From Blackshear To Chehaw, October’s Fun Fishing On The Flint River
October is a great time to be on the lower Flint for shoal bass, flatheads and bream.
I love rivers. I always have. For some reason, I am strangely drawn to them. There is something peaceful yet exciting about a river’s ever-moving waters. From deep, slow-moving pools to shallow, fast-flowing riffles, each river has its own characteristics that make it unique and special. Unlike reservoirs, rivers are usually not very crowded. In fact, you might have the water all to yourself some days.
In this article we will be talking about the Flint River, more precisely the lower Flint from the tailrace of Lake Blackshear to the headwaters of Lake Chehaw. Fall is arguably the best time to be on the river, and October is usually the best month during this time. For this reason, we will be discussing tactics that will work best during the month of October.
The Flint River offers anglers a variety of fishing opportunities, but the three most-targeted fish species are the three we’ll discuss in this article: shoal bass, flathead catfish and bream. These three species have something to offer every fisherman, no matter what his or her style of fishing maybe.
Access on this stretch of the river is pretty good. There are public boat ramps behind the Lake Blackshear dam, at the Hwy 32 bridge, and Cromartie Beach Landing and Cox Landing on Lake Chehaw.
Shoal Bass: When an angler thinks of the Flint, the fantastic shoal- bass fishing comes to mind. This special fish, indigenous only to the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers and their drainages, is unique to south Georgia to say the least. With its brownish-green color and bold vertical markings, it looks exactly like a small- mouth.
Shoal bass get their name honestly. That is, they frequent rocky, shoal laden areas of the river that have brisk current flow. This lower section of the Flint has a tremendous amount of this habitat and is perhaps why shoal bass are so prolific here. They will position themselves differently under given conditions, but one thing is for sure, they will never be very far from rocky habitat and current.
Now that we know where to look, how do we zero in on these fish and get them to bite? The first thing to consider is the water conditions. Is the water high or is it low? Is it clear or is it stained? These factors, probably more than any other, will dictate the feeding habits and locations of a shoal bass. To help me put this puzzle together, I asked one on the most successful shoal-bass fishermen in the area to tutor me on the in’s and out’s of catching shoal bass.
Paul Anthony, of Dawson, is a highly skilled and successful angler. He is a well-known tournament angler, competing on the Wal-Mart BFL T our and Stren Series, not to mention sever- al local trails. In fact, during the summer months he fishes at least two tournaments every week on this stretch of river. To say he knows this part of the river is an understatement. Last year he bought a jetboat just to fish this water. The rig allows him to get to areas where most boats don’t dare go. He stays in touch with what the shoal bass are doing better than anyone I know. That he agreed to contribute to this article is a real benefit to all who read it.
Paul and I had some trouble getting our schedules together, but we were finally able to find a day both he and I had free so we could go fishing together. That day happened to be Labor Day. The fishing had been very tough for several weeks, and I could tell Paul was a little apprehensive. He had been struggling to catch both numbers and size of fish, so he told me not to get my hopes up. We backed Paul’s jetboat into the water shortly after daylight to begin our day of shoal-bass fishing around the Hwy 32 bridge.
Our day began pretty slow. We started out fishing main-river shoals with topwater baits. Paul was throwing a Baby Torpedo, and I was chunking a Crazy Shad. No takers.
“This isn’t a good sign,” Paul said. “We should have picked up at least one good fish on topwater. That Baby Torpedo is like a guaranteed 4-lb.-plus fish.”
He didn’t have to convince me. I have seen first hand what this bait will do on the river. Indeed, it was not a good sign. Paul muttered something about me being a jinx, but I acted like I didn’t hear him.
When it became evident that our topwater prop baits were not going to work, Paul picked up a rod rigged with a Zoom Super Fluke. He began targeting water that had a little swifter cur- rent, working the soft jerkbait slowly and erratically around eddies. It didn’t take long for him to hook up with a nice fish in the 3-lb. range. That one fish told Paul exactly what he needed to know.
“That fish came from water that had a lot more current than the areas we have been fishing,” said Paul. “The river is low and very clear. When it gets like this, the fish get too good of a look at your bait and won’t bite it. This faster current cuts down on visibility and moves the bait by them faster. They have to decide real quick if they are going to eat it or not, and most times a shoal bass is going to eat.”
Paul’ s assessment was dead on the money. We concentrated on chutes, or areas with strong current, the remainder of the day. While he caught the majority of his fish on the jerkbait, he also added a couple of nice fish in the 4-lb. range on a spinnerbait. I managed to add a couple of fish on a buzzbait, but all in all he really put it on me pretty good. Conservatively, Paul probably caught 15 shoal bass between one and four pounds. No real giants but nothing to sneeze at either under tough conditions.
I asked Paul to describe the different conditions that will dictate fish location and bait presentation.
“Generally there are only a handful of baits that you are going to need to catch shoal bass in October,” he said. “A Baby Torpedo, a buzzbait and a Fluke will just about cover any situation you will encounter.
“When the water is low and clear the fish become very spooky. You want to concentrate on swifter current under these conditions, and a spinnerbait or jerkbait will work. “If the water is nor- mal with some color to it, any of the baits will work. Expect to find fish on main-river shoals and in any cover near the shoals. If we get a lot of rain and the river is up and muddy, expect to catch them on the banks. This is a good time to fish the spinnerbait and a Texas-rigged craw- fish around cypress trees and any other wood cover.”
Four days after Paul and I went on our fishing trip, he and his partner Scott Ellis won a tournament out of Cromartie Beach Landing on Lake Chehaw with five shoal bass that weighed over 16 pounds. Included in that catch was a 6-lb., 7-oz. monster! Considering the state record is 8-lbs., 3-ozs., this was a very impressive fish!
Flatheads: Flathead catfish are very prolific on the lower Flint River. Fish in the teens are common, and fish in the 30- to 40-lb. range are caught fairly regularly by those anglers who specifically target them. The No. 1 most important thing to remember when fishing for flatheads is that you must have lively bait. Dead bait or any of the various stink or cut baits will not work on flatheads. They’re fine for blues or channels, but not for flatheads.
For years it was thought that you have to camp out on the deepest holes in the river to catch a flathead catfish. Don’t get me wrong; this tactic still works, but it’s not necessary. You might remember the article I did last year with Scott Ellis. Scott is a very successful catfish angler, and he taught me a lot about how to catch them. Scott’s theory is that all fish are drawn to the shoals to feed. Bass, bream and other species are, so why not flat- heads? He made a believer out of me, and since that trip I have been trying to expand on his theory.
The more I target these heavy- weights, the more I learn about them. Flatheads do, in fact, congregate around shoals. They might not get up in the shallow water on top of the shoals, but they will position them- selves immediately downstream of a shoal in a little deeper water. They will wait in these eddies for the current to wash down an easy meal to them. It is just below these eddies that I target flatheads.
Flatheads are a pretty aggressive feeder. If a fish is in a particular pool or eddie, it won’t take long for him to find your bait once you drop it down. I will motor up to a shoal until the water begins to shallow up. I will anchor my boat facing upstream on this depth change so I can present my baits to the fish holding in the pool directly down- stream of the shoal. This water doesn’t have to be super deep, just deeper than the surrounding water. In fact, some of my best holes are only eight to 10 feet deep.
After getting my boat into position, I put out two rigs. These rigs consist of a 40-lb. main line connected to a three-way swivel. Another 40-lb. line connects a 4/0 Kahle hook to the swivel. This line is usually about 18 inches.
Finally, my 3- to 5-oz. bank sinker is connected to the swivel with a shorter, 10-inch section of 15-lb. line. It is important to have your weight shorter than your hook to prevent the two from twisting. The leader to your weight also needs to be lighter poundage than the other line so it can be broken without losing your entire rig if you become hung on the bottom.
Fish your bait on a tight line, watching for a bite. A reel with a bait- clicker feature is a big plus for this type of fishing. When you get a bite, let the fish have the bait until he begins to swim off with it, then set the hook and hold on. If you don’t get a bite within 20 minutes, pull up your baits and move to another spot and try again. It won’t take long to tie into one of these brutes.
Bream: In order to catch flatheads you’ll need some live bait. This is why learning to catch river bream is a must for the successful flathead fisherman.
While the river contains all of the bream species, perhaps the most abundant and sought after species is the redbreast. This colorful, powerful pan- fish is very prolific on the lower Flint. Unlike bluegill and redear, the red- breast prefer to live in or very near the current. They are aggressive feeders and hard fighters.
Unlike other panfish species, red- breast are usually not very picky about what they eat. Just about any live bait or artificial will work. I prefer to use a Beetle Spin in either crawfish or black colors. Pitch these tiny spinners around eddies created by cypress trees, stumps or rocks, and get ready to do battle. Suitable habitat can be found virtually anywhere along the river, but I am partial to the area just north of the Hwy 32 bridge. There are plenty of shoals and cypress trees that can be easily found. This area also offers good numbers of laydown trees and stumps. These ingredients create perfect redbreast habitat.
These little fish don’t have any quit in them, and pound for pound they fight as hard as any fish that swims. If you prefer to use live bait, as I do when I take my 7-year-old daughter Sarah, crickets or worms are hard to beat. Just fish them about two feet under a bobber and hold on. This is an extremely fun way to fish, and there is no better way to introduce a kid to fishing. The action is usually reliable and pretty constant — two very important factors when taking a youngster out fishing.
The lower Flint may not be as glamorous as the lakes and reservoirs in the state, but it certainly doesn’t take a back seat to any body of water as far as fishing action. It offers a wide variety of fishing opportunities to suit just about any angler.
The good news for the average Georgia angler is that you don’t need a $40,000 boat or fancy equipment to go fishing here, just the time and the want-to. When you go expect no crowds, no jet skis and no pleasure boaters. Just a beautiful river and the pristine beauty of the south Georgia woodlands. So the next time you want to go fishing, consider giving the lower Flint River a try. It just might turn out to be the first of many trips to come.
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