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Ocmulgee Madness!!

by Drew Gregory (aka Basser Drew)

Editor's Note: GRF recently held our first get-together on the Ocmulgee River in mid-May. Drew and Bill Prince were the primary coordinators of this outing, which will almost certainly become an annual event. Despite his persistent mispronunciation of the river's name (easy for me to say, it's where I grew up!), Drew is one of the best river fishermen with whom I have ever shared water. You really have to see him in action to appreciate his talents, but I'm not bad myself and Drew outfished me three to one on Sunday, and we were using the same exact lure. Enough of me though. Time to let Drew tell our story...

“The river giveth, the river taketh away” – Ocmulgee Madness 2005

       “The river giveth, the river taketh away.”  This line was uttered on the afternoon of the first day of the Madness, and from that point on it became applicable to all who came, went, caught fish, or smelled like a certain small black and white rodent.  Whenever something is given or taken away on a river, Blackwater Bill and I like to joke about how the “river gods” are the ones responsible.  And, since the “river gods” seem to take more than they give, it seems that it is human nature to blame our losses and mistakes on someone or something other than ourselves.  It couldn’t be us, could it?  It sure makes it easier to stomach some of the money that we have tossed into the river over the years when using the “river gods” excuse.  And, at times it’s even funny, although not really when you are in the store replacing something expensive that you have lost or broken.

The morning the Madness began

     The first day of Ocmulgee Madness (Wednesday), Blackwater Bill, William P and I could have been mistaken for 12-year-old boys the way we acted on the way to the put in.  As a matter of fact, we were so geeked up we probably could have passed for an 8-year-old on Christmas morning.  And, just like Christmas is a time for giving and receiving, Blackwater Bill became the first to give a gift to the “river gods” before we even launched our vessels into the fog-laden Ocmulgee.  When dragging his yak down the bank, SNAP, his new rod broke.  Well, Blackwater, maybe the river was still taking payments from you for your 4-6 shoalie you had caught not even a week before.  That is a trophy shoalie, and you may still have a balance left on your tab for that one.  Maybe the “river gods” will re-finance for you at a lower rate?

     Before you watch this video you must keep in mind that we walked a long way to fight this fish.  And, during the walk, our yaks, rods and reels got extremely tangled up.  At one point, a rope was wrapped around my leg and I almost couldn’t walk any more. Blackwater and I were stumbling through shoals the entire way.  You may even notice a topwater bait of mine that got caught on Blackwater’s shoulder.  It was quite a scene to say the least.

Blackwater Bill fights a 4-6 shoal bass (this video is three minutes long, so it'll take a while to load)

     Fast forward back up to the Madness.  The first day bite started out a bit slow, but eventually the fish turned on as if someone had flipped a switch.  Those “river gods” must have finally had compassion on our weary, hard-fishin' souls.  Either way, the fish finally turned on and saved day one.   They hit a top-water bait hard, but several had the savvy to shake off.  WilliamP must have done something to upset the “river gods,” because he lost a nice shoalie over 3lbs that I was able to capture on video.  Blackwater ended up catching a 3lber and take big bass honors for the day.  The highlights of the day for me included catching two mudfish – one was over 5lbs.  Maybe that is a lowlight?  Anyway, as far as my bass fishing highlight goes, it all started with a top-water shoalie.  I hooked into a solid 1-8-ish fish and during the fight noticed that another one was eagerly following behind to try to steal its meal.  I quickly put the rod in between my legs and picked up another rod with a jig on it and threw it by the hooked fish.  The other shoalie (slightly bigger) nailed it!  I immediately set the hook.  I then put a rod in each hand and turned to WilliamP and shouted, “I got a double!”  I put one rod back in between my legs and reeled in one fish, then I brought in the other one.  That was quite a thrill  I’ll never forget.  I did it again on day five, but one of the fish got off that time.  Although that was a good highlight, I think I would rather have back the three good fish I missed earlier that day.

Video of a topwater shoalie fight      William P loses a big one


Drew holds a nice shoalie caught on top


LaFeet should enjoy this picture.  I crept up on a carp and got a nice picture of the pretty fish.

     Forgive me if the chronology of events is a little off, five days of fishing starts to run together about day three.  On with the story…

     Day two – Enter Fishing Addict to join Blackwater Bill, William P and myself.  FA came in ready to catch his first shoalie, and apparently the “river gods” heard his cry.  Catching the first shoalie is always the hardest.  The float was peppered with the occasional largemouth until we got to a nice set of shoals.  The water was extremely low and some of the shoals barely had water flowing through them.  I figured I would wade around and fish in these small overlooked pools anyway.  I ended up catching six fish in those clear pools and started to figure out a pattern.  The bite was good from then on.  I ended up landing a shoalie that was close to 3lbs and a 2-12 spotted bass.  Fishing Addict caught several shoalies and then hooked into a big one and, wouldn’t you know, the “river gods” decided to take it away.  The trophy shoalie got off, but FA will surely be back again.

     These are the short videos of my fish.  I thought I had my camera set on picture mode, but it was accidentally on video mode, oops.

   Drew with a nice spotted bass      Drew with another nice fish

     The water rose on us around 3:00 or 3:30 pm and I immediately tied on a spinnerbait and started wearing the spotted bass out.  I threw approximately ten casts to a current break behind an island and caught six spotted bass and lost one on those ten attempts.

     Day two also provided one of the best memories of the entire week.  As the four of us sat above Smith Shoals, we debated how we were going to run these rapids.  I had never been down them before and they were loud and intimidating.  I had heard horror stories about these shoals and I didn’t want to leave day two with one of my own to tell.  Swampthing certainly knows the devastation these shoals can inflict.  God rest his canoe that was swallowed by the river back in February.  The “river gods” still owe him at least a 4lb shoalie.  Back to the four of us talking above the shoals.  We strategized and prepared for a while and then the debate began: Who should go first?  I figured someone who had done the shoals would go first.  WilliamP and Blackwater were the only two who had made the plunge.  And, since Blackwater is 59, I figured WilliamP would go first.  Fishing Addict just sat quietly, every once in a while asking a question about possible alternatives to actually running the shoals.  FA was probably anxious because he was in a canoe, which is much more difficult to handle by yourself.  I don’t blame him, those shoals sound fierce.  William thought I should go first since I have been kayaking longer and have even whitewater kayaked the Ocoee River.  Just when he had me convinced and I was saying, “Ok, fine, I’ll go first,” we turn to see Blackwater Bill going down the shoals without even saying a word to us.  We had to all go now, there was no turning back.  The rest of us quickly filed in line and just did it.  Blackwater stopped on a rock to point out the best way to go and we made it down with no problems.  The shoals were all bark and no bite.  I was expecting a big drop, but I never went through one.  As I looked upstream on river right I saw a huge waterfall.  We clearly made the right choice by going left.  I think Swampthing had gone right in February, and I can see why the “river gods” now own his canoe and all his fishing gear.  Blackwater Bill told us later, “Look, you guys were going to sit up there and talk about it forever.  I knew once one of us went, we all had to go. So I went.”  The dude is fearless.

     We quit fishing around 4:00 or 4:30.  I had 18 fish and was on my way to the best trip (in numbers) for the Madness.  The river just isn’t as fun to fish when the water is running, and we had been through a lot already so the four of us called it a day.  That is not as hard to do when you know you have three more days of fishing ahead.

Some of the GRF camping contingent began to arrive on Thursday night – Kokosinglover, Swampthing and Sumtershoaliefan.

     These three guys, plus Blackwater Bill’s contributions, laid the groundwork for a great campout.  I enjoyed fellowship with them that night and ate some of the tastiest ribs I have ever had, courtesy of chef Swampthing.  He can cook as well as anyone I know.

     By day three (Friday) there were six of us fishing so we split into groups of three to tackle the river (HopperNdropper joined up this day).  Sumtershoaliefan joined Blackwater and I, and we embarked on a journey where the “river gods” gave us the biggest fish of the trip, the smallest, a new access point, a bald eagle and one other strange sight. 

     I suppose I used up most of my big fish mojo at the beginning of the year and the “river gods” were probably laughing when they instructed this little guy to bite my bait.  Unfortunately for them, they didn’t realize that my optimistic personality would consider this a record – my smallest shoalie!

     From smallest to largest.  Sumtershoaliefan was rewarded for his patience on day three.  I struck up a conversation with a resident living along the river and was talking over the possibility of using his property for access, while Sumter, like a good river partner, waited for me so I wouldn’t be left behind.  He beat his plastic worm up against the bank in that area over and over, probably thinking, “C’mon Drew, hurry it up, close the deal already.”  Well, whether he was thinking it or not, he was patient.  Ever heard the saying good things come to those who wait?  Well, SSF waited, and he received a good thing – a 4-8 LM to help his virtual three fish tourney stringer reach 12-4.

     SSF fights his 4-8 largemouth (pardon the one-hand camera work)    Video of the release

     I was happy for Sumter and he put on a great show for the landowner and myself.  Plus, by releasing the big fish, I think it helped us get access to the river via that property.

     I strolled upon a curious site along the riverbank just a few yards down the river – take a look.  Ever seen this before?  I suppose snakes hunt underwater, interesting.

     Friday night is where everything starts getting fuzzy for me.  More people came and camped out and I could hardly keep track.  I believe that is when Intrepid Bob showed up.  By Saturday it was a zoo around the campsite.  The following GRFers that have yet to be mentioned made an appearance at some point over the weekend – Moxdawg, CoosaRiverCat, Redeye Rick, Canoeflipper, Oldtownfisher, Sam the Creekstalker and Fishtrimbler.  Plus a couple fellas who frequently lurk stopped in to say hey.  I think there were 16 GRFers that attended the Ocmulgee Madness.

Blackwater Bill and Swampthing embark on Saturday's adventure.

     On my Saturday float, the same two guys accompanied me, plus Swampthing.  The weather was a carbon copy of the three previous days – sunny and warm. During lunch, I think Blackwater may have had the funniest line of the trip when I showed him this snake bait that I have recently started to use.  I told him how I have seen a lot of snakes around, and since I was fishing for a big fish how I thought I would try skipping it in the bushes.  I’ll admit, the bait looks a little suspect at first.  I showed it to Blackwater and he said, “You think that is going to catch a fish?”  I replied, “Well, I already had two small fish take it.”  Then he replies with the funniest look and the in the funniest way he says, “Yea, but do you really think any self-respecting lunker is going to fall for that thing?”  It may be one of those things where you had to be there, but it was funny to all who were present.  Part of the humor of his statement is that it came from a man who almost strictly fishes Hellbenders, old Bombers, Lucky 13’s and other very old baits, with hooks just as old.  However, Blackwater hooks big fish so you can’t blame him for using the baits that work.

     The “river gods” took from Swampthing once again on day three as he lost what could have been a 4lb shoalie.  Man, “river gods,” give the guy a break, you already have his canoe.  I hooked up with an approximately 3lb largemouth and had a decent day as far as numbers were concerned.

Here's that three pounder. He was even nice enough to pose for a picture on the release!

     SSF also lost a possible 4lb shoalie and was all torn up about it.  I don’t blame him, that is a rare fish.  Swampthing may have seen the sight of the trip on Saturday.  A shoalie had caught a shad that was a little too big to swallow.  Next thing you know, the fish is in shallow water by a rock smashing the shad against the rock to kill it, or maybe break it up a little better.  What an amazing sight to see.

     Saturday night around the campfire was about as fun as any of the fishing.  We told stories, ate, and laughed together past midnight.  One of the funniest stories is when I heard that some of the guys on the trip had passed another group and one of the GRFers mentioned that they were with the site.  These other guys knew of the site and said, “Where is Basserdrew?”  We all got a kick out of this and it just goes to show what an impact this site has on river fishermen.  And, I certainly feel it is a positive impact.

Saturday night around the campfire. Canoeflipper and Oldtownfisher clearly show that they are related.  See if you can figure out which two they are?

     Sunday, the FishTrimbler and Sam the Creekstalker joined me on the same float as the day before. I ended up having my best day in numbers and caught several nice 2lb plus shoalies.  The one in the picture, and FT can tell you, acted like she was played out until I went to land her.  She then ran right in between my legs and began to run circles around me.

Fishtrimbler and Basser Drew look ready to go (left). At right, Fishtrimbler fishing hard!

This is the shoalie that tried to put Drew on his stringer!

   But all that paled in comparison to the first fish of the day, a solid 3-15 shoalie caught by Sam the Creekstalker, which ended up claiming big shoalie honors for the trip.

Hey, the “river gods” giveth and they taketh away, but today they gave to Sam.

     On the whole, I think the “river gods” were fair with us on this trip.  I hope that your next trip goes well and the “river gods” giveth, and not taketh away from you.

     Thanks to Blackwater Bill for helping get this thing together.  Also thanks to everyone else for their contributions.

                                                                                                                    Tight lines,




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