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Shoalieman on Shoal Bass


    In the short amount of time that Georgia River Fishing has been around, Troy Winebarger (Shoalieman on the GRF Message Board) is as close to a legend as any other GRFer. In the last two years, Troy has caught two shoal bass over six pounds, including the 6 pound 7 ounce monster above. I've lost track of the number of four and five pounders Troy has caught and released, but I assure you: He's caught more big shoalies than you have!

   I recently sat down with Troy and picked his brain about his approach to shoal bass fishing and here's what was said:

Q: I've lost count, but you must have caught 30 shoal bass over 4 pounds the last three years. That's amazing. What's your secret?

A: Having a strong passion and love for pursuing quality-sized shoal bass drives me to put forth the effort and time in that is necessary to catch these fish. I love being in their environment because itís like a home away from home for me. I have yet to see an interior decoratorís work come close to the beauty of a set of river shoals. Iíd rather be on the river than watching my favorite football team play.

Trying to be at these good places at prime times is the icing on the cake. Try to fish in advance of a front or during times when many positive fish activating factors are happening together. A good solar/lunar phase coupled with good localized weather and river levels can often lead to success, especially if you have the time of year factor as well (pre spawn and/or fall bite). Proper timing far outweighs angler ability, lure presentation, and tips from the local tackle shop.

Q: You grew up fishing for smallmouths on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. Did you find this helped you figure shoal bass out a little easier or are shoal bass a completely different ballgame?

A:  Shoalies are much more like smallies than they are trout or largemouths and fishing for smallmouths in flowing water is a fantastic way to learn about catching shoalies. Both will teach you about fishing current seams, eddies, and current breaks.

Q: If you only had one month out of the year to catch big shoal bass, what month would you choose and why?

A:  Since February weather can be fickle, Iíd have to pick March. The unpredictable late winter weather helps to keep the rivers from being crowded and this helps when stalking the big fish. Typically higher cold season flows allows the angler to really key in on current break big fish holding and resting stations. Current breaks are immensely important during higher and stronger flows especially when the water is still cold. To me, waiting for lower more comfortable flows means losing precious oppurtunites for trophies.

Q: February (and hopefully some warmer weather) is right around the corner. What lures are you most likely to be throwing during late winter/ early spring (Maybe talk about three or so)?

A  : Spinnerbaits are awesome in cool and cold water conditions, but usually you must throw them close enough to where a hawg is waiting to ambush a meal. Practice trying to read the not so obvious or underwater features. Spinnerbaits also give you an edge in heavily stained water because of the lateral line vibrations they give off. Rip the spinnerbait upwards, reel a little slack, and rip it upwards again and keep repeating this process. Make it look easy to catch and vulnerable and let it flutter helplessly downward like when you finesse fish a curly tail grub.

Next, try any crankbaits that imitate a large minnow. Reeling it in slow can spell out an easy to catch meal to a porkster river bass. Make it look vulnerable.

If the bite is tough, try drifting a Senko or Magic Stik weightless with nothing but a TX rigged plastic worm hook. Watch your line and if it starts moving in any kind of unnatural manner, set the hook! Try to drift it along current seams or near boulders that can harbor huge bass.

Q: You primarily chase shoalies using spinning and baitcasting gear. What are your main spinning and baitcasting setups? (Reel models, rod length & action, fishing line)

A  : The Flouroclear P Line in the 12 lb. test is a fluorocarbon coated copolymer line that is unbelievably versatile. It can be used to finesse fish curly tail grubs or coax big bass away from timber if need be. If I could only carry one line on a float, hands down, this would be it. I like the fact itís virtually invisible to the fish and thatís where it is way ahead of the braided lines. The copolymer lines manufactured by P Line are famous for their strength, so you get invisibility, strength, and versatility all in one line.

Because I kayak fish so much, I like a 6 foot rod because it catches less tree branches as I float along. If tree limbs werenít an issue, Iíd love to use a 6 Ĺ or 7 foot rod to get a little extra casting distance. For shoalie fishing, I like a medium or medium lite graphite rod because itís light and wonít tire me out as much a medium heavy or heavy rod.

I use middle of the road, expense and quality wise, spin and baitcasting reels because I occasionally lose one. I have 3 rod and reel combos in both the Flint and Ocmulgee rivers for a total of 6. Tethering everything to the Nth degree ruins my spirirt and rythmn so to speak, but I admire those who can do it. Iíve deemed it a worthwhile tradeoff to lose an occasional middle of the road priced rod and reel to not have to endure the bondage of having to connect everything to my kayak. I try to catch Okuma spin reels and Quantum baitcasters on sale if at all possible.

Q: You release every shoal bass you catch. Why?

A:  The value of the shoal bass, to me, is in trying to fool it (esp. the trophies) and its fighting ability. Iíve seen and heard of folks going way past their legal limits when the species is very vulnerable. Big egg laden females must feed voraciously and instictively to fatten up for the stress of the spawn. It takes very little skill to catch them in this state of vulnerability. Instead of an angler patting himself on the back, giving himself undue credit, and throwing all these pre spawn females on his stringer, he should remember all things are meant to be done in moderation. Like Bill Dance always encouraged us, keep a couple of meals worth of fish in the freezer and do not kill anymore until youíve eaten those in the freezer. Anglers cannot always afford to be on the take, and I like knowing I am helping to make the trophy shoal bass fishery better by the way I conduct myself on the water.

Crappie do not fight well, repopulate profusely, and taste wonderful. Iíll eat these if I want a mess of fish. Iíve also been known to put a hurtiní on a catfish restaurant as many have witnessed firsthand.

Q: What advice would you give to people who are new to shoal bass fishing and just want to catch a bunch regardless of size?

A:  Beetlespins, roostertails, and curly tail grubs with the occasional small crankbait, like a Cotton Cordell big O or broken back floating minnow, to round out their arsenal. Also, bottom bouncing plastic worms and crawdad imitations can produce very high numbers. Try to cover a lot of water and realize there are often times that are slow, but eventually they will feed again.

Q: There are tons of places to catch big shoal bass in Georgia. If I want to catch a four pounder, would I be better off trying to fish a bunch of different places or should I find one or two stretches of river and focus on learning them really well?

A:  I think the person who fishes reaction baits for aggressive fish would do better covering a lot of water while the pig-n-jig dude might do better to slow down and dissect a smaller area. Really, if your timing is right both techniques can produce good fish. I use both techniques and alternate between them and both have worked over the years. 

Q: Everybody knows the Flint, Ocmulgee, and Chattahoochee rivers each have great fisheries. What is your favorite aspect of each river?

A:  I love the Flint because of its quaintness and it is easy to wade and the fact shoalies and spider lilies are native to it. I like the way the dam releases on the Ocmulgee provide a sort of protection to the shoalies breaking the fishing pressure somewhat. I think the upper Ocmulgee would be less of a shoal bass fishery without the releases. I also like the abundance deep holes and pools in that river. I like the fisheries protection that comes from limited access and hard work required on both these rivers. The upper Hooch is fun because you just may catch a trout, yellow perch, or striper while trying to fool a shoal bass. The mountain atmosphere is relaxing and itís a great destination when its hotter than Hades below the fall line.

Q: What type boat do you use most of the time?

Kayak, because itís just too easy to throw it in the bed of my pickup truck and zip off to the fishing hole. I also like being able to paddle upriver or explore new creeks. Kayaks are quiet so you can really enjoy nature as you move almost without noise on our waterways.

Q: The last couple years, what percent of your big shoal bass have you caught while wading versus from your boat?

I have to give the advantage to the kayak here mainly because I spend somewhat more time in it than wading. I guesstimate about 2/3 from the kayak and 1/3 from wading. However, I often tie the kayak behind me to wade and fish going upriver. This is an awesome way to fish as you have a floating tackle box and very large PFD attached to yourself by a rope.

Q: Should shoal bass anglers even bother fishing flat water? If so, when?

Yes, if there is adequate depth and current. There may be invisible underwater boulders in that water you mention. During a severe drought the big shoalies may have no choice but to be in slack water with very little current, but they are truly current-loving fish. I value current even more than rocks, but just slightly unless your fishing the middle Flint where there are no rocks to speak of. However, I promise you the middle Flint has current and shoal bass.

I often wonder what is the deepest water a person has ever seen or documented one of those fish-eating wading birds hunt fish in? It makes sense to fish in water deeper than this a good bit of the time. There are a lot of those birds and a fish wouldnít last long if it consistently stayed in water shallow enough for it to hunt in. I donít care how postcard pretty a whitewater shoal is, a fish is in a danger zone staying there if is too shallow unless it can get under a rock ledge.

Bottomline, your missing out if you only fish the postcard pretty shoals and/or if your beating the banks only.

Q: Are there any lures or techniques you feel might be effective for big shoal bass that you still need to work on?

A:  I should probably bottom bump more than I do, but top water is just too much fun. I would also like to experiment with the drop shot technique for river bass. I never have attempted it and I really should. Of course, I have a ton to learn when it comes to fly fishing for shoal bass since I am relatively new to it.

Q: Last year you really started seriously flyfishing for shoal bass. How do you like that and what flies have been working for you?

A:  I do like it and I really enjoy fishing top water poppers on the long rod. I also like to fish the Rubber Legged Dragon (RLD) which is designed to imitate a dragonfly nymph. This past December I finally got a feel for bouncing a wooly bugger off the bottom and picked up 3 river bass with this technique.

I want experiment with some large streamers and see how that works.

Q: Do you think Georgia still has any eight pound shoal bass?

A:  Probably a  handful if any, but we may need to take better care of our four and five pounders if we want to see more 8 pounders. I would be overjoyed to see the DNR experiment with a trophy shoal bass management program in a highly pressured area just to see if it made a difference. I have learned no research or documentation is needed just to try out a big bass management program. Some harvest can still legally occur, but it is done in light of producing and maintaining a trophy river bass fishery.

In closing, I hope the GRF website will continue to add ethical shoal bass anglers to its membership. Probably the greatest enemy to Micropterus Cataractae will be the expected population explosion and need for additional water supplies. Let the state of Georgia double or triple its residents and thereís no telling what remaining rivers and creeks they will want to impound. Impoundments would destroy what few shoal bass fisheries we have left. Letís hope we can help keep this from ever happening.


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