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…It has almost been a year since I went on my “Trip of Firsts”.  With many trips and firsts since my last installment, I can’t help but think back to the adventure and excitement I found river fishing for another new species. The shoal bass is yet another member of the black bass family and one of the meanest in my opinion.  Found in a small area of the United States covering parts of GA and northern FL, this aggressive specimen lives in the swift rocky shoals of the Apalachicola and Chipola river systems.  This is where we would spend the next two days running the rapids and casting to the pools within hoping for that strike and action packed fight that would follow shortly after.

Drew had grown up around Atlanta, GA and fished for these elusive, rare, and hard fighting bass all his life, but for me it would be another first.

The first day Drew, Brooks, and myself met up with Chris Funk who is always after some sort of “critter” to either catch, hunt, or photograph.  We met up by the river and switched all of our saltwater jigs out for Heddon Spooks and swimbaits.  Before long we were on the water and within site of the launch I had hooked and landed my first shoally!

This was only the beginning. Drew knew the river well and we pushed the limits going down and wading back up rocky shoals to land many pushing the 4lb mark.  This is a very respectable size considering the state record for GA is only 8lb 3oz.  I know you Largemouth guys out there may be thinking that this does not compare to the 10lb+ fish that so many people seek, but don’t be fooled.  The raw power of the shoal bass is almost unmatched.  It lives in swift water and has spent its days fighting current and pushing its way up river.  The only other freshwater fish I know that fight this hard is my personal favorite the smallmouth.  I see now why Drew spent so much time chasing these tiger striped warriors.

As the day came to an end I could not help but wonder how the next could possibly be as good. We came to target the shoal bass and we had caught more than we could count, but this was only the appetizer to what would be a full course the next day.


The morning came quick, as it always seems to on such trips, and we headed to a spot that had yielded Drew fish up to 7lbs in the past. His dad, Lewis, could not resist the chance to hit the water with us.  I see now where Drew gets his passion. We took off and Drew boated a nice 4lb spotted bass within yards of the launch, but this was not what we came for.

We made quick work of the flat water, heading straight for the rapids and highly oxygenated water that attracts these beautiful fish. Brooks and I decided to run the cameras so Drew and his dad could fish while we captured all the action.   While following Drew I could not resist the urge to cast my 7inch fluke into a small hole that Drew had passed over (I found out later he was heading back to it).  I put the camera down and picked up one of my brand new Manley Rods, yes that is the real name J, and made a cast just below a shoal into the edge of the pocket. I made a few turns of the reel and watched my bait, which was swimming just below the surface, disappear as it was sucked under. I set the hook and adjusted the rod butt for more leverage.  This was no 4lber!  As I began to settle into the fight I yelled to Drew that it was a nice fish. He rushed over and pulled out his camera to snap some shots of what I thought to be at least a 5lb shoal bass.  Its weight prevented it from launching completely out of the water, but that did not stop this beast from trying.  As I brought the fish to hand I could not hide the smile on my face.  It was right at 6lbs and a perfect example of this black bass species.  Fat and brightly colored, I could not ask for a more beautiful fish.  Drew and Brooks took the time to get some great shots as I lowered the beast back in the water. It swam off and I vowed to film the rest of the day.  I had caught my fish. I could not have been happier! It was time for someone else to get one!

Many more fish were caught and several pushing the 5lb mark, but Drew promised the main shoal was yet to come.  We heard it long before we could see it and as the stair step shoal approached I began to wonder what the best way to run the rapids, fish, and film was going to be.  Lewis hooked up just above in the push of water before the drop in the river.  It was a solid fish and Drew was there to get some video of his dad as he fought the fish to the side of the yak. With the pig released, we regrouped and decided to set up on a small island that was below the first drop.  Drew would come down and fish a large set of eddies just in front of us while we filmed and photographed the whole thing.  I wish every trip we take could be this predictable.  It took only a few casts for him to connect and connect he did.

The big shoally went up stream awhile and then turned and went down.  The water was swift and the fish was strong.  Drew fought GoPros, the fish, and the fast moving water, but overcame it all to land what would turn out to be another 6lb shoal bass.  How awesome to watch the whole fight unfold in front of us and to know that we captured it all! With the fish released it was time to get Brooks on one.

Drew, Lewis, and I set up on the other side of the small island to watch as Brooks made his way to the back side of the next eddy. He set up and began to fan cast, putting his bait just above the shelf to let the current wash it down into the sweet spot.  Again, it did not take long.  He hooked up and I decided to fly the DJI Phantom quadcopter out to film some of the action. He fought the fish, brought it to hand, and smiled as he held it up for us to see. It was another fish pushing the 6lb mark and even though we did not put it on my Boga grips like the other two, its girth could be seen plainly from the front row seat we had at the little island.  With some photos taken he released it back to the swift shoals and we headed down the gauntlet.

The shoals all looked promising, but we were fighting daylight. We paddled the last little bit and made it to the takeout just in time to load up before dark.  What a great end to a great trip. Every one of us had landed trophies!

It was time to head back.  We were leaving the fishing behind, but were taking memories and stories that we would tell over and over again. It is always funny to me that I can’t remember where I put my keys, but have no trouble recalling almost every fishing trip whether I catch anything or not.

Check out this video to see why Drew calls this his favorite freshwater destination!