Albany’s Flint River Shoal Bass
The hard-hitting shoal bass in this stretch of the Flint often wait until midday to hit.
The Flint River begins just south of Atlanta, where it bubbles up from a spring. From there it flows south until it ends at its confluence with the Chattahoochee River in Lake Seminole. Throughout this long stretch, it features sections of swift shoals as well as slower flowing, deep pools. This river offers scenic beauty every inch of the way. Whatever section of the river you happen to be on, chances are you may encounter a very special fish — the shoal bass.
While the Flint River offers anglers miles of prime shoal-bass habitat, this article will focus on the section around Albany. This stretch offers both deep-water and shallow-water shoals. These two factors combine to make this section of the river arguably the best for producing trophy-class shoalies — those of four pounds or more.
Scott Holland of Leesburg is a shoal-bass fanatic! The mere mention of these hard-fighting, acrobatic fish really gets his blood pumping. Of all the fish that swim, shoal bass are Scott’s favorite, and for good reason.
“These fish are unbelievable fighters,” Scott said. “A 4-lb. shoal bass will fight harder than an 8-lb. largemouth. They don’t have any quit in them. They will fight you from the minute they bite until you put them in the boat. I’ve caught king mackerel, redfish, grouper, and pound for pound a shoal bass will outfight them all.”
Scott has fished for shoal bass for years, and along the way he has learned a great deal about this scrappy fish and what it takes to consistently catch them. He was gracious enough to share with us some of the things that have made him one of the best shoal bass fishermen around.
The first thing you will notice about shoal bass is that they are super aggressive. They will literally annihilate a lure, as if they are trying to kill it. If they miss the bait on the initial strike, they will more times than not strike repeatedly until they capture their prey.
“One thing that you have to do is be patient if a fish strikes your bait and misses,” said Scott. “It’s important not to reel your bait back in. If you continue to work your bait, nine times out of 10 the fish will come back and get it. I’ve been fishing with people who aren’t used to shoal bass. They will have a fish blow up on a bait and miss. They immediately want to reel it in to make another cast. That’s a mistake. Even if you are fishing something like a Fluke and a missed strike causes the bait to ball up on the hook, just give it a couple of twitches, and the fish will come back and get it.”
Part of the allure of shoal-bass fishing is the fact that they are so aggressive. They prefer flashy, fast-moving baits almost exclusively. When conditions are right, perhaps no other bait is more productive than a topwater lure. Buzzbaits, Zoom Super Flukes and topwater prop baits work best for Scott.
“I have definitely caught more big fish on topwater baits,” said Scott. “A Fluke and a Baby Torpedo are my two favorite baits. Of the two, I have probably caught more fish four pounds and up on the Baby Torpedo. I don’t know what it is about that bait, but it catches a lot of big fish. They seem to like the propeller.”
Topwater fishing is at its best when the river is low and clear. Low water makes the shoals visible above the water, and this is the preferred feeding location for shoal bass. These fish seem to be sight feeders, meaning that they rely on their sight to feed more so than their other senses. The clearer the water is the better they can locate your bait. Whenever you have shoals you will encounter swift water.
“Shoal bass do like swift water, but they don’t necessarily want to be in the swift water,” said Scott. “Wherever you have shoals you will have eddies. Current flowing around rocks will create some slack water right behind them. This is where the fish will be. They will hold in this slack water so they won’t have to fight the current, and they will wait for bait to be washed by them. You always want to retrieve your bait either with the current or slightly across the current so it will look natural. Shoal bass are conditioned to feed in these conditions, so you don’t have to worry about fishing slowly. If a shoal bass wants your lure, there is no way you can work it fast enough to keep it away from him.”
Most shoalies will jump several times before you land them, which makes for some very exciting fishing. Because they fight so hard, you will no doubt lose your share of fish. Replacing the factory hooks on topwater baits with larger, sharper ones is one way to cut down on lost fish.
If the river is low and clear and you don’t find fish around the shoals, look on the bank.
“The best areas to catch shoal bass are the shoals and the banks 200 yards before and after the shoals,” said Scott. “If the fish aren’t out on the shoals, I will move to the bank and fish trees and other cover.”
When fishing the bank, Scott will often fish different lures. While the Baby Torpedo and Fluke might still draw some strikes, he generally has better success with jigs and spinnerbaits.
“I like to fish a spinnerbait with big willowleaf blades,” said Scott. “These blades give off a lot of flash, and that seems to be what the fish want. Because of the current, I usually go with at least 1/2-oz. bait so it will work right. For the jig I usually use a Strike King Bitsy Flip with a Zoom Super Chunk Jr. trailer. Any natural color in green or brown will work. Most of the fish we catch have crawfish sticking out of their throats, so you want to mimic a crawfish as best you can with the jig.”
Even when you fish the bank there is still a lot of current. As with fishing the shoals, concentrate your efforts on eddies or slack water created by trees and other cover. Cast so that your bait will be washed by the eddy.
The Flint also has an abundant population of largemouths, and fishing around the trees and other cover along the bank is where you will find them.
“We catch a lot of largemouths on the river, too, and some big ones,” said Scott. “I’ve caught them up to seven pounds and catch four- and five-pounders pretty often.”
When the river is high and stained, as it was the day Scott and I took our trip, the fishing is not nearly as good. The shoals are mostly under the water, and the current is usually very strong. This will push shoal bass to the bank, and they’ll get tight to cover. There are numerous cypress trees along the river, and their wide trunks create perfect eddies where both shoal bass and largemouth can wait to ambush prey.
“When the water is high and muddy, I catch most of my fish on the banks,” said Scott. “I seem to catch more largemouths under these conditions, too. I don’t fish topwaters much, but you can still catch them on a big spinnerbait and a jig.”
As bass fishermen, most of us are conditioned to think that the best times to catch fish are either early or late in the day or during overcast conditions. For largemouths this is a correct assessment, but for shoal bass this isn’t the case. Shoal bass seem to bite the best during the brightest part of the day, even when fishing topwater lures. As mentioned previously, shoal bass seem to be predominantly sight feeders. Scott believes that they can see their prey better under bright conditions.
“A shoal bass will kill a topwater bait during the middle of the day,” said Scott. “The best time seems to be from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.”
Scott fishes a lot of the Flint River, from the tailrace of Lake Blackshear all the way down to the headwaters of Lake Seminole. With all these miles of river to fish, I asked him why he prefers the section near Albany.
“You can catch shoal bass on just about any section of the river,” he said. “The area around the Hwy 32 bridge is good, and the section below Newton is good, too. You will catch a lot of fish in these areas, but they seem to be smaller. I like the section from Plant Mitchell to just above Newton the best. Of all of the big fish I have caught, nearly all of them have come from this section.”
Last year he and people fishing with him caught 15 shoal bass five pounds and better. That is an unbelievable number of shoalies, but I can tell you that the number is the truth. Actually, the number is probably even higher, but Scott is a very modest man.
The lower Flint River has adequate access, with several public ramps available. The day Scott and I fished we put in just below Plant Mitchell at the Mitchell County public ramp on Hwy 3. If you choose to put in a little closer to downtown Albany, there is a ramp at the Marine Ditch, also on Hwy 3. Farther north, public ramps are available at the Hwy 32 bridge and behind the dam at Lake Blackshear. Farther south you can gain access at the Hwy 37 bridge in Newton and at the Big Slough Park in Decatur County, just north of Bainbridge. Wherever you put in, keep in mind that the Flint is a very treacherous river. These shoals will eat fiberglass as well as lower units, so a small aluminum boat is the way to go. A strong trolling motor is a must, as the current is very strong around the shoals. An anchor will also come in handy, just in case you find a honey hole that you want to sit on for a while, or if you want to get out and wade.
By the time you are reading this article the river should have cleared up and dropped from the high and muddy mess it has been most of the spring. Fishing usually gets strong by early June and will continue to be good up until Thanksgiving. Always remember that the lower and clearer the water the better the fishing. I do urge everyone to practice catch and release on shoal bass. This is a special fish, and we need to do our part to take care of it.
My thanks to Scott Holland for taking the time to share some of the secrets he has learned about this special species of fish. If you have never caught one, I promise you don’t know what you are missing. This summer when your favorite lake becomes infested with jet skis and pleasure boaters, don’t go out and fight them.
Just sleep in a little and then head for the lower Flint. Don’t forget your topwater lures, because the fish of a lifetime may only be a cast away!
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