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High, Muddy, and Cold

How I salvaged my spring break despite cold fronts and six inches of rain

These two nice fish were taken during extremely difficult conditions in two very different environments. At left is a 2-10 largemouth bass and at right is a 2-8 spotted bass.

    One of the great things about my job as a teacher is the breaks. I get time off in early fall, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring break, and two months in the summer. Spring break is my favorite, as it usually coincides with the white bass run and the black bass are generally fat and aggressive. This year's Spring Break was going to be twice as good, since my county adopted a two-week break over the last week of March and the first week of April. I was licking my chops.

    And then the bottom fell out. The first weekend of spring break saw about four inches of rain dumped on northern Georgia, and double that amount in South Georgia. Still, I was able to get out on moving water four times and catch ten bass that weighed over two pounds. Under normal conditions, these results are fairly average, but I'm pretty proud that I was able to catch some quality fish under such miserable conditions. More amazingly, I never even got skunked. I don't pretend to be an expert bass fisherman, but I don't think my success was any accident. Hopefully, you can take some of these ideas and use them the next time Mother Nature tries to mess up one of your fishing trips.

KEY #1: BE FLEXIBLE

    I had planned to fish for two days in South Georgia, where the bass tend to get pretty big. The rivers that I had intended to fish were at flood stage, so I decided to change my itinerary. Instead of heading south, I decided to do exactly the opposite.

KEY #2: HEAD NORTH

This 2-10 largemouth came from a swift but clear stream in the Georgia mountains

    The state of Georgia is divided into three physiographic regions: the mountains, Piedmont, and coastal plain. As any plumber will tell you, water tends to run downhill, and the steeper the hill, the faster that water will run. Armed with this knowledge, I headed to the mountains the day after the majority of the rain hit. I was able to tangle with some small but feisty redeye bass in water that was rising, but that still had two feet of visibility. On this day, I waded (very carefully, as I was alone) and was able to key in on a couple relatively slow, woody pockets that produced all my fish. A couple days later I caught ten bass, including some nice largemouth, spots, and redeyes from a similar stream in the mountains. In both cases, I was able to find clear water even though the water was a bit higher and faster than I would like. This made the fishing plenty challenging, since slowing down my kayak enough to make a cast was tough and many of the eddies that normally provide a good vantage point for casting were washed out. My drag chain came in really handy, as it slowed me down just enough to fish effectively. 

KEY #3: DAM IT

    Many of Georgia's rivers and stream are dotted with dams that provide were built to power mills or small hydroelectric projects. These are a nuisance most of the time, since to float past them, one has to find a way to carry your boat around them. These dams come in really handy, however, during periods of high water because they back up the water to form small sections of the river where the current is very slow, even when the rest of the river is flowing high, fast, and muddy. These mill ponds will still be as muddy as the rest of the river, but if you can find an area like this, you will have eliminated one of the key factors that makes fishing after heavy rains so difficult: fast water. I was able to get out on this type of area on two separate occasions over my spring break. The fishing was really tough, as it always is when fishing in coffee. Still, I was able to catch four decent bass, one of which approached three pounds.

THESIS STATEMENT: WET WEATHER CAUSES TWO BIG PROBLEMS FOR RIVER FISHERMEN. TRY TO ELIMINATE ONE OF THEM

    The two problems are 1) muddy water and 2) fast water. By heading to the mountains, I was able to eliminate the hassle of muddy water. I fished the way I normally would, other than adding a little more weight to soft plastics and jigs in order to keep them on the bottom in faster current. I caught most of my fish in North Georgia on a small chartreuse spinnerbait worked a little on the slow side. By fishing sections of rivers slowed up by small dams, I was able to eliminate the hassle of swift water. The key on these days was to fish something slow, noisy, and black. Most people fish bright colors in muddy water, but black is actually the color that is most visible coming through the mud. Add something that rattles or sends out a lot of vibration, fish it really slowly and close to the bottom. My most productive lures in these situations were a black jig-n-pig with rattles and a black tandem spinnerbait with Colorado blades. The fishing was tough in both instances, but by eliminating one of the two prevailing water problems, I was able to give myself a fighting chance.

KEY #4: THINK SMALL

    I'm not talking about lures here, I'm talking about stream size. Some of my better days over spring break were spent on big rivers, but I was in the upper reaches of these flows, where a good, long cast from one bank could reach the other. I also had a decent day on a rather small creek. These small-water areas drain a smaller area, and thus get clearer and slower long before the bigger water that can be found downstream. I prefer big water during midsummer when the water in the smaller places is too shallow to provide good fishing. During spring and high water, smaller flows can really save the day.

KEY #5: DON'T WAIT AROUND FOR YOUR FAVORITE RIVER TO GET "JUST RIGHT"

   

These two largemouth bass were my biggest of the year to date. The one at left went 4-2 and the one at right went 3-8.

    Go when it's "almost right". One of my favorite rivers turns to mud when you spit in it. This river is full of nice spotted, redeye, and largemouth bass, but if I waited for it to return to it's normal greenish color I wouldn't be able to fish there until June. This river is "right" at about eight feet on the gauge that I use, and it had reached sixteen feet following the heaviest rain. It was down to eleven feet the day that I fished it, and I wasn't expecting much. The river was high and muddy, but not nearly as high and muddy as it was three days earlier. Again, the fishing wasn't easy. I had to pull my kayak up on rocks and logjams in order to work an area, and most of the time it was fruitless. The bass wanted to eat something dark, slow, and on the bottom. In six hours of fishing I managed eight bass, and six of them weighed over two pounds with the largest weighing slightly over four. I have never fished this particular stream when conditions have been this bad before, but I have had many days where I caught fewer and smaller fish. I guess to the bass things had been so bad for the previous week that this muddy torrent they were in seemed rather nice. Kinda like a February day in Alaska that reaches the 20's: miserable for anybody that doesn't live there.

 
 

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