About this time each year ardent fly fishers can enjoy moderate temperatures and some amazing cool weather cool water fly fishing for middle Chattahoochee hybrid bass. Along the winding stretches of the Chattahoochee in central Georgia you may find the right ingredients for exciting winter fly fishing. Right up there in strength and fighting attitude with stripers, smallmouth bass, white bass, coosa bass, and shoal bass, even small hybrids in river current on a light to medium weight fly rod will make your day!
The hybrid bass, Morone chrysops, saxatilis in the past were produced by cross breeding male white bass and female striped bass, but according to GA. DNR District fisheries biologist Reggie Weaver, "hatchery biologists are now producing fingerlings from female white bass and male striped bass, termed reciprocal hybrids". Because they are hatchery bred and stocked, normal stream based spawning and reproduction don't occur as they do in white bass. Because hybrid bass can thrive in warmer temperatures than striped bass, they are stocked into more waters statewide. Research biologist Lee Keefer stationed at the Lake Burton hatchery says "most of the hybrid bass fingerlings are produced at the Richmond Hill hatchery, then the fry are raised in earthen ponds at hatcheries around the state". Further according to Keefer "After stocking, hybrids will generally live three to five years. After three years the 14 to 18 inch fish weigh about 3 pounds, and the older fish will weigh five to eight pounds." Hybrid bass forage on threadfin and gizzard shad, plus blueback Herring where possible, and will eat other fish and insect forage when available.
In mid-November, I received a call to travel to the "Hooch in central Georgia to fish for hybrids. They were moving up river shoals late in the day feeding sub-surface until just before dark, then they were pounding the surface. This kind of fly fishing sounded irresistable so I loaded my truck and was off to the river.
The mid fall weather was beautiful. Although past their prime the leaves still showed some of their myriad colors, the wind-driven air had a chill in it, and the scene unfolded under a blue bird sky. Loaded down with all manner of fishing tackle and equipment we marched single file along the narrow, winding, overgrown foot path. We marched the 200 yards to the river's edge. As we turned the corner, the brush opened up and the expansive river lay before us. Bathed in the low angle mid afternoon sunlight, the darker water served as a mirror for the reflections of the last vestiges of mother nature's palet of colors depicted in the towering trees. The shoals were noisy, busy conducting their business of churning oxygen into the river and producing an area sure to attract hybrids. Standing there, I realized that the scene was perfect. I fumbled for my camera to try to preserve this moment and its inherent beauty on film (below).
There were slick moss and silt covered rocks peaking through the chilly river water running by. We checked our equipment and began fishing a nearby channel formed by a stream outflow. We probed it thoroughly, then moved on to the shoals that stretched out before us.
G E A R
Most fly fishers prefer 6- to 9-weight medium to fast action fly rods eight and a half to nine feet in length for this style of fishing. For most fly fishers, these rods will help fight the smaller 2 to 4 pound hybrid and handle the larger occasional striper that shows up. If you are an experienced fly fisher, you can down size your outfit and use a medium fast eight and a half to nine foot 4 weight and have a ball. I recommend that you fish only a reel that has a strong, silky-smooth easily adjustable drag on it. You can play most fish close at hand and keep them near with good fish fighting techniques, but a reel that holds 75 to 100 yards of backing is a good idea. While wading should you hook a large fish that decides to run, you need all the advantage you can get. Plenty of line and backing will help.
For most fly fishers in most situations, weight forward floating lines will present surface and sub-surface flies just fine in shoals or water no deeper than 6 feet. Sink tip lines will help get the flies down, but they are more difficult for most fly fishers to cast. Use strong leaders and tippets. Well tied tippets not less than 8 pounds test on light rods carefully fished will work, but on heavier fly rods, go up to 10 or even 12 pound tippet material. The fish are strong, the current adds more drag to their fight, and your tippet needs to survive abrasion on the many obstacles in the shallow waters of the shoals. Even on light fly fishing outfits, use a shorter leader/tippet arrangement but tie on a substantially heavy tippet.
When fishing fast moving water for hybrids, begin with sub-surface flies. Begin probing the nearby water with light to heavily weighted streamers. Depth of water and current strength should determine the weight of fly you choose. Colors should include: chartreuse/chartreuse, white/white, red/white, white/chartreuse, peacock/chartreuse, and even black/chartreuse. Lightly weighted clouser minnows or flies imitating bait fish patterns will work well (RIGHT). If the fish start exploding on the surface very late in the day, light aerodynamic foam poppers (RIGHT) "floating buggers" tied by Carter Nelson or your favorite poppers will do the trick. Use poppers of color schemes similar to those mentioned above on surface, and hang on -- the hybrids will jar your shoulders when they strike.
P R E S E N T A T I O N
If you are fishing heavy Clouser minnows or heavily weighted streamers on floating line, keep your casts relatively short. Either double haul or "lob cast" these bigger flies. Lob cast -- slowly begin your pick-up and use the water's drag to begin to load your rod. Haul to accelerate your line and fly into your backcast. As the line lays out, push your rod up and over in a lazy circle and push forward into your front cast. Stop the rod and the line and fly will slowly lay out in front of you. You will cut your number of casts, and cut your work way down.
There is an infinite variety of ways to present the sub-surface fly or streamer. One method is to cast, let the line lay out, and retrieve in quick 6 inch to 1 foot strips all the way back to you. Vary the depth, speed, length of strip, time between strips as needed to get those pick ups. Once you have your pattern, stay with it and hang on! Remember, strikes can occur right up to your feet, so be ready! Another method is to lay the line out and let it sink counting it down. Then strip retrieve at various rates and lengths.
You can cast up and across, directly across, or down and across. You can fish directly upstream or directly downstream. Fish like you are using a really heavy nymph. When you feel the strike, a short strip-hookset is a good idea, then get your line up as quickly as possible, get the fish on the reel, and play him carefully. Get your fish to hand in reasonable time and you should be able to release him unharmed.
In shallow rock strewn waters like these (RIGHT) keep your rod elevated and to the side for good fish playing leverage. In this rod position, you will be using the middle and lower sections of your rod to play the fish. Don't raise your rod TIP high, because you'll lose be attempting to fight the fish on the weakest section of your rod. It will take you longer to land and release your fish, and tire you both more with a high tip position.
With good fish fighting techniques, you'll be celebrating your rod bending moments of the day(LEFT). Carter Nelson and I have been catching all sorts of species on ultralight tackle for many years. This particular hybrid came to Carter quickly on a seven foot Thomas and Thomas LPS series 2-weight rod. Carter landed the fish in under 3 minutes. After a fast photo, it was released VERY unharmed!
These excellent fighters are available in lakes and rivers around the southeast. If you've never caught hybrid bass on the fly -- YOU NEED TO. It will be an experience you won't soon forget!
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