Fishing The Middle Flint
For anglers who are not afraid, there is great overlooked bass fishing on the middle section of Georgia's Flint River.
Les Ager | August 7, 2002
Don’t go fishing on the Flint River during the summer if you are afraid.
Afraid of stranding your boat on a sandbar and having to walk out of the river through the swamp at night. Afraid of the repair bill after bending your prop or knocking your lower unit off on a submerged tree trunk or stump. Afraid of punching a hole through the bottom of your boat when you high-center on a stubborn snag in the middle of the river. Or, most of all, if you are afraid of catching largemouths or shoal bass or redbreast or bluegill or all of the above — don’t go fishing on the Flint River in the summer.
I’ll admit to being a little intimidated. My old aluminum boat has its share of dings and dents already. The 25-hp Mercury has ground up its share of rocks in other rivers. In other words, if I sink the whole rig tomorrow, I’ve gotten my worth out of it. But the Flint still gives me pause.
The area of the river that is so hazardous is what I call the middle Flint. It begins below Highway 80 south of Thomaston and winds its way south in sandy channels more than 80 miles to Lake Blackshear. Access points are far apart and difficult to use during low water. This reduces the use of the river considerably.
Although this section of the river is long, it is relatively similar throughout its length, both in its physical appearance and in its fish population. Shoal bass and largemouth are about equally abundant, although each species shows a preference for different types of habitat.
Sunfish anglers find quality fishing for bluegill, redbreast sunfish and shellcrackers throughout this stretch. Good crappie fishing is to be had as well.
The 11- or 12-mile stretch between the Hwy 80 bridge and Hawkins Bridge (State Route 128) is one of the few stretches short enough to make a float in one day. Although most of it is navigable by motorboat during the summer, there is a shoal about halfway between the two highways that is difficult to traverse with a motor. The county-owned ramp at Hwy 80 is deteriorated and difficult to use. But at Hawkins Bridge a new DNR ramp makes launching any boat easy. The current in most of this stretch is moderate and the banks and bottom are predominantly sand. There are some places where rocks dominate the shore and these are great places for shoal bass.
The next segment, from Hawkins Bridge down to State Route 96 just west of Fort Valley, covers almost 19 miles, and it is my favorite section.
I coaxed one of the Flint’s best fishermen into issuing me an invitation for an afternoon on the river during the third week of July. Peewee Scarboro of Peach County has fished the Flint for more years than he cares to remember and doesn’t let the river’s hazards slow him down even a little bit.
It was unbearably hot, over 100 degrees, when we slid his well-used jon boat off the trailer at the Hawkins Bridge boat ramp around 3 p.m.
Peewee chose to run downriver from here two or three miles before we started fishing. Most fishermen are more cautious and tend to fish upstream of the access. Peewee’s strategy was to get us to areas where fishermen are not common.
Boat handling is a far more important factor in successfully fishing in the river than in a lake. Because of the action of the current, most of the woody debris is aligned at a downstream angle, and getting a bait presented properly is difficult from any direction other than from downstream. But the current is incessant and fighting it with a big trolling motor moving upstream as you fish is too slow to allow you to cover enough water. But if you drift downstream, bow first, the speed of the current is so fast that you won’t even get a shot at the majority of good spots, and controlling the boat’s direction with the electric kicker is difficult.
My favorite option is to work downstream dragging a small, smooth anchor to slow the boat as I go. The anchor should be smooth to minimize the frequency that it snags. I use an old window weight, but a length of heavy chain makes a good drag as well.
Peewee chose another approach. He tilted up the big motor and went downriver backward, slowing the drift of the boat with the bow-mounted trolling motor. This had both advantages and disadvantages. Because I was in the back of the boat, I got first cast at all the good spots. He used the eyes in the back of his head to look for snags that might grab the trolling motor from behind as we drifted backward. A couple of times the stern of the boat grabbed a snag and put an abrupt stop to our progress, but overall it was a good way to go down the river at just the right speed.
Peewee used his favorite river bait, a 1/8-oz. jig head with a Brewer’s Bass Slider grub, black with a chartreuse tail. He fished it all afternoon, throwing it sometimes solo and other times with a spinner attached to the head, like a Beetle Spin. He caught fish both ways, and not just bass. His attraction to the lure is its attraction for so many different kinds of fish. He caught largemouths, shoal bass, redbreast and bluegill all on the same bait. Crappie go for it too, although we didn’t catch any the afternoon we fished. And don’t let the diminutive size fool you; Peewee catches plenty of 5-lb.— and bigger — bass on this three-inch bait.
I started with a Texas-rigged Finesse worm and caught a 13-inch largemouth out from under a big log on my second cast. My initial success made me more confident in this bait than I would normally be, and I continued with it for a couple of hours. I caught fish regularly, mostly largemouths, on both redbug and gourd green. As the sun began to get low enough that the shade reached out into the river, I switched to a spinnerbait.
At about this same time, we entered a stretch where it seemed that the river couldn’t make up its mind which way to go. This big horseshoe bend about halfway downriver to State Route 96 is more narrow than the water we had fished and the current was swifter. The river channel turned right, then left and then right again as we crisscrossed from bank to bank.
Shoal bass dominated our catch in this stretch of faster water. I believe the shade made them a bit more likely to give up their haunts under the wood and chase our baits down. Often as a hooked bass got near the boat, another one could be seen chasing alongside.
The spinnerbait I used was a size 4-1/2 Snagless Sally trailing a pork frog. It casts well and, as its name implies, comes through the woody cover without a hitch. But after boating a half-dozen keepers, I lost my Sally when a much bigger shoal bass ran it down, then wrapped it a couple of times around a limb and broke the 14-lb. mono.
Peewee was doing just as well as I on bass with the smaller bait, but in addition was catching redbreasts with regularity too. He threw the smaller bait with 12-lb. test P-line, and the strong line allowed him to bend the hook rather than break off when he snagged.
The ramp at State Route 96 is the next ramp downriver of Hawkins Bridge. It is privately owned but open to the public. Shallow water almost landlocks it, and launching a motorboat can be difficult at low flows. The river begins to widen here, and the current slows somewhat. Snags and old trees and stumps litter the river and almost block it completely in a couple of places. In the straight runs, the channel is so shallow that even floating can be difficult, and it’s not at all unusual for boaters to have to drag over these shallows to get back upstream.
The next ramp downstream from State Route 96 is just over 19 miles of winding river at DNR’s Montezuma Bluffs Natural Area, off of State Route 49 on the east side of the river. This is an old ramp that provides relatively good access despite its age.
Although it is located in the heart of the best bassing on the river, this area doesn’t get a lot of use, especially upstream.
From Montezuma Bluffs it’s only a scant nine miles downstream to DNR’s George Hooks landing, a new boat ramp at the State Route 49 bridge in Oglethorpe. This is another stretch of river that lends itself to a one-day float trip. It’s only a couple of miles downriver to the discharge from the Weyerhauser mill. The discharge from this wood processor discolors the river and fouls the air causing most fishermen to stay away. Whether or not the discharge actually reduces fishing quality is less clear, but this is by far the least-fished stretch of the Flint.
It’s another long haul, over 18 miles, downriver to the next access site. Reeves Landing is owned by Sumter County on the river’s west bank and can be access off Hwy 195 south of Andersonville. This ramp is in fair condition, but parking is limited.
The river below Reeves Landing is perhaps the most heavily-used of this entire stretch but is by no means crowded. Upstream from this landing a short distance is one of the only rocky shoals on this part of the river, and it may limit boating upriver when the river stage is low.
About seven or eight miles downriver from Reeves Landing is Lake Blackshear, and on the east bank of the river, back in a quiet slough, is the last landing on the river before you reach the reservoir. Pat’s Fish Camp, formerly known as Campers Haven, is a private fish camp that is open to the public. The ramp is a good one and can provide access upriver to the Flint or downstream to the lake.
Summer doesn’t usually find this section of river so difficult to navigate, but the droughts of the past half-decade have taught the Flint’s fishermen something about fishing during low water. It was either find a way to fish during extreme low water or don’t go fishing at all. River levels this year are low, but not as low as this same time last year. Big thundershowers have dropped several inches of rain in some of the Flint’s upper and middle watersheds, and the river level has been up and down like a yo-yo.
To the casual observer it may seem that both largemouth and shoal bass are found in the same habitat in the river. That is true to a certain extent, but if you observe closely you can see subtle differences. The most abundant cover in the river is the wood from snags and fallen trees that litter the banks and channels. Both species of bass hold tight to this woody debris, but the current in each specific location usually indicates which species is most likely to be in a particular spot.
Shoal bass like the current, and you will usually find them in the wood that is most exposed to the river’s flow. They especially like the narrower channels and shallow straights where the flow is fastest.
Largemouths, on the other hand, are more likely to hold on wood that is in the slower, wider sections of the river. Deep, slow outside bends, sloughs and oxbows are where they are most likely to be found.
When we stopped fishing, the trip back upstream to Hawkins Bridge was tough. With stick steering, Peewee’s front seat provided the vision to allow him to miss most of the snags. But there were long, wide stretches of river that were barely deep enough to float the boat. In those areas we tilted up the motor and plowed along at slow speed. The eight- or nine-mile trip back to the ramp took us more than a half hour. But we made it despite the river and its hazards. Logs, sandbars, snags and lots of hungry bass. Just don’t go there if you’re afraid.
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