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Wade Fishing

The first three days of our Georgia trip were devoted to bass fishing.  We were able to wrap up our redeye bass slam and as a bonus I was able to get the Georgia bass slam as well.  Now that we had made it to the cabin it was time to switch gears and target trout.

We hit the creek at the cabin early Saturday morning.  I had two rods rigged up; one with a big honking streamer that Blake tied for me and another with my standard hopper-dropper rig.

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I had a follow on the streamer in the first spot I fished, which had me excited, but then things were quiet as I fished subsequent spots.  Blake had an eat from a big fish, but it spit the hook early on in the fight.  It was beginning to look like we might skunk at the cabin that morning, but I finally made it to a spot I could effectively fish and I had another fish follow and even an attempted eat, but I pulled the fly out of his mouth.  I stuck with it though and luckily got another good eat and I stuck him with a strip set this time.

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Not the biggest rainbow we’ve caught at the cabin, but it was cool to get one on the big ass streamer.  I released that fish and went back to work and just downstream of my first eat I got another one.  This one was a little better fish.

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Getting to watch fish chase down and eat a big streamer was very cool, but it was obvious that throwing one was not a great way to fish every spot on the creek.  Hell you couldn’t fish every spot with one because there really wasn’t enough room for it in most places.  For the 3 or 4 spots though where it seems like it will be effective I’ll make to sure to have a streamer tied up every time I fish them from now on.  We headed up for lunch shortly after that and then hatched a plan to fish some wild water that afternoon.  Blake had brought a 1wt on the trip that needed to be fished.

After lunch we headed up the road to what has become our favorite small stream in North Georgia.  We were looking forward to some wild trout on dry flies as we had not had much topwater action this trip.  After a short hike into the stream, we dropped down off the trail and toward the bottom of the valley into the creek.  It was a little disturbing to see as much hog sign as we did on the walk down, but what are you gonna do, feral hog are everywhere now.  I let Blake fish the first good looking pool so I could tie on a nymph dropper and he took advantage of the opportunity and hooked a nice wild rainbow.

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It’s not often you get into wild trout over 10″ on North Georgia small streams, so this fish was pretty special.  We continued working our way upstream catching tiny rainbows in pocket water and nicer fish in the plunge pools and deeper runs.

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I hooked a fish in one pool that gave me a heck of a fight on the glass 3wt.  I was standing on the downstream side of a debris filled logjam fishing the pool upstream of it when the fish came up and hit the dry toward the back of the pool.  He ran all over the pool and under the logjam.  Thankfully I was able to keep the line tight and he wasn’t able to shake the fly.  I was able to pull him out of the logjam and back into the pool to land him.

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It was a heck of a wild rainbow that pushed 12″.  One of the best blueline rainbows I’ve caught in a long time.  We fished for a little while longer hoping that maybe a rogue brown trout would show up.

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No browns showed up, but it was a heck of a trip for 8-12″ rainbows.  The fish looked fat and happy too, which was nice to see because there are other concerning things happening in the valley.  At one point while we fished we saw a small pack of hogs which confirmed the hog sign we had seen.  We saw them again on the hike out.  It’s kind of a bummer they’ve discovered this valley.  Besides the hogs the hemlocks are continuing to die off due to the hemlock woolly adelgid and there is not much we can do to prevent that as treatment involves treating individual trees.  My hope is that other canopy trees will fill in for the dead hemlocks and continue to provide the shade these trout need.

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We headed back to the cabin to catch the Tiger game.  We left Sunday before dawn as it’s a long drive back to Louisiana.  We had a heck of a time fishing in Georgia.  This was the most diverse fishing trip we’ve ever done in Georgia and it was awesome.  I plan to make more of an effort to fish different bass water from the cabin.  Coosa redeye, shoal bass, and smallmouth bass are all fairly close.

I want to extend a big thanks to all the folks who helped us as we completed the redeye bass slam.  I came up with a plan of attack for the slam, but then bounced it off as many people who were willing to listen.  If you listened, thank you.  Thanks to Matthew Lewis, who wrote the book on redeye bass fly fishing.  His passion for the fish is infectious.  He was the inspiration for me to tackle the slam.  He completed it last year and when he and a couple buddies put a formal slam together this year I knew I had to give it a go.  I’m glad Blake was along for the ride.  Thanks to Andrew Taylor, a Georgia boy in Oklahoma, who was very influential in helping us decide where we needed to target these fish.  He has done some really great research on bass in Georgia.  Thanks to Jon Hummel, fellow Jackson teammate, he completed the Georgia bass slam last year and gave some great suggestions on where we could target fish in North Georgia.  We ended up spending most of our time further south, but his help was not in vain – I did get my shoal bass!  Thanks to Chris Lynch, Mark Miller, Josh Tidwell, James Eubank, and Josh Rhodes, these Alabama guys were more than willing to help point us in the right direction as we fished our way across their state.

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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:

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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.

As I mentioned in the Grand Isle post, I spent some time recently working up in West Virginia.  It was actually my fourth trip up to the state for work and I’ve still yet to squeeze any fishing in.  This time, since I was working at a site that was along the New River, I packed a fly rod thinking I may have time to break it out once I wrapped up what I needed to do at the end of each day.  That extra time never materialized, but on the day of our departure I had a few early morning hours to kill between sunrise and when we would need to drive to Charleston to fly out.  The night before I hatched a plan and picked a nearby Bluestone River access trail and crossed my fingers that everything would work out.

The next morning I woke up super early and drove to the trailhead.  I rigged up by iPhone light and waited until 6:00am to hike in – that’s when the trail opened according to the sign.  It was still dark as I walked, but twilight had broken through the trees as I came to my first landmark, a waterfall on a tributary stream, which was the main purpose of the trail.  I accessed the stream below the falls and decided to try my luck there, hoping the place was ate up with smallies.  It was beautiful water.

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After drifting flies through prime looking runs and only catching a chub of some kind I decided to head back up to the trail and head down to the main river, which was another mile or mile and a half in.  I was short on time so I didn’t waste it deliberating on what I should or shouldn’t do.  Worse comes to worse this would be a nice hiking trip as opposed to a nice fishing one.

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Now that I was hiking in daylight I could see how beautiful the trail was too.  The rock bluffs were reminiscent of those in the Bankhead, but the vegetation more resembled that of North Georgia.  As I continued hiking along the trail I began to notice that the tributary was getting pretty far from the footpath, not necessarily as the crow flew, but in terms of elevation.  I was hiking into a gorge and I didn’t even realize it. I figured there would be some elevation between myself and the trail, but this was getting to be a bit much.  The slope down to the river wasn’t gradual, all I could do was keep hiking and hope that it would taper off somewhere.  In time it did and I rambled my way down the hillside to the water.

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I quickly went back to fishing and caught another fish on the dropper, this time a shiner or minnow of some kind.  Chubs and shiners weren’t what I was after and as I looked up in the trees above me making sure not to foul my backcast I could see a giant bucktail jig hanging on some mono.  It was time to re-rig I thought.  I was throwing a popper/dropper thinking it would be a good way to cover water, but nothing was hitting the surface fly so I switched to a crawfish pattern that Blake tied up.  I was starting to run out of time if I wanted to catch a smallie, I had maybe a good half hour left to fish.  Up ahead I could see more pocket water, different than the runs that I had been fishing, a good place to swim a crawfish I thought, so I moved on up.

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My instincts were right and thankfully I did catch my smallie.  It wasn’t but maybe 8-10 inches, but I caught one.  Then I missed another one that was even smaller.  Then I hooked a chunky chub.  I looked at my watch and decided that I should head out before I got too caught up in the fishing.  I had to be back at the hotel for 9:30am and I definitely needed a shower before meeting up with my coworkers.

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It was a very nice hike out and I’m happy to report that I made it back to the hotel in time to shower.  In fact we were early enough to have lunch in Charleston and caught our flight out without issue.  I’m very thankful that my coworkers allowed me the time to do this.  I’d love to spend more time in West Virginia with a fly rod in hand, but it is hard for me to justify a personal trip up there when flights are as expensive as they are.  Maybe one day though, I’ve got a bucket list that seems to grow every year, it won’t hurt to add another trip to it.