CATCHING GEORGIA'S OTHER RIVER BASS
There can be no disputing the fact that the
largemouth bass is the glamour species of Georgia fishing. No other gamefish
receives anywhere near the column inches accorded to the bucketmouth in
Georgia's excellent (in our opinion) sporting press. There are five other
species of black bass in Georgia that receive very little attention. Take a
minute and see if you can name them...
If you failed to name all five, you are part
of a large number of Georgia anglers who have never heard of a Suwannee, redeye,
or shoal bass or perhaps didn't realize that smallmouth bass exist in extreme
northern Georgia. Since a vast majority of the fishing in Georgia occurs on
lakes and ponds, most anglers are interested in learning how to catch the bass
that live where they fish: largemouth, and to a lesser degree, spotted bass.
Anglers who fish rivers and streams can often catch at least two and often three
bass species on the same trip. The purpose of this article is to simply educate
curious anglers on the various bass species, popular methods for catching them,
and some of the places they can be caught.
Other than the largemouth, the spotted bass
is the most widely distributed black bass in the state. Spots occur naturally in
all northern Georgia river systems that eventually empty into the Gulf of
Mexico. Spots are present in just about all of northern and middle Georgia's
"west slope" river systems (and their numerous tributaries) including
the upper Chattahoochee, Coosa, and Tennessee. Spots have recently started
turning up in the Yellow and South Rivers due to illegal stocking downstream in
Lake Jackson. Spotted bass are extremely rare in southern Georgia other than in
the Chattahoochee, but spots get scarce south of Lake Walter F. George.
Spotted bass are very similar in appearance
to largemouth bass. There are numerous methods of telling the two apart, but the
easiest way is to run your finger across the fish's tongue. If the tongue is
smooth, the fish is a largemouth. If a sandpaper-like tooth patch exists, you
have caught a spotted bass. Also, the jaw hinge on spotted bass does not extend
past the eye as it does with largemouths. Spots run smaller than largemouths,
too, and rarely exceed four pounds in most Georgia rivers, with the average size
running right around a pound.
Generally speaking, spotted bass will
tolerate more current than largemouths. In waters where spots and largemouths
are the dominant species, the spots will normally reside in the quicker water.
In many northern Georgia streams, spots and redeye bass are the dominant
species. In these instances, the spots tend to prefer the areas with less
current. Use this site to research the types of species that occur and
coordinate your fishing approach to the stream you intend to fish. Like every
other black bass, spots love cover in the form of rocks and wood which they rest
behind and dart into the current to ambush prey. The best places on the river to
find them will also have deeper water very close by.
Most anglers fish for spotted bass with the
same lures they use for largemouths, except most downsize their baits slightly
since spots run smaller and have proportionately smaller mouths. Spots are also
slightly less apt to bust lures on the surface than the other bass species, but
take a few along anyway because spots hit topwater with a vengeance when they
are in the mood. Anything that imitates a baitfish, crawdad, or worm works well
on spots. Small crankbaits, suspending jerkbaits, 1/4 or 1/8 ounce spinnerbaits,
4-inch plastic worms, and tube jigs fished on medium-sized spinning gear or a
light baitcasting outfit should cover just about any spotted bass
Redeye bass, also commonly referred to as Coosa bass, are closely related to the
shoal bass (see below). Redeyes tend to run small, averaging around eight inches
and 1/2 pound, and anything over a pound is considered large. Coosa bass are
sometimes called "bluebellies" because they normally carry a turquoise
tint on their undersides. Redeyes also tend to have orange coloring around the
edges of their tail fins. Just about all bass species mentioned here commonly
have red eyes, so eye color alone cannot be used to differentiate most black
Like the shoal bass, the redeye
prefers to live in the fastest portion of a stream, using submerged rocks as
cover and an ambush point to dart out and catch a quick meal. The redeye is best
suited to the highland tributaries of the Coosa River (ironically, the Coosa itself
is a mediocre redeye river), where the water is swift and the streams are not
much more than a cast wide. The upper tributaries of the Savannah River (Chattoga
and Tugaloo) are also excellent, and redeyes also appear in the northern
tributaries of the Chattahoochee and Altamaha systems above the fall line. The
Broad River contains a subspecies of the redeye commonly called the Piedmont
bass, which has physical characteristics of the shoal bass. In streams that
originate in the mountains, redeyes tend to become the dominant species at the
point where trout become less common and upstream from prime spotted bass water,
though redeyes coexist well with spots. In waters farther south, redeyes appear
alongside shoal bass and often interbreed with them, making identification
Redeyes are great fun to catch. Though
small, they are almost always willing biters and they put up a tremendous battle
on light tackle. Small crawfish crankbaits are absolutely deadly on redeyes, as
are dark-colored curly-tail jigs, in-line spinners, and tiny topwater lures.
These brown brawlers are unbelievably sporty taken on light or ultralight
spinning or fly tackle, and the streams they inhabit tend to run cool and clear.
Often called the
Flint River smallmouth, the shoal bass (micropterus cataractae) has only
recently been granted official status as a separate species from the redeye bass
(micropterus coosae). The scientific community has finally reached a conclusion
that anglers familiar with both species have known all along: they're different!
Yes, they are both brown fish that favor swift, rocky, shallow water, but shoal
bass grow much larger than redeyes. The state record is an 8 pound 3 ounce
monster taken from the Flint River and was the world record for almost 20 years.
While the range of the two species overlap infrequently, shoal bass do not
normally have e tooth patch on their tongue like redeyes do. Shoalies normally
average slightly under a pound, and anything over three pounds is worth bragging
about. While not quite the acrobatic equals of smallmouths, GRF considers
shoal bass the strongest fighters of all the black bass species.
Shoal bass are endemic to the Chattahoochee-Flint drainage and have also been
successfully (and illegally) introduced to the Ocmulgee River between Lake
Jackson and Macon. The Flint has excellent shoal bass fishing in the Thomaston
area and also between lakes Blackshear and Seminole. The Chattahoochee contains
pretty good shoal bass water above Lake Lanier and south of West Point in
places. Between the months of March and November, shoal bass live in the rocky,
shallow sections of these rivers and most of their tributaries. The key is to
locate the sections of these streams where the shoals occur, because shoalies do
not like sluggish water. Their diet consists largely of crawfish and baitfish,
but shoal bass absolutely love hellgrammites.
Shoal bass act very much like trout. They hide behind rocks and ledges in swift,
wadeable water and ambush whatever floats or swims by. Like trout, the most
effective way to fish for shoal bass is by wading, since the angler can cover
water far more thoroughly than by fishing from a boat. Plastic worms, weedless
curlytail jigs, jerkbaits, and shallow-running crawfish crankbaits all work well
on shoalies, but try a topwater popper first. When they are on, shoal bass hit
topwater poppers better than any other species of bass, which makes them a big
hit with fly fishermen. If they are being finicky, the subsurface lures
mentioned above (fly fishermen try woolly buggers) should do the trick. Most
shoal bass anglers use slightly lighter tackle (5-6 weight fly gear) than they
would for largemouths and adjust their lure size based on water clarity: smaller
in clear water and larger when stained. Live crawfish or hellgrammites drifted
slowly through a pool or deep run are almost foolproof.
Outside of extreme northern Georgia, only
a small percentage of bass fishermen know that smallmouth bass even exist in
Georgia. Smallmouth bass occur exclusively in tributaries of the Tennessee
River, usually small streams that run north into Tennessee. The state record
smallmouth was caught from Lake Chatuge and weighed 7 pounds 2 ounces. In the
few Georgia waterways that hold smallmouths, the average size is around 3/4
pound, and GRF has not heard of any smallmouths caught from rivers or
streams weighing over three pounds. Smallmouth are easy to identify because they
are generally the only bronze-colored bass in the waters where they exist, though spotted and
largemouth bass (usually greenish) occasionally show up.
Smallmouth are at home in either fast or slow current, but in Georgia streams,
they tend to reside in the faster, more shallow sections of a stream while the
other species live in the slower sections. Bronzebacks tend to rest in deeper
pools and move into shoal areas to feed, so the best areas will contain shoals
and pools. Cover is important, too, especially in the form of downed trees and
boulders. Smallmouth feed primarily on crawfish and small baitfish, so anything
that resembles these staples works well. Light to medium spinning or fly fishing
tackle works well for Georgia smallies and smaller lures tend to be productive.
Crawfish crankbaits, tube jigs, four-inch plastic worms, 1/8 ounce spinnerbaits,
and your favorite small topwater bait are about all you need to catch stream
smallmouth. Flyfishermen may want to try wading the shallows with a popping bug
or Woolly Bugger. Stream smallmouth are incredibly sporty for their size and
tend to jump higher and more frequently than other bass. Though the average size
is rather small, there are undoubtedly a few 3 and 4 pounders in Georgia
streams, and these fish most likely don't get much pressure.
member Bill Bell hoists a beautiful Suwanee bass into his kayak.
Let me start this by saying
that I have never personally fished for Suwanee bass, so most of the
information that follows is second-hand. The Suwanee bass is found exclusively
in South Georgia (and more commonly in northern Florida) in the Suwanee, Alapaha,
Withlacoochee, and Ochlocknee river
systems. The Ochlocknee (in the Thomasville area) has by far the best reputation
in Georgia as a Suwanee bass hotspot, and it holds the state record with a 3
pound 9 ounce fish. Suwanee bass average around 1/2 pound and are said to
prefer the faster water in these streams, though the current rarely gets
brisk in these waters.
Suwanee bass look like
an amalgam of all the other bass species, but appear to have thicker, more
rounded bodies and a hint of turquoise on their underbellies. Their favorite
foods are crawfish, hellgrammites, and small fish, and Suwanees hit
down-sized bass lures well. Late summer and fall are said to be the best times
to pursue these fish, as lower water levels tend to concentrate them in deeper,
cover-laden areas. Be careful though, because big largemouth bass also inhabit
these rivers, often in the same areas as Suwanee bass.