The Flint’s Fantastic Shoalies
The Flint River above Lake Seminole may offer the best shoal bass fishing anywhere ... at least you'd never convince J. Todd Tucker or the author otherwise.
Do me a favor. Get in your car and drive an hour in any direction. Then tell me what you see. Odds are you’ll hit some water somewhere along the way. We are blessed in the South to have an abundance of water. Sometimes we take for granted just how lucky we are. There are thousands of watering holes all around us. Numerous public waterways within a days drive, many of us a mere hour from several top-notch fisheries.
Rivers, creeks and lakes abound. Highland reservoirs, raging rivers and cypress dotted swamps speckle the landscapes of the South. You can hunt, fish or just take a leisurely drive. The options are nearly endless for the outdoorsman. But few bodies of water, if any, offer the variety for the bass angler that Lake Seminole does.
With two very distinct rivers, the Flint and Chattahoochee, feeding into the lake as well as Spring Creek dumping into the middle, Seminole is an assortment of three very different fisheries all traversable without leaving the water.
Between the rivers and Spring Creek, you’ll find an assorted maze of canals and backwaters. Depending on the water level, these remote waterways can either be navigated hours on end by trolling motor or run on the big motor while trimmed out and praying that you don’t run aground—with the exception, that is, of the numerous no-wake zones in backwater areas.
The Chattahoochee, flowing out of Lake Eufaula, typically offers a muddier habitat filled with shoreline vegetation and stumps. Spring Creek, composed by numerous underwater springs, is much more pristine typically and loaded with standing timber and submerged vegetation toping out at times in as much as 20 feet of water.
The Flint is its own fishery as well, getting its start and its name in a very rocky way. Filled with shallow-water shoals and constant current, the Flint’s rapids become un-navigable by most boats as you leave Lake Seminole and head upriver.
Seminole literally offers the angler a lifetime of possibilities, so it’s no wonder that it takes a lifetime to become an expert on the fishery. And if one lifetime is good, why wouldn’t two be that much better? That’s where J. Todd Tucker comes in.
A lifelong native to southwest Georgia, Tucker grew up fishing with his father on Lake Seminole and all that it entails. He pulls not only from his personal experience on the water, but also all the years of experience of his father. Though Tucker shares a special bond with all of Seminole, it’s the Flint where he says he could spend the rest of his days.
What makes the Flint so special? Shoal bass, a special species of black bass most closely related to spotted bass, though they look more like a smallmouth. They get their name from the habitat in which they are typically found, shoals. Rivers with a rocky, shallow contour and a lot of current host these beautiful bass, and they are only native in the states of Georgia and Florida. A few can also be found in Alabama, where they are now an endangered species, but by far they are most prominent in the Flint River as it flows through Georgia.
The reason is simple. No other ecosystem sets up as perfectly for shoal bass as the Flint, especially the section just north of Lake Seminole. Of the Flint’s 344-mile river run, this section above Seminole is the hotbed for big shoal bass, or shoalies as they’re commonly called. The riverbed is primarily made up of rock with intermittent shoals scattered all along. With runoff pouring down the majority of west Georgia, the Flint also sees the regular current that is needed to grow these shoalies to the 4- to 6-lb. class that can be found in this area near the bottom of the river.
Though you can access a small portion of the Flint where the shoalies reside by fiberglass boat, it’s definitely better to use a tunnel hull or jetfoot if possible. Tucker guides out of the Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat, which is located about 25 miles up the Flint from Bainbridge.
This area certainly calls for something other than a traditional outboard, so Tucker employs a tunnel hull for the job. With a top-end speed around 30 miles per hour and needing little more water than what could be provided by a heavy rain on the freeway, Tucker’s rig grants him access to a lot of shoal bass stomping grounds.
With such prevalent current, you also have the option of launching somewhere along the Flint and floating a portion of it in a small aluminum boat, kayak or canoe. However I must say that the easiest option is just hopping in with Tucker. For this piece, I rode along and had a blast with an experienced host on a unique fishery.
“I rarely fish the Flint without having at least one 4-lb.-plus shoal bass caught by a client or myself,” said Tucker. “It’s that good right through here.”
It’s simple fishing once you get in the right area. Lots of small shoal bass and a few largemouths can be caught fishing soft plastic baits like worms and flukes. A few can also be picked off by pitching a jig around or burning a spinnerbait. But if you’re coming to the Flint to catch a trophy shoalie in the 4- to 6-lb. range, you need nothing more than a big topwater plug.
“They love a topwater up here in the fall,” Tucker said. “I’ll come up here and throw one all day for just a few bites because I know they might be big ones.”
Throwing the topwater does sacrifice a few of the numbers that you might catch on other baits, but the reward is well worth it. Tucker himself has caught hundreds of quality shoalies off the Flint over the years, a few of those topping out well more than 6 pounds. With the world record currently at 8-lbs., 12-ozs., he’s optimistic that the Flint might hold the next one, but it would have to be caught in the spring just before they spawn.
The Flint rolls over shallow flats and deep holes until a rocky shoal appears where the water becomes a little rough. These shoals are where you’ll find the larger concentration of shoal bass. Just above and just below the shoals, shoalies like to roam around and search for food that’s being brought to them by the current.
These are important areas to target with a topwater or wake bait. Tucker employs several plugs, some old and some new, almost always in some sort of bream or bluegill pattern. Since bream and bluegill are the primary forage for bass along the Flint, these are the more natural choices to match the hatch.
One of Tucker’s new favorites is the recently released Boing Lures walking-style topwater bait. With a tapered body and two distinct noises that are given off simultaneously by the bait, the Boing has been the culprit for several of Tucker’s better bass catches this fall.
Due to the proportionally smaller mouth of shoal bass, the big baits that are needed to trigger the big strikes often have the shoalies trying to bite off more than they can chew.
“They seem to get the Boing better since it’s tapered like that,” said Tucker.
Other key components of the river that hold some of the bigger shoal bass are the isolated rocks that are scattered around on the flats above and below the shoals. Though the 2- to 3-lb. shoalies will gang up and hunt in packs, the bigger shoal bass often operate as loaners. And there’s nowhere that they like to hide more than right next to an isolated boulder.
Tucker spends most of his time floating through shallow pools and scanning the shallows for these isolated rocks. The key is seeing and casting to them before you get too close. With so much current, that can be a little tricky at times, so Tucker has installed a couple of Power-Poles on the back of his aluminum rig, engineering the custom mounting brackets himself.
These come in really handy when he finds himself in an area with multiple rocks within casting distance or whenever he has a big fish blowup on his topwater but not get it on the first cast. Without the ability to stop the boat using the Power-Poles, a second chance is nearly impossible.
If Tucker finds that the fish just won’t commit to a topwater on a given day, he’ll then swap over to a swimbait or wakebait. These two offer a larger-profile alternative to the topwater. Sometimes the fish just won’t take a bait that is on the surface. They will follow it out, roll on it and drive you to the point where you’re ready to pull the hair from your head, but they just won’t eat it. Working the wakebait or swimbait just below the surface still entices the fish, but they will usually go ahead and eat it instead of swatting at it.
There’s also a lot of timber on the Flint. Not standing timber like you would expect to see down in Lake Seminole, but cypress trees and laydowns along the bank. This structure is inconsistent for Tucker, however. It’s worth a passing cast, but it’s not something that Tucker focuses heavily on fishing.
“You’ll catch them on wood for a while, and then you won’t for a while,” said Tucker.
Though the baits and areas previously discussed are your best bet for a big shoal bass, you really can’t go wrong on the Flint. There are a plenty of fish willing to bite a lot of different things. You just need to get out there.
The Rocky Bend River Retreat has cabins available for rent as well as RV hookups. After looking at the numerous sand bars and big flat rocks protruding from the river, I must say that a two- or three-day camping trip along the Flint had me wishing I had packed a tent instead of so much camera gear.
Tucker has seen a few gators up the Flint, but they are not big ones, and they will become scarcer as the temperatures continue to drop. Can’t you imagine a cool November night with a warm campfire burning knowing that all you had to do the next day is float the Flint in pursuit of the fish of a lifetime?
If this sounds like something you could get into, then you have it as bad as I do. Take my word for it, the Flint is a must-fish at some point in your life. Whether you choose to float it, kayak it or hop in the boat with J. Todd Tucker, I guarantee you wont regret it.
To book a trip, visit www.jtoddtucker.com and click Guide Trips.
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