South Georgia Fly Rod Bream

Jarrett Harrison | April 7, 2019

When I think back to my childhood, some of my fondest memories center around family fish fries. Cheese grits, hushpuppies, and for the main course a healthy portion of crispy bream. We relied on the bluegill and its wide variety of cousins to help feed any event from birthdays to family reunions and, of course, church get-togethers.

These fish have long been the bedrock around which all social functions exist.

Mostly, I remember these fish being pursued with cane poles and bream busters, which were valued for their simplicity. For whatever reason, the fly rod never achieved the same status. While popular in portions of Georgia, especially around the narrow rivers up north, fly rods are seldom seen on the lakes and rivers below the gnat line.

Culturally, fly rods just haven’t made the same impact in south Georgia, possibly due to their perceived expense or complexity. I think this is a shame because bream, particularly bluegill, are perfect fish to be pursued with a fly.

This notion was reinforced with me on a muggy south Georgia afternoon, the type of day where the air just sticks to you, every breath is heavy, and sweat pours. I was standing in the bow of my boat flicking a spider fly at a mat of vegetation just off the bank in Tired Creek Lake. There was a thunderstorm rolling in from the west, and I hoped it would hold off until after dark. The magic hour just before dusk was approaching, and I knew things were about to turn on.

The fly, a white Betts popper, sat still atop the water as the small rubber legs danced tantalizingly off to each side. I made a short sharp strip of the line, and then another, when suddenly the lure was slurped from below. The game was on. The fight was brief but pleasingly fierce, as they always are. It was the first of many such fights that day.

I have always loved chasing bluegill due to their willingness to bite and their tenacity. I’ve used worms, crickets and Beetle Spin type lures for years, but for sheer fun, nothing beats catching them with a fly. I use a weight forward floating line tied to a 7 1/2-foot piece of mono leader. My rod is an inexpensive 5 weight White River fly rod. I could get away with something smaller, but I occasionally run into a wandering bass and the 5 weight is good for those, as well.

Bream will bite all manner of flies, but I tend to stick with poppers, as I enjoy the topwater action. Like most topwaters though, poppers tend to work best in the early morning or late afternoon. Other flies fished below the surface may be more appropriate during the day.

One slick way to get the best of both worlds is to tie on a popper-dropper rig. Tie a popper to the end of the leader as normal, and then tie a piece of tippet material around the bend of the hook using a simple clinch knot. Then attach a nymph like a Copper John to the other end. The popper will grab the attention of the fish, and the nymph will catch them.

Once the water starts warming up, locating bream is not usually too much of a problem on any lake. Beginning in April, many bream species are bedding, generally centered around the full moons each month.

As for this year’s crop of fish, Rob Weller, a fisheries biologist with DNR, believes this could be a bumper year for south Georgia bream especially in the rivers due to all the high water from this winter. The excess rain has swollen the rivers and given the fish access to so much more habitat than would normally be available. Rivers like the Ochlocknee and the Satilla should have very good fishing in the spring, and according to Rob, they should have very nice numbers of good-sized bream.

Rob said that the bluegill should start bedding around April once the water temp hits around 65 degrees or so.

“The reservoir fish typically start before the river fish due to a much more stable environment, but everything should be a full go by May,” he said.

Bream are repeat spawners and will continue to bed throughout the summer.

On lakes, I begin to look for fish in much the same manner as a bass fisherman targeting largemouth would when using a hollow-body frog or other topwater. I use my trolling motor and go down the bank looking for swirls and listening for the pops and cracks of feeding fish under floating mats of vegetation or around wood cover. This is a very visual and active way to fish. Once I find what I’m looking for, I don’t throw directly into the mat like a frog fisherman would. Instead I work my bug around the edges of the grass or log. These fish are not too spooky, and long casts are not nearly as important as accurate casts.

Finding bream in smaller rivers is not hard. They will be in the eddies and among the stumps just out of the current. Fly casting on these smaller rivers, particularly ones like the Ochlocknee, can sometimes be a chore, due to not having much room for a back cast. Being observant of what is around that could tangle a line, and making shorter casts, is a must. Practice and master the roll cast, which doesn’t require a back cast.

For a new challenge with an old quarry, give bream a try with a fly rod. This should be a banner year for fish, and when better to learn a new technique.

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