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I’ve wanted to make a shoal bass trip for a long time and this trip provided me the perfect opportunity to do so.  Once we finished the redeye slam I knew we would probably need at least one more bass species to close out the Georgia bass slam and I knew exactly which species I wanted to target.  Shoal bass are native to the Chattahoochee and Flint River basins, but have also been introduced in the Ocmulgee River.  The Upper Chattahoochee was en route to the cabin from where we camped so that’s where we headed.

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Where we chose to fish the river there weren’t a ton of shoals, but it had some and they were close to an access point, plus there was a tributary we could fish as well.  We usually do better on smaller water so I figured this spot was our best shot at a shoal bass.

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I was able to catch a couple of juvenile 8″ fish that I think were shoal bass below and above this riffle.  Having never caught a shoal bass though I wasn’t 100% on the ID, I wanted to catch a no-doubter.

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Lucky for me I got a hold of a no-doubter.  As I floated the crawfish pattern through the tail end of a pool above the riffle and close to the shore I had a really good strike from a fish.  After a solid strip set I was into a good fight.  The fish made it easy on me and decided not to head downstream, instead heading further up into the pool.   I was able to corral the fish and grab it’s bottom lip.  Boom, shoal bass success!

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It may have only been a 13.5″ fish, but I’ve been wanting to catch that fish for a long time.  We kept fishing the rest of the shoals without any more luck so we hit the tributary stream.

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It was good looking water, but not very productive, I didn’t catch anything else and Blake wasn’t able to land a shoal bass.  Kind of a bummer that Blake wasn’t able to also get the Georgia bass slam, but we were looking forward to getting to the cabin and shifting our focus to trout.  Next time we fish for shoal bass we’ll have to find a nice big shoal complex which will probably mean making a float to put ourselves in more habitat for longer.

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Next up for Blake and I was the Altamaha Bass, which is found above the fall line in the Ocmulgee, Oconee, and Ogeechee river basins.

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We woke up early, packed up camp, and headed to the river to hike down to where we wanted to begin to fish.  The Chattahoochee River trib we fished the day before was much smaller than the river we were about to fish and had better clarity too, but this was still fishy looking water.

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Things were pretty slow early on, Blake picked up a sunfish or two before we got into any bass.  I caught an 8″ Altamaha in some slow water under a log to start things off.  Blake followed that up with a good one that went 10″.  These fish didn’t have the bright red fins like the Chattahoochee bass, but they did have some orange color on upper and lower part of the caudal fin, and outer margins of their second dorsal, and anal fins.

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We caught a few more bass and sunfish as the morning progressed.  The action had only slightly picked up as we worked our way through the shoals.  When we got to the end of the shoals we headed out and made our way into Athens for lunch.

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On the recommendation of my brother we stopped at Akademia brewpub for lunch, the beer and food were excellent, the bartender was top notch too.  I’d recommend it to anyone heading to Athens.

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After lunch we made our way to Watson Mill Bridge State Park where we planned to camp and fish for Bartram’s bass, the last redeye we needed to complete the slam, the redeye bass found above the fall line in the Savannah river basin.

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There was still some daylight after we had set up camp so we decided to try and knock out the Bartram’s that evening.

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We started on a tributary creek that ran through the park, but it was slow and low and Blake only managed a chub there, so we moved on to the shoals below the mill dam.  It was a good move because we were able to catch our Bartram’s there shortly after we started fishing.

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With the redeye bass slam complete we’d accomplished what we had set out to do and it was a pretty awesome feeling.  I had four of the five bass species needed to get a Georgia bass slam so tomorrow we’d set out to catch a shoal bass and knock that slam out too.  First we’d feast though, steak night tonight.

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After completing the Mobile Basin redeye slam back in May, Blake and I knew we wanted to make another trip later in the summer and complete the seven species redeye slam by catching our Chattahoochee, Altamaha, and Bartram’s bass in Georgia.  I’ve spent plenty of time fishing for wild trout in North Georgia, but I’ve never really sought the native basses in the state.  Last year the Georgia WRD introduced a bass slam of their own and have put in a lot of work creating a website that really provides a great starting point to planning a trip to target any or all of the ten black bass species found in the state.  Check out the nifty ArcGIS web mapping application they’ve built below:

https://arcg.is/nm5Dy

With the help of the Georgia WRD online resources and the help of a few other friends we set off early last Wednesday to camp and fish our way across the state, starting on a tributary to the Chattahoochee to target the aptly named Chattahoochee Bass.

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As you can tell from the Joseph Tomelleri illustration above these bass differ from other bass species because their second dorsal, caudal, and anal fins have bright orange to red coloration on the outer portions.

After about a 7.5 hour drive we arrived at our destination around lunch time and hiked down to where we wanted to start fishing.  It did not take long to start catching fish.  They weren’t the target species, but Blake began wearing out the redbreast sunfish (Lepomis auritus) in the first spot we tried.  I joined in on the fun with a healthy bluegill on a hopper.

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After a few bream we began working our way upstream.  We each caught a bass or two that looked like a spotted bass, or hybrids, before we got into the redeye.  One good thing about the Chattahoochee bass is their bright red fins make it hard to mistake them for anything else.

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We eventually got into our target fish and we each caught a few around 8-9″.  After trying a hopper/dropper early I switched to a crawfish pattern Blake tied and that’s when I really started to catch them, swimming it slowly through good looking water.

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My best Chattahoochee bass was a 9″ football who didn’t miss a meal.  I also managed to catch a nice 12.5″ spotted bass in a slower bend of the stream.  We may have been targeting redeyes, but I wasn’t against the bycatch, especially if I wanted to complete the Georgia bass slam too.

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We packed up shortly after that.  It was after 5pm and we still needed to drive another 2.5 hours east to set up camp, closer to where we planned to fish the next morning for Altamaha bass.  It was a great start to the trip though.

I don’t get out much to fish anymore, but I found some time Sunday to do just that.  I loaded everything up late Saturday with plans to make the long drive to catch some redfish the next morning.  When I woke up and checked the weather it was evident that inshore fishing wasn’t an option.  The entire Gulf was covered in rain.  Everything inland looked alright though, at least for the time being, so I had to come up with plan B fast.  I decided to head down the road a bit and check out a lake in the Maurepas swamp that I’d heard good things about.  I had no idea how much time I’d have before rain chased me off or if I’d even have any success, but I had to get out.

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I arrived at the launch shortly after sunrise and was out on the water as fast as I could possibly load my boat.  I was happy to see the black water was fairly clean and the lake seemed to have a healthy amount of submerged vegetation.  I didn’t use the flex drive of the Cruise FD much today because of the grass and I couldn’t help but think on trips like this how much I missed the Kilroy.  I started out throwing a hollow body weedless topwater frog and was treated to a couple of quick hits from largemouth bass.  I connected on my second one and hoped that the trend would continue.

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As I worked the shoreline and nearshore grass I had a few more slashing hits on the frog that were more likely from gar than bass.  In time I came to a spot where the lake narrowed and a couple tributaries dumped in.  It was a beautiful spot with an obviously healthy swamp.  The water was visibly moving in the bayous as it drained into the lake.

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IMG_6461Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

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I rounded a bend in the bayou and heard a tremendous toilet bowl flush that made the hair on my neck stand up with excitement.  After scanning the area I was able to pinpoint the location of the activity and made a cast with the frog beyond the spot so I could run it through the area.  On my second cast I got an eat and as soon I was hooked up the fish took to the air and I could see that I had a choupique on the line.  After a nice fight and the fish getting caught in a wad of grass I was able to boat the dinosaur.  A lot of people call these things trash fish, but you know what they say about one man’s trash?  If I’m catch and release fishing I’ll take a fight from a choupique all day long.

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After the battle with the choupique, and replacing my frog, I headed back toward the lake and continued fishing topwater.  The bite began to wane so I switched things up and went to the fly rod.  I began working a popper-dropper around the trees and stumps that weren’t covered up in duckweed and soon began catching fish again.  The stumpknocker were active that morning and repeatedly hit an electric blue Boogle bug that they couldn’t possibly fit in their mouth.  Every once in a while they’d see the dropper and I’d be quick enough to set the hook.

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I continued fishing the fly rod and had a couple surprises.  The first one was a fish that I thought was going to be a big bull bluegill on hookset.  The popper slowly began to sink so I gave a little hookset and then I felt a lot more resistance than normal and the popper began going sideways.  After a nice fight with my glass 4wt double over at times I landed a bass – and a wad of grass.

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The second was a spotted gar that came after the popper and when I set the hook on the eat my popper came out and my dropper tagged him under the chin.  Not the conventional way to catch them on the fly, but it sure was easier to handle than a rope fly.

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I continued to fish the fly rod and explore the bayous that drained into the lake.  I caught a few more stumpknocker before the rain began to fall.  It was a little after noon when it began to fall hard enough that I decided enough was enough and pedaled my way back to the launch.  For being a last minute backup option the Maurepas swamp sure was a good one.  It was a beautiful place to explore and home to a good variety of hungry fish – I’m sure I’ll be back.

 

We were after hours guests at Brierfield Ironworks Park and the on-site hosts were very accommodating.  As I understood their instruction, any place we saw fit was available for primitive camping, though there were some designated spots with picnic tables and fire pits.  We picked a spot, recommended by the host, up on a hill overlooking the rest of the park as it had some suitable trees to hang our hammocks.  It was the warmest night of the trip, but not too warm to where it was tough to sleep.  In fact I got great sleep that night and I needed it.  The camping spot was away from everyone else so there were no dogs to growl at me and there weren’t any whip-poor-wills going berserk – it was the best camping spot we had all trip.  We also stayed dry, the rain moved quickly through the area and didn’t linger.  We looked forward to a blue bird morning fishing for Cahaba bass.  A huge bonus to staying in a State Park was that we were actually able to shower that morning.  A hot shower after a couple of days of living in your own filth does wonders.  We left the park re-energized and ready to cap off our slam.

We had a short drive to fish a tributary of the Cahaba River right where it dumps in to the main river, giving us the option to fish either.  We are small water guys so fishing the tributary was more appealing than fishing the shoals of the Cahaba.  If we had an entire day we would have done both, however it was Sunday and we still needed to drive home, so we really only had a half day to devote to fishing.

After traversing a long, bumpy gravel road we were at our destination and began making our trek upstream.  We split ways after stepping in the water with Blake fishing downstream of me as I began working my way upstream.  It wasn’t long before I heard him holler that he had caught his Cahaba bass.

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After a long day of feeling the pressure the day before I’m sure it was a big relief for Blake to knock out his slam early and put that pressure back on me.  I wasn’t too worried as it was early and his fish ate aggressively.  I fished on and actually missed chances at two separate redeye in places by pulling the fly out of their mouth.  Meanwhile Blake pulled out a redeye behind me, after that I switched from my hopper-dropper to a subsurface fly.  Soon enough I was catching fish.

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They just weren’t the target species.  The bluegills were feisty that day.  We had very little luck on topwater this entire trip, which goes against everything I read about redeye.  The trusty woolly bugger was catching fish though.  I finally fooled a bass, but to be honest I couldn’t tell if it was entirely redeye or if it was a hybrid.  I went through the slam protocol as if it were a Cahaba bass, but I still felt like I needed to catch another one, just to make sure.

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This creek had no shortage of good-looking water and we fished every fishy looking part.  Much like on other creeks they weren’t holding in the mid-water trout-type holding areas, we had much better luck catching them in slower water, so we worked the pools and any other slow water pretty hard.

We ran into a stand of Cahaba lilies on this tributary.  They are similar to the spider lilies that grow in ditches on the side of the road here in Louisiana, but the Cahaba lilies have a much more specialized habitat, living only in shoals in the middle of rivers above the Fall Line in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.  They bloom around late May, early June so we were a little early for their peak, but it was pretty cool to at least catch a few blooming.

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IMG_5460Cahaba lily (Hymenocallis coronaria)

We weren’t exactly lighting the world on fire catching fish.  It was slow, not as slow as the day before, but still slow.  Things did start to pick up as it got hotter out.  I finally caught another redeye, it was a baby, and then I caught another baby.  There’s no size requirement for this slam so I was fine with the micro fish.  I was now confident that the slam was in hand.  Blake would catch another one as well and it had to be bigger.

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We got to a big pool and decided that this was it, it was past noon at this point and we still had a six-hour drive ahead of us so after the pool we would turn around and hike out.  It was the right call as we both managed to catch decent sized Alabama bass from the pool.  I always like to end a trip with a good fish and this was a pretty sweet way to do it with us both catching nice fish in the last hole.

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After a walk through the woods we made it back to the vehicle and chowed down on some sandwiches before hitting the road.  It’s funny how nonchalant we are when we finish trips like this.  There is a sense of accomplishment in putting together a successful trip, but we’re not hoot-n-holler kind of guys, so we just smile and keep fishing.  It was a great trip, we fished a ton of awesome water, caught a bunch of fish, and had a good time hanging out with each other.  Now it’s time to start putting in the work to plan for Georgia.  The Altamaha, Bartram’s, and Chattahoochee bass are all we have left to finish our 7 species redeye slam and I can’t wait to do it.

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