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NO BOAT? NO PROBLEM!

Areas below dams attract fish at all times of the year, but especially during the spring. This bank angler loaded up on bream, crappie, catfish, and white bass. 

    A river fisherman without a boat is kind of like a 17-year old without a car. Sometimes you just feel like everyone else is having all the fun. Having dealt with both experiences, I have found that it's possible to enjoy success on the river without constantly asking to borrow Dad's boat. While a boat is certainly a nice thing to have, many anglers are forced to do without as a result of finances or living arrangements. If you are in this situation, fret not, because with a bit of scouting and ingenuity anyone can find success on a river. I do a lot of fishing from a canoe, but I can't begin to count the times that I've paddled by a bank or wade fisherman with far more fish on their stringer than I encountered that day. 

    If you are reading this article with the expectation of being given exact locations and directions to a specific fishing spot, you are going to be disappointed. Most of the satisfaction I derive from river fishing comes from exploring and finding my honeyholes  through trial and error. Besides, GRF  has a lot of readers, and it would be rather disappointing if you got to Catch'em Creek at Wing-n-a-Prayer Road and found half the state there! Get a good map of the area you are interested in and spend some time exploring. This way the places you find will stay less crowded and provide a better fishing experience.

    Boatless anglers basically have three options: bank fishing, wade fishing, and renting a fishing craft of some sort. Let's look at all three methods in a bit more detail and figure out some ways to fish smarter than the other guys and gals out there.

 

BANK FISHING

This is not exactly what I wanted to see after futilely beating the river to a froth all day from my canoe. This guy spent a few hours on a bucket at a creek mouth and took a limit of spotted and shoal bass.

    There's something just a tad romantic about relaxing on a river bank with a cane pole and a can of worms. Sometimes you half expect to see Tom and Huck walk up and ask how they're bitin'. Bank fishing can be as high or low-tech as you want, and it's a great way to introduce spouses and kids to the sport of fishing. The key, however, is in finding a good spot to fish. This starts at home with a good map. Find some places where roads cross a river or creek or places where a road appears to run parallel and close to the waterway. You also might want to check out maps of Wildlife Management Area's, state parks, or National Forests to see if any roads or trails lead down to the water's edge. Next, take a morning and go visit some of these spots. You may want to make a few casts, but primarily, your goal should be to find fishy-looking water. For most species of bass, bream, and catfish, this means finding water with some depth and some cover.

    The fishing underneath bridge overpasses can be excellent, as they provide overhead cover (for you and the fish), and bridge pilings block current and provide the fish protection from the current. Many times there will be paths that lead to promising fishing holes up or downstream from the overpasses. If you can find a big bend in the river, I can almost guarantee that you can catch fish on the outside (deeper part) of the bend, as long as there is some cover present. Don't forget creek mouths either. Dams also tend to be fish magnets, both on the upstream and downstream sides. There are a numerous dams mentioned in the "River Quicktakes" section of GRF, and many are accessible by industrious fishermen. There are also public fishing piers on the Ocmulgee (below Lake Jackson), the Coosawattee (below Carter's Lake), and the Coosa (Mayo's Lock and Dam) that usually hold lots of fish and fishermen. You can also use the litterbugs of this world to your advantage by looking for old bait containers. Chances are good that the area with the most trash is probably a pretty good fishing spot. I like to clean up the trash so the spot won't be obvious to others.

    Once you've found a likely spot, it's time to go fishing. While I generally prefer to fish with artificial lures, I have had far better success with live bait when fishing from the bank. When confined to a small area, I feel that natural baits will out-produce artificials, especially if the fish are inactive, which they are most of the time. Once you've found a likely spot, there are a couple things you can do to turn the odds in your favor. Some anglers put some dried dog food or old bread in a potato sack with some rocks and sink it in or just upstream of the fishing hole (attached to a length of rope, of course, so you can reuse it). This attracts baitfish from downstream and usually some larger fish within an hour or two. Other anglers punch holes in cans of dog or cat food and suspend them over their favorite fishing holes. This attracts flies, and within a few hot days, maggots begin falling into the water in droves, baiting your fishing hole.

    How you choose to bank fish is entirely up to you. Some anglers like to fish their baits beneath a cork, which works well when eddy water is present. This allows your bait to stay in the same area and not constantly get pushed downstream. I usually find myself using some sort of bottom rig with crickets, worms, minnows, small bream, or chicken livers (depending on what I'm after). Use enough weight to hold your bait in place or maybe allow the current to drag it slowly downstream. You might also consider using fairly heavy line, because snags will undoubtedly occur. Gold hooks are also useful because they will straighten out, allowing you to simply bend them back into place rather than constantly re-tying. If you happen to be fishing with kids (or my wife) you may want to consider flattening the hook barbs with pliers. Finally, if you find a good fishing spot, make sure to clean up the area thoroughly so as not to tip off others of the bonanza to be had in your spot!

 

WADE FISHING

This chunky spotted bass was caught by wading a creek in North Georgia that feeds a major river. I would imagine that this is the first lure this fish ever saw.

    One thing I've noticed through years of exploring Georgia's moving waterways is that most people in most places refuse to get out of the boat or off the bank to fish. Wading is perhaps my favorite method of fishing, and I tend to keep my favorite places under lock and key. I can, however, reveal how I go about finding good wading rivers and creeks and point you in the right direction. There is already an article on GRF devoted to the how-to's of wading (see "Art of Wading" at the upper left column of this page), so this section will deal mainly with finding good places to walk the water.

    The best place to begin searching for good wading spots is with a fairly detailed map that shows rivers and streams, roads, and public land. As a general rule, larger rivers do not provide as good wading opportunities as smaller rivers and creeks, especially for anglers without access to a boat. There are some exceptions, however, as many bigger rivers contain large, shallow shoal areas near bridges or on public land. Once you've marked a few likely areas to check out, it's time to go jump in the water! I prefer to scout for wading holes during the heat of the summer when the water is likely to be low, warm, and clear. Low, clear water allows you to see where you are about to step, and when you do fall into the abyss and float your hat (it will happen!), I prefer frostbite not to be a factor!

    One advantage of wading Georgia's smaller rivers and streams is that many have long stretches of water that rarely get above armpit level. Many stretches of river may have deep water, but have wadeable strips along one bank or the other. Once you have found a potential wading location, take one or two lures and go exploring. When wading an area for the first time, I like to use small lures or baits in order to get a feel for what's in there. If the bream fishing is good, chances are good that there are some bass and catfish in there as well. Also remember that while you are primarily searching for wadeable water, decent sized fish require some deep water nearby. Good wading holes will allow the angler to move up or downstream for a half mile or so and contain pockets of deeper water. You will strike out a lot searching for places to wade, but when you find a good spot, chances are that this spot will be yours and yours alone!

    Bridge crossings are a great place to begin your search, and most of my good wading holes were found by simply pulling over and hopping in. If your favorite river or creek runs through or borders public land (WMA's, National Forest, state or city parks) you can often find superb fishing by strapping on the hiking boots and taking a walk. Many of these areas have old roads and hiking or biking trails that will get you close to the water, and few people are willing to walk out of sight from their car to go fishing. Most seasoned  trout fishermen are aware of this, but it holds true in warm water as well as cold. Use other folks laziness to your advantage!

    So where do you start looking? Bream fishermen and those looking to catch shoal or redeye bass ought to have no problems finding a good place to wade. These species don't require a whole lot of water over their heads and generally live in wadeable areas. South Georgia wade fishermen have it pretty good, too. Just about every time I've been on a smaller river or creek in South Georgia, I have encountered someone wading for redbreast, bluegill, or catfish. While I haven't seen too many serious bass fishermen wading down south, the bass are there for the taking. Creeks that feed larger rivers are also good places to try wading, as they receive far less attention, are easier to wade, and carry the same species as the rivers they feed. Areas below dams can also be gold mines, and most have shoal areas immediately below the dams (be mindful of water releases though!). 

    Keep in mind that even large rivers are small and intimate at some point upstream. I have had great success wading in some trickles in middle Georgia that eventually run into the Altamaha. Retrace the flow of the Coosa or Chattahoochee rivers back to the mountains of northern Georgia, and you can find enough places to wade and catch fish to last a lifetime!

 

RENTING A BOAT

    Renting a canoe, kayak, or even an inner tube is another option for the boatless angler. There are numerous canoe outfitters in the state that rent canoes and provide shuttle services. Prices usually start in the $20 range but can be a little less or a lot more depending on the type craft you rent, the length of your trip, and the outfitter you deal with. These services make life pretty easy, and all you normally need to bring along are a cooler for snacks and drinks and your fishing stuff. The only iron-clad rule in dealing with canoe outfitters is to call ahead to find out their hours and the condition of the river. Most outfitters can provide good advice on the better stretches to fish and what they're biting. If possible, try and find out the condition of the river before you go from another source, because great conditions for canoeing and great conditions for fishing are often a lot different. I like to see the water with my own eyes or at minimum check the river level on the USGS web site before I go (see "Links and Resources" for USGS site).

    If you can, try and avoid the big holiday weekends (Memorial, Independence, and Labor Days) as most outfitters and their rivers are jam packed. I normally like to arrive as early as possible and leave as late as possible to get the most out of my investment. An outfitter may call your float a "three hour trip", but you should double or triple these times if you are planning on fishing hard.

    What follows is a rather incomplete list of canoe outfitters in Georgia. The list was compiled primarily by scouring the internet, but also with suggestions from GRF readers (Thanks, Steve!). I will include internet links where possible as well as phone numbers. One beautiful thing about the internet is that I can add to or subtract from this list as needed, but I need folks to e-mail me if an outfitter is no longer in business or if there are some I've overlooked. So without further ado, here are all the places I know of to rent a boat!

*Note- some of the 912 area codes have been changed to 478.

White Water Learning Center of Georgia-(404) 231-0042- If you want to rent a canoe or kayak to float a river that is not served by an outfitter, WWLC rents them out from 1/2 to multiple days. They are located in Atlanta.

Geared To Go- (678) 406-0008- Located in Atlanta, Geared To Go rents out canoes and camping gear and has a retail store. 

Appalachian Outfitters-(706) 864-7117- located on the Chestatee River, provide services on the Chestatee and upper Etowah Rivers.

Broad River Outpost-(706) 795-3242- provide service to the Broad River, home of the Piedmont Bass.

Altamaha Wilderness Outpost-(912) 437-6010- provide canoes, kayaks, and shuttles to the Altamaha and it's numerous creeks, swamps, and sloughs as well as guided trips to some of Georgia's barrier islands. This link leads to Broad River Outpost, but you can get to Altamaha Outpost by following the link on their page.

Canoe Canoe Outfitters- (912) 526-8222- Located in Lyons, GA, Canoe Canoe serves a multitude of South Georgia waterways including the Ohoopee, Pendleton Creek, the Altamaha, lower Ocmulgee, lower Oconee, and the Okeefenokee Swamp.

Cedar Creek Park- (706) 777-3030 or (706) 232-3239- Located in Cave Spring, provides service to Big Cedar Creek, a tributary of the Coosa River.

Chattahoochee National Recreation Area- (770) 399-8070- I'm not sure if they rent canoe or kayaks, but you can definitely get a raft. More likely to catch trout than anything else on this part of the  Hooch, but that ain't so bad!

Flint River Outdoor Center- (706) 647-2633- Located on the upper Flint near Thomaston, world-renowned shoal bass fishery!

High Falls State Park- (912) 993-3053- They used to rent canoes to float the Towaliga River but didn't provide shuttles except for large groups. Not sure if they still do...

Mountaintown Outdoor Expeditions- (706) 635-2524- For those seeking some real whitewater along with your fishing! Located in Ellijay and provides service to the Cartecay River. 

River Right Outfitters- (706) 273-7055- Located in Ellijay, provides service to the Cartecay River. May want to strap down your fishing pole!

Wildwood Outfitters- (706) 878-1700 or (706) 865-4451- Wildwood Outfitters has stores in Clayton and Helen, but has a canoe and kayak outfitter that serves the Chattahoochee upstream of Lake Lanier.

Canoe Country Outpost- (904) 845-7224- Canoe Country provides service to the beautiful St. Mary's River, which forms part of the border between Georgia and Florida in southeast Georgia.

Ocmulgee River Canoe Adventures- (229) 467-9251- Located in Abbeville, provides service to the lower Ocmulgee River.

Ogeechee Outpost- (912) 748-6716- Located in Ellabelle (near Savannah) , provides service to the Ogeechee River.

Okefenokee Adventures- (866) THE-SWAMP or (912) 496-7156- Located in Folkston, provide canoe and motorboat rentals as well as guided trips in the gorgeous Okefenokee Swamp.

Okefenokee Pastimes- (912) 496-4472- Okefenokee Pastimes provides lodging, camping, and canoe rentals for the swamp and the St. Mary's. They are usually closed for most of July and August.

Three Rivers Expeditions- (912) 379-1371- Located in Hazlehurst, 3RE serves lower portions of the Ocmulgee and Oconee rivers as well as the Altamaha.

Ogeechee Park Canoe Rental and Campground- (912) 748-5996 or (912) 663-0442- Camping and canoe rental on the Ogeechee River.

Flint River Outpost- (229)759-9170- Located in Leesburg (near Albany), FRO serves the Flint River below Lake Blackshear in some great shoal bass water.

 
 

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