The 'Other' Bass Destinations

Shoalies are one of the more aggressive members of the bass family. Catching them is not an issue if you get a bait near where they swim. Dodd Clifton

Largemouth and smallmouth bass may be most revered by bassers nationwide, but the black bass family has other members that deserve equal respect.

We're talking about the regionally endemic species known as spotted, shoal, redeye, Suwanee and Guadalupe bass that aren't as prominent, yet are equally cherished by those who fish for them.

Most anglers have heard of the spotted bass, given its ability to adapt to a variety of waters. The other species, however, are more confined to small flowages in isolated parts of the country and, to some degree, their numbers are dwindling because of habitat loss.

Drew Gregory, a Georgia native who now resides in Greenwood, S.C., might be as familiar with the lesser known bass as anyone. He's spent the past few years researching, pursuing and guiding anglers into remote waters where those unusual bass live.

"I grew up in Georgia where all but one of the black bass species are native," he explains. "And because I love to river fish, pursuing the lesser known bass came naturally."

The only black bass not found in Georgia is the Guadalupe, which is found only in Texas. And like the other lesser known bass, it is found primarily in streams.

"You can reach all of these bass in places that usually get very little fishing pressure and provide fabulous scenery," explains Gregory, whose Web site, www.drewgregory.com, provides abundant information about where and how to catch most of the other black bass species. "And because most of these waters are shallow, you can wade or float them with a canoe or kayak."

Here's a look at each of the species, places to target them and how to tie a trip into a family vacation:

Redeye Bass
Often confused with shoal bass, the true redeye is native to the foothills of Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.

They rarely grow very big and are most distinguished by an upper jaw that extends to the back of the eye, which, of course, usually is red. They can look different from one body of water to another, but typically they have dark markings on the side, red or white tipped fins and a toothy patch on the tongue.

"A 15-incher is a monster redeye," says Gregory.

Gregory says redeye thrive in small, cool creeks in the foothills and don't do as well in larger rivers or lake tailraces. They feed on insects and small crustaceans.

Where to go: Gregory says southern Tennessee and northern Georgia offer a couple of dandy places to catch these fascinating bass: the foothill region of the Appalachian Mountains.

The Conasauga River, on the border of Georgia and Tennessee west of Chattanooga, is where you can catch redeye consistently.

Northeast Georgia offers more opportunities. Within a short drive of Dawsonville, Ga., you'll find the lower portion of Amicalola Creek a can't-miss location. Northeast of there is the Etowah River, where you may catch spotted bass and rainbow trout along with redeye.

When to go: June and July are ideal because the water stays cool and streams are stable.

Baits and tactics: Any lure that creates turbulence and triggers reactionary strikes is best. This would include in-line spinners, small crankbaits, topwaters and small plastics.

"You can catch them on topwaters nine months out of the year," says Gregory.

Other things to do: The famous Ocoee River, not far from the Conasauga, provides whitewater rafting (www.sunburstrafting.com). Some of the 1996 Olympic events were held there.

Amicalola Falls State Park offers the tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River ( www.gastateparks.org/info/amicalola). Also, the North Georgia Premium Outlets Mall, with 140 outlet stores, is just south of Dawsonville, Ga. Appalachian Outfitters (www.canoegeorgia.com) can fix you up with a float trip on the Etowah River.

Shoal Bass
The best way to describe shoal bass is they have the body of a smallmouth and a mouth as big as a largemouth's. They live and spawn in the same places as smallmouth, fight nearly as hard and prefer fast moving water. Their diet consists primarily of crawfish, insects and small fish, but Gregory says they will "obliterate anything that crosses their paths."

They grow bigger than redeye, and although the world record (8-12) came from Florida, you'll find more shoalies in Georgia, where Gregory predicts the next world record will be caught soon.

Where to go: The Sprewell Bluff State Park on the Flint River offers native shoal bass in good numbers. Located 55 miles northeast of Columbus, Ga, and just west of Thomaston, Ga., the park sits on the southern edge of a small mountain range and offers a launch site for canoeists and kayakers. The river is suitable for wading, but if you prefer to float, the Flint River Outdoor Center in Thomaston (706-647-2633) offers rentals and a shuttle service.

The Flint also contains largemouth and spotted bass, but the majority of the black bass you catch will be shoalies. Key on the larger rocky areas to find them.

When to go: Spring is prime time, but you may run into high water. If so, try late May or June, although shoal bass can be very active in October and November as well.

Baits and tactics: Fish small spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, crankbaits and jointed Rapalas behind rocks around current. Grubs, jigs and plastics work well, and remember that bigger baits catch bigger shoalies.

Other things to do: Visit the summer home of former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Warm Springs, Ga., at F.D. Roosevelt State Park (www.gastateparks.org/info/fdr), about 25 miles (a 50-minute drive) west of the Flint. The six-room cottage is said to be where he developed the New Deal and where he died.

Suwanee Bass
The Suwanee is among the rarest of the black bass family with concentrations limited to northern Florida and southeast Georgia streams.

Suwanee are shaped similar to a smallmouth but have heavier bodies. They don't grow large; a 2-pounder is considered a quality fish.

"They are colored differently; they are blackish green and can have a turquoise tone to them," says Gregory. "They are a beautiful yet rare fish to pursue and real bulldogs when you hook them."

Where to go: The Wakulla River south of Tallahassee, Fla., may be the easiest place to catch Suwanee says Gregory. It's only 11 miles long and empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

"There's abundant forage so the fish are really healthy," he adds. "It's not the best for wading, but it's a relaxing float trip."

The river starts at Wakulla Springs State Park where it flows out of the ground. It has a limestone, sand and clay base with a plentiful mix of aquatic vegetation.

When to go: Because it's spring-fed, you can fish it year-round.

Baits and tactics: You can't go wrong fishing tube jigs on spinning outfits. Target areas where current is plentiful and eelgrass is adjacent to a hard bottom.

Other things to do: Tallahassee is less than 30 minutes away. For family fun, visit Wakulla Springs State Park, which offers glass bottom boats and guided river tours at the Wakulla headwaters. Visitors can enjoy snorkeling, horseback riding and plenty of sightseeing. The Wakulla Springs are said to be the largest and deepest freshwater springs (www.floridastateparks.org).

Guadalupe Bass
The largemouth may be king in Texas, but the Guadalupe is the state fish and Texas is the only place you'll find them.

Similar to the smallmouth and spotted bass, the Guadalupe lives in central Texas' hill country streams.

They don't grow very big — a 14-incher is a dandy — but they are terrific fighters and leapers. You could argue they look and act like a smallmouth, feeding in eddies near fast moving water.

They're a target of fly fishermen who often call them "Texas trout," says Josh Perkin, a fisheries science graduate student at Texas State University.

"They use the same kind of habitat as trout and are easier to catch on flies," he notes. "They don't get big but are very exciting to catch."

Some Guadalupe are hybrids, created when a Texas smallmouth stocking program went afoul and the native fish began crossbreeding. Smallmouth are no longer stocked in Guadalupe streams.

Where to go: Perkin says the South Llano River is the place for purebred Guadalupe bass, and South Llano River State Park near Junction, Texas, is a great place to find them. The park is about 110 miles northwest of San Antonio (www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/south_llano_river).

"It's the prettiest river in Texas and ranks among the best in water quality," says Perkin. "You can wade it or rent a kayak at the park and do a half-day float trip."

Nearby is the South Llano River Lodge (www.southllanoriverlodge.com) that caters to anglers.

When to go: You'll find Guadalupe most active during the months of March through June.

Baits and tactics: The fish feed primarily on insects, which is why fly anglers do well. However, Perkin says he catches them routinely on ultralight spinning gear and small grubs (watermelon or root beer) fished on jigheads through the eddies. During summer months, look for the fish in deeper holes below riffles.

Other things to do: The state park offers swimming, tubing and canoeing along a 2-mile stretch of the river. It's a refuge for Rio Grande turkeys, and the adjacent Walter Buck Wildlife Management Area offers more wildlife viewing and hiking trails.

Fort McKavett, a Texas Indian military post built in 1852, is one of the best preserved forts in the state (www.texasescapes.com).

Spotted Bass
Although they look similar, the spotted bass has two subspecies: the northern spotted bass, best known as the Kentucky bass, and the Alabama spot, often referred to as the Coosa River bass.

Neither grows as big as largemouth, but they pack a bigger punch.

The Alabama spotted bass is generally found only in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia while the range for the Kentucky bass is far greater.

Adults have a stocky build and are terrific fighters. They look like largemouth except they often have darker blotches along the lateral line and a noticeable patch of "teeth" on the tongue.

Spots can thrive in reservoirs but are more comfortable in rivers and streams with slow moving water. They feed on crawfish, insects and baitfish, with a preference for smaller forage.

Where to go: Central Alabama and its Coosa River system are famous for spots.

However, Lake Jordan, 25 miles north of Montgomery, may be better. At 6,800 acres, it's smaller than the other lakes but is well-known for big spots.

When to go: October through December is fabulous. However, late February through May can be even better for numbers and size of spots.

Baits and tactics: Crankbaits are the choice during the fall, but tube jigs, finesse worms and drop shot rigs tend to catch them as well, especially during the spawning period. By late May, the topwater action can be good. For more information, try www.bamaspots.com or www.bamabassfishing.com.

Other things to do: Nearby Montgomery, Ala., is steeped in history. You can tour the first White House of the Confederacy and other prominent buildings of the Civil War era (www.visitingmontgomery.com).