Category Archives: Fishing Blog Entries

Stolen Drift Boat

Here are photos of the driftboat that I have had stolen for those of you across the internet who are helping me find it. After posting this on a few sites yesterday I have had over 600 responses from about 10 states. It has gone all over facebook and the internet. Thank you!! These photos show some of the unique features of the boat that make it easy to identify against production boats. This boat and trailer is a one-of-a-kind, hand made original that my dad and I built in 1995. You can read the full story here: https://dominionproject.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/the-perfectly-normal-obsession-with-making-stuff-boats/

This was the color scheme on the boat when stolen. It also said “CoosaRiverDrifters.com” in white letters inside the blue stripe. (A dead link now)

Here is a picture of the rowing seat and storage box.

Here is a good view of the trailer without the boat on it. Huge expanded metal steps, a square tube axle, and automobile hubs set it apart from regular production driftboat trailers.

A photo of the front casting deck and a knee lock. The deck is shorter than most other boats and has a built in storage compartment.

Another view of the front casting deck and knee locks.

 

And here is the story that I have put on a few fly fishing websites. Thank you to all who have offered your help.

I recently had my McKenzie style driftboat stolen and am desperate to recover it.
It was stolen from Callaway Gardens and was last seen being towed behind a small white pickup on October 2, 2012. This boat and trailer are very, very special to me as they are one-of-a-kind hand-built originals. At first glance it looks like a wooden boat because it has wooden gunnels but it is actually fiberglass. I have a very strong sentimental attachment to this boat and trailer because I built it with my dad way back in 1995. It was the last project that he and I did together before he passed away. My hope was to share many days fly fishing with my 13 year old son in it and pass it along to him someday.
Those who are familiar with the different brands of driftboats will recognize that it is a little different than any of them. The boat is 15’ 10” stem to stern and 54” wide on the bottom. The interior is laid out to put the maximum amount of distance between the two anglers. It has a shorter front casting deck than most and more distance between the oarsman and the front caster. When it was stolen it was white and royal blue and had “Coosa River Drifters” in white letters along the sides, although that can be easily changed. It has a small storage opening in the front deck, level non-skid floors, a storage box under the rowing seat, wooden gunnels, a foot release anchor system, two drain plugs in the transom, and a drain plug under the rowing seat. The front seat pedestal is fiberglass and looks exactly like an upside down Rubbermaid container because that is what I used for a mold. It had grey and blue seats when stolen. There are lots of scratches and gouges in the chines and bottom from many years of scraping rocks. The floors have a rougher texture than most boats. The rowing seat rests on two shelves that run along the inside of the boat, and those shelves have little compartments to keep accessories in.
The trailer looks like a standard driftboat trailer except that it has a square tube axle and bolt-on rotors from an automobile. The full length roller across the back is larger in diameter than most and was a roller from a conveyer of some sort. The trailer was in grey primer when stolen.
You can read more about how and why I built the boat at https://dominionproject.wordpress.com…g-stuff-boats/ and see a video with several pictures and scenes of it athttps://dominionproject.wordpress.com…e-coosa-river/. If anyone has any information about this boat, if you see it on the river or for sale somewhere, or see it being towed, PLEASE pass along any information you may have (tag # etc). I will grant total amnesty just to get it back. You can call me at work at three three four, seven four five, two four six four or text or call me at three three four, seven zero five, zero eight eight eight.

The Perfectly Normal Obsession with Making Stuff: Boats

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As I look back over my life I have seen a recurring theme in my personality. For whatever reason, I have a strong desire to build things that I could just as easily, and probably more inexpensively buy. It seems that any time I have a desire to possess something my first inclination is to try to figure out how to make it. I confess that while it mostly seems perfectly normal to me, it sometimes drives me crazy and frequently drives my wife crazy. Furniture, bows, arrows, landing nets, tools, hot sauce, tree stands, ammo, fly tying vices, bobbins, epoxy drying wheels, Hackintosh computers, and dozens of other things get built in our basement. Boats are one of those things that I have reconfigured, repaired, and fabricated through the years. Everything from jon boats to runabouts, inflatables to a bass boat.

I have built two McKenzie style driftboats; one of wood/epoxy and another of fiberglass. These are the two boats I am most proud of. The wooden one was a Tatman kit that I built in 1993 and is presently owned by my best friend Mike. Pictures of it can be seen in my video Fly Fishing the Hiwassee. I logged about 400 trips down the Hiwassee in that boat from 1993-1995. It was a decent enough boat but it was really too small for guiding and it required a lot of maintenance. I felt liked I logged as much time repairing it as I did rowing it or fishing from it. I bet Mike feels that way now.

During the two years I guided from that boat, I spent many hours thinking about the perfect drift boat. This was after all my office. I was spending 9 hours a day in this boat, sometimes for 30 days straight. I rowed as many different makes of boats I could get my hands on: ClackaCraft, Hyde, Willie, Lavro, Osprey, and a few other wooden boats. There were things I liked about some of them, and many things I did not like. Clackas were probably my favorite, but I could not see the point of the huge front deck, and felt like the angler in the back was very crowded. A big deal to me was the fact that a cooler could not be stowed perpendicular to the gunnels between the rower and the front angler. It has to be stowed lengthwise next to the rower’s knees and you have to kind of crawl over it to land a fish for the anglers. It also just irritated me that my knee was rubbing against it all day. I guess it’s something you get used to, but I didn’t want to. The hull of the Clacka is huge, but it did not seem very well laid out. The other brands have too many deficiencies to list.

I spent many hours drawing up plans, calculating measurements, researching fiberglass materials, “volunteering” in a fiberglass manufacturing industry to gain experience, and finally coming to the conclusion that I could build a better boat than I could buy. My father provided valuable contributions to the planning of the boat, and it was one of the last projects we did together. I bought a 55-gallon barrel of polyester resin, 5 gallons of white gel coat, release agent, the appropriate tools, and two bolts of cloth. To end up with a finished boat, I essentially had to build three. First I made all the plugs: the hull, the seats, decks, floors, etc. Everything had to have a male plug. Then I made molds off of each of those plugs. The plug had to be perfectly designed so that the mold would come off. Any flaws in the plug would also show up it the mold, and ultimately in the finished product. Finally I got to work laying up the boat and before long our entre neighborhood was smelling like fiberglass. Something that our neighbors were not necessarily enthused about, but were not surprised about either.

The hull needed to be indestructible so I settled on using a material called biaxial instead of the standard 24-ounce weave used in other boats. I wanted this boat to last forever under heavy use, with little maintenance. Biaxial is essentially a heavy weave with a two- ounce matt sewn to it. It is extremely strong stuff. Two layers of biaxial plus a layer of two-ounce matt make up the sides. Seven layers went into the bottom, resulting in a yet 3/8” thick bottom that is flexible when going over rocks, yet very strong and impervious to fracture or puncture. All the interior parts are made out of two-ounce cloth and there is no wood other than some used for aesthetics. The chines take the greatest amount of abuse and are the most subject to failure. The chines on my boat are nearly 3” thick. I seriously think you could drop this boat from an airplane and it would not be hurt. (As an aside, someone once “borrowed” my boat without me knowing when I was on a fishing trip in Florida. He had a 1 and 7/8” hitchball on his Jeep and failed to realize that my trailer had a 2″ hitch. He also neglected to hook up the safety chains. You can probably see where this is going. As he was going down the road he suddenly saw the boat and trailer passing him. Fortunately it went off the road onto a golf course and the tongue plowed up a 20’ furrow in the green. The boat flipped off the trailer, bouncing and rolling a couple times before coming to a stop. Luckily no-one was hurt and aside from the wooden gunnels being broken, nothing happened to the boat or trailer. Of course the “borrower” had a humbling story to tell me when I returned. To this very day he is remorseful for that mishap.)

The interior layout allows plenty of space between anglers.

The boat is 15’ 10” stem to stern and 54” wide on the bottom. The interior is laid out to put the maximum amount of distancebetween the two anglers and is very easy to move around in. A cooler can be stored crossways in front of the oarsman, directly behind the front seat. It has plenty of storage, level non-skid floors, and rows like a dream. Because the front angler is positioned very far forward, the transom rides just out of the water so that the current is not pushing against it, causing more work for the oarsman. The boat is heavier than comparably sized fiberglass driftboats because the biaxial soaks up a lot of resin. I don’t see this as a disadvantage though. A driftboat is supposed to drift slowly with a minimal amount of work from the oarsman. The extra weight of this boat allows for a slow drift which gives the anglers more time to make casts, more time for me to get out of sticky situations in whitewater, and overall less strokes on the oars. Over the course of a nine-hour day, that makes a big difference. The only time the extra weight is a disadvantage is at the end of the day when it is pitch dark, there is a mile left to go and my wife is I’m ready to get back to the ramp.

Even the trailer is homemade.

In keeping with the “I could probably build that” theme, I enlisted the services of my dad who was a master metal fabricator to help me build a trailer. Using measurements from standard drifboat trailers, we went to work. He was the brains behind this project, doing the engineering, welding, and hard stuff, while I did the grunt work of cutting metal. We even built the axle, which is made from square tubing and bolt-on automotive grade hubs. The full-length roller on the back was scavenged from some sort of a conveyor we found at a salvage yard. I decided not to paint the trailer but rather to keep it in grey primer. Knowing it would be in and out of the water, and would be stored outside, I realized that rust would be inevitable. Removing spots of rust and touching up primer rather than paint makes for easier maintenance.

The boat was refinished on its 10th birthday in 2005. The initial color was green and white with a red accent. I changed the green to royal blue and the red accent to chrome. I also shaved down the front of the boat to make it less wind resistant, and went with fake wood for the gunnels instead of oak.

The original green, red, and white color scheme.

This boat has given me and many other people a lot of pleasure in the 15 years that I have owned it. It has seen hundreds of miles of water pass beneath its hull, hundreds of fish caught and released, and hundreds of bare feet on its floors. I fully expect that it will last at least through my lifetime, and hopefully my son will use it throughout his.

UPDATE: OCTOBER 2012. Sadly this boat and trailer has been stolen. It was at Callaway Gardens and was last seen being towed through the property on October 2, 2012. If anyone sees this boat, please get in touch with me.

Fly Fishing for North Georgia Trophy Trout

This is an older video of my friend Jonathan and I catching HUGE trout on flies in N. Georgia. The footage is poor quality because we are using point and shoot digital cameras and Windows Movie Maker (pre-Mac days for both of us), but the fishing is so hot that you just have to watch.

Enjoy…

Fly Fishing the White and Norfork Rivers (Arkansas)

In this video my friend Jonathan and I enjoy some fantastic fly fishing in Arkansas.

Fly Fish America Magazine – February 2006

The following are “spotlight” articles on various fisheries around the U.S. These articles originally appeared in Fly Fish America Magazine in February, 2006.

Alabama Mobile Bay

If diversity is what you crave, it’s hard to beat the Mobile Bay area. A network of rivers, marshes, flats, beaches, and both fresh and saltwater make for a true year-round fishing experience. Many different species of gamefish flourish in this area, but the most pursued include redfish, speckled trout, sheepshead, and flounder. Just north of Mobile Bay is 350 square miles of delta, which acts as a giant nursery for shrimp. During November those shrimp move through the bay on their way to the ocean, and the fishing gets hot. By December, January, and February the north end of the bay fills with fresh water, and that’s when the south end and the beaches turn on. Huge schools of redfish show up and many are up to 15 pounds. It’s not unusual to see schools of over 1,000 redfish at a time, as well as three and four-pound speckled trout. By springtime the bay is fi lled with saltwater once again, and the cycle starts all over. Another species that has adapted well to all these changing conditions is the largemouth bass. In fact, during the late spring and early summer it is not uncommon to catch a redfish on one cast and a bass on the next. A good guide will be invaluable in a fishery that’s as diverse as this. Captain Dan Kolenich is an Orvis-endorsed guide running fly-fi shing trips out of Spanish Fort, Alabama, and knows the intricacies of this fishery like the back of his hand. Contact Dan at (251) 626-7175, or visit http://captdankolenich.home.att.net/ for information or to book a trip. by Carl Warmouth

Georgia Chattahoochee River


How does a river that runs through a major metropolis make our Travel Guide? By being one of America’s top angling destinations, that’s how! While Atlanta, Georgia is well known for hot, steamy days, rapid urbanization, and seemingly endless traffic delays, many people already know that it’s also home to one of the South’s premier tailwater trout fisher ies—the Chattahoochee River. The tailwater section of the ‘Hooch below Buford Dam offers anglers roughly 40 miles of trout habitat, including a five-mile stretch of special-regulation water, offering fly fi shers a chance to escape the hassles of city life in favor of catching a potential trophy trout. In fact, the wilderness feeling on many stretches of the river makes it almost impossible to believe that the city is so close. Abundant insect hatches, an annual stocking of 250,000 trout and a healthy population of holdover fish (including Georgia’s state record brown trout) make this river an excellent fly-fishing destination. Chris Scalley, the owner of River Through Atlanta guide service (http://www.riverthroughatlanta.com, 770-650-8630) spends 200 days a year on the river and knows it better than anyone. Chris and his affiliate guides offer year-round drift-boat and jet-boat trips and have an excellent reputation as not only one of the premier guide services in the country, but also as advocates for the river through Chris’ non-profit organization, the Chattahoochee Cold Water Tailrace Fishery Foundation. Accommodations and dining options are nearly limitless, as downtown Atlanta looms just beyond the banks. by Carl Warmouth

Fly Fish America Magazine – February 2007

The following are “spotlight” articles on various fisheries around the U.S. These articles originally appeared in Fly Fish America Magazine in February, 2007.

ALABAMA • Coosa River • Coosa River Drifters


If your image of an Alabama river is a slow-moving, muddy, catfi sh hole, then you will be pleasantly surprised by the Coosa River. The Coosa provides anglers with diverse fi shing opportunities and scenery on par with anywhere you have ever fi shed. The tailwater section below Jordan Dam near the city of Wetumpka fl ows crystal clear and cool and features a variety of water, including long deep pools, shallow riffl es, rocky plunge pools, and Class-I to -III whitewater. The Coosa has the look of a classic southern tailwater trout stream, but with banks lined with cypress knees, giant stands of elephant ears, and trees draped with Spanish moss it reminds you that you are in the deep south. This river is known by many as the best spotted bass fi shery in the United States, and spotted bass may be the perfect fl y-rod fi sh. If you take the tenacity of a smallmouth, and the voracious appetite of a largemouth and put that fi sh in the same kind of water trout live in, you’ll have the spotted bass. Incredibly fun to catch, hard-fi ghting “spots” are just as willing to annihilate a top-water bass bug as they are a soft plastic lure or crankbait. The Coosa is full of spots, and on a good day it’s not unusual to catch 50 or more on fl ies. Guided trips are available from Coosa River Drifters (334-444-9583; http://www.coosariverdrifters.com) for $295 per day for one or two anglers. by Carl Warmouth

ARKANSAS • White River • Wilkinson’s Outdoor Adventures



There are many famous destina tions that flyfishers can go to catch big trout, and even more where you can expect to catch a lot of trout. There are few places like the White River in Arkansas, where anglers can expect to catch lots of big trout! Year after year, the White River proves itself one of the country’s greatest fly-fishing destinations. This river is unique for the simple fact that it is almost never unfishable. During periods of power generation, the river fishes well from those inimitable White River boats—long, narrow, Jon boats perfectly suited for drift fishing. During non-generation periods, the river is wadeable and also fishes very well. Scuds and sowbugs provide most of the nutrition for White River trout, so fly patterns that imitate them catch the lion’s share of the fish. But that’s not to say that dry-fly aficionados can’t score nearly as well, both during hatches and non-hatch situations. An abundance of shad, and a seasonal shad kill, makes for outstanding streamer fishing, as well, and accounts for many, many huge trout. In fact, with every cast there is the realistic possibility that the next fish could weigh between 10 and 20 pounds. Whether you like to wade or float, fish dries or go deep, Clint Wilkinson of Wilkinson’s Outdoor Adventures (870- 404-2942; http://www.whiteriver-fl yfi shing.com) is a White River veteran who can satisfy the longings of trout fishermen. Contact Clint for one of the best trout adventures that Arkansas has to offer. by Carl Warmouth

FLORIDA • Central Panhandle • Shallow Water Expeditions

Let’s face it, scoring a hall pass from the spouse to take a fi shing trip is not always easy, but what if you can combine it with a family vacation? Florida’s central panhandle indisputably offers the best of both worlds. While many people associate the areas near Destin and Panama City Beach with great fishing and beach bumming, few people realize there’s fantastic inshore fly fishing available just a stone’s throw from the beachfront condo. Whether you want to probe the flats for redfish, jack crevalle, and trout, or run the beach for pompano, false albacore (bonito), ladyfish, bluefish, or cobia, the panhandle has it all. Of course, to make the most of your time away from the family it’s best to let a professional put you on the fish. The guides at Shallow Water Expeditions (850-534- 4343; http://www.shallowwaterexpeditions.com) have got more than half the upper Gulf Coast covered, and are ready to offer patient instruction to beginners and a challenge to the experts. As their name implies, they specialize in skinny-water sight fishing for nearly all species of inshore fish using the best flats boats and tackle available. Those who would like to take the tarpon fishing challenge can get shots at fish that are 80 pounds or better, but because of the popularity of this trip, reservations should be made about a year in advance. Half-day inshore trips start at just $350. by Carl Warmouth

GEORGIA • Dicks, Chestatee, and Frogtown Creeks • Cannon Falls Lodge

There may be a more beautiful place on earth to go fly fishing, but I personally have never been there. Cannon Falls Lodge (706-348-7919; http://www.cannonfallslodge.com) is located in the mountains of northern Georgia. This private getaway provides a relaxing atmosphere, gorgeous scenery, and true southern hospitality—and also a chance to catch the trout of a lifetime. The three streams that converge on this property are home to thousands of rainbow, brown, and brook trout, which range in size from 8 inches to more than nine pounds, and lurk in literally every pocket and pool. Dry-fly fishing is excellent throughout most of the year, but nymph and streamer fishermen will have plenty of opportunities to work their magic as well. The streams themselves course through a steep gorge, plunging over no less than four waterfalls as they make their way through countless riffles, pools, and boulder-strewn stretches of pocket water. The rugged beauty alone is worth the trip to this secluded retreat, but the fishing is even better. Lodging comes in the form of a tastefully appointed mountaintop log cabin or a suite in the main lodge. Either one is an excellent place to relax your weary bones after a long day of catching Cannon Falls trout. Lodging rates start at $160 per night, and guided fishing rates start at $230 for a half day. Call Dean or Kara Koester to learn more about this magnificent Georgia fi shery. by Carl Warmouth

KENTUCKY • Cumberland River • Guide Chris Scalley

In an age when many fisheries seem to be on the decline, and we spend much of our time reminiscing about the “good old days,” it is refreshing to find a trout river coming out of the closet as a true blue ribbon fi shery. Kentucky’s Cumberland River, a tailwater formed below Wolf Creek Dam on Lake Cumberland, is just such a river. With nearly 50 miles of trout water, unparalleled scenic beauty, and an official state record brown of 21 pounds, the likelihood is that experienced anglers can tie into at least one 20-inch fish a day. Many anglers are comparing the Cumberland to how the legendary rivers of the west used to be. Kentucky’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has been in the forefront of the development of the Cumberland by implementing special regulations on creel limits, increased stocking schedules, and looking to the future of the river by addressing environmental concerns. For instance, a slot limit on rainbows from 15 to 20 inches has been imposed, and brown trout under 20 inches must be released unharmed. Nearly constant generation from Wolf Creek Dam makes for limited wading opportuni ties, so boating the river is almost mandatory. Nymphing is the most productive method of fishing the Cumberland, followed by fishing streamers and crayfish patterns. Chris Scalley is a licensed guide on the Cumberland and has full-day trips starting at $345. He can also advise clients on lodging. Call Chris at (770) 650-8630. by Carl Warmouth

TENNESSEE • Tellico River • Southeastern Anglers


A pervasive sense of betrayal befalls me as I contemplate profiling the Tellico River watershed. I spent many of my best years knee deep in the icy cold water of the Tellico and its tiny tributaries, hoping, praying, that the world would not discover its secrets. Things have changed, as they will, and other writers before me have acquainted the world to the beautiful surroundings and abundant trout fishing opportunities common to this east Tennessee fishery. Yet time seems to stand still for this river and the small town of Tellico Plains. While thousands of anglers annually prospect the trout streams surrounding Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the other touristy towns of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Tellico is still visited primarily by locals. The Tellico itself is for the most part a heavily stocked, put-and-take trout fishery, but for fly fishers willing to travel off the beaten path a bit, several of its tributaries support native populations of brook, brown, and rainbow trout, all of which can be caught year ‘round, and many on dry flies. Streamers also do a great job of pulling big holdovers out of the deep pools, and of course the Tellico nymph is one pattern most fl y fishers will want to try for tradition if for no other reason. Dane Law guides a limited number of trips on the Tellico. Wade fishing trips run $300 for two anglers. Dane can be booked through his website at http://www.southeasternangler.com, or you can call him at (866) 55-TROUT. by Carl Warmouth

3 Ways for Callaway Bass

This is an article as it appeared in the Game and Fish publication, Georgia Sportsman in February 2008

***EDIT*** April 2012 Since writing this article I’m afraid that the quality of the fishing in the private lakes at Callaway has suffered greatly. It is my understanding that those lakes are no longer managed for fishing. You can still arrange a fishing trip but they have not been fertilized or controlled for a few years.  Mountain Creek Lake seems to still be good for people who know the lake well and are experienced bass fishermen.

3 Ways For Callaway Bass

Plenty of us have simultaneously admired Callaway Gardens’ flora and drooled over the fantastic-looking bass water along its pathways. Happily, the angler will find a trio of options for fishing those ponds. (February 2008).

By Carl Warmouth

It was a fateful phone call during the summer of 1999 that eventually led to my job at Callaway Gardens.

Photo courtesy of Polly Dean.

I had called an executive at a well-known fly-rod manufacturer and explained to him that, as a fly-fishing guide, I was putting his company’s rods in the hands of my clients on a daily basis and had sold dozens of them that way. I suggested he show a little appreciation in the form a few freebies passed along my way.

He responded by telling me that he had worked for this company for 25 years and the only thing he ever got for free was whatever he stole; then he said that he’d see what he could do. I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly, but not wanting to incriminate myself, I just said OK.

I never did get a free fly rod out of the deal. But in the course of the conversation, the exec told me that he’d heard through the grapevine that Callaway Gardens was looking for someone to run fishing operations there. Like so many other people I was only vaguely aware that this 13,000-acre resort and botanical garden in Pine Mountain even had a fishing operation. The most beautiful azalea display I had ever seen? Yes. One of the nation’s largest tropical butterfly conservatories? Yes. Luxury accommodations? Sure. I even knew that Callaway Gardens offered world-class golf, but the fishing opportunities seemed to fly under the radar.

A few days later I made contact with Callaway Gardens and within a couple weeks I was interviewing for the job. The highlight of the interview process came when one of the guides took me fishing to determine if I knew what I was doing.

It was a miserably hot August day and the guide frankly told me that he doubted we would enjoy much success. For the first hour we caught nothing — not even a bite. Then suddenly it turned on. Over the next two hours we caught numerous bass in the 3- to 6-pound range. I left that day feeling confident I would get the job.

I’m also happy to say that eight years later I still feel the same as I did that day — for quality bass fishing, Callaway Gardens ranks among the best there is.

For those wishing to take advantage of the bass fishing opportunities at Callaway, there are basically three options. Boat rentals are available on Mountain Creek Lake, guided fly-fishing is available on the 14 other private lakes, and a limited number of guided spin-fishing trips are also available on the same private lakes. Let’s take a closer look at all three.

ON YOUR OWN
Mountain Creek Lake

At the center of the gardens is the 175-acre Mountain Creek Lake. This lake was constructed in 1950 and guests of the gardens have been enjoying some great bass fishing there ever since.

For many years the primary forage fish in the lake was golden shiners. It was not uncommon to see schools of thousands of shiners cruising the banks with a pod of bass following closely behind, waiting for the baitfish to encounter a point or hump. Once they did, a vicious attack was eminent. Bass grew large from feeding on shiners and the lake record is just over 16 pounds.

Then in 2002-03 something strange happened. The shiners disappeared. It took over a year to put the pieces of the puzzle together, but after consulting with fisheries biologists and professional lake management experts, it was determined that the shiners had contracted a fairly rare, but deadly virus which is specific to golden shiners. Over a period of several months the shiner population had been decimated.

The domino effect was an increase in bass production — because shiners actually invade the beds of bass and help keep bass populations in balance by devouring eggs — and a decrease in food available for the bass. Couple those with the simultaneous emergence of a burgeoning crappie population and it appeared that Mountain Creek Lake was in big trouble. Crappie hatch a month before bass and compete directly with bass fry for the same size of forage. A problem of too many mouths to feed and not enough food to go around had developed fairly quickly. This put an all-time record amount of pressure on the bream and shellcrackers, and consequently fishing for them suffered as well.

Fortunately, a major part of Callaway’s mission is to be good stewards of our natural resources. It was not a small investment, but the lake was restocked with coppernose bluegills, shellcrackers, and threadfin shad over a period of about five months. A concentrated effort was put forth to reduce the number of bass in the lake, which by this time had become stunted and thin.

The investment paid off; the shad thrived. With the pressure off, the bream and remaining shiners staged a comeback, and in less than a year the bass’ average size had increased from under a pound to 2 1/2 to 3 pounds.

Many regulars of the lake now believe that the bass fishing is the best that it’s ever been; Columbus’ Dewey Posey is one who agrees, having fished Mountain Creek Lake since it first opened to the public. To say that the 85-year-old angler is a legend of the lake doesn’t begin do him justice. Even during this past season’s drought and record heat he was able to bring a 10-pound, 10-ounce bass to the boat on ultralight tackle. Like most of the trophies he has caught, it went back into the lake.

Recently Dewey told me that he believed there was a world-record bass in Mountain Creek Lake.

“It’s there, Carl — I guarantee it,” he emphasized. “I’d bet a thousand dollars on it. And that’s coming from a poor man.” Then, with a wink and a thump on the shoulder, he added, “And you can put that in your article!”

Another side benefit of stocking the shad has been an increase in the effectiveness of crankbaits. Pre-shad bassin’ on the lake was best with soft-plastics. Zoom Trick Worms, Brush Hogs, flukes and, more recently, Senkos had been the staple of Callaway bass fishermen. During the spring, unweighted worms pitched into shoreline vegetation worked well, whereas Carolina rigs with long leaders worked best during the heat of the summer.

Since the shad stocking, crankbaits like the Shad Rap have risen to be the bait of choice. It is very common to find schooling shad with bass annihilating them. Personally, I find a topwater fly pattern like Kent Edmond’s Stealth Bomber to be most effective during these times, but a Pop-R or Rat-L-Trap works well too.

In addition to largemouth bass, Mountain Creek Lake is also well known for phenomenal bream and shellcracker fishing. In recent years giant crappie have shown up as well, and even an occasional catfish is brought to the boat.

Fishermen are allowed to keep a limited number of fish out of this lake, and that number typically varies from one year to the next based on management goals. Live bait in the form of crickets, worms, and other “garden hackle” is permitted, but minnows, shiners, and any other type of baitfish is strictly prohibited.

On the southeast side of the lake is a beautiful boathouse that is home to a fleet of 14-foot aluminum johnboats with electric trolling motors and two padded swivel seats. These boats are available to rent for both half-day and full-day fishing excursions. Rates for the boats range from $35 to $60, depending on the length of time and number of people going in the boat. There are canoes available for rent as well.

IN THE WATER
Guided Fly-Fishing

I admit that I am a bit biased when it comes to fishing — I love fly-fishing. In fact, I’ll be as bold as to say that there is no more fun way to catch a fish than on a fly rod. If you were to ask me what the one activity you should not miss at Callaway would be, I would say a guided fly-fishing trip.

As Callaway Gardens was developed a total of 14 lakes ranging in size from 3 acres to 65 acres were built around the property. Originally designed as retention ponds, golf course water hazards, irrigation sources, and simply for their aesthetic appeal, it didn’t take long to realize their potential as prime fishing holes, too.

Throughout the years these lakes have been managed for fishing, but it was not until 1994 when the former director of recreation Roger Childers devised a plan to offer guided fly fishing on these lakes that an intensified management strategy was put into place. Now these lakes provide opportunities for fly fishers of virtually every skill level to enjoy the sport.

Beginners find Callaway to be an excellent starting place to learn how to fly fish. We have on our staff six Federation of Fly Fishers certified casting instructors, and two of us are certified master instructors, of which there are only around a hundred worldwide. You probably don’t want us to fix your brakes or do your income taxes, but we can teach you how to fly fish. Learning to fly fish on still water is also much easier than starting out on a river or stream, where things get much more complicated.

Experienced fly fishers also enjoy the fishing on these private lakes. In fact, more than half our guests are repeat customers, many of whom fish with us several times per year.

Without a doubt, the best time to fly fish for Callaway bass is April to June, especially using top-water flies. March can be fantastic, but rogue cold fronts can abruptly turn the fishing off. Some of the most effective fly patterns include Clouser Minnows, Whitlock Swimming Frogs, Zuddlers, the Rubber-Legged Dragon, DP Poppers, and Wooly Buggers in black, peacock herl, peach, white, and olive.

September through November is also very good. During the winter months most of the guided trips are spent pursuing trophy trout, which we stock in three of the private lakes, but bass are also caught along with trout at that time as well.

Paul Hudson has been guiding at Callaway since the fly fishing program began. In those 13 years the one thing that has remained constant is how surprised people are when they find out how effective fly-fishing is for catching bass.

“People seem to think that fly fishing is just for trout,” he explained. “When it comes to bass fishing they seem to think they have to crank hardware to catch bass. Actually, fly fishing can be even more effective than bait casting or spin fishing, particularly when fish are feeding in shallow water and are easily spooked.”

FROM THE BOAT
Guided Spin-Fishing

In addition to guided fly-fishing trips, Callaway Gardens began to offer a limited number of guided half-day and full-day spin-fishing trips on the private lakes in 2002. These trips offer a fantastic opportunity for anyone with a limited amount of time that would like to get into fish as quickly as possible.

Some of the lakes available for spin-fishing trips are managed for large bass, while others are allowed to go “bass heavy.” This provides an opportunity for anglers to just catch fish or a chance to catch a true trophy.

On average, between 20 and 30 bass in the 8- to 13-pound range are caught each spring and summer on guided trips. So while it’s not an everyday occurrence, the possibility of a lunker is always real. Bill Conine, one of the guides at Callaway, has caught more bass over 10 pounds in the gardens than most people will hear about in a lifetime. Conine said that guests he guides have a reasonable chance of catching a bass in the 10-pound range.

“Of course nothing is guaranteed,” he added, “and folks are generally going to catch a bunch of small fish before they get that big one, but they have as good a chance of getting a trophy here as they do anywhere in the country.”

Conine prefers to put guests on fish using Senkos, and swears that is the best big-fish bait. Other Callaway guides have found various crankbaits and chatterbaits to be effective, but all agree that a soft plastic is tough to beat.

All fishing is catch-and-release on guided trips; both fly-fishing and spin fishing. No live bait is used during guided trips. The cost of trips is $195 for a half-day and $295 for a full day, for either one or two anglers. Callaway Gardens provides all gear to use during the day, or guests are welcomed to bring their own. For more information on fishing at Callaway, call Kingfisher Outfitters at (706) 663-5142.

Specks on the Fly

This is an article as it appeared in the Game and Fish publications throughout the south.

Specks on the Fly

Often anglers are surprised to learn that there are times when a fly rod is the best instrument for fooling speckled trout. Listen as the author reveals some of these situations.

By Carl Warmouth

The guide eased the skiff quietly toward the dock as I stood, fly in hand, ready to cast. The halogen lights on the dock lit up elongated circles in the black water and surrounding night air.

“This dock doesn’t hold a lot of fish,” he said, “but the ones that are here are big. You’ll probably only get one or two shots at them before they spook. If you don’t hook up now, we’ll come back later.”

My eyes worked hard to focus on the fading area between the brightest water and the dark, looking for a target to cast to. The guide’s prediction was right on, as it had been for the previous 10 or so docks we had fished that night. Three nice fish, about 24 inches long, lay like logs in the water, just waiting for something to eat. The tide was falling hard, sucking water out of the bay like a giant, draining bathtub. I made a cast upstream of the dock, just beyond the range of the lights, and allowed the shrimp-imitating fly to drift well into the light. I gave the fly one strip and the line went tight. A nice fish, about No. 50 for that night, charged under the dock, then back out. The trout next headed up the current, then down, then made a blazing run into the deeper water of the bay. A few minutes later I was releasing the best fish of the night alongside the boat.

Few people would dispute that speckled trout, or specks as they are often called, are among the most sought-after of all Gulf Coast game fish. However, the number of anglers that pursue them with fly-casting gear, although growing, is small when compared to other angling methods. I suspect the reason for this is that some people are intimidated by the whole concept of saltwater fly- fishing, and others are just skeptical that it can be as productive as the methods they are familiar with.

This is a shame, because speckled trout make for fantastic fly-fishing. Their tendency to frequent shallow water, wide range of habitat, abundant numbers and willingness to hit a fly make them perfect candidates for anyone with an interest in fly-fishing – novice and expert alike.

Reading the tides is one of the important parts of taking seatrout on a fly along the Gulf Coast. Photo by Polly Dean

Getting Started

The first consideration, whether you are a freshwater flyfisher looking to expand your territory, a saltwater fisherman just taking up the fly rod, or new to it all, is what kind of equipment to select.

Ask most fly tackle dealers and manufacturers what rods they sell the most of and they are likely to tell you 9-foot 5- or 8-weight rods. That is because these two line weights are the workhorses of fly-fishing. With these two rods you are able to tackle all but the most brutish big-game fish. Both 5- and 8-weight rods are well suited for fishing for specks, but in different situations. Pit a speckled trout in the relatively calm conditions of a bay against a 5-weight rod and you will have as much fun as permitted by law. Add the windier conditions of grass flats or surf-fishing, and the heavier 8-weight rod is a much more practical tool for the job. Faced with the task of choosing just one rod to do all things, a good choice might be a “salt-six.” Several manufacturers are making these stiffer-than-usual 6-weight rods with fighting butts and other hardware suited for saltwater environs.

In terms of reels, an anodized single-action reel with a disc drag and enough capacity to carry at least 150 yards of backing is fine. Reels do not have to be especially sophisticated but do need to have corrosion-resistant components.

For bay and flats fishing, a standard weight-forward floating line works well. In the surf I prefer an intermediate (slow-sinking) or sink tip line to get the fly down below the chop and to prevent the line from being dragged around in the surf.

With regard to flies, there is a wide variety designed to imitate the things that specks eat. The most productive ones are subsurface patterns. Crabs, shrimp, finger mullet and pinfish are common forage for speckled trout, and these can be imitated easily with fly patterns. If once again given the task of choosing just one, it would be the old standby Clouser Minnow in chartreuse-and-white, red-and-white, or my favorites, pink-and-tan or pink-and-chartreuse. The Clouser is easy to tie and readily available in most fly shops. This pattern does a great job of generally suggesting a myriad of marine food items.

While weighted flies that sink quickly account for more fish than surface patterns, there is no denying the thrill of seeing an explosive strike on a surface pattern like a Blado’s Crease Minnow or a popper. Top-water patterns are especially effective when trout are ambushing schools of shrimp or baitfish on the surface, but they can be used with good results when no surface activity is present.

Although specialized equipment like sinking lines allow flyfishers to catch speckled trout year-round, the peak opportunities begin in late April or May, when trout begin to move into shallow water to spawn, and run all the way into early summer. The months of September, October and November also provide opportunities for shallow-water fishing. During these times ideal fly-fishing water depths of 2 to 12 feet typically have temperatures in the upper 70s. Look for trout in grass flats, shallow bays and lagoons, around lighted docks at night, and along the beach.

Surf fly-fishing is an excellent way for wade fishermen to “get their feet wet” with speckled trout. When fishing the beach, the key word to remember is “change.” Anywhere along the beach where there are sandbars, cuts into lagoons or bays, or dropoffs into deeper water are ideal holding and ambush areas.

In these situations choose a fly that represents the predominant forage and begin by casting near, but not right into, the prime area. Move into the prime area only after thoroughly fishing the surrounding water. Flies should be heavily weighted to allow them to sink quickly. After making the cast, let the fly sink for several seconds before beginning the retrieve, then start with long quick strips to simulate the movement of a disoriented baitfish or shrimp.

On any given day, the fish may have a preference for how fast they want the fly to be moving and how deep they want it to be. Experiment by allowing the fly to sink longer and varying the speed of the retrieve until you begin getting strikes.

Poppers should be stripped hard so that they make a commotion on the water, but they should be stopped every few strips. Many of the strikes on the surface occur when the fly is lying totally motionless.

The same presentation applies to grass flats. Look for the lighter-colored areas of the bottom, which indicate a bare sand bottom, or darker water along the edge of the flat, which indicates a dropoff. Again, work the outlying areas first, before casting into the prime areas.

If you are willing to forego a night of sleep, docks rigged with fish-attracting lights can represent the most consistent and underutilized resource for flyfishers. Forage attracted to the light is abundant, and trout are there looking for an easy meal. Avoid making your first cast right into the lighted area, as you may spook fish holding there.

Tides play an important role when fishing for specks, regardless of the type of water you fish. While certain tidal patterns may produce better or worse results in different locations, my philosophy has always been to fish when the opportunity presents itself. Having said that, a general rule of thumb is to fish any moving tide – either outgoing or incoming. Slack tides provide little reason for baitfish to move, while a rising or falling tide forces them into areas where they are most vulnerable to attack.

* * *

Whether you fish from a boat or rely on foot travel to get you to your fishing holes, speckled trout are an ideal Gulf Coast quarry with a fly rod. Armed with a basic assortment of flies, a rod that can be used in many situations and a little time to explore, you can enjoy some exciting and productive saltwater action.

Alabama’s Coosa River

Jordan Dam on the Coosa River

George and me with a Coosa River gar

As I looked back over my shoulder at the class III rapid I had just rowed through I could not help but smile and think to myself, “I cannot believe this river is in Alabama.” Not that there aren’t plenty of beautiful places in Alabama, but I had been accustomed to erroneously thinking that all of the state’s rivers were muddy, slow-moving catfish holes. This river was as far removed from that notion as anything could be. This was a crystal clear river, 200 yards wide in places, coursing its way over and around boulders the size of small houses. The rock gardens created numerous class I-III shoals with enough long, slow pools in between to keep the scenery, and the fishing, from ever being boring. Were it not for the giant cypress trees draping with Spanish moss and the abundant elephant ears (Caladiums) growing along the banks, this river could easily pass for a big trout river just about anywhere. My delight in “discovering” this beautiful fishery was born from a mourning I had been experiencing recently. I had moved to East Alabama after spending most of my life in East Tennessee. I had fallen in love with fishing and rowing driftboats on the big TVA tailwaters in Tennessee and had guided on a few of them for several years. When I moved to Alabama I found plenty of good fishing for bass, big bream, stripers, and other warmwater fish, but most of that was from float tubes and jon boats. There was virtually no suitable river to fish out of my driftboat. Finding the tailwater portion of the Coosa near Montgomery helped me to quickly put my regrets out of my mind.

The Coosa River begins in the Northwest corner of Georgia near the city of Rome and flows Southwest, primarily through Alabama, until it reaches it’s confluence with the Tallapoosa River to form the Alabama River near Montgomery. For the purposes of this article, the portion we are concerned with is a 7 ½ mile stretch from Jordan Dam down the city of Wetumpka – nearly the lowermost stretch of the Coosa.

Aside from being one of the most beautiful rivers you may ever fish, the Coosa also supports a diverse and abundant population of warmwater fish. Bluegills, redbreasts, shellcrackers and a host of other panfish species make perfect quarry for anyone, but especially for those new to fly fishing. Tying on a nymph under a strike indicator is one method sure to produce numerous fish – it’s nearly as easy as fly fishing for trout! Small poppers and large dry flies also account for many bream.

Another interesting fish in the Coosa is the longnose gar. If sight-casting to big fish is your idea of a good time, Coosa river gar will not let you down. Gar can be seen chasing bait virtually everywhere on the Coosa and they are more than willing to eat flashy, bright colored rope flies fished on sink-tip 8-weight outfits. Just be sure to use extreme caution when handling gar as their hundreds of needle-sharp teeth can deal out nasty lacerations.

Skipjacks, carp, catfish, and occasional hybrids and stripers account for some other species that are not uncommon in the Coosa, but spotted bass are the “glamour species,” and are by far the most pursued fish on the river. If you have never given “spots,” as they are called locally a try, you really owe it yourself to make their acquaintance. Spotted bass look similar to largemouth bass (although they do not get as big) but favor water similar to smallmouth bass. They can be found in the soft hydraulic cushions just downstream of exposed rocks, along the undercuts of large rocks, in the middle of deep, swift runs, along the edges of grass, and along shady banks with overhanging branches, and exposed cypress knees. Steep drop-offs along the bank have accounted for some of my best bass on the Coosa. Casting a streamer just upstream of the drop, allowing it to tumble down, then stripping it quickly away from the bank has resulted in a number of big spots up to 5 pounds. These fish take a variety of flies including Clouser minnows, wooly buggers, poppers and sliders, hairbugs and even a variety of trout nymphs and saltwater baitfish patterns. In short, they are likely to hit many of the flies that you already have in your box. This is not to say that they are easy though. It often takes a considerable period of trial and error for those not intimately familiar with Coosa River spots to find the flavor of the day. If you fish the river regularly you will soon develop your favorite patterns, but be warned, what works today will not necessarily work tomorrow. While that’s true anywhere, it seems to really be relevant to the Coosa. Bright yellow bunny leeches may be the ticket today while black Dahlberg divers are the only thing they’ll eat tomorrow. Generally, streamers tied with tungsten coneheads work best in the fast water areas while slow sinking flies and topwater patterns work better in the pools and along the banks.

Driftboats are an excellent vehicle for exploring the Coosa

While the Coosa possesses a number of endearing qualities, one of the most endearing to me is the fact that it fishes extremely well during the heat of the summer. From late June through August, when most other southern fisheries are shut down, the Coosa is at its best. This is an especially good time to fish those surface patterns. As with so many tailwater fisheries, catching the right flow is as important as selecting the right fly. With seven dams operated by Alabama Power spread out along the course of its flow, the Coosa is, as you might imagine, a very important river in terms of power generation for the state. On many rivers power generation schedules are often in direct conflict with fishing and other recreational uses. This is not so on the Coosa where Alabama Power has been extremely cooperative since the late 1960’s. Alabama Power maintains a mandatory minimum flow release from Jordan Dam for the benefit of whitewater boating and aquatic enhancement below the dam. While the details of these releases are too extensive to describe in the space of this article, they may be examined in their entirety at the Alabama Power website at http://www.alabamapower.com/hydro/coosa.asp It is very helpful to know these release schedules before planning a trip to the Coosa. The river is navigable and fishable by driftboat, canoe, or kayak at even the minimum flow release but is much more interesting in terms of both at flows between 3,000 and 10,000 CFS. Unfortunately the Southeast is under an extreme drought as of the printing of this article and it is questionable whether this volume of water will be released this summer at all. As I type, Alabama and Georgia are in negotiations over water release on the Coosa.

Most of the land along this section of the Coosa is undeveloped private property and there are numerous islands and large boulders along the float that are suitable for picnicking or just getting out to stretch. Wade fishing is possible in several places during all but the most extreme water releases. Aside from fishing, the Coosa sees quite a bit of recreational use in terms of whitewater paddling enthusiasts. While I enjoy fishing from a driftboat the most, the river is also suited to any type of kayak or canoe. If you want to plan your own float, Coosa River Adventures rents kayaks and canoes and provides shuttle service from Jordan Dam down to Wetumpka. They can be reached by phone at (334) 514-0279, or on the web at www.coosariveradventures.com.

If you’re ready to make a break from the norm, set your sights on the deep south and find your “spot” on the Coosa.