WHERE TO USE THAT FLYROD
Kent Edmonds with a beautiful fly-caught river hybrid. A day
on the water with Kent is a bargain if you really want to get into flyfishing
rivers for bass and linesides. Follow this
link for info. Photo courtesy of Kent Edmonds.
There is no faster-growing segment of the
outdoor marketplace than flyfishing. There are more fly purists trout fishing
these days than ever before, and inshore and offshore saltwater flyfishing is
booming. The other day I saw a guy on TV land a blue marlin that probably
wouldn't fit in my truck, and he caught it on a flyrod! Volumes have been
written about flyfishing and the majesty, beauty, solitude, peacefulness,
self-reflection, and artistry (that enough pretty adjectives?) of the
sport. There's a bit of mystique surrounding the sport also, and
flyfishing (like golf) comes with it's own language (tippets, false casts,
shooting heads, etc.). All I know is that flyfishing is a fun and seriously
addictive way to catch fish in rivers and streams.
Now there are generally two ways to go about
flyfishing for warm-water river fish: 1) The way I do it, and 2) The right way.
I readily admit to being to being a poor flyfisherman, but I still usually
manage to have pretty good success on the few occasions that I break out the
long rod. I normally wade small to medium-size rivers and creeks for bass and
bream with an ancient fiberglass 8-weight filled with equally ancient floating
line. I don't do a lot of false casting because the fish are in the water, not
the air. I fish two lures almost exclusively: popping bugs and wooly buggers,
and almost never cast farther than 25 feet. There's no strategic reason for my
short casts other than when I try to make long ones, I come home with pierced
My personal favorite flies include (from left): Wooly Bugger,
topwater poppers, Clouser Minnows.
Having pretty much exhausted my flyfishing
expertise in the preceding paragraph, I decided to enlist the help of a
professional to help instruct those of you who want to get serious about
flyfishing rivers and streams. His name is Kent Edmonds, and Kent is a
flyfishing guide here in Georgia (based in Lagrange), and one of the more
knowledgeable river anglers around. Kent is the publisher of Flyfishing
West Georgia and Beyond, and specializes in guided river trips for striped,
hybrid, white, shoal, spotted, and largemouth bass in West Georgia and Eastern
Alabama. Kent also guides at Callaway Gardens (big bass and bream) and some
private streams in north Georgia for trophy trout. While this article
may get you pointed in the right direction, a day on the water with Kent will be
well worth the investment if you really want to learn about these fish and how
to catch them on a fly. You can contact Kent via e-mail through his website or
give him a call at (706) 883-7700.
Most warm-water flyfishermen are interested
in three groups of fish: black bass (largemouths, spotted bass, etc.), bream
(bluegill, redbreast), and linesides (white bass, striped bass, hybrids). This
article will focus on each group individually and deal with setups and flies,
techniques, and offer some general areas to try your luck. Continued...
Spotted bass can be found all over northern Georgia and can
be readily taken on flies with the proper techniques. Photo courtesy of Kent
In Georgia, we are blessed with a bunch of
different bass species to chase, and all of them will readily take flies and
often reside in less than five feet of water, making them good prospects for the
long rod. "Depending on the species you are after and the size of the fly
you are attempting to cast, any rod from a 5 to a
9-weight ought to work pretty well", says Kent, "and a 7-weight is a
pretty good all-around choice. Just remember that larger flies work best with
If you plan on fishing for
to the larger weights, as bucketmouths can get big and always live near trouble!
Largemouths prefer slower currents and will often hit on top or within a few
feet of the surface, making floating fly line a good option much of the time. I
use 10 or 12-pound test bass leader most of the time, and it is a pretty good
bet for all warm-water river applications. Topwater poppers (cork, foam, or hair
all work well), streamers like the Clouser Minnow are good choices for
shallow to mid-depth largemouths. With subsurface lures, anglers have a
tendency to strip them in too rapidly. "Use short strips and pause at least
a couple seconds between strips to allow the fly to reach and stay at the
desired depth", says Kent. "When casting upstream, strip line
just fast enough to stay ahead of the current and the fly will swim
When working any type of fly, all of the
action should be imparted with the hand and not the rod tip. The rod tip should
always be pointed at the fly, ready to set the hook should a strike occur. When
streamer fishing, Kent likes to give a couple hard strips when the fly hits the
water and then slowly twitch it along with the current. "This will get the
attention of any fish in the area", says Kent. Oh
yeah, and when you do get a strike, don't react like me and rear back on the rod
like you would with a plastic worm. I always seem to send little fish into orbit
or break off the bigger ones. Simply holding onto the line while raising the rod
tip works much better! Another common mistake anglers make when fishing
subsurface flies is to try and impart too much action. In rivers, most streamers
have plenty of action without too much help from the angler, and most look
downright sexy coming through the water.
Shoal and redeye bass can be an absolute
treat for the flyfisherman because they almost always live in shallow shoal
areas that are easily waded. Floating lines and lighter weight rods are great
for these species, and all of the previously mentioned lures work well, except
you may want to downsize them just a bit. A primary forage of both shoal bass
and redeyes is the hellgrammite, and Kent "has yet to find a fly that does
a better job at imitating hellgrammites than a black or brown Wooly Bugger tied
on hook sizes 4-8 XL". Cast Wooly Buggers (weighted or unweighted) across the current
and simply allow them to drift downstream, trying to keep the fly line
relatively straight and without too much slack. Sometimes painfully slow and
small strips do the trick also.
A lot of the time bass, particularly spotted
and largemouth bass, want their dinner served near the bottom. This can be
tricky, particularly with spots, which tend to live in swifter water. "In
these situations, floating line simply won't do the trick, because it gets swept
downstream before the fly has a chance to sink", says Kent. For situations
like these, intermediate, sink-tip, or sinking fly line is the answer. While
somewhat more difficult to cast, these
lines, especially sinking and sink-tip, get the fly down in the fish's strike
zone quickly. Streamers and Clouser Minnows (some are tied with monofilament
weedguards to help fend off snags) are both deadly on spotted bass when cast
upstream and across the current and allowed to drift downstream below the angler
and then slowly stripped back in. You can also cut down the length of your
leader to four feet or so when fishing streamers in this manner. This technique
allows the angler to cover a lot of productive water with one cast.
Largemouths can be found most anywhere, but
the rivers of central and south Georgia tend to be most productive. Spotted bass
fishing is really good in the Chattahoochee watershed and the Coosa system,
particularly in the Tallapoosa and upstream of the Oostanaula River, though the
Oostanaula itself is not too bad. Shoal bass can be found in the Chattahoochee,
Flint, and upper Ocmulgee Rivers and their tributaries while redeye fishing is
best in the smaller streams of northern Georgia. Remember that on many Georgia
rivers you have the chance of encountering two or three different species, so be
prepared for anything!
Bream are a great quarry for river
flyfishermen due to their abundance, willingness to hit, and scrappy nature. For
those just learning the nuances of flyfishing, a creek full of bluegills and
redbreasts is a great place to start. For those of us who live farther away
from the trout streams of northern Georgia than we'd like, bream offer a fun way
to stay sharp with the long rod in between drives up north. Taken on the proper
tackle, river bream are super gamefish, and when they get those flat sides
working against you in the current, you just might get addicted!
The two bream species that are most often targeted by flycasters are redbreasts
and bluegills. Both inhabit just about every river in Georgia and will hit the
same flies. Redbreasts seem to favor current a bit more than bluegills, but both
species often live in the same areas. Any size fly outfit works well with bream,
but anything under a 5-weight will give the angler a bit more sport. Since these
species have small mouths, flies for bream should be tied on nothing larger than
a #6 hook. Floating fly line works well in most situations, as bream can usually
be enticed to strike within a few feet of the surface.
Small poppers and sliders normally wear bream out in the warmer months, and foam
spiders, which sink ever so slowly, are the ticket when the fish are not quite
as aggressive. On occasions where the bream are being really finicky, a small
wooly bugger drifted with the current and twitched occasionally is usually more
than they can stand! Many trout fishermen may not have poppers or foam spiders
in their fly boxes. No need to run to the store to get in on the topwater
action. Every trout fisherman I know has a few big, bushy dry flies (like Elk
Hair Caddis or Stimulators) or hopper patterns, and these work great on bream,
bream flies include (from left): poppers, hopper patterns, Stimulator.
Kent Edmonds introduced me to a
technique that will catch bream on top and below the surface. "Tie on a
big, bushy dry fly like a #10 Elk Hair Caddis and then tie on a small Wooly
Bugger using a dropper line between one and three feet long, tying the end of the
dropper line to the hook shank of the dry fly. Most strikes will come on the
Wooly Bugger, but be ready because two fish on one cast is not unheard of with
this rig", says Kent. This dropper rig system works really well for
inexperienced flyfishermen like myself because the dry fly acts like a bobber.
When it goes under you've got a fish! If you are fishing a river with shoal or
redeye bass present, be ready because they absolutely love Wooly Buggers too!
few people ever use "crappie" and "flyfishing" in the same
sentence, river crappie can be caught on the fly rather easily during the early
spring spawning period. Small white, silver, or chartreuse Clouser Minnows work
well as long as they are about the size of a crappie minnow and fished slowly.
Kent swears by a streamer called a Bonefish Charlie for crappie and says they
love pink ones. Intermediate or sink-tip line works best, and concentrate your efforts in slack
water areas below shoals and behind dams in the early spring.
are gaining popularity among flyfishermen, and there are more than a few rivers
where you can hook into one like this on a fly. Check out Flyfishing
West Georgia and Beyond and hook up with Kent to learn more.
While I spend the majority of my time pursuing black bass species, I must admit
that a four pound hybrid would easily win a tug-of-war with a six pound
largemouth bass. Linesides are true bass (technically speaking, black bass
belong to the sunfish family), and include white, hybrid, and striped bass.
Flyfishing for these species is quickly gaining in popularity, and river anglers
can join in on the fun with the proper tools and techniques.
White bass are the smallest of the primary lineside species, and the first fish
many of us catch each year. White bass make their way upstream from the state's
major impoundments during the early spring and are active and ready to eat at
least a month before the black bass and bream really get going. Since just about
every reservoir in the state contains white bass, target the rivers and larger
creeks that feed them about the time the dogwoods bloom in the spring. Large
numbers of whites will normally remain in the rivers for about a month before
returning to the lakes for the remainder of the year.
Anything that resembles a shad works well on whites, and streamers such as Clouser Minnows,
Deceivers, Whistlers, and Seaducers (#'s
2-6) in silver, white, or chartreuse (in dingy water) work well. While I have
had pretty good success on whites using floating line, sink-tip or sinking line
will usually work better according to Kent, because it is hard to achieve much
depth using a floating line in the swift water these fish often prefer.
Springtime white bass fishing is usually feast or famine, and I will often cheat
by searching out whites with spinning lures like jigs or crankbaits. White bass
rarely hang out by themselves, so once I catch one, I reach for the flyrod,
because more are normally waiting!
are so named because they are a cross between white bass and striped bass (they
are called "wipers" in some areas and "sunshine bass" in
Florida). Hybrids in Georgia normally run
between one and four pounds, but ten pounders are not all that uncommon, and
even smaller hybrids in current will provide a stern test on fly tackle. While
hybrids are infertile, they also run upstream from the reservoirs into the
rivers during the spring, normally a week or two after the whites head upstream.
Like whites and stripers, hybrids tend to stack up below shoals, dams, and in
creek mouths during the spring and will usually be pretty close to the
Drifting Clouser Minnows or
other shad-imitating streamers on a sinking or sink-tip line is the best way to
catch hybrids and stripers during the spring and throughout the year in rivers.
"When whites, hybrids, or stripers are schooled up, I sometimes find that
the larger fish tend to hang out a bit deeper, and sinking or sink-tip line
allows me to reach those fish", says Kent. Occasionally a school of hybrids or stripers will gang up on baitfish on the
surface and be susceptible to a topwater popper, but this is usually not as
effective as subsurface presentations, according to Kent. While Kent normally
uses #1 or #2 flies for stripers and hybrids, he notes that it is important to
be observant while on the water and try to match your fly with the size baitfish
present. For such big eaters, stripers and hybrids can be maddeningly finicky at
times, so experimenting with color, size, retrieve speed, and depth can often yield big dividends.
are tied to resemble baitfish and are the best all-around flies for all of the
lineside species. The key is making sure your fly is about the same size as the
baitfish in the area you are fishing.
Unlike white bass, hybrids and stripers will often stay in rivers throughout the
year. Stripers especially will seek out cooler, well-oxygenated rivers during
the summer months. "A striper will starve himself to stay in cooler
water", says Kent. During the summer, stripers and hybrids can be found in
deep holes, shoal and dam tailrace areas, sandbars, and in the mouths of tributaries
that have cooler water than the main river. The shallower fish are easiest to
catch, and look out if you hook a ten pound-plus hybrid or striper in current!
If you make a habit of chasing river stripers and hybrids, 8 to 10-weight rods
and adjustable-drag reels will serve you well.
Kent catches a lot of his
fish from a jon-style jet boat. The jet motor allows him to reach areas that
others can't and his flat-bottom jon-style boat allows two anglers to
stand up and flyfish comfortably. There are areas in Georgia where all of the
lineside species can be caught by wading, but generally speaking, they are
easiest to get to by boat.
One way to go
about locating a good striper or hybrid river is to figure out which lakes
contain them and focus on the rivers that feed them. Most reservoirs in Georgia
contain hybrids, but a few (including Lake Lanier) don't. About half of
Georgia's lakes have stripers in them, but stripers run into the Savannah,
Ogeechee, and Altamaha systems from the Atlantic and can be caught seasonally in
good numbers. Once you have found a lake that contains hybrids or stripers, try
and figure out how far they could conceivably swim upstream before something (a
dam or big shoal area) halts their progress. Even though large hybrids and
stripers can maneuver upstream through very shallow shoals, they often gather
beneath them to feed. These are the places to begin your
Stripers and hybrids are a different animal from the black bass species, and tend to roam the rivers a good
deal more. I find them tough to consistently figure out. Some days they are
simply not where they are supposed to be, or they simply won't touch the fly
they ate the day before. The payoff is worth the frustration, however, and the
first time you set into a good striper or hybrid and get into your backing, I
think you'll agree!