During the four-month period of February to May 2008, Drew Gregory fished a handful of Georgia rivers several times. He caught dozens of bass, some spotted and largemouth, but mainly shoal bass. He wasn’t catching the little 1-pounders, he was hauling in the bigger river bass. During those river fishing trips this past spring, he caught 61 bass that were 4 pounds or larger.
His catches included 16 shoal bass over 5 pounds, including a 7-lb., 2-oz. shoal bass that was just shy of the state record of 8-lbs., 3-ozs., and another that was a 6-lb., 10-oz. “shoaliemonster.”
Drew points out that the WRD Fisheries Section considers any shoal bass over 4 1/2 pounds a citation or trophy-sized shoal bass.
Largemouths also inhabit Georgia rivers, and Drew has caught his share of them, too. Bigmouths boated in the spring of 2008 include an 8-0, 7-1, 6-8, 6-5, 6-2 and a 5-15-pounder.
He also caught four small- mouth bass over 4 pounds. These catches took place over 28 fishing trips in those four spring months.
Gregory doesn’t want to catch the smaller bass because playing the smaller fish may disturb the area and decrease his chances of drawing a strike from the biggest fish in the river. He has a refined technique perfected over years of studying and fishing southern warm-water rivers.
“I spent about three years of my life exploring every single river, creek, ditch and trickle that held shoal bass,” said Drew. “I struck out many times when searching for them, but when I hit pay dirt and caught a shoalie in new place, there was no better feeling.
“It was during those three years of exploratory shoal-bass trips that I started to figure out the similarities in the good stretches of water, and conversely, what the bad sections shared. To this day I can now take a look over any bridge and just with a simple general knowledge of the river and land upstream, I can tell if that section is likely to be productive or not.”
Drew concentrates his river fishing on the Ocmulgee, Flint, Chattahoochee and Broad rivers. These fertile rivers are full of aquatic life including the distinctive Georgia shoal bass. These rivers also contain spotted bass, largemouths, gar, catfish and bream.
TOP FISHING TIMES
Like any bass fishing, the best times to fish rivers are in the late winter and spring, and the cooler fall days. Summer fishing can be tough with low, clear water and the bigger fish lay low and deep during the day.
“Water temperature is the first major factor in determining when to fish,” said Drew. “In my experience, river bass are most aggressive when the water is between 55 and 75 degrees.”
These temperatures are most common in the spring and fall times of the year. He feels the water needs to be over 55 degrees for decent action.
I went fishing with Drew on Oct. 3 on the Ocmulgee River. We were hoping for some cooler weather, which helps the fall fishing, but the temperature remained warm and the fishing slow. Drew caught about a dozen fish and hooked but lost three fish he believed to be over 4 pounds. I did learn a lot about his fishing style and philosophy.
BEST LUNKER LOCATIONS
“Shoal-bass fishing is a matter of location and finding where they live,” said Drew. “I can put hooks on a stick and catch them if they’re feeding because they’re so reactionary.”
River bass are aggressive by nature. Their feeding style is often lying under a rock near the current and waiting in ambush for baitfish or some other food to swim by to pounce on.
This is where the angler can take advantage of this characteristic. Knowing where to find fish in the river and where to cast is key to getting strikes.
Some of the best places to start are the shoals of these rivers. Drew spends most of his time on rivers that have lots of rocks and shoals which is, of course, where you find shoal bass.
The rocks create currents, pools and eddies which in turn provide hiding places and ambush points for bass. Anglers who can ‘read’ the water can discern where and how to cast for shoalies.
Drew recommends looking for undercut rocks near the current. A larger rock or long slab with a good current flowing by is a likely spot for a lunker bass to be waiting.
There are largemouths in many of these rivers also; they will be in somewhat different types of water. While shoal bass will hang out mainly in shoals, largemouth bass like to stay close to logs and other structure in the slow water. Look for bigmouths in the slower flat sections of water and close to the banks.
Another favorite type of water that Drew loves to fish is what he calls ‘push’ water.
These are the slower sections of the river just upstream of shoals or rocks. The water tends to slow down and dam up as it approaches the shoals. The current is pushing against the rock impediments, and this creates an area that is a favorite habitat of shoalies.
Fish will cruise and feed in this deeper water but still have close access to the rocks and all the food and shelter they provide. Drew will often spend a great deal of time fishing the push water because he knows that there are often big bass lurking there.
In general, Drew recommends seeking out the deeper water in a river to find the bigger bass.
“Deep water holds the biggest fish in a particular flow. If you can add into the mix current and quick access to shallow water with baitfish, then you have an equation for big bass,” he said.
In addition to the push water above rapids, other good places to find big bass are below the shoals, the outside bends of rivers and undercut banks. These areas in a river will have the deeper water that big bass like.
BIG RIVER BASS STRATEGY
Just like hunting mature trophy bucks, the strategies for hunting big shoal bass are much different than catching the smaller bass, or dinks as Drew calls them. After locating the sections of water that may contain a big bass, the bait presentation part begins. Drew doesn’t want to catch small bass because it can ruin a spot. If a dink gets hooked, there will be the commotion of a fighting fish and often the turmoil of other fish darting about trying to steal the bait. For a wise old bass, that commotion means to hold back and wait for things to calm down. Using bigger baits usually eliminates the possibility of small bass going after the lure. The only bass big enough to hit the lure are the ones that Drew is targeting. It does mean fewer fish are hooked and caught, but that’s fine with Drew because he is exclusively after the power and drama that a big bass provides.
For each fishing trip, Drew attempts to figure a pattern, or where the fish are located each day. He will start fishing all kinds of water; logs, rocks, banks and shoals, and try different lures at different speeds. Once the formula is deciphered, he will concentrate on the pattern and usually start hauling in the bass.
Traditional river lore dictates that an angler casts his bait upstream and brings it downstream. This is usually good advice because fish will most times face upstream waiting on food to float down with the current. Casting up and bringing a bait with the current is more natural. But Drew does it differently.
Drew fishes from a kayak and is going downstream with the current as he fishes. Casting upstream often means casting to water that he has just floated over, that has been disturbed according to him.
“It is very important when targeting big fish that you fish the area and then float over it,” he said. “More often than not, you can catch smaller fish by casting back upstream after floating over an area, but the bigger fish will wait until things settle back down to feed.”
It is also important to keep your bait in the strike zone as long as possible.
“Casting to the bank and then retrieving the lure straight back only pulls the lure out away from the best big-fish strike zones,” Drew said. That’s why he will often cast parallel to the bank or to a row of rocks or along the push water to keep his bait in the strike zone as long as possible.
RIVER BASS BAITS
Once you have figured out how and where to fish for big river bass, picking the right baits is the next decision. As mentioned before, big baits mean big bass. Old bass are smart and lazy and don’t want to waste energy chasing down small bait or food that does not reward them with sufficient return in energy. And from Drew’s perspective, he doesn’t want to waste his effort on small bass or potentially ruin his chances at a lunker.
Drew’s No. 1 big river bass bait is the buzzbait.
“The aggressive nature of river bass make this a mandatory tool on the river,” Drew said.
Given their reactionary tendencies, a fast-moving noisy bait is the ideal lure to draw strikes from shoalies.
Buzzbaits work best in turbulent water which is always present in rivers with shoals and rapids. Whitewater, frothy current, and muddy conditions are common river characteristics, and the buzzbait is the perfect prescription for fishing this type of water.
Buzzbaits also allow the angler to cover a lot more water because of the fast retrieve.
“A buzzbait is about the fastest way to fish and often in a river with so much structure, it pays to utilize the speed of the lure to cover as many ambush spots as possible,” said Drew.
Another advantage to using buzzbaits or spinnerbaits is the single hooks.
“Having the single hook is key because the structure is so thick that treble-hook topwater plugs will often get hung up in the areas that buzzbaits will roll right though,” said Drew. “And, the biggest fish like to live in these thick log jams and rock outcrop- pings so obviously you need to find a lure that can get to where the big boys are before you can have a chance of landing them.”
When a big fish is hooked, it will usually drive deep and try to snag the bait on a log or rock in an attempt to free itself. With the multiple exposed hooks from a treble hook, that danger is increased many times over.
In addition to spinnerbaits, Drew uses soft-plastic baits. Again using single hooks, the soft-plastic baits — worms, flukes, and swimbaits — are all excellent big-bass lures with versatility and variety.
Lately he has been using the large swimbaits in the 6- to 8-inch size. These king-size plastic baits are intend- ed to entice strikes from the biggest bass in the river.
For tackling big bass in rock- and log-choked rivers, Drew uses big tack- le. He prefers baitcasting reels with stout line. He’ll use 20-, 30-, and even 50-lb. test line.
“My line size depends on the environment,” he said.
Because he is using big, fast-moving lures in turbulent waters, he doesn’t concern himself with using heavy line that the fish might see. With the waters churning and the reactionary nature of shoal bass, heavy line doesn’t seem to deter any strikes. Light line will often allow big fish to break off given all the abrasive logs and rocks in a river.
Drew usually fishes rivers from a kayak. Using a single-person kayak, it allows him to navigate downstream and cover a lot of water. His boats are customized for his fishing, and they are stabile enough for him to stand up. They also have rodholders and a drag chain to slow his travel down in the current. Drew recently acquired a Native brand kayak with an upright comfortable seat with a backrest.
River boating requires a shuttle, and Drew will often bring a friend and leave a truck at the take-out point. He also considers polarized sunglasses as mandatory gear for seeing structure and fish in the water. He doesn’t concern himself with any particular clothing color because he casts way beyond where the fish can see him.
Drew often posts fishing information on <www.georgiariverfishing .com> as “BasserDrew,” and now he has his own website, <www.drewgregory.com>. He occasionally gives seminars and incorporates that into church youth ministries. Drew also has a bass- fishing video on YouTube.com.
Drew Gregory catches more and bigger river bass than anyone I have ever heard of. His tactics are both common sense and unique, and they come from dozens and dozens of trips on the river and close study of big-bass habits.
He has also become well-known amongst other river bassers, and when we were taking out of the river on our recent trip, another angler who had heard about him came up to ask questions. If you want to know about shoal bass, Drew is the one to ask.
The heaviest shoal bass Drew caught last spring missed the state record by just over a pound. If anyone is to break the 31-year-old Georgia state-record shoal bass weight of 8-lbs., 3-ozs, my money is on Drew Gregory.