Shoal Bass Genetics Paddle

The Shoal bass is a species of black bass native to the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin. Over the years, the rivers in this basin have been impounded to provide hydroelectric power for local communitites. To encourage sport fishing, Spotted bass have been stocked in these impoundments with an unintended consequence – they have migrated up into the rivers that feed the impoundments, encroaching upon, and cross-breeding with, the native population of Shoal bass. This summer, the Wildlife Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is conducting a survey of the Shoal bass above Lake Lanier. This study is being conducted on multiple stretches of the two rivers that feed Lake Lanier, the Chestatee and Chattahoochee Rivers, as well as some of the tributaries that feed those rivers. It’s purpose is to analyze the health of the Shoal bass population to determine if a management strategy is needed to preserve the species and its’ genetic integrity.

Recently, I had the opportunity to join the DNR on one of their survey floats, on the Soque River that feeds the Chattahoochee. Having done some research prior to the float, I knew the Soque was narrow, and had a difficult portage that we would need to make. I decided that the light weight of my Jackson Coosa made it the right kayak to take on this float. I loaded up early that morning and headed north to meet the team for the float.

We launched at the old Habersham Mill and fished down to the confluence with the Chattahoochee. The Habersham Mill was built on a 50 foot fall in the Soque River, and, while long-shuttered, functioned as an Iron Works, a Wool Mill, and a Cotton Mill during it’s 168 years of operation. The Soque River is not considered “navigable” by the State of Georgia, which means the landowners along the river actually own the river, making access generally impossible. Thankfully through coordination by the DNR, we were granted permission to launch at the Mill and float through private property to conduct the survey.

Photo credit: Cam Lowe

Above the Mill, the water is too cold for bass fishing, however it produces some world-class rainbow trout fishing along stretches operated by private outfitters. We quickly moved down river from the launch to our portage (again coordinated across private land by the DNR). We knew it would be a long and difficult portage to move 10 kayaks (a combination of anglers and DNR fisheries biologists) down a steep portage around a dam, and we wanted to get to the water holding bass as quickly as we could.

Below the portage, we found warmer water, and more importantly for the purpose of the study, Shoal bass. We caught them on a wide variety of lures – including topwater, jerkbaits, swimbaits, spinnerbaits, and shaky heads. Regardless of species, each bass caught was turned over to the DNR for data collection. Thankfully they were running a livewell in their Big Tuna, because at times we were contributing 3-5 bass for the survey in a short stretch of the river. Every bass caught was measured, weighed, and fin-clipped for genetic testing, before being tagged and released back into the Soque.

While I, like many of you, spend my free time chasing the largest bass I can find, it’s important to also spend our time giving back to the fisheries we love and cherish. This trip was a welcome change, being able to put aside big bass tactics in favor of catching numbers, regardless of the size of the bass. In all, over 50 bass were added to the study by the anglers assisting the DNR – one Largemouth, two Spotted bass, and the rest being the target species, Shoal bass. If you catch one of these tagged bass above Lake Lanier, please record the length, weight, date and location of your catch, as well as if you released or harvested the fish, and send that information to me via Facebook, and I’ll be sure your catch information is passed along to the DNR.

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