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Planning a Float Trip

Catching fish is only one aspect of a successful float trip. Paddling through rapids in a setting like this helps turn a fishing trip into a memory!

    Just like there is more than one way to skin a catfish, there are many great ways to enjoy fishing your favorite river or stream. For my money, however, float tripping is far and away the most enjoyable and effective method of river fishing. Float fishing allows anglers to get away from the ramps, parks, and bridges- areas that typically receive the brunt of fishing pressure. Plain and simple, float fishing allows anglers to fish for the most uneducated fish in any stream, tilting the advantage even further in our favor. Many smaller rivers and creeks are unfit for motorized craft and a lot of Georgia waters simply get too shallow during the summer for motors to be much help. Float fishing enables us to reach fish that others cannot, and I like my chances casting to fish that have never seen a lure.

    There is a lot more to planning a successful float trip than simply throwing a boat in the water and heading downstream. Floating a river requires a good deal more planning than some might expect, and a little research beforehand can prevent a disappointing or even disastrous trip. 

    Once you've chosen a river or stream you'd like to float, the first thing to do is figure out where to put in and take out. The Georgia Atlas and Gazetteer is widely available and is an invaluable resource for the Georgia river rat. The Gazetteer shows Georgia's roads and backroads in great detail, which makes finding bridges and boat ramps a snap. Even better resources are A Paddler's Guide to Northern and Southern Georgia (two separate books) by Bob Sehlinger and Don Otey. These books not only illustrate access points, but they also describe the waters (and any major hazards) and distances between access points. Both books were published over twenty years ago and some of the material is outdated,  but these books both offer a wealth of information. Georgia River Fishing and other web sites (particularly canoeing and kayaking sites) can also offer useful information.

    Once you've settled on a stretch of river you'd like to float, make sure that the float is not too long to be comfortably fished in whatever amount of time you have. I prefer to fish no more than four miles of river in a full day, and almost never attempt any distance over six miles unless I plan on camping. Anglers attempting to float longer distances need to plan on spending a good part of their day paddling rather than fishing, and must be disciplined enough not to linger too long in one spot. Canoeing at night can be spooky and dangerous. 

    Anglers also need to consider the type of fishing they intend on doing. Live bait anglers tend to travel more slowly than lure fishermen. Are you planning on wading? I prefer to hop out of the canoe and wade fish whenever the opportunity presents itself, but wading really cuts into the amount of water one can cover in a day. What about the river level? Some rivers and streams will require a good deal of canoe dragging during the late summer and fall. High water levels may create rapids you'd rather not attempt, leading to time-consuming portages. Information on certain Georgia river levels can be found at Georgia Current Streamflow Conditions. If you are fishing in a tailwater river (anything downstream of a major hydroelectric dam) such as the lower Etowah, Ocmulgee, or Chattahoochee below Buford Dam, you should be aware of generation schedules that can dramatically raise the water level and current flow.

    The best way to find information about a body of water is by asking around. Try local tackle shops and bait stores, or hang around the river and ask bank fishermen or landowners what they know. This web site offers a good bit of useful information, but if you can't find what you're looking for, try the GRF Message Board. There is someone out there who can tell you what you need to know!

    So you're finally ready to go fishing! Before you go, keep in mind that you probably will not be floating in a bass boat, so it will be important to travel as light as possible. Most float fishermen should never take more than two rods  (I usually take two). Leave that mammoth tackle box with all the drawers at home, too. Put a few of your favorite lures in a smaller box to create more room and less weight. It'd be a shame to lose your entire portable tackle shop if you happen to take an unplanned swim. Most float trips can be accomplished with nothing more than paddles, life jackets, rods, tackle boxes, a drybag, cooler, and possibly an anchor. Make sure anything of value is connected somehow to the boat.

    The first goal of any float fisherman should be to end the day as healthy as you started it. The best way to avoid river mishaps is to make sure the river you have selected does not exceed your or your boat's performance level. A novice canoeist should not attempt to float Talking Rock Creek or the lower section of Amicalola Creek at high water. There are sections of the upper Flint and upper Chattahoochee that would be extremely frustrating and possibly dangerous in a jon boat. Make sure your craft and your skill match the stream you plan to float.

    Life jackets are a must, and a first aid kit and sharp knife are always a good idea. It is always best to take a partner along on a float trip, and make sure to let a third party know where you're going and when you expect to be home. Georgia anglers should always keep an eye out for water moccasins, particularly when passing under or near tree limbs. If you are not sure you will be able to run a strong rapid, simply portage it. Don't get caught on a strange river at night, either. It is no fun (trust me). Anglers who use common sense will generally have nothing to worry about.

    The most common type of float trip involves two fishermen, two vehicles, and one boat. The fishermen will normally meet at the take-out spot, leave one vehicle, and take the other vehicle (and the boat) upstream to the put-in. At the end of the day, the boat is simply loaded up and the upstream car fetched. Things can get a tad more complex if one angler drives a convertible or some other type of car inappropriate for boat-toting. In this case, one angler must drive the take-out vehicle back to the put-in and bring back the boat-toter.

    Another variation of the float trip is to have a friend or spouse simply pick you up at the end of the day and haul you back to your vehicle. A bit of advice: Don't be too late if your wife is the one picking you up ("But honey, they were biting!"). To avoid this ugly scene, you may try having someone follow you to the put-in in the morning, dropping the boat off at the put-in, and and then leaving your vehicle at the take-out spot. This method tends to be a little easier on the marriage if you tend to lose track of the time while fishing (like I do).

    Another method of one-man float tripping is simply to motor or paddle upstream and fish your way back down. This method has limitations on small, swift, or shallow streams but makes it easy to orchestrate shorter solo trips. It is also possible to float downstream and then motor back up, but as soon as you are done fishing, Murphy's Law dictates that you're motor will not crank or a paddle will break. I have even heard of one die-hard that stashes a bicycle at the take-out spot and pedals back to retrieve his vehicle!

    It's pretty tough to make a float trip without a boat. All is not lost, however, if you do not have access to a canoe. As of this writing, there are canoe rental companies that provide canoes, paddles, and life jackets on a good number of rivers and streams in Georgia. These services also provide shuttles for a normally reasonable fee (see "No Boat? No Problem!" ). All you need is food, drink, and fishing gear!

    There are not too many things I'd rather do than spend a day float-fishing a river or creek. The scenery is normally great, other fishermen normally nonexistent, and the fish abnormally stupid- which is a good thing. Hopefully this article has pointed novice fishermen in the right direction and possibly given veteran float-fishermen an idea or two. A little planning and common sense are all it takes to make it home in one piece and provide dinner in the process!


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