Beginner’s Guide To Georgia Shoal Bass Fishing

From choosing the right gear to effective fishing techniques, learn everything you need to know to catch shoal bass.

Brian Grossman | March 25, 2024

A shoal bass caught on a spinning reel and plastic crawl bait.

Shoal bass fishing is a popular pastime among Georgia anglers. What these bass lack in size compared to their largemouth cousins, they make up for in attitude and fight. Not to mention, they are often found in some of the prettiest stretches of rivers and streams in the state.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at shoal bass fishing in Georgia, including where they’re found, their preferred habitat, what lures and baits to use, and a few tips to improve your success.

Whether you’re an experienced angler or just starting out, this guide will provide you with all the information you need to have a successful and enjoyable shoal bass fishing experience in the Peach State.

About Shoal Bass

Shoal bass are characterized by an elongated body similar to largemouth bass, with a distinct olive-green to bronze coloration along the back that slowly transitions to a cream or white belly. They have dark vertical stripes above the midline of their body which resemble tiger stripes. They may or may not have red eyes.

They are sometimes confused with other black bass species found in Georgia, although there are distinguishing characteristics that make identifying these unique fish relatively easy.

Unlike largemouth bass, the upper jaw of the shoal bass does not extend beyond their eyes, and the dorsal fin is not deeply notched. Shoal bass also lack the distinct lateral stripe that largemouth bass have.

Shoal bass most closely resemble smallmouth bass, but with subtle differences. The lower jaw of a shoal bass protrudes slightly, while the smallmouth bass has a more even upper and lower jaw alignment. Also, the dorsal fin of shoal bass typically have 10 to 12 spines while smallmouth bass have 13 to 15. But the most distinguishing difference between the two is the large dark spot at the base of the tail on most shoal bass.

Preferred Habitat

Shoal bass are known for their strong swimming abilities and their preference for fast-moving water, so they are typically found in rocky river systems characterized by swift currents. These environments offer ideal conditions for the species to thrive, as they provide ample cover and feeding opportunities. Shoal bass are typically found in areas with submerged rocks, boulders, and fallen trees, where they can easily ambush their prey, which consists primarily of smaller fish and invertebrates.

Food Preferences

Shoal bass are opportunistic predators, meaning they will eat just about anything that fits in their mouths. They have a diverse diet that varies depending on the availability of prey in their habitat. Some of their favorite foods include crayfish, minnows, insects, and small fish such as sunfish and shad. They’re also known to feed on frogs, tadpoles, and even snakes if given the chance.

Shoal Bass Size

Shoal bass are medium-sized fish — smaller than largemouth bass — with adults generally reaching lengths of 18 to 24 inches. Their weight can vary, depending on habitat and food availability, but they commonly weigh up to 8 pounds.

State and World Records

The Georgia state record shoal bass weighed 8 lbs 5 oz and was caught by Joseph Matthew McWhorter in 2021 while fishing the Chattahoochee River near Columbus.

Less than a year later, angler Clark Wheeler tied that record with another 8 lbs 5 oz shoalie. Wheeler caught his 24½-inch fish from the Flint River below Lake Blackshear.

Both of these fish fall 7 ounces short of the 8 lbs 12oz world record shoal bass caught way back in 1977 from the Apalachicola River in Florida. At the time, the fish was classified as the Apilachicola form of the redeye bass until shoal bass officially received recognition as its own species.

Conservation Status

Shoal bass are not currently listed as an endangered species, but they are considered a species of conservation concern in some areas of their range. They are protected by state fishing regulations in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Efforts are also underway to preserve and restore their habitat to ensure its long-term survival.

Shoal Bass in Georgia

In Georgia, shoal bass are found in a few river systems. Their native range includes the Chattahoochee and Flint River basins, and they have been introduced into the Ocmulgee and Oconee rivers.

Range map of shoal bass in Georgia.

Range map of shoal bass in Georgia.

Chattahoochee River

Shoal bass are found in the middle and upper sections of the river, particularly from the Atlanta area down to the Georgia-Alabama border.

The upper Chattahoochee provides ample public access for fishing, including several locations managed by the DNR and Corps of Engineers. Shoal bass can also be caught below Morgan Falls dam in the summer when the water is warmer and wade fishing is a good option. Just be aware you’ll need a trout license to fish in this stretch and trout regulations apply.

There are some shoal bass found below West Point, but fishing access is very limited.

Flint River

The Flint River supports a significant population of shoal bass, particularly in the middle and upper reaches, where there are numerous rocky shoals and swift-flowing currents.

The river has plenty of public access points along where anglers can wade, kayak, canoe or even use a motor boat. Further south, between Lake Blackshear and Lake Seminole, the river offers the opportunity to use outboard or jetdrive boats. While not as plentiful in this stretch of river, some of the biggest shoal bass come from the area, with fish in the 4 to 6 lbs. range common.

Ocmulgee River

Shoal bass can be found in the upper Ocmulgee River and its tributaries, though they are less abundant here than in the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. Most of the shoal bass fishing in the area occurs immediately below Lake Jackson, and all of the public access points are on the east side of the river.

Shoal Bass Fishing Tips

The best thing about shoal bass is catching them! While I haven’t been shoalie fishing for long, they have quickly become my favorite fish to pursue here in Georgia. If you’re new to shoal bass fishing, here are some detailed tips to help you increase your chances of success on the water.

1. Locate Prime Shoal Bass Habitat

The author's friend with a nice Georgia shoal bass.

The author’s friend, Evan York, with a nice middle Georgia shoal bass.

To catch shoal bass, you’ll need to focus on areas where they are most likely to be found. Shoal bass prefer habitats with fast-moving water, rocky shoals, submerged boulders, and other structures that provide cover and ambush points. Some key features to look for when targeting shoal bass include:

  • Rocky shoals and outcroppings: Shoal bass often hold in the swift currents around rocky shoals and outcroppings, using the rocks as cover to ambush prey.
  • Eddies and current breaks: Look for areas where the current slows down or changes direction, such as behind large rocks or submerged logs. These current breaks create slack water where shoal bass can rest and ambush prey without expending much energy.
  • River bends: Shoal bass are often found on the outer bends of rivers where the current is strongest and the water is deepest.
  • Confluences: The junction of two rivers or streams can be a hot spot for shoal bass, as the merging currents create areas of slack water and concentrate prey.

2. Choose the Right Gear

Having the right gear is essential when targeting shoal bass. Here’s a rundown of the equipment you’ll need:

  • Rod and reel: A medium or medium-heavy spinning rod and reel combo is ideal for shoal bass fishing. Look for a rod between 6 and 7 feet in length, with a fast or medium-fast action. Pair the rod with a reel designed for 8- to 12-pound test line.
  • Line: Braided line is recommended for shoal bass fishing due to its strength, abrasion resistance, and sensitivity. Use a 10- to 20-pound test braid, depending on the size of the fish you’re targeting and the structure you’re fishing around. You may also want to use a fluorocarbon leader to reduce line visibility in clear water.
  • Terminal tackle: Use hooks in sizes 2 to 4 for live bait or soft plastic presentations, and choose jig heads or weighted hooks that match the size of your chosen bait. If fishing around heavy cover, consider using weedless hooks or Texas rigs to reduce the chances of getting snagged.

3. Select Effective Baits and Lures

Shoal bass are aggressive predators that will strike a variety of baits and lures. Some of the most effective options include:

  • Soft plastics: Crawfish, worms, and swimbaits are all effective soft plastic baits for shoal bass. Rig them on a jig head or a weighted hook and work them slowly along the bottom or through the current.
  • Crankbaits: Shallow- and medium-diving crankbaits that imitate baitfish or crawfish can be highly effective for shoal bass. Choose a crankbait that dives to the appropriate depth for the water you’re fishing and has a natural or flashy color pattern.
  • Spinnerbaits: Spinnerbaits are excellent for covering water quickly and can be particularly effective in stained or murky water. Choose a spinnerbait with a color pattern that matches the local forage and use a steady retrieve, occasionally varying the speed to trigger strikes.
  • Topwater lures: During low-light conditions, such as early morning or late evening, topwater lures like poppers, buzzbaits, and walking baits can be highly effective for shoal bass. These lures create surface disturbance and noise, which can attract aggressive strikes from shoal bass lurking below.
  • Live bait: Live bait, such as crayfish, minnows, or small baitfish, can be incredibly effective for enticing shoal bass. Hook the bait through the lips or dorsal area and use a slip sinker rig or a split shot rig to present it naturally in the current.

3. Employ Effective Techniques

Using the right fishing techniques can make all the difference when targeting shoal bass. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Cast upstream: Cast your bait or lure upstream and let it drift naturally with the current, keeping your line tight to maintain control and detect bites. This presentation mimics the natural movement of prey and is more likely to trigger a strike from a shoal bass.
  • Fan casting: When fishing an area with a wide expanse of shoals or cover, make a series of casts in a fan pattern to cover as much water as possible. This will increase your chances of locating active shoal bass.
  • Slow and steady retrieves: Shoal bass often prefer a slow and steady retrieve, particularly when the water is cold or when fishing in strong currents. Experiment with different retrieval speeds and pauses to see what triggers a strike from the fish.
  • Vary your lure presentation: Shoal bass can be finicky at times, so don’t hesitate to change up your lure presentation. Switch between different types of baits, such as soft plastics, crankbaits, and spinnerbaits, to find what works best in a given situation.
  • Target low-light periods: Shoal bass are often more active during low-light conditions, such as early morning, late evening, or on overcast days. Plan your fishing trips around these times to maximize your chances of success.
  • Be patient and persistent: Fishing for shoal bass can be challenging, particularly in fast-moving water or around heavy cover. Stay patient and persistent, making multiple casts to likely holding areas to entice a strike from a wary fish.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, shoal bass fishing in Georgia offers anglers a unique opportunity to catch a prized game fish some of the state’s most beautiful stream habitat. Remember to practice catch-and-release to help preserve this important species for future generations to enjoy. With some patience, skill, and a bit of luck, you could be on your way to catching your very own shoal bass in the rivers and streams of Georgia.

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