Unicoi Outfitters is north Georgia's premier guide service and fly fishing outfitter, located on the Chattahoochee River near alpine Helen. Look for fishing reports, gear and book reviews, and general musings here from our staff and guides.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Shoalies on the Hooch

The heat we've been having lately has been pretty uncomfortable but it also flips a switch in those of us who don't have to be trout fishing every time we pick up a fly rod. For me, the logical choice is our native shoal bass which are found naturally only in the Chattahoochee River watershed. These feisty critters are a blast to catch. First, you're fishing moving water and I would rather fish a river or creek over a reservoir any day, even if the fishing is better in the pond. But, that's just me. Secondly, shoal bass, while more closely related to spotted bass, resemble smallmouth in their appearance and their reaction once hooked. The bars and stripes on a shoal bass can range from almost non-existent to brilliantly colored depending upon their localized habitat. Regardless of coloration, they are quick to attack their prey in and around swift water and rocky structure, they'll hit topwater as readily as streamers and they're just as likely to take off tail-walking as they are to bulldog you on the bottom. Superb gamefish for warm weather outings.

Afternoon temperatures have been as muggy and humid as a high school gymnasium locker room for the past week. With this in mind, I crawled out of bed this Saturday morning and hopped in the car for a quick ride over to the river for a couple of hours of fun. What a beautiful day this was. Very mild, steady breeze all morning, solitude and willing fish. In a couple of hours, I brought seven shoalies to hand, with at least four of them between 1 1/2 and 2 pounds. The big fish of the morning was a shoalie that would have gone 3 pounds or better but she long distance released me before I really had much chance to say anything about it. I'll remember where she was though.

My fishing tactics had to keep changing all morning. I started out with Craig Reindau's Harry Fodder in crawdad colors and that got me the first nice fish. When I moved into some shallow shoals, I switched to a white popper and continued to hook up with nice fish as well as some small guys with big attitudes. Finally, as I began my walk back downstream to the car, I switched to a small white Clouser in the deeper water. One of my best fish actually took the fly as it lay motionless on the bottom. Just when I think I may know a little about shoalies, something like this happens. Oh well, guess I'll have to spend more time on the river figuring them out.

Shoal bass are now found in the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, the Flint River and the Ocmulgee River between Lake Jackson and Macon. If you're looking for an alternative to trout fishing in the summer, this would be my suggestion to you. And please practice catch and release with these guys. They're way too special to only catch once.

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