The busiest airport in the country: Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson. But beneath the oil-stained tarmac and those cavernous, carpeted terminals lies a natural wellspring: the headwaters of Georgia’s Flint River.
One of only 40 rivers in the nation that flows more than 200 miles unimpeded by dams or other man-made obstacles, the Flint homes the largest population of shoal bass.
A feisty, whitewater-loving scrapper, the shoal bass earned unique species status in 1999, thus expanding Georgia’s black bass pantheon to 10 species—the greatest diversity in North America.
Quint Rogers is addicted to shoal bass—quite an affliction for one so young. But at 26, Rogers delivers an elite fishing pedigree. After guiding fly-fishers in Montana post-college and experiencing the effectiveness of oar-powered rafts, he returned to his native Georgia with a plan. He bought a Smith Fly Big Shoal Raft for his Peach State Fly Fishing charter business, knowing he could offer clients a unique (and mostly dry) opportunity to fish the most productive but difficult-to-access waters of the upper Flint.
When river conditions are right, Rogers tallies double-digit catches, with at least a few 20-plus-inch trophies hooked and released on every trip.
A visually striking fish with red eyes and dark vertical bars on its sides, shoal bass resemble smallmouth bass but lack their size; an 8-pound, 12-ounce shoalie holds the current world record. What it lacks in weight, it makes up in attitude. Life in flowing and often turbulent waters conditions shoal bass like Olympic athletes. Even smaller shoalies fight with an aggressiveness and tenacity far beyond their size.
While Rogers specializes in targeting shoal bass on the fly, he’s equally skilled with conventional tackle. Lures and flies that emulate this species’ diet—which includes crayfish and insect larvae, such as the succulent but fierce-looking hellgrammite—frequently produce. But fish imitations, such as plastic swimbaits and large streamer flies, also draw strikes. In late spring and summer, topwater lures become an exciting option.
On a particularly memorable trip, Rogers says one of his clients hooked a 10-inch fish, which was immediately engulfed by a larger bass. After a few seconds, the larger fish lost hold of its unhappy cousin (maybe offspring?), which was landed and released minus a few scales.
Rogers immediately directed the angler to tie on a large streamer fly and cast into the same zone. That trick scored him a 20-incher.
Was it the same fish that attacked the smaller, hooked bass? Well, it makes a good fish story, but we’ll never know.
This we do know: If you want to experience one of Earth’s most beautiful places and match wits with a worthy opponent, visit Georgia’s Flint River to target this rare domestic exotic.