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Much more like the river it began as than the lake it is now, Bankhead Lake winds it way through the Metropolitan region of Alabama. With twists and turns rimmed by fingers and coves, the lake stretches 65 miles and flows through parts of Walker, Jefferson, and Tuscaloosa Counties. For almost a hundred years people have been coming to the fishing camps that line Bankhead Lake's 400-mile shoreline, fleeing the hectic pace of nearby Birmingham. Instead, they've opted to rock in chairs on porches, swing their legs off docks, and fall asleep to the music of frogs and crickets all as the water of the Black Warrior River moves on.
Also known as Bankhead Reservoir, the lake is an impoundment of the Black Warrior River. It was created in 1916 with the completion of the John Hollis Bankhead Lock and Dam. The 457-mile long Black Warrior-Tombigbee waterway includes Holt, Warrior, Oliver, Coffeeville, Demopolis and Bankhead, with Bankhead the northernmost lake in the system. The waterway is a US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) project created for commercial navigation, hydroelectric power, and recreation. Some sections, including Bankhead Reservoir were created and managed by the Alabama Power Company.
There are no public access points on Bankhead Lake, but there is significant residential and commercial development, including marinas with boat launches, rentals and supplies. The lake is popular with all kinds of boaters. The shoreline is best explored by canoe or kayak, but the deep water and long stretches make power boating very popular. In fact, using the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, boats can travel from Bankhead Lake down to the Gulf of Mexico.
The original development around Bankhead Lake was primarily fish camps, and many of the 1920's-era cabins still dot the shore. The lake is popular with anglers. In fact, it holds the current state record and former world record for a 25-pound 15-ounce hybrid striped bass caught in 1996. There are healthy populations of large mouth and spotted bass to challenge anglers and some very large, if not plentiful, crappie. The headwaters of Bankhead Reservoir are really the tail waters of Smith Lake, and they are a great place to fish for rainbow trout, catfish, and sunfish. Seasonally, the skipjack herring fishery is exceptional.
Today, planned waterfront communities are springing up beside the old fishing camps, and there is real estate for sale around Bankhead Lake, including both lots and waterfront homes. Vacation rentals include waterfront cabins and cottages. The lake is less than 45 minutes from Birmingham, providing visitors easy access to all the amenities of a big city and making it the perfect place for a second home or weekend getaway. Some properties on Bankhead Lake are partially bordered by the Mulberry Fork Wildlife Management Area. The 35,000-acre area allows hunting for large and small game and helps Bankhead Lake feel farther from Birmingham's urban center than it actually is.
As it has been doing for almost a century, the water of the Black Warrior River flowing through Bankhead Lake calls the weary to pause as the water does on its way to other places. Offering respite and harkening back to a simpler time, Bankhead Lake lures both fishing poles and bare feet into its clean, clear water.
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