Brier Creek Blackwater Redbreasts

J Guthrie | May 1, 2001

The easy sweep of black water around cypress and black gum knees, across shinning sand bars and through deep, seemingly bottomless holes is peaceful and serene. But don’t let Brier Creek fool you. Just below the surface of the cool, coffee-colored water lies a boiling, raging, line-peeling fight just waiting to happen. All you need is a cricket and cane pole to bump heads with a Brier Creek redbreast.

Though these little fish might not match the length and weight of their larger sunfish cousins, they will still bend your fishing pole double when challenged. And there are few places in Georgia that could be more beautiful to catch a redbreast than Brier Creek in Screven County. A tributary of the Savannah River, Brier Creek runs cool and clean and forms the southern border of Tuckahoe WMA. The creek boasts a wide variety of fish species, including bass, jackfish, channel cats, blue cats, speckled cats, bluegills, mudfish, stumpknockers, gar and even a few crappie and shellcrackers.

The great fishing and peacefulness of the river swamp has drawn Jack Finch, of Sylvania, to the waters of Brier Creek for more than 50 years. Retirement from the Georgia Forestry Commission left Mr. Jack a little more time to further explore and fish the creek, though he still works regularly at Tuckahoe WMA, grading roads and planting dove fields.

If it swims in Brier Creek, Mr. Jack has caught one ­­— and redbreast are one of his favorites. He especially likes fishing in May and June, after the water temperature has reached 75 degrees and the fish have gone on the bed.

“I like fishing the creek on a new moon or full moon mostly,” Mr. Jack said. “But in May and June you can catch redbreasts most anytime. But the fish aren’t everywhere — you have to hunt for them a little.”

I met Mr. Jack at the Tuckahoe WMA check station the Monday after Easter Sunday. The creek was out of its banks and the swamp was full of water. Water temperatures were still a bit cool for redbreasts, and fishing was going to be tough. But a day fishing on Brier Creek is a gift, whether you catch fish or not.

Mr. Jack backs his jon boat down the ramp at the end of Canon Lake Road on Tuckahoe WMA. The ramp is one of two Brier Creek access points. The other ramp, maintained by the county, is at the bridge on Brannen Bridges Road.

We eased down Main Road on Tuckahoe WMA, taking a left onto Cannon Lake Road at the boat ramp sign. At the end of that stretch of gravel was some of the prettiest black water I have ever seen. The creek was flowing good, beneath the brilliant green growth of spring. We loaded up our tackle, slid the small jon boat off the trailer and began to float downstream.

Though Mr. Jack’s boat had a small Johnson strapped to the back end, he prefers just to drift down the river, riding the current. Only after the live well is full of fish or he runs out of bait does Mr. Jack crank up and head back upstream to the ramp.

Even when the fish aren’t scattered by high water, Mr. Jack prefers to work as much of the river as possible, fishing as he drifts along.

“There are a lot of good holes I’ve found while fishing here over the years,” Mr. Jack said. “But they change from year to year. You can’t tell the fish where they are going to be, you have to let them tell you. I ease along and if I catch a couple of fish out of one hole, then I’ll tie up and fish the spot for a while. Otherwise, I cover as much water as possible.”

Mr. Jack handed me a 15-foot, telescoping Bream Cadillac pole, his weapon of choice for drift fishing. A No. 6 Aberdeen hook and split shot were tied two feet under an orange bobber. A cricket is Mr. Jack’s preferred bait, though we carried some worms along just in case.

“Crickets are my favorite redbreast bait,” Mr. Jack said. “They will bite a worm sometimes and they will tear up a little Beetle Spin or Mepps spinner, but they will always bite a cricket, especially later in the season.”

Jack Finch, of Sylvania, has been fishing Brier Creek for more than 50 years and has mastered the fine art of steering the boat and fishing at the same time. Catching redbreasts is one of his favorite pastimes.

Though it took a little getting used to, the 15-foot preacher pole was perfect for working the creek. You just flip it back and forth between the banks, hitting likely-looking spots as you float along. The pole’s length allows you to get close to the base of cypress or black gum trees and fish underneath overhanging branches. Mr. Jack has mastered the fine art of steering the boat with a paddle in one hand and working a fishing pole in the other.

Just a few minutes into the trip, I was trying to fish with one hand and take notes with the other when my cork disappeared. Lifting the tip of the wispy rod, I set the hook on what turned out to be a perfect-for-the-frying pan channel cat. Mr. Jack was tickled.

“He will eat just fine, so don’t lose him,” Mr. Jack said. “This water’s cool and clean and these are some of the best-eating fish in the world.”

While floating, Mr. Jack concentrates on any spot with cover and a sandy bottom with two to four feet of water. “The redbreast will bed on those sandy spots,” said Mr. Jack. “When you find a bed, you can usually catch a dozen or so fish from that spot.”

Stopping at a  bend of the creek he first fished when he was 12-years-old, some 57 years ago, Mr. Jack pointed to a slack stretch of water.

“Those little eddies, most any slack water, will always hold a fish or two,” Mr. Jack said. He tied up to a tree and dug out a Zebco 33 paired with a 5 1/2-foot rod. When he’s not float fishing, Mr. Jack doesn’t use a cork, pegging a 1/2-oz. weight several feet above the same No. 6 Aberdeen hook. We caught another nice cat before moving on down the creek.

Mr. Jack put the first redbreast in the boat a few hundred yards later, finding it near the base of a cypress tree in three feet of water. It was the first of five redbreast we caught that day, not bad considering the tough fishing conditions.

And speaking of tough fishing conditions, at times, Brier Creek is not a place for the faint of heart or expensive bass boats. You are going to hit plenty of stumps, knees and submerged logs in a day of fishing. Strong currents after a rain can make navigation exciting at times, trying to avoid limb hooks and overhanging limbs. We were blessed with cool, breezy day, so thankfully skeeters weren’t much of a factor. We still wore the bloody spots and flattened bodies of skeeters that didn’t see the hand coming on our necks and faces at the end of the day. Did I forget to mention really big gators?

All jokes aside, Brier Creek is a great place for a day of fishing. Mr. Jack said access from the Savannah River is nearly impossible because of log jams, but the best fishing is up the creek anyway. He puts in on the WMA (maps are available at the check station) or the county-maintained ramp on Brannen Bridges Road. That leaves several miles of fishable water upstream and down.

Brier Creek is truly a treasure, a fishing paradise. Mr. Jack urged anyone who floats or fishes this south-Georgia marvel to treat it as such. “I’ve fished all over the state,” Mr. Jack said. “But this is one my favorite fishing holes.”

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