List of Common Lake Jordan Fish Species [Updated]
Lake Jordan is one of six man-made reservoirs along the Coosa River, a major tributary of the Alabama River. Located 14 miles (22.5 km) from Wetumpka and 25 miles (40.2 km) north of Montgomery, Lake Jordan is the southernmost impoundment in the system. It has a surface area of 6,800 acres (27.5 km2) and a maximum depth of 360.9 feet (110 m) at the dam.
The 18.4-mile (29.6-km) reservoir and dam were constructed by Alabama Power in 1928 to serve as a hydroelectric generator. Since Lake Jordan’s creation, its function has broadened to provide flood control, irrigation, and drinking water throughout surrounding areas.
Despite being landlocked, Lake Jordan has diverse limnological characteristics, and many areas are riverine in nature. The reservoir even houses swift currents that facilitate fast-paced water sports like jet skiing and water skiing. In fact, parts of Lake Jordan contain such treacherous rapids that this portion of the Coosa River was dubbed “The Devil’s Staircase” before its impoundment.
Just south of the lake, below the Jordan Dam, are a series of Class III rapids known as the Moccasin Gap, a popular area for whitewater rafting. The upper portion of the reservoir receives racing tailwaters from Mitchell Lake, making it a fishing hotspot. This area can be dangerous at times due to the unpredictable and turbulent uptake and release of water by the power facility, so visitors should exercise caution when exploring this area.
Lake Jordan is rich in sport fish and has healthy populations that have remained stable for over 40 years. Superb fishing is available for any freshwater species you can think of- from black basses and crappies to catfish. Sport fish are maintained by thriving forage fish communities throughout the lake. Black bass and crappies are exceptional, with most fish exceeding the state average.
List of Fish Species in Lake Jordan, Alabama
1) Blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus)
Blue catfish are the largest catfish species in North America and one of the most gargantuan freshwater fish in the United States. Blue catfish easily grow to 40 pounds (18.1 kg), with the most massive of monsters reaching over 100 pounds (45.4 kg). In Lake Jordan, they range anywhere from 5 to 32.5 inches (12.7 to 82.6 cm) long.
With their massive bodies, willingness to bite, and abundant quantity of delicious meat per individual, blue catfish may seem to be the perfect aquaculture species. However, these fish are not the first choice for commercial fish farms, as they are more susceptible to diseases than other species.
Unlike their relatives, blue catfish prefer fast-flowing waters. Luckily, Lake Jordan is filled with swift channels. The best place to look for blue catfish is in dam tailwaters, where the fish also tend to be bigger. From April to June, blue catfish migrate to shallow, stagnant habitats like Blackwell Slough. During this period, male fish prepare nests, in which a breeding female lays up to 8,000 eggs per kilogram of her body weight.
2) Flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris)
Flathead catfish get their names from the flattened slope on the tops of their crania between their eyes. These scaleless fish average 18 – 24 inches (46 – 61 cm) in Alabama. They have tiny eyes and lower jaws that jut out beyond their upper lips in a characteristic underbite. Unlike blue catfish which have plain, slate backs, flatheads are yellow-brown and densely mottled in an array of black, olive, and white spots. Their tail fins are nearly straight, notched with a slight slit in the middle.
Like other catfish, flatheads have whisker-like barbels that they use to detect food. They are ruthless predators that no fish in Lake Jordan is safe from. Species included in the flathead catfish’s diet are largemouth bass, sunfish, shad, and even other catfish! Given their size and aggressive temperament, flatheads almost always sit at the top of aquatic food chains. Flathead catfish are vulnerable only in their juvenile stages when they fall victim to other catfish and shorebirds like herons.
3) Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
Though channel catfish don a brown-yellow hue similar to the flathead, they can be distinguished by their protruding upper jaw, convex snout, large eyes, and deeply forked tail. Their yellow-brown pigmentation is tinged gray, sometimes resembling the blue catfish. They are marked with far fewer spots than the flathead, instead sporting sporadic, freckle-like dots. They have rounded anal fins with 24 – 29 soft rays.
Channel catfish are native to Alabama but have been introduced throughout North America for commercial aquaculture. In fact, channel catfish were the first fish species to be raised as food in the United States on a large scale. Currently, a hybrid of the channel and blue catfish is produced for fish farming, as it grows 30% faster than other catfish species, is more resistant to disease, and can survive in crowded ponds with low oxygen.
Channel catfish are also crucial in maintaining recreational fisheries throughout the country. They are nocturnal, and night-fishing for them at Lake Jordan is best in the summer. Since channel catfish detect food with their tastebud-covered bodies, jug fishing using bait like chicken liver, earthworms, and cut shad can yield great success.
4) Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)
Unlike catfish that prefer deep, flowing waters, largemouth bass occupy Lake Jordan’s shallow backwaters and sloughs. In these calm areas, largemouth bass spend most of their time hiding in aquatic brush. They lie in wait for their next meal, which consists of almost anything that can fit in their mouths. Largemouths eat fish, mollusks, amphibians, crustaceans, and even small mammals if they wander into the water. Once prey is spotted, a largemouth lurches out of its hideout to ensnare the victim in its massive mouth. The jaws of a largemouth bass extend beyond the posterior of the eye when closed. This method of hunting is known as ambush predation.
Largemouth bass are one of the most adored sport fish across the United States. There are two known subspecies— the northern largemouth (M. s. salmoides) and the Florida largemouth (M. s. floridanus), the latter of which is routinely stocked in Lake Jordan. They are loved by anglers for their spirited resistance when hooked. Largemouths are intelligent fish that can present even more experienced fishers with a challenge, as they avoid lures that they’ve already been captured with! Lake Jordan has served as the stage for countless high-profile bass tournaments, including the 2022 Alabama Bass Trail Series Championship. Largemouth fishing in Lake Jordan is best in the thick patches of water willow (Justicia spp.) that grow along the banks of the lake.
5) Spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus)
Spotted bass have laterally-compressed, olive-green bodies that fade to white ventrally. Young fish have a conspicuous stripe of unconnected dots running from head to tail. These dots eventually join to form an irregular stripe in adulthood that resembles an audio oscillogram with alternating peaks and troughs. Their profile is divided horizontally into two by this stripe. The top portion is covered in uneven blotches, while the lower half is stippled with rows of fine specks.
Spotted bass spawn from April to May, when temperatures reach 57 – 74 °F (13.9 – 23.3 °C). Male fish excavate nests in clay or gravelly substrates at a wide range of depths. Some spotted bass spawn in their usual cool habitat as low as 20 feet (6.1 m) in the water column, while others venture to areas as shallow as 3 feet (0.9 m). Males guard eggs, which hatch after only 4 to 5 days. Spotted bass can live for up to 6 years, and can be aged by examining their scales and bones.
6) Redeye bass (Micropterus coosae)
The redeye bass or Coosa bass is native to Lake Jordan. In fact, its species epithet, “coosae”, and alternative common name are derived from its origin in the Coosa River system. Since the 1950s, the redeye bass has been translocated across the United States for recreational fishing, though species establishment was most successful in Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Within their ecosystems, redeyes inhabit moderate currents with abundant structures like undercut banks or boulders. They also associate with foliage such as water willows (Justica spp.).
Redeye bass are much smaller than other black basses, averaging only 14 – 17 inches (35.6 – 43.2 cm). Tail fins, anal fins, and the soft-rayed portion of the dorsal fin are often tinged dark orange. The top and bottom of the tail fin are bordered with white. Like spotted bass, the light undersides of redeyes are lined with small, lateral dots. Redeye bass are distinguished by their mouths, which extend to or slightly behind the rear of the eye. As their name suggests, their most recognizable trait is their brilliant red-brown irises.
Even with knowledge of a redeye’s typical features, identifying this fish can still be confusing. In 2013, four new species were derived from geographical variants of Micropterus coosae, though most still refer to all species as redeye bass.
7) White bass (Morone chrysops)
While the largemouth bass, spotted bass, and other members of the Micropterus genus constitute the black basses, they are not true bass, but members of the sunfish family. White bass belong to the true or temperate bass family, the Moronidae. They are defined by deep, silver bodies with tiny heads arched at the nape. They have separated dorsal fins consisting of a spinous anterior fin and a soft-rayed posterior section.
Though white bass generally prefer pelagic waters near the lake’s surface, their patterns of habitat colonization are unpredictable. Lake Jordan white bass grow faster than those in nearby reservoirs, with fish reaching 9.1 inches (23 cm) long in less than a year. This is due to the ample phytoplankton (algal) blooms throughout the lake, which provide sustenance for the shad that white bass feed on. Females grow more rapidly than males, and fish can live for up to 5 years.
The creel limit for white bass in Lake Jordan is 15 fish per day.
8) Striped bass (Morone saxatilis)
Striped bass or stripers are the enormous cousin species of the white bass, reaching incredible lengths of 2 feet (61 cm) from head to tail. Small stripers are sometimes mistaken for white bass, but can be identified by their cylindrical shape and conspicuous stripes. The stripes of a striped bass remain continuous below the lateral line.
Striped bass form schools in deep waters with low turbidity. Their ideal temperatures are 64.9 to 70 °F (18.3 to 21.1 °C), though they can endure conditions as cool as 48.2 °F (9 °C). They are predators throughout their entire life cycle, experiencing dietary shifts as they mature. Larvae eat zooplankton, while juveniles eat small invertebrates, crustaceans, and larval fish. Adults feast on small fish and invertebrates. Like humans, striped bass have teeth that make swallowing food easier. Their teeth are located in two patches at the back of their tongues, and help stripers to hold prey in place until they can swallow them whole.
Striped bass fishing in Lake Jordan is best near underwater structures like bank ledges, rock piles, and even vegetation.
9) Hybrid striped bass (Morone chrysops x Morone saxatilis)
A hybrid is the resulting offspring created by the interbreeding of two different species. The hybrid striped bass, also called the wiper, is a cross between the white bass and the striped bass. They were first produced in South Carolina in the 1960s to create a sport fish with the hulking size of the striped bass and the environmental durability of the white bass. Since then, hybrids have been farmed in hatcheries across the United States. Lake Jordan is consistently stocked with wipers every year, with 6 fish added per acre of the reservoir.
Hybrid striped bass are phenotypically (visually) intermediate between their two parent species. Their bodies are shorter and more compressed than the striped bass, but their stripes are more discernible than the white bass, though still broken. Like striped bass, they possess two tooth patches on their tongue.
The combined limit for striped bass and wiper harvest in Lake Jordan is 15 fish per angler per day. A maximum of 5 of the 15 fish may be longer than 22 inches (55.9 cm).
10) Redear sunfish (Lepomis microlophus)
Redear sunfish are robust, laterally flattened fish found throughout Alabama. Their green, oblong bodies converge abruptly at the lengthened tail peduncle, resembling a bottleneck. They have lines of dark, vertical bands that dissolve dorsoventrally, though pigmentation varies between individuals.
Redears, like largemouth bass, belong to the sunfish family, the Centrarchidae. The genus name Lepomis is a combination of Greek words that roughly translates to “scaled gill cover”. This name describes the pigmented opercula sported by members of the group. Redears and their relatives are also collectively referred to as bream in Alabama. Redear sunfish, as their name suggests, have black ear flaps fringed with an unmistakable scarlet in males, and orange in females.
Anglers in Alabama frequently refer to redears as shellcrackers, an apt nickname derived from the fish’s peculiar feeding habits. Redears are molluscivores- meaning that their diet consists almost entirely of hard-shelled invertebrates like snails and mussels. They have broad, flattened pharyngeal teeth powered by a unique network of muscles that they use to crush shells as they pass through their throats. Because of their particular diets, redears do not compete for food with other sunfish.
11) Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
Another sunfish, bluegills are a key species in maintaining ecological balance in Lake Jordan. They sit in the middle of the reservoir’s food chain, controlling populations of invertebrates while providing nourishment for bass and crappies. Freshly hatched bluegills feed on zooplankton, while more developed juveniles eat insects and small crustaceans like copepods and water fleas (Daphniidae). Adults are omnivorous and will eat anything they can— including algae, fish eggs, smaller fish, and insect larvae. These feisty fish will even try to nibble at your toes if they get the opportunity!
While necessary for maintaining trophic stability throughout the lake, uncontrolled bluegill populations can prove detrimental. Bluegills are density-dependent, meaning that they achieve larger sizes when there are fewer fish to compete with. Bluegill crowding results in smaller, low-quality fish that negatively impact fisheries and bass populations.
12) White crappie (Pomoxis annularis)
Crappies constitute the small Poxomis genus, consisting of only two nearly identical species. White crappies are the first of these, characterized by oval bodies, wide, fan-like dorsal and anal fins, and faded vertical bars on their flanks. Their single dorsal fin contains 5 – 6 anterior spines and 14 – 15 soft rays. They have gaping, upturned mouths, perfect for scooping up a wide range of prey like floating crustaceans, fish, and occasionally insects.
White crappies are locally nicknamed papermouths because of the extremely thin flesh surrounding their mouths, which tears easily if the hook is set too forcefully. The best time to search for white crappies in Lake Jordan is during the spring, when fish congregate near shallow, submerged wood. In the winter, they school near the surface of open waters. The best bait for catching papermouths is live minnows.
13) Black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
Black crappies are darker than their sister species, with black mottling covering their entire bodies, a pattern which has earned them the nickname “calico bass”. During April spawning season, telling black and white crappies apart can become a seemingly impossible task, as male white crappies morph into a darker variation that is nearly identical to the black crappie. The most accurate way to differentiate the two is to observe the anterior spines on the dorsal fin— black crappies have 7 – 8 spines, while white crappies have fewer. Black crappies are less tolerant of turbid waters than white crappies, and will not occupy areas of the lake that receive surface runoff. Instead, they reside in gentle, pristine waters with muddy or sandy bottoms.
Birds aren’t the only animals to build nests for their young! Like most sunfish, male black crappies dig saucer-shaped depressions in the lake’s substratum when they are ready to spawn. These nests are created in shallow water, usually less than 3 feet (0.9 m) deep. Nesting is colonial, and craters are spaced less than 23.6 inches (60 cm) apart. After creating a breeding site, the male’s next task is to attract a mate. Female black crappies can lay up to 200,000 eggs in a single breeding season! Once eggs have hatched and fry have become independent, crappies migrate back to their resident deep waters.
14) Longnose gar (Lepisosteus osseus)
Gar are sometimes mistaken for miniature alligators, but these intimidating creatures are actually a group of primitive fish. They represent a marvel of nature, with modern-day members retaining several key features of gar fossils from millions of years ago. This means that gar are extraordinarily resilient creatures, having the morphology to withstand the extreme heat of the Cretaceous period, the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction, and at least 4 ice ages in the past 500,000 years! For this reason, species in the gar family are often described as “living fossils”.
Longnose gar truly look like they came from another era, with torpedo-shaped bodies reaching 3.9 – 5.9 feet (1.2 – 1.8 m) long. Their narrow, pointed snouts are over twice as long as their heads, and are lined with sharp teeth used to firmly grasp gizzard shad and sunfish. Their brown bodies fade to white underneath, and they are marked with large, cheetah-like spots on their sides, fins, and backs. Despite their eye-catching appearance when caught, longnose gar are masters of camouflage in the water. They imitate driftwood by floating near the surface, where they sneak up on prey and occasionally breathe air using specialized swim bladders.
The Alabama longnose gar record has remained uncontested for nearly 40 years, with a 32-lb 14-oz (14.9kg) catch in Lake Jordan in 1985. Hook-and-line fishing is ill-suited for capturing gar, as their jaws are too hard to be pierced. They are, however, popular in bowfishing.
15) Gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum)
Though small, gizzard shad are one of the most ecologically significant species in Lake Jordan. They are major components of the diet of nearly all sport fish in the reservoir, loved for their easy-to-eat soft dorsal fins. Fish that hunt gizzard shad include black basses, temperate basses, crappies, catfish, and gar, as well as shorebirds and bald eagles that reside near the lake’s banks. Gizzard shad form schools in calm, pelagic waters, where they use their gill rakers to suck up plankton. They are temperature-sensitive and experience seasonal mortality at temperatures lower than 37.4 °F (3 °C).
Gizzard shad have deep, lance-shaped profiles and blunt heads. The last ray of their short dorsal fin extends backward in a needle-like projection. Gizzard shad are not ideal targets for sport fishing, as they are filled with bones, and rarely bite lures since their diet consists of microscopic organisms. Though unappetizing to humans, they make great live bait, though they must be kept in circulating, temperature-controlled water to stay alive.