Anything Fly Fishing

A River that Sparks – The Flint River

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I met Kent Edmonds around 8:00 AM a few hours outside of Atlanta. I pulled into an old service station where we had agreed to meet. There sat Kent in his 25-year-old Jeep Cherokee. The forest green Jeep was the epitome of a River Guide’s fishing wagon. It was adorned with a golden yellow 15-foot canoe like a crown. Hanging from the fabric interior were flies from fish trips past. Upon first glance I knew this was going to be a great day! I strung up my rods and loaded my gear into the Jeep and we set off. As we wound down the road in rural Georgia, passing landscapes of old farmhouses and planted pines, seemingly out of nowhere the woods opened up and there was the river! It was much wider than I had pictured, and boasted shoals, slightly stained water, and grassy islands. We pulled over to the shoulder to drop the canoe and store all our gear. The canoe was lightweight and had a simple layout, with one exceptional added feature; two PVC pipes that were secured along the seat thwarts, open towards the stern, capped toward the bow. Custom rod holders! Each one long enough to store and protect a 9’ fly rod.

I packed up my gear into my dry pack and slipped into my wading socks and boots. The water was warm, so we would be wet wading. Kent parked the Jeep, and we walked the canoe to the launch. We paddled downstream less than 40 yards when Kent instructed me to step out and start fishing. The water was slightly stained and averaged shin to thigh deep. Kent instructed me to tie a topwater fly to my 6-weight rod, and he tied on a black and purple streamer to his rod. He pointed out a run for me to cast to, and I was puzzled. The water didn’t look very deep and appeared like only a small fish would occupy the run. I made the cast downstream and began to strip the fly up current. After two strips I saw a large boil behind the fly. “WOAH,” I thought to myself, “That’s a nice fish, or maybe a turtle!” I made a few more casts but no luck. We walked 20 yards to the center of the river and started fishing again. After a few casts my popper fly got swiped by a fish. It was about 12 inches, but it felt like it was 3 pounds in the current. Once I got it to our feet I was blown away by the color and barring on the fish. These shoal bass looked like a spotted bass, but had larger mouths, like that of a largemouth. I was pleased with my fish, but Kent had this look on his face like ‘you just wait.’ We then separated and both started fishing, me throwing topwater and Kent tossing a streamer.

Kent Edmonds with a Shoal Bass caught on a streamer

After a few minutes of working upstream I heard splashing behind me, Kent was hooked up on a nice fish! I ran over to him to admire his catch. It was a large fish, around 15 inches and looked to be about 2 pounds. The barring on the fish was like that of a leopard, I’d never seen anything like it. I also couldn’t believe that such a fish would be in such skinny water. Even more, I could not believe that we were unable to see them. I snapped a few photos and admired the fish with Kent, then released it back into the water. Kent hooked up on two more fish, one was a large fish over 16”. We decided my topwater fly was not what the bass wanted, so I started throwing Kent’s rod with the streamer on it.

We moved down river and began fishing some deeper runs when I hooked into another shoal bass. This fish was bigger than my first and put quite a bend into the 6-weight rod in my hands. Fighting these fish in this current made its size seemingly double. The fish fought against me as I moved it upstream, but when I tried to bring it close it darted back down and towards the deeper water and rocks. Once in hand I noticed more defined striping on the fish and a brighter red eye. Kent informed me that the shoal bass was not awarded a species distinction until 20 years ago. Prior to it they were thought to be another subspecies of redeye bass or spotted bass. I released the fish and kept fishing, working our way further downstream.

Shoal Bass on the Flint River

The sky had become overcast, and Kent decided we should try topwater again. He clipped off the streamer and tied on a yellow fly with orange legs. This topwater fly is highly recognizable, especially in the hands of the fly’s creator. It was time to fish the Stealth Bomber. As an aside, the Stealth Bomber fly is one of Kent’s signature patterns and is renowned as an all-time great bass fly. Unlike most topwater flies, this simplistic fly has a diving motion rather than the typical popping action. Kent designed and perfected the Stealth Bomber for shoal bass on the Flint. The moment was surreal: being handed a fly by its inventor, on the very river it was designed for, and catching the target species! We approached a deeper run saddled by a rock shoal and a grassy island. I cast the fly up against the grass edge and gave it a few strips as the current carried it down stream. The anticipation of a strike made time stand still. I recast the fly downstream towards the tailout of the run and immediately upon landing, the fly was engulfed! I quickly strip set the fly, securing it into the bass’s mouth. Fighting the fish back upstream felt like pulling an anchor up with floss. Kent encouraged me to put more pressure on the fish as I would not break the tippet. I bent the rod back towards me and then angled upstream and started to pull the fish up current. The bass that had been dragging me down current, seemingly headed towards a rock to rub the fly free, then ran vertically to the surface and leapt out of the water! The acrobatic fish darted up stream right to my feet and became tangled around my legs. I handed the rod off to Kent and freed the fish from the fly. The fly was well placed within the fish’s mouth, and I understood in that moment why this fly was so effective. These bass attacked it like it was personal!

Patrick Hunter with a Shoal Bass

We continued our day fishing and working our way downstream, targeting the slower sections of water below runs and shoals. It seemed like every three or four casts we hooked up on a fish. Some smacked the Stealth Bomber and pulled it under, while others would leap out of the water to eat it. It was so effective that after a few fish I would stop casting, have a conversation with Kent, then resume fishing moments later. We talked about fishing memories, stories of my grandfather and dad, fly tying, fly casting and his time working as a Temple Fork Outfitters rep. My favorite were the stories he shared about Lefty Kreh, Flip Pallot and Bob Clouser. Although this was only our second meeting, I stood in the river with Kent, talking as though we had been friends our whole life. He offered me casting lessons, tips on targeting fish, and ways to better present the fly. He shared stories and history of the area, the Flint River, and shoal bass. Several hours had passed, stories told, and fish caught when he asked me when I needed to leave. I looked at my watch and it was after noon. I was shocked. I informed him that I had all day; whenever he needed to go, we could go. “Great,” he said, “Let’s keep fishing!”

Dark colored Shoal Bass

We had made our way down the first set of shoals, so we decided to paddle down to the next set and break for lunch. We loaded into the canoe and went through two white water sections before entering the still water. This seemed like great largemouth and carp habitat, and I asked Kent could you catch a shoal bass here? He informed me that the shoal bass live in and around those rocks their whole life, rarely moving between sections. Both sides of the river were wooded, and I was both shocked and thankful that no one had altered the landscape. It was truly a natural and wild place. We stopped at the top of the next set of shoals and secured the boat in the grass before eating lunch.

Canoe on the Flint River

After our riverside lunch, we settled our gear in the canoe and began working our way down the second set of shoals. By now the day had become completely overcast, and the river had risen and was a little stained. Topwater seemed to be working the best, but I kept a black and purple streamer tied on just in case. We fished our way down the shoals, targeting the deeper tail outs of runs as well as the edges of the riverbank. When we found a pool or run holding fish, we would make several passes and catch a mixed bag of shoal bass and sunfish. Kent was fishing with me at this time, and we split up to cover more ground. We stayed within earshot and would shout when successful to show off our catch and snap a few pictures before releasing it. At this point I had lost count, but it didn’t really matter anymore. Our perspective had changed, and we were simply enjoying the wilderness that surrounded us. I shouldn’t say “our perspective.” As I watched Kent gracefully glide through the runs and shoals, making a few casts then moving along, I realized that his enjoyment had been maintained since we started our trek this morning. It was really my perspective that had shifted to match the rhythm of his. Beyond all the tips and tricks, technique and improvements, most importantly what Kent had taught me was pure enjoyment of time in the outdoors. I was overwhelmed by a sense of peace and contentment, and I was so thankful to have been able to experience this amazing river.

Shoal Bass caught close to the grass

After several hours of fishing and wading we decided to walk back up the shoals to the canoe and bring our day to a close. About halfway up we stopped at a pool at the base of a shoal. The pool was not larger than a kiddy-pool in diameter and was protected by a small island that had a lone tree growing over the rocky surface. Kent said to give it a cast. I made two false casts and laid the stealth bomber at the base of the small run. I gave it two strips across the pool when the fly disappeared out of sight with a large crash! Kent and I immediately knew this was a big fish. Contained by the steep shoal above and a grassy tailout below, the fish made a run towards the grass to try and free itself. After a short run, I wrangled the fish to our feet and we removed the fly. We admired the color and barring of the fish. It was dark green and tan, adorned with black barring like that of a leopard. It was certainly the biggest fish of the day. We did not measure it but I assume it would have been 17-18 inches in length. I did not get a picture. I felt like this special fish was a gift, not a bragging right. A photo would not do the experience of catching it justice. We released the fish back into the pool we’d found it in and loaded back up into the canoe.

As we made our way back up the river, walking up the shoals and dragging the canoe, I asked Kent about the river and its history. He informed me that a dam had been proposed to be built on the river not far from where we had been fishing. The Army Corp of Engineers had been given approval in the 1960’s. Jimmy Carter, the sitting governor of Georgia decided to canoe the river before construction was to begin in the 70’s. As he paddled along the river, traversing its many shoals, he realized that this river needed to be protected and untouched. Governor Carter vetoed the proposal in 1974, and the project was scrapped during the Reagan administration in the 80’s. I could imagine Governor Carter had the same feeling as I did after being on the Flint for a day: This river is magnificent! The river’s name was derived from its Native American description as a place to pick-up flint. Much like the use of flint to spark a fire, my day on the Flint had sparked a new love and appreciation for God’s creation of wild places. These places are ours to protect and steward well for ourselves and the next generation. Next time you are out fishing, take some time to enjoy the wilderness around you, share it with someone else, and do your part to make it a little better!

Large Sunfish that ate a Stealth Bomber fly


More information about fishing the Flint River as well as inquiries about fishing with Kent Edmonds can be found on his website:

Kent Edmonds with his canoe on the Flint River

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