The upper Flint River is one of Georgias most treasured natural resources and home to a unique and productive sport fishery. It provides the most suitable habitat anywhere for the shoal bass, one of Georgias signature species. Characteristics of the Flint River make it especially suitable for canoe and kayak float trips.
Shoal bass are considered the signature species of the Flint River and current size structure indicates good reproductive success, with quality fishing expected for the next couple of years. Shoal bass are common in both Piedmont and Coastal Plain portions of the upper Flint River and most population characteristics are presently about average. Just over 30% of the population is in the 11 to 15-inch range, but always be prepared for the occasional 20 to 22-inch fish. Best fishing for shoal bass is in May and June and again from September through November.
Preferred spinning gear is light to medium and a variety of lures are effective. Try small swimming minnows, spinner baits, top water poppers and Texas-rigged worms and lizards. When fly-fishing, wade the shoals with a 6-8 weight bass or trout rod and plenty of woolly buggers and poppers.
Target the Piedmont section from Joe Kurz WMA to around Highway 128. Named for their preferred habitat, shoal bass are found in a number of notable fishing shoals, including Waddell, Dripping Rock, Goat Mountain, Pasley, Sprewell Bluff, Owens, Yellow Jacket, Hightower, Daniels and Snipes. Shoal bass are found in the Coastal Plain below Highway 128 as well and the average size is usually larger than in the Piedmont. They are presently very abundant in this area where they prefer swifter water near the banks, typically around larger snags. New this year is a 15-inch minimum size limit for shoal bass from the Flint River and its tributaries upstream of Warwick Dam.
Spotted bass were illegally introduced into the upper Flint several years ago and they are now slightly more abundant than shoal bass in the Piedmont above Highway 96. Spotted bass presently reach maximum lengths of 16 - 17 inches, compared to 20 - 22 inches for shoal bass. Average size is also slightly smaller than shoal bass. There is no length limit on spotted bass in the Flint River and anglers are encouraged to keep all spots up to the maximum daily limit of 10 fish for all bass species combined.
Spots are aggressive and readily strike most lures used for largemouth bass and shoal bass.
Look for spots in the Piedmont section, from above Joe Kurz WMA downriver to below Highway 128. They are found in a wider range of habitats than shoal bass and largemouth bass, but are most abundant in moderate currents, on the edges of shoals and around snags.
Channel and flathead catfish are numerous in both the Piedmont and Coastal Plain sections of the upper Flint River, and larger channel catfish in the 5-7 pound range are presently common. Also expect the occasional 40-plus pound flathead, so come prepared with stout gear.
Set hooks, trotlines and rod and reel are all effective. For channel cats, use earthworms, prepared baits, liver, catalpa worms and crayfish. For flatheads, live bait is a must - try bream, large minnows, shad or smaller catfish.
Target channel cats in deep areas around shoals and in river bends, particularly near snags. Flatheads are abundant in the Piedmont section but are generally smaller than in the Coastal Plain areas below Highway 128. Look for deeper river bends around snags and bring your patience since flatheads seem to feed aggressively only at certain times of the day.
In addition to shoal bass, redbreast sunfish are another angler favorite. The Flint is known for its hand-sized redbreast and the larger fish are presently abundant. Over 30% are in the 6-7 inch class. Recent fluctuations from low to relatively high flows have reduced fishing pressure, so expect some fast action this spring for larger redbreast.
Redbreast are great sport on ultra light gear. Favorite lures are very small spinners such as roostertails, small curly-tail grubs with spinners, beetle spins and the smallest of crankbaits. Crickets are a traditional favorite and rarely fail to produce. For fly-fishing, small poppers and wet flies that resemble spiders or caterpillars are recommended.
Redbreast are abundant in both Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions of the Flint River. Look for redbreast around shoals and along the banks near snags in moderate current. During the spring spawning season they bed in slack current in sandy areas along the banks.
Other species also common in both Piedmont and Coastal Plain sections of the upper Flint River are largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish (shellcrackers) and crappie.
A boat is required. The best method is to drift fish in slack water areas and cast or fish live bait in and around snags. Tactics and gear are similar to those used for these species in lakes and ponds.
Find these species in slack water areas around cover, rather than in the shoals and flowing water preferred by shoal bass, spotted bass, and redbreast sunfish.
Auburn University and the Wildlife Resources Division have just completed a comprehensive shoal bass study on the Flint River to investigate the effects of competition and possible hybridization among shoal bass, spotted bass and largemouth bass. Additional objectives are to investigate movement patterns, basic life history, age and growth, food habits and habitat use. A shoal bass exploitation study has also been conducted requiring the insertion of orange anchor tags that are visible in the abdomen area. A few tagged fish may remain in the system and anglers that catch shoal bass with anchor tags should remove the tags and call the Auburn University phone number indicated on the tag.
The non-native longear sunfish has recently been found in the upper Flint from Joe Kurz WMA to near Big Lazer Creek WMA. These are among the most colorful of the sunfish family but are smaller than redbreast and are not considered a desirable sportfish. Adults are characterized by wavy blue markings on the head, an orange and yellow body with blue spots, and a white margin on the opercular (ear) flap. With the recent introductions of spotted bass and longear sunfish, the species composition of the upper Flint River has been significantly altered. All anglers should be aware of the potential harm to traditional sport fisheries that could result from the introduction of non-native species.