The scenery would almost make you think that you were in the north Georgia mountains fishing for trout. You have everything that you could imagine on such a trip. There is water rushing down a free-flowing river with a gentle roar as it tumbles through the rocks and shoals. The river banks and granite hillsides are abloom with mountain laurel blooming white and light pink. The landscape is so beautiful you need to remind yourself that you are here to fish, but then you realize that the fish are just a bonus.
This is not a north Georgia trout stream, but it’s the middle section of the Flint River, and you’ll find most everything that you could find on the trout stream, except the trout or the crowds. The water is too warm for trout, but it’s loaded with colorful shoal bass that put up a fight that would rival any trout.
The crowds were nowhere to be found on this section of the river. My fishing group traveled 12 miles from Camp Thunder Boy Scout Camp to Sprewell Bluff Park and did not encounter a single boat fisherman and only one fisherman wading for fish. The solitude was amazing for such an outstanding fishery. The Flint River runs 344 miles and drains 8,460 square miles. There were some serious discussions about damming up the river near Sprewell Bluff back in the 1970s, but those plans were thankfully nixed by Gov. Jimmy Carter.
On May 1, I met Brad Cline, Ronnie Heard and Robert Lovett to do some canoe float fishing for shoal bass in the middle section of the Flint River. Brad is a state revenue special agent who lives in Woodbury. Ronnie works for Delta as a mechanic and lives near Gay. Robert is retired after 45 years in water treatment and lives in Woodbury, but he still works part-time managing Lake Meriwether. We launched the two canoes at the Camp Thunder Boy Scout Camp boat ramp in Upson County. The river was running about 6 feet in depth, just right not to hit too many travel problems. When the river gets lower in summer and fall, it’s better to use a small kayak to manage the many rock shoals. During these times, it’s best to make plans to do a lot of wade fishing. However, fishermen should be OK through July, if we get average rainfall.
The Class 1 shoals in this stretch are easy to work. Because river rocks are very slippery, and we knew there was a chance we’d have to pull our canoes through some shoals, we chose to wear life vests, and I recommend you do the same. When the water gets low and you challenge more shoals, wearing a helmet is a good idea.
We started out on an easy pace floating down the river and quickly pulled out our spinning rigs to tie into some famous shoal bass of the Flint River. I had never fished this section of the Flint and was excited to be finally making this trip.
I pulled out a 1/8-oz. lead-head jig and slid on a 3-inch white curly tail plastic grub. I used a Shimano reel loaded with 10-lb. Stren. Shortly after starting, I pulled in a 1 1/2-lb. shoal bass. I admired its bright green colors, took a picture and slid it back into the river.
Ronnie was using a small green Torpedo plug with a small, single prop on the rear. He found the bass to be hiding in the rear of the grassbeds, waiting for small minnows to swim by. Robert was rewarded with several good bass throughout the day.
Brad acted as my excellent guide but still managed to put several bass in the canoe. Our basic technique was to cast into the big water between the shoals, run through the shoals and then fish the quieter water behind the rocks. We also cast around every grassbed we ran across, and there were many to hit. The action was steady during the morning hours, but as the sun got overhead, we really had to work for every strike, which is a normal fishing pattern. We had a great day on the river, and all together we caught and released 12 to 15 shoal bass.
We stopped on the bank on the 2,780-acre Sprewell Bluff WMA for a sack lunch, which is the only public land in the area. All other lands on this run of the river are privately owned, until you get to the Upson County operated Sprewell Bluff Park. Throughout this stretch you will find some large rocks, exposed shoals and sandbars in the river that you can stop on, if needed.
The only other angler we saw on the river was Bill Brooks, of Thomaston, and he was having good luck wading down the river, relying on his life vest to pop him up if he stepped in one of the deep holes. He was using a spinner loaded with 10-lb. mono. He said he had caught about 10 good shoal bass on Texas-rigged worms in watermelon or dark-moccasin color behind a 1/8-oz. bullet weight. He was casting the rig into all the deeper pockets and swimming it slowly across the bottom. His goal was to imitate crawfish, which is a stable food source for the shoal bass. His biggest shoal bass in the past was a 7 1/2-pounder that he caught near Yellow Jacket Shoals in 1994. He released all his shoal bass on the day we met him.
DNR Biologist Brandon Baker, of the Fort Valley office, says the shoal bass in the middle Flint are doing very well based on a 2015 electro-shock survey. There is a 15-inch size limit on shoal bass with no size limit on spotted bass. Spotted bass were highest in the 2011 survey but have now leveled off. He says no redeye bass are present in the river, but sometimes shoal bass and even largemouth will have red eyes due to hybridization or genetic mixing.
If you want to try this great fishing trip, you can bring your own canoe or kayak and put in at the Camp Thunder Boy Scout Camp. The launch fee is only $5. Pay at the small brick house, which is the administration building.
Plan on about one hour travel time for each river mile, which will leave you time to fish along the way. We put in the river about 7:30 and reached Sprewell Bluff Park at about 5 p.m. Our trip was 12 miles long, and we had time to fish.
Camp Thunder Boy Scout Camp also runs a shuttle service and rents the basic equipment you need to run the river. They offer several trip options with different lengths and take-out locations. Call Wendy Ewing at the Scout office at (706) 227-4556 for full pricing details and to set up a trip.
To give you an idea of what they charge on some packages, it’ll cost you $21 for one canoe rental and shuttle service for one person for a half-day trip. For two canoes for two people and a two-day trip, the canoe cost with shuttle service is $45 per person.
Another travel option on the middle Flint River is to contact the Flint River Outdoor Center, owned by Jim and Margie McDaniel and located near the Highway 36 bridge. Contact them at (706) 647-2633 or through their website at www.flintriveroutdoorcenter.com.
When making a river trip, make sure you take plenty of drinking water and basic survival gear with you. Remember that take-out locations are far apart, and cell phone service is spotty at best. To check water levels, go to http://ga.water.usgs.gov/infodata/surfacewater.html, or call the Flint River Center.
For directions to Camp Thunder, go to http://www.thenationals.net/raider-directions.pdf. To learn more, also go to flintriverkeeper.org, where Gordon Rogers and staff do great work. Sprewell Bluff Park is operated by Upson County, and they are making several positive changes. A platform deck has been added to the entrance road where visitors can get a great elevated view of the river. Park entrance fee is $5.
This section of the Flint is the closest you’ll get to north Georgia trout fishing without the drive from south Georgia. It’s everything but the trout.