Flyfishing for Shoal Bass on the Chattahoochee River

by | Jun 15, 2018 | Flyfishing the Chattahoochee River | 2 comments

I love traveling and giving fly fishing seminars because I meet so many wonderful people.  My job also takes me to just about every nook and corner of the USA and Canada.  I fly into airports nobody’s heard of and visit towns my Idaho friends haven’t been.  Tonight I spoke at Unicoi Outfitters in Helen, Georgia which means today I got to fish this beautiful part of the southern Appalachians.


Michael Williams and I left his house this morning at 4:10 am for a two-hour drive to Helen.  We were instructed by Chattahoochee River fly fishing guide, Jake Darling, that I needed to be in the front seat of his raft promptly at 6:30 am.  Despite my body clock being on mountain time we made it with time to spare.


Jack Darling was born and raised in Helen and has fished the Chattahoochee his entire life.  In addition to guiding Jake is the manager at the small but well stocked Unicoi Outfitters.  While Michael spent the day catching up on his Nomadic Waters Amazon River business, Jake guided me in search of my first ever shoal bass (Micropterus cataractae).


Georgia is the threshold for the shoal bass.  The species was only identified as its own back in 1999.  Prior to then it was considered a redeye bass and overlooked by many anglers as a smallmouth bass.  The bottom line is there are some subtle differences that most anglers wouldn’t know that involve lateral scale counts, rays on fins and the number of spines.  The only real obvious feature is a large dark spot at the base of the tail.


This was my first time on the Chattahoochee River and let’s just say it stunned me with its beauty.  The mostly fast-flowing river has a few long slow stretches then dumps over huge boulders and roars through thick forest.  We never saw another angler and I only wish I could float with Jake again tomorrow!


Jake had me all smiles when he suggested I go top water.  I tied on an olive popper tied by California pal Ben Byng using a non-slip mono loop which allows my popper to pop perfectly.  Bens flies are always good luck for me and before we even made it to where Jake likes to start fishing I added my first shoalie to my list!


“I thought shoal bass were tiny little things”, I said to Jake.


“That was a pretty nice one Currier.  Might be your biggest all day”, Jake replied with a grin.


I couldn’t tell if Jake was kidding but I didn’t care.  I followed my personal rule of photography.  That is – it doesn’t matter if it’s the first fish of the day or if its five minutes into the day.  If you like the fish than take a picture.  Looks like we got a good pic of my first ever shoal bass!


It’s a good thing we took pictures of that first shoal bass.  In the next hour we only picked up two others and both were small.  By 8 am the river went dead.  We hit at least a dozen of Jakes proven spots and nothing rose to the popper.


By 10 am a bit of urgency to get some action was needed.  I dangled a rubber leg nymph below the popper.  It’s not mine or Jakes favorite way to fish for bass but on this one day of fishing for shoal bass I had to try.  Even this method didn’t produce more than one colorful Georgia bluegill.


Once again it was simply another tough day in paradise.  There are days when the fish flat out don’t feed much and catching them can be a struggle.  Jake and I pulled over for a sandwich and took in the scenery.  Fish or no fish – the Chattahoochee River aint too bad.


After lunch I had another unsuccessful dabble with the popper.  The shoal bass would not feed on top. It wasn’t a total loss though, I caught this beautiful redbreast sunfish.  After I released him it was time for my double streamer rig.


On the point (bottom fly) I had a dumbbell eyed olive flashy bugger that I actually tied back in the day and a white woolly bugger type fly on the dropper.  Minutes into my down and dirty I landed another very nice shoalie.


I went on to catch about six more shoal bass on the bugger.  Although it wasn’t like I cracked the code, compared to the rest of the day, the action was fast.  At 2 we pulled off the Chattahoochee so Jake could head home and finish up a Boston butt he was preparing for the event tonight.


Jake dropped me at Unicoi so I could relax and get set up for tonight while he tended to dinner.  I found Michael then met the guys in the shop and when we got to shooting the bull.  Michael and I learned that right behind the shop was the Chattahoochee and that this higher section of river has yet another species of bass, the Chattahoochee bass.


My presentations take some preparation to get ready for, but a Chattahoochee bass, right out the back door of the shop!  Yet another new species for my list!  I had to give it a try even though time was limited.


I figured I had about a half hour.  Michael and I pulled out our rods and headed down to a much slower moving section of the Chattahoochee River.  Its amazing how rivers can look so much different from section to section.


Well, the long story short is that I’m too good a trout fisherman.  We stretched the half hour to an hour trying so hard for the Chattahoochee bass but all I could catch were stocked rainbows.  I caught six of the rascals and not one bass.  Michael picked up a few of the redbreast sunfish and not a bass either.  Next time.


There were people gathering at the shop already when I wandered in soaking wet from the chest down.  This might seem unprofessional to an “office boy” but the for the folks there for the event it added credibility.  I dried off and jumped into my back up clothes and became halfway respectable looking.


Jake arrived with his Boston butt and a ton of other food and beer.  By 6 pm there was quite the party on the porch of the Unicoi Outfitters.  I did some Cliff box art while folks watched and ate and surprised Jake at the end.  I did a shoal bass and gave him the box for so generously taking me fishing today.


My presentation was, “Streamer Tricks and Tactics for More and Larger Trout” and it went off with flying colors.   As expected I had a great time with the folks of north Georgia.  Thanks Unicoi Outfitters for bringing me out to present in this unique part of America.


Tomorrow there won’t be any fishing.  Michael will take me down to the famous Fish Hawk in Atlanta so I can meet the guys and then we’re having lunch with an old friend of mine, Louis Cahill, founder of the second-best fly fishing blog, Gink and Gasoline.  Should be a great day.  And as of now I’ll be striper fishing before my flight home Sunday morning.


Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing


  1. Rana Smith

    So glad to have had you in our neck of the woods. Jake is my son. I’m quite proud of him.

  2. Jeff

    Jake showed me a great great time Rana. Hope to meet you next time!

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I started fly fishing at age 7 in the lakes and ponds of New England cutting my teeth on various sunfish, bass, crappie and stocked trout. I went to Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, where I graduated with a Naturalist Degree while I discovered new fishing opportunities for pike, muskellunge, walleyes and various salmonids found in Lake Superior and its tributaries.

From there I headed west to work a few years in the Yellowstone region to simply work as much as most people fish and fish as much as most people work. I did just that, only it lasted over 20 years working at the Jack Dennis Fly Shop in Jackson, WY where I departed in 2009. Now it’s time to work for "The Man", working for myself that is.

I pursue my love to paint fish, lecture on every aspect of fly fishing you can imagine and host a few trips to some of the most exotic places you can think of. My ultimate goal is to catch as many species of fish on fly possible from freshwater to saltwater, throughout the world. I presently have taken over 440 species from over 60 countries!