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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 ears. 

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...

 

 

BLACK BASS

Spotted bass can be found all over northern Georgia and can be readily taken on flies with the proper techniques. Photo courtesy of Kent Edmonds.

    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 heavier lines." 

    If you plan on fishing for largemouths, stick 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 naturally."

    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

    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, too! 

Good 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!

    While 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.

 

LINESIDES

Stripers 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!

    Hybrid bass 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 bottom. 

    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.

Streamers 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 search. 

    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! 

 

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