Summer is in the books. Fall and all its attractions are upon us. As fishermen trade rods for rifles and recreational paddlers shelve their kayaks until spring, Georgia’s waters are entering one of my favorite patterns. The cooler weather makes float trips very enjoyable. The lack of crowds make them that much more special. And the fish are positively affected by both.
My goal for 2017 was to paddle and fish in brand-new waters. Having fished some very scenic places thus far, I decided to finish the year in the same way. To make this happen, I headed to south Georgia to fish a stretch of the Flint River between the Warwick Dam at Lake Blackshear and the Highway 32 bridge.
The Flint River flows 344 miles in route to join the Chattahoochee River. The Flint’s river bed below Lake Blackshear is limestone rock, giving the water a beautiful iridescent hue of green, making its clear flows very scenic. The other intriguing part about the Flint along this stretch is the lack of development. This particular float is about 15 miles in length, but I didn’t encounter any houses until the very end of the float. The only sign of man once you are below the dam is an occasional No Trespassing sign for various quail plantations along the way. What the river lacks in man-made, it abundantly makes up in the natural. This remote part of the river holds an abundance of fish and game. On my float, I encountered wood ducks, deer, raccoons, banded water snakes, big alligators and an abundance of bass and bream.
Earlier in the year, I reached out to south Georgia resident Nick Baker (known as Nicodemus on the GON Forum) about potential float trips in his area. Concerning this stretch of the Flint, Nick said, “Warwick Dam down to Highway 32 is about an eight- to 10-hour float if you don’t do much fishing. There are stretches of shoals all along the way. The stretch of river is very isolated with excellent fishing and big gators!”
Nick also cautioned about traveling alone.
“I urge you to keep safety first and foremost because some of these drifts are a long way from help,” said Nick. “Verizon phone service is the best, but there are some low-signal spots. Unless you are very familiar with these areas, I strongly recommend you don’t go alone.”
Nick’s advice was most welcomed and appreciated. Since I had not floated this stretch before, I teamed up with Ryan Edmonds of Up the Creek Kayak and Canoe Adventures in Leesburg. Ryan and I met early one Saturday morning and dropped off a vehicle at the Highway 32 bridge before heading to the Warwick Dam. Ryan is familiar with this float and gave me some pointers before I headed down for the trip.
“This area of the river is wide and unobstructed except shoals that you have to navigate around, but there are not many places to stop along the way,” said Ryan.
As I would find out, both Ryan and Nick provided sage advice. This stretch of river is devoid of any sandbars or other common areas to stop and rest. We spent most of the day in the kayak seat, covering water. Nick was right. It’s an all-day trip, even if you don’t fish. We spent a fair amount of time paddling briskly so that we could periodically stop to fish. In my experience, you can float and properly fish an area about 3 to 5 miles in a day. This trip was almost three times the distance, so you could not really slow down and fish an area thoroughly before moving on. Due to the physical distance between access points, you don’t have a lot of idle time. The only part of this trip that I did not like is having to pass so much prime fishing for the sake of covering water. While I don’t know for certain that the areas we passed by held fish, I’m reasonably suspicious that they did because we caught fish every time we stopped. And I never met a fish that isn’t worth catching.
Ryan and I targeted bream on this trip, with some bass fishing thrown in for good measure. The bream fishing was very good with high numbers and consistent catches throughout the day.
Ryan commented several times that the fishing was off, probably due to a passing cold front followed by high barometric pressure and clear bluebird skies. Still, I found the action more than entertaining.
Ryan’s bait of choice was a black-and-yellow Beetle Spin on light tackle. His formula worked very well, as he was playing a fish to hand more often than not. My most consistent bait for the day was a Bitsy Minnow crankbait in shad color fished on a 4-foot, 8-inch ultralight spinning rig spooled with 6-lb. Berkley FireLine and a 36-inch leader of 8-lb. monofilament. Using the braided super line has been a monumental improvement in casting distance and accuracy for me. The lack of memory lets me make longer, more fluid casts with light baits.
I also rotated a Mepps Aglia inline spinner into my casting rotation with some success. The fish seemed to pursue the spinner without committing to the strike as often. With the Bitsy Minnow, the strikes seemed to happen almost immediately.
As much as I enjoy fishing inline spinners for bream, I decided to take advice straight from the fish’s mouths. If they would rather eat the Bitsy Minnow, I’m certainly not going to turn down biting fish.
I also rotated some soft plastics, taking aim at the bass population. While I had a few decent bass by pitching ribbon tail worms, lizards and the like, my best bass of the day fell to the Bitsy Minnow. After a particularly aggressive strike from a fat shoal bass left my rear hook straightened on the Bitsy Minnow, I vowed to carry spares on the next float. The only pattern I could get going on traditional bass tackle was a Zoom craw in a motor oil and chartreuse color, Texas rigged on a 1/0 hook and 1/8-oz. bullet sinker. Making short pitches and violently shaking the rod tip seemed to get the most strikes. I could correlate the sudden movement to be similar to the crankbait splashing in the water and getting turned around suddenly as the retrieve started. The fish seemed to be more reactive to movement and striking out of aggression, rather than feeding.
I also saw some giant bass on the float. I rotated between bream and bass tackle throughout the day. Almost on cue, as soon as I picked up the bream rod or corrected the angle of my kayak, I’d spook a monster bass. While I never hooked or landed anything over a couple of pounds, the fish I saw have me salivating to make a return trip. I plan to leave the ultralights at home next time and use a stealthy approach to try and hook one of these south Georgia brutes.
Ryan expects the fishing to remain solid throughout the winter months, provided the weather cooperates. Hard rains and fluctuating water levels will probably change the fish’s appetites more than the temperatures this far south. South Georgia’s mild winters and shorter days will probably be a catalyst to keep the anglers at home, but I doubt the fish will mind. Ryan says the bream should continue to bite very well between now and spring.
“Crickets, Rooster Tails and Beetle Spins should all be a very solid choice for bream and redbreasts,” said Ryan.
I would add a Bitsy Minnow to that recommendation, as well.
“The bass should feed very well on warm afternoons in the clear shallows,” said Ryan. “Use finesse baits, such as Trick Worms, small creature baits and jigs with trailers. Fish slow, as the bass will be more lethargic in the colder water.”
From what I observed, the clear and remote water cause the fish to be very spooky. When I would float over the top of a fish, it fled the area in a hurry, not just swam away. With this in mind, I will be using spinning tackle and finesse baits on my next trip. I will make soft casts from longer distances to avoid spooking fish with the kayak. I will also use a fluorocarbon leader for the clear-water conditions, as these fish seemed to be very easily spooked.
One thing to be aware of if you make the trip between the Warwick Dam and Highway 32 is that this area is very remote. If you were to take a spill from your kayak or canoe in cold water, there are no houses along the way and very few places to stop. Be prepared with a change of clothes in a dry bag. The paddle is not particularly hard or challenging, but it is long. If you got into trouble and wanted to cover water quickly, you would likely have several hours in front. Carry some food and water. Carry a light source and a backup, just in case you don’t make it to the truck before dark. Be aware of your surroundings. Once, I rounded a bend and was nearly on top of an alligator that was easily over 10 feet long and clinging to a small piece of shore. While he didn’t react harshly, we were both surprised by the other’s presence. I gave him some space, and he reciprocated. I doubt he would bother me under normal conditions but am fully aware of his natural abilities and status as an apex predator in his environment. Things out here sting and bite because that’s how they were designed by the Creator. Understanding this and being prepared and aware of your surroundings will go a long way. This is a wild and remote place, and you have to respect that. Pay attention, and you will be fine. Also, I would have to recommend Nick’s earlier advice. Don’t go alone. Take a buddy. The day will be more enjoyable and safe having someone along if you are not familiar with the area.
One of the most refreshing things about the Flint between the Warwick Dam and Highway 32 is how serene and quiet it is. I sat in my kayak behind a downed tree and soaked in the absolute silence of still and quiet. The world we live in is filled with ambient noise. Even out in the woods in a tree stand in many places, the hum of the highway can be heard, or the overhead passing of a jet. This river is beautiful, filled with fish and plentiful game along its shores. However, the most attractive thing to me was the quiet, still peace of the river. Load up your yak and some gear, and go hear for yourself.