Editor’s Note: Kelly Reetz, the naturalist at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama, has plenty of information about Lake Shelby, as does Dave Armstrong, district fisheries supervisor for District V, which includes Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. One of the most-amazing bodies of water anywhere, Lake Shelby is the closest freshwater lake to salt water. Lake Shelby consists of three spring-fed lakes but also has had an intrusion of salt water throughout its history. When waves from hurricanes wash over the Alabama Gulf Coast, they often deposit speckled trout, redfish, white trout and flounder into the lake. When the storms subside, and the lake returns to its natural boundaries, Lake Shelby then will home good numbers of both freshwater and saltwater fish. “Lake Shelby is a part of the state park system,” Armstrong explains. “However, the Fisheries Section of Alabama’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has often helped stock Lake Shelby.”

Question: Dave, what species of fish have been stocked in Lake Shelby?
Armstrong: Over the years, Lake Shelby has been stocked with Florida-strain largemouth bass, channel catfish, bluegills and shellcrackers. It also seems to have a naturally-occurring population of crappie and a few pickerel. In the past, Alabama Marine Resources Division also has stocked the lake with redfish. Because the sand around Lake Shelby has been naturally saturated with salt, the waters have always had some salinity in them. Therefore, the lake’s waters can support both freshwater and saltwater species of fish.

Question: Kelly, where does the fresh water come from that creates Lake Shelby?
Reetz: I’m not certain, but I’ve been told that the springs that feed Lake Shelby come from an underwater aquifer that may extend as far north as Lake Michigan. Wherever the water comes from, we know our lake is spring-fed. I’ve been told that “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” says that Lake Shelby is the closest freshwater lake to salt water in the world, but I haven’t been able to verify this myth.

Question: What types of fish are being caught out of Lake Shelby right now?
Reetz: Our visitors catch a good number of freshwater catfish, largemouth bass, bluegills, shellcrackers, speckled trout and redfish. So, you get the best of both worlds, saltwater and freshwater, when you fish Lake Shelby.

Question: How do the freshwater fish stay alive in that salt water?
Reetz: The last time our water was tested, there was about eight-parts-per-million of salt in the water, which the freshwater fish and the saltwater fish can tolerate. When hurricanes Ivan, Katrina and Dennis dumped rains and salt water into our lake, many of our freshwater fish died. However, when the water cleared-up, and the freshwater content began to rise, our lake was restocked. We once again had freshwater and saltwater fish in Lake Shelby. In April 2008, we put into Lake Shelby $2500 worth of freshwater catfish, 1000 catfish weighing 2- to 4-pounds each, for the Kids’ Jubilee we held. Of course, the youngsters didn’t catch all the catfish, so there are plenty of them left in the lake, plus the other catfish that have been stocked by the State of Alabama.

Question: What about the bass fishing in the lake?
Reetz: Most people don’t report what they catch, but I’ve heard that anglers are catching nice-sized bass from the lake. Too, we have some pretty-good bream fishing. To fish Lake Shelby, you need to have a park permit, a fishing license and a fishing permit, and if you launch a boat, there’s a launch fee.

Here’s the breakdown on costs:

  • The entrance fee to the state park is: children under 7-years old are admitted free
  • Children ages 7-12 pay $0.50
  • Senior citizens 62 years and older pay $0.50
  • All other visitors are admitted for $1
  • A boat launch fee is $2 and fishing Lake Shelby costs $2 per person.

An honor box is located at the entrance of the picnic area where you can deposit your money. Tear off the top of your envelope, and that’s your permit to fish. The length and bag limits are:

  • bass – 14-inch-minimum length limit with a bag limit of three
  • bream – no minimum size and a bag limit of 10
  • crappie – 9-inch-minimum length limit and a 10-fish bag limit
  • catfish – 12-inch-minimum length and a bag limit of six
  • redfish – 16-inch-minimum and 26-inch-maximum with a three-fish bag limit
  • speckled trout – 14-inch-minimum length limit and a 10-fish bag limit.

All other fish limits are based on the State of Alabama’s freshwater and saltwater limits.

When you visit Lake Shelby to fish the Gulf of Mexico this summer, you can fish from your jonboat, bass boat, canoe, kayak or belly boat for both saltwater and freshwater species. Many Alabama Gulf Coast guests don’t realize what a unique fishery we have here at Lake Shelby.

For more information, contact Kelly Reetz at Gulf State Park at 251-948-7275. Or contact the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.alabamasnaturalcoast.net or 1-800-745-SAND.