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Creekstalking 101

There are a lot of people out there who want to find rivers and streams to fish but don't know how to go about it. The following is a detailed look at how I went about finding a promising little creek less than an hour from home.

     I have always loved creek fishing. To me, catching a one pound bass from a tiny little flow provides as much satisfaction as catching a five pound bass from a larger one. Don't get me wrong: I love catching big fish, and I always brag about the big ones. There's just something about catching keeper-sized fish from places that everybody overlooks that makes me feel like I've discovered a hidden treasure that is right underneath everyone else's nose.

     My favorite region of Georgia for "creekstalking" is the mountains, with the northwest quadrant of the state edging out northeastern Georgia for the top spot. Middle and South Georgia are great also, but I really enjoy the creeks in the mountains and foothills the best. The water and air temperatures are a little cooler, and I especially enjoy the gurgling streams and the riffle-run-pool pattern typical of these streams. Undoubtedly, there are some folks reading this who could state a strong case for the creeks in their own particular part of the state.

     Back in the day, I'd drive around with a map and upon finding a decent-looking stretch of water I'd hop in and start wading and fishing. I struck out a lot, usually because the creek ended up being a little too small or shallow to grow decent-sized fish. Sometimes, I'd strike out simply because the fish weren't biting. I came to realize, however, that any stream with a few holes that were more than waist-deep was worth a return trip. I've found more than a few great little streams by doing this and each one of them feels like a little pot of gold to me.

     Recently, I stopped to look at a creek I've been driving over for the last twenty years. This creek is in the Piedmont region of northeast Georgia and is in the Oconee River watershed. The bridge I always cross is pretty high and you can't see the water as you drive across. Finally, I pulled over and gave it a look and was shocked to see that it held a pretty good bit of water. I scurried back up to the truck and looked at my Georgia Atlas and Gazetteer (if you don't know what this is, stop reading, Google it, buy one, and then continue reading) and saw that this creek fed another waterway that eventually met up with the Oconee River. I also noticed that there was another bridge a few miles downstream.

     I was in a little bit of a rush at the time so I couldn't do any fishing or further exploring, so I went home and checked out Google Maps on the computer. I've marked below the information I now had available to me just by looking at a map. Now as is customary here at GRF I'm not going to name this little creek, so I've crudely marked out the names of all the landmarks. The point here is to demonstrate the process I use to find a fishing hole. So here's what I had thus far:

     The next step was to go do a little exploring. I was really interested to check out what the creek looked like farther downstream. When I arrived at the bridge, a quick glance showed quick,rocky water downstream and a nice-looking pool just upstream. As I pulled in, I noticed that the right-of-ways near the bridge were very well worn. I obviously wasn't the first person to discover this spot. After checking all four corners of the bridge to see if there was a decent place to throw in a kayak (there wasn't, but I usually don't let that stop me), I noticed a trail leading downstream. I followed it for about twenty yards and popped out on a beautiful slab of granite overlooking an eight-foot waterfall. I wasn't in the mountains, but it really felt that way. This was getting interesting.

     On the way back to the car, I did notice some cigarette butts and a little trash laying around, but overall I was pretty enthused by this little creek. The picture I took from atop the falls doesn't do the area justice. If it hadn't been so late, I would've gotten downstream and taken the picture from the other direction. Anyway, here it is:

     So the only thing left to do now was to actually throw a line in the water and see what actually lived there. Just by knowing the watershed, I had a pretty good guess. The biggest fish in the creek are probably catfish, which tend to tough out droughts better than most other fish. If there were bass in here, they were probably going to be redeyes and largemouth bass, which live throughout the Oconee watershed. I figured there would also be some bluegills and redbreast as well. All the rocks made me hopeful that I'd find some redeyes with all the rocks and current.

     On a beautiful June Saturday, I enlisted the help of my daughter as photographer of our adventure. I think you'll agree that she takes better pictures than her Dad. We arrived at the downstream bridge to find no less than fifteen cars parked at the bridge. We had to park fifty yards from the creek! The big rock slab downstream looked like Daytona Beach, and I was flummoxed.

     Well, we managed to get the boat into the water despite a steep put-in and all the cars. Hope and I decided that since all the people were downstream, we'd head upstream. We didn't see a soul for the next three hours.

This put-in was no fun. Neither was the take-out.

And they're off! Yes, I now realize my hat is on inside out. It's the new style, as is the rakish angle on one side. It's what all the cool kids are wearing.

     Before we get to the fishing and exploring, I should probably explain why I even bothered to bring a boat in the first place. After all, very few creeks have water that is too deep to wade. There are a few reasons. First and most important, a kayak allows me to see more of the stream. In slower sections, I can paddle upstream faster than I can wade. Also, I can usually float most of the way back even if I have to walk the boat through shallow spots or drag over a couple trees. Bringing a boat also allows me to bring more stuff. Even if I wade the entire time, the kayak allows me to bring multiple rods, my entire tackle box, and a cooler. By tying a piece of rope around my waist and attaching it to the boat I have everything I'll possibly need and usually don't even notice the boat is behind me, even when it's carrying an eight year-old photographer.

     Over the next three hours, Hope and I explored upstream for about a mile. When fishing a creek for the first time, I almost always throw something small just to find out if there is anything alive under the water. We started off throwing small Beetlespins just to see if we could fool some bream or possibly stumble upon a bass. It didn't take long. The bream were definitely on the small side, but we caught plenty and even caught everybody's favorite creek fish: the hornyhead.

A little fuzzy, but I was pretty happy to find water this deep!

A nice hornyhead. Anybody ever eaten one of these?

     The going wasn't always easy. We had to drag a couple logjams and there were about a half-dozen spots that were too shallow to paddle through. But there was some deep water too. You'll notice in this picture that the water is getting close to my chest, and I'm 6'2". There ought to be a few bass in here despite the drought of the last two years. I was also encouraged to notice very little siltation and a good mixture of rock and wood cover. Despite the bedlam downstream, I don't think this stretch of river sees a whole lot of fishermen.

The photographer gets a turn dragging through the shallow stuff

     Eventually, I got a fish that inhaled the small lure and broke the surface rather than quartering away from me and new it was a bass. It wasn't big, but I was thrilled when I lipped a respectable little redeye bass. Of course after this it was all buzzbaits, topwaters, and spinnerbaits for the next hour, but the only strikes I got were from overagressive bream. On the float back downstream I went back to the Beetlespin and was content catching little bluegills and redbreast all the way back to the bridge.

This is what I like to see!

     So what did I learn? I learned that this creek has bass and bream in it. I also learned that there is enough deep water and enough different structure to possibly hold a two or three pound bass. The creek is also big enough that a float trip from the first bridge down to the second or from the second bridge down to the river might be possible. I'm gonna have to do a little more exploring and fishing before I attempt that, however. My biggest worry is logjams. Sometimes these little creeks can be absolutely full of them, and it's no fun at all dragging over, under, and around them all day. I'd also like to see if I can have a little better luck with the bass before I commit to a float trip. Next time I'm gonna focus on bass fishing. I'd feel better about spending the day dragging over stuff if I was certain there was a decent population of bass.

     Hopefully this has given some of you a little insight into how you might go about exploring the creeks near your home. If nothing else it will get you out of the house, and you just might find your own little treasure that lies hidden in plain sight from everyone but you.



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