears a life preserver, and brings comfortable paddles and seats.
Since you’ll be within the elements of nature, bring insect repellent, sunscreen, rain gear, hand sanitizer or hand wipes, and a simple first aid kit. If children will be along, be sure to bring twice as many drinks as you think you will need and plenty of snacks or sandwiches. Finally, for sightseeing, bring an extra garbage bag to hold empty cans and snack wrappers.
On sightseeing trips, you’ll see the remains of rocks where grist mills once stood, the remains of hanging bridges and you might find an arrowhead or two from the many tribes of Indians who once inhabited villages centered around the river.
If you plan to fish during your river float, make plans to care for the fish you catch. If you don’t have a live well, a long stringer with wire clips is the most convenient way to keep you catch. Simply secure the stringer to the rear of the boat. In the rear, the fish are less likely to become snagged underneath the vessel.
You don’t need a lot of gear to fish successfully on the Tallapoosa. A small tackle box with a minimum amount of lures will work fine. On large bodies of water, I prefer a baitcaster, but on small rivers, a rod and reel combo like a Zebco 33 outfitted with 12-pound test line is sufficient.
A Texas-rigged rubber worm is ideal for catching larger bass. Two of my favorite color choices are black and watermelon. The best places for fishing with plastics are areas in the river where the swirls follow shoals and rapids. Submerged logs and grass growing along the bank serve as productive cover for a variety of bass along the river.
Simply cast toward these structures and retrieve towards the boat. The 12-pound test line will allow you the ability to keep tight tension on the line preventing the bass from snagging around an underwater log or limb.
If you prefer crank baits, one of the most productive I’ve used on this river is simply a broken-back minnow. They can be retrieved at a shallow level preventing snagging and the realistic movement of the jointed minnow entices many bites.
Finally, live bait like minnows and crickets work well for panfish. Simply place a small, number 2 size hook on the line, bait the hook, attach a bobber and wait. Using nothing but these three methods of fishing should give you enough to fill a couple of frying pans.
Getting In and Out
Once you’ve planned your outing, and the gear and guests are ready to go, make sure you have easy entry and exit points from the river. In my county, many boat ramps and campgrounds have been established through a local effort know as the Lloyd Owen’s Canoe Trail. Many of these landings consist of concrete ramps going to the river’s edge making entry and exit a breeze. In addition, many of these areas have campgrounds located along the river.
If you would like to try your hand on the Tallapoosa River at its northern portion and you don’t have canoes or gear, Lex Brown and his wife, Robin, can outfit your church, Boy or Girl Scout groups with canoes, paddles and life preservers, as well as drop you off and pick you up at your desired destination. On the Browns’ website, www.tallapoosariveroutfitters. com, you can find directions, water level and weather reports, and plenty of information to plan an August trip for your family or group.
This August, as the heat reaches its peak, take a weekend off from the hayfields and visit one of Alabama’s many small rivers. On the Tallapoosa, the fishing is great and the scenery is breathtaking, and you might even meet a friendly face or two along the trip.
"Ol’ man river knows something, he says nothing, he just keeps rollin’, he just keeps rollin."
John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.