Chasing the Georgia Bass Slam

Everyone that bass fishes is familiar with the big three – largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass – but here in Georgia, we actually have ten recognized species of black bass. Besides the shoal bass, many of the lesser-known species either aren’t recognized by anglers, being misidentified for another species, or aren’t specifically targeted by anglers, winding up in the kayak as a by-catch while chasing another species. Earlier this year, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources created a new award program for anglers called the “Georgia Bass Slam.” This award was designed to promote interest in those “lesser-known” bass, and recognizes anglers who have caught at least five of the ten species within the state borders in a single calendar year.

Once I saw the announcement of the Georgia Bass Slam program, I knew this was something I wanted to complete, but I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Many of the species are limited to rivers and creeks – the perfect environment for my Jackson Coosa and Coosa HD. Unfortunately, I hadn’t fished many of the river basins that held the fish I sought, so my knowledge of conditions and tactics was limited to what I could gather from the internet and local contacts. I knew I had a challenge ahead of me.

I’ve already mentioned four of the species – largemouth, smallmouth, spotted, and shoal bass, so let’s touch on the other six species I could also target. First there’s the Suwannee bass, limited to two small drainages in south central Georgia. The Altamaha bass is found in the Altamaha River basin in southern east central Georgia. The Bartram’s bass is found in northeast / east central Georgia. The Tallapoosa bass is limited to the Tallapoosa River basin in west central Georgia. The Redeye (or Coosa) bass can only be caught in the Coosa River basin in northwest Georgia. Finally there’s the Chattahoochee bass, located in the Chattahoochee River basin above central Georgia. For my Georgia Bass Slam award, I turned in smallmouth, spotted, shoal, largemouth, and redeye bass.

My smallmouth was the first bass I caught of my submissions and is the only one I submitted from flat water. I caught it on a cold early March day at the Peach State Kayak Anglers event on Lake Blue Ridge in north Georgia. Even with the cold front that moved in, February is typically pre-spawn here, so fish had already started moving up from their winter haunts and I was expecting to find them on the flats in mid-depth water. I found a promising flat on a topographic map that looked to be the right area for the time of year and worked across the flat and around the nearby island. My strategy was simple, dig a red mid-depth crankbait across the flat, trying to imitate a crawfish moving through the sandy bottom. My strategy paid off with this nice smallmouth.

The next bass I submitted was a spotted bass caught in mid-March on the Ocmulgee River in central Georgia. It was a cool, rainy day and the fishing had been tough in the rivers so far this year. The levels were up and fish were scattered and not holding cover like the should. This spot smacked a homemade spinnerbait in fire tiger as I burned it past some chunk rock mid-river.

My third submission toward the award is a shoal bass I caught on a quiet Sunday morning in late-March. I had a few hours before forecasted storms rolled in, so I hit some local water – the Chattahoochee River here where it flows through Atlanta. I decided to try a stretch I hadn’t fished before, and it worked out for me. I found a deep pool with some chunk rock leading into a shoal and fished it was the same mid-depth crankbait I used to catch the smallmouth. I was rewarded with this stocky shoalie.

The fourth fish in my bass slam “stringer” comes from early May on the Chattahoochee River below West Point Georgia. I’d been in a bit of a slump, only catching dink largemouths all year and this hawg was my slump buster. I’d managed a few smaller fish on the day, but when this big girl walloped a Texas-rigged trick worm, I knew my luck had changed for the better. After a good fight, she was in the Coosa HD and I was 80% of the way to the Bass Slam.

At this point, being only early May, I was sure I’d get my fifth species quickly and lock up the award for 2017, but Mother Nature intervened. We had an unusually wet late-Spring and early-Summer here in Georgia and rivers across the state got muddy and blown out. Weekends would come and the rivers just weren’t fishable. When the weather offered even the slimmest chance to try for the Slam, I tried, making two dedicated trips for redeye and two for Tallapoosa. None were successful. Then on July 15th, everything changed. I loaded up the Jackson Coosa and headed to the Etowah River in northwest Georgia to meet some friends. They were there to chase big spots, but I knew that stretch held redeyes, and I only had one goal – catch a redeye bass. It took a few hours, but fate was on my side that day. Working a trick worm on a shaky head around a blowdown, I felt the slightest “tick” in my line and immediately set the hook. That pattern had been producing some decent spots already, so my hopes naturally weren’t that high – until I got her to the Coosa and realized what I had on my line. I grabbed my net, brought her into the kayak, and snapped the needed photos for the Bass Slam award.

Pursuing the Georgia Bass Slam has been quite an experience. I fished new rivers and new stretches of “old” rivers. I was challenged and frustrated, successful and defeated, and, finally, elated chasing the award. I’m already looking forward to completing the Georgia Bass Slam in 2018 and doing it with some of the species I haven’t yet caught.

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