Gear packed, kayak strapped down, and my canine companion Tyke in the co-pilot seat, I headed out of Augusta on my way to snag the elusive Suwannee bass (Micropterus nodius). While this bass had “skunked” me the year before on the Ochlockonee River, I re-worked some logistics and figured the Withlacoochee would be more kayak fly-fishing friendly, and supposedly has a larger population of Suwannee bass than the Ochlockonee.
On the way to my destination, I gained an extra fisherman – my former roommate, fellow outdoor enthusiast, and lifelong friend, Jase Brooks. Our targeted camp location was the Clyattville Road Bridge, which we reached after a great dinner, and after snagging some fresh Georgia blueberries (a perfect snack for the adventure) from a side-of-the-road stand. Upon arrival, we were greeted by an entire family who had come to the bridge to shoot skeet and do target practice. It was official, we were in South Georgia, and I loved it. Just before dark, we were joined by another long-time friend, Steven Strickland, one of my closest hometown buds. We set up camp, made a fire, and made wishful predictions for the day to come.
The float began with a beautiful sunrise. We were fishing poppers, and I got several hits, including a few redbreasts and my first ever spotted sunfish. We found ourselves fortunate to share this pristine river with other kayak anglers, and some additional “fishermen,” including a green heron, blue heron and a brown water snake. The Withlacoochee was quickly becoming one of my favorite floats as at every turn the river found another way to make us gasp at its beauty.
As the sun continued to rise, the fishing got slower and slower. And slower. And slower. Around 2 pm, we found ourselves in dead heat and with only two 9-inch largemouth landed. I kept myself in good spirits by holding on to the fact that I still needed a largemouth for the Georgia Bass Slam.
Just when I was beginning to think our hopes for another bass were completely drained, I tossed my crayfish fly into a cave carved out by the river under a limestone wall. It was as if an arrow might as well been pointing to it with a sign that said, “BIG BASS LIVE HERE!” I gave it a few strips, and BOOM, set the hook on what might as well have been a log, except the log darted at the speed of light into the depths of the river channel with my fly in its mouth. This was it – this had to be a Suwannee! And at the peak of my adrenaline—the line went slack. I curled my head into my palms and cursed the fish gods. How the heck did he get off? But as every angler knows, that’s just fishing. If it wasn’t for the heartbreaks, then special catches wouldn’t mean as much.
We finished our trip with none of us landing a Suwannee. But even though I had a bit of bitterness in my heart, I couldn’t help but smile after such an awesome time doing what I love with a couple of great friends.
On my ride home I was reminded of a quote by Henry David Thoreau: “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” I couldn’t agree more.
For those keeping tabs: Georgia Bass Slam Summary- so far:
- Caught: 3 (Bartram’s, Smallmouth, Largemouth)
- Failed: 1 (Suwannee)
- Remaining: 6 (Chattahoochee, Tallapoosa, Shoal, Coosa, Spotted, Altamaha)
Tyler Lipham, 4th year student at the Dental College of Georgia, previously graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife from the Warnell School of Forestry. In his free time, he enjoys any and all things dealing with wild waters and woods.