Angler Nick O’Conor has successfully completed the Georgia Bass Slam four years in a row and has already submitted his 2023 Bass Slam for review.
Catching 5 of the 10 black bass species found in Georgia is a dedicated achievement! For Nick, catching FIVE species just wasn’t enough. But, let’s allow him to tell you about the first three years of his journey in his own words:
I grew up in Northwest Georgia and for long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with fishing. As a child, I spent many hours with my family on Lake Allatoona. I don’t recall catching much of anything, but we tried hard. As I got older, I set out on my own fishing local creeks, rivers, ponds, and lakes. I always had a passion for the creeks and rivers, and that’s where I truly learned how to fish. I would spend hours walking through the woods looking for deep holes to catch sunfish and the occasional bass. I would carry them home in a bucket to show off to my family. My dad still tells anyone who will listen about the time I released a bucket of my catch into the family above ground pool.
Over the years, I’ve fished for everything from catfish to striped bass, from sharks on the coast to trout in the mountains. When I reached my mid 30’s, I got into kayak fishing. I was drawn to kayaks because of the opportunity to get into less accessible water and in hopes of staying in good shape. I saw a bunch of beautiful places and caught some fish, but I was always looking for another challenge to fulfill my competitive spirit. In 2019, while looking for some random information on the Georgia DNR website, I came across the Georgia Bass Slam. I had never heard of it but couldn’t wait to get started!
2019: Learning Curve
I didn’t realize for a second how difficult completing ‘The Slam’ would be. I’ve been fishing for a long time, but my knowledge of river drainages and most of the species on the list were very limited. Most of my freshwater fishing to this point was limited to Northwest Georgia. I was very familiar with Alabama and largemouth bass, but I’d only briefly heard of some of the other species. I began working on my first Slam during the spring of 2019 and to say the least…I struggled. It took every bit of six months of hard fishing to catch just five species. I can’t tell you how many times I drove more than two hours from home searching for Chattahoochee and Altamaha bass and came back empty-handed. I was humbled, but I was hooked on this competition and ready to do better the next year.
2020: Getting Strategic
By 2020, I had a better understanding of each species’ preferred habitat and was ready to go. Google Earth became my best friend, and I would spend hours researching rivers for the perfect places to fish. As my knowledge grew, I became aware of the hybridization issue that is affecting Georgia’s native species due to the introduction of non-native species in our lakes and river systems. I can’t tell you how many hybrid shoal, Chattahoochee, and Altamaha bass I’ve caught over the last few years. It always breaks my heart when I fish a beautiful shoal complex and only find Alabama bass. Not only is our state aesthetically beautiful, it is also rich with biodiversity. The idea that I can catch ten black bass species without leaving my home state is still hard for me to fathom. I hate to imagine a time where some of these species will be almost impossible to find due to continued hybridization and colonization of non-native species. (Help Protect Georgia Waters!)
In 2020, I got strategic. I started the year chasing the species I thought would be the most difficult for me to catch, the Suwannee bass. Like I said before, I’m a North Georgia fisherman. I planned a trip to South Georgia in early 2020 to target the Withlacoochee River. When I arrived, the water was so high and fast, there was no way I could fish it by kayak. I ended up running a trail at Reed Bingham State Park while looking for a gopher tortoise, and then drove back north.
The rest of the year went much better. I picked up three new species: shoal, Altamaha, and the Chattahoochee bass. However, I struck out bad on the smallmouth and Suwannee bass. Eight species is pretty solid, but I wanted all 10.
2021: Searching for that Suwannee
In 2021, I had six species checked off my list by the first week of June. I was feeling good about my chances. I knocked out the smallmouth in early July. It took three trips to the Toccoa to do it and the smallmouth was only 9 inches long, but it was another species off the list. I planned another trip to the Withlacoochee, this time in late summer. When I arrived, the river was way outside its banks and totally unfishable. I was getting more than a little frustrated with the pursuit of the Suwannee bass. In August of 2021, I caught number nine on the list: my Altamaha from the Oconee River.
Catching number nine gave me the strength to make another run for the Suwannee bass. This time I got smart. I started checking the river gauge. I found a week in October when the water level looked low. I took leave on a Friday and drove the 300 plus miles south for my chance. I couldn’t wait until Saturday morning, so I put the kayak on the river on Friday evening. It was warm and beautiful in the waning light, but the fish wouldn’t come easy. I had researched the Suwannee thoroughly, and I knew that their diet consisted predominantly of crayfish. This was a very familiar pattern for me coming from North Georgia. However, I struggled tossing crayfish patterns in the tannic water. I stayed hung up in the trees, and the same old Withlacoochee frustration began to creep in.
I decided to make a quick switch to a yellow and brown rooster tail. The sun was starting to get low, as I paddled back toward the truck. I started tossing the lure in the usual places, but still didn’t find what I was looking for. About 100 yards from the ramp, I put a cast behind a large blowdown that was right on the edge of the current. A couple of turns of the reel and she was on! I pulled myself to the bank to inspect my catch. It was a beautiful 13-inch Suwannee. I don’t think I’ve ever been more afraid of losing a fish at the side of the boat. That wouldn’t occur on this day though. I took the necessary pictures for the Slam and released her back into the river.
With my tenth fish finally secured, I immediately made my way to the boat ramp and on to my hotel room to celebrate with a beer and a to-go order from the Cracker Barrel in Valdosta.
Reflections and Looking Ahead
I was truly proud of this accomplishment, but down deep, I knew I was going to miss the challenge of checking off that 10th species and the mini-weekend adventures with my son in our pickup truck. That’s what I cherished most about this challenge. Sharing it with the people I loved. In 2019, my son was with me on the North Oconee when we picked up species number five. We marked the moment with a trip to the Varsity in Athens. He picked out all his favorites, and I snapped a photo of him with a giant smile on his face. I still have that photo in my office at work.
I hope others continue to stumble across the Georgia Bass Slam Challenge and have the experiences and gain the memories that I’ve made and hope to continue to make.
We thank Nick O’Conor for this awesome documented journey to get his Georgia Bass Slam and setting the extra challenge for getting all 10 species. Whether you target this challenge or just plan to take it easy at your local fishing hole, Georgia Wildlife Resources Division is so glad that you choose to Go Fish Georgia! Find general fishing information HERE and buy a fishing license HERE.