An Interview with Kent Edmonds
Kent Edmonds is a fly fishing guide in La Grange, Georgia. Kent guides anglers for shoal bass, striped bass, panfish, shad, carp and even gar. He is also a fly tyer and has several popular fly designs, most notably the “Stealth Bomber”. I sat down with Kent to discuss his life spent in fly fishing and the great outdoors of west Georgia.
Are you from Georgia? If not, how’d you get here and why did you settle in West Georgia?
Kent: I’m originally from Anderson, SC and I moved to LaGrange in the 80’s for work.
How did you get into fishing, more specifically fly fishing?
Kent: My intro to fishing, like many southerners, was with a cane pole & worms. I’d walk or bike to a nearby creek. I started fly fishing on the Chattooga River while a student at Clemson. In those days, there were more moonshiners along the Chattooga than fly fishermen. Originally, I’d fish with a spinning rod. One day I was on the river and I saw a fly fisherman. I didn’t understand – all that fat bright line waving around in the air? But I could see that when he threw his bait into that little eddy he could make his bait just sit there. With my spin outfit, I threw to the same spot but in two cranks my little rooster tail was out of the target zone.
What was your first fly rod?
Kent: I found a fly rod in the bargain bend for $3 – a super-soft fiberglass. To begin with, I attached a spinning reel to the rod – it was great for pitching small lures or crickets with split-shot. Then I read “The Sporting Club” by Tom McGuane. The description of fly fishing got me fired up, and shortly after I bought a fly reel and line. So began a 50-year obsession with the fly.
What do you love most about West Georgia?
Kent: When I moved to LaGrange in the 80’s, I started fishing West Point Lake for bass and bream. I did bump into my first schoolie stripers, which was to become another obsession. But still water didn’t quite hold the fascination that moving water did. So I began to prowl the back roads with a DeLorme Atlas while looking for all the little blue lines. I found some creeks and caught some fish – that was better. Then, I crossed an old bridge on the Flint River – the rocky shallows covered the 100-yard width of the river and were dotted with massive grass beds and braided currents. And it had these bass, they looked a bit like the Chattooga red eyes that I used to catch, but they got big, loved skinny water and current, and would bust a topwater! I’d found my home!
What’s your favorite fish to fish for?
Kent: That’s a tough one – I like virtually anything that will take my fly!
If you had a day off to go fishing for yourself, not a guided trip, where would you go and what would you fish for? Or, how would you spend your last day fishing?
Kent: Shoal Bass in the summer, wading in the skinny water on the Flint. The Flint is a unique river, one of only forty in the US that flow over 200 miles without a dam. The 50-mile section I mainly fish is on the fall line and drops over 400 feet, looking much more like North Carolina or Tennessee. The shoal bass are native to the Flint and isolated to just a couple of watersheds in Georgia and occasionally extending into Alabama and Florida. They are habitat specialists and will not tolerate impoundments. The shoal bass are native fish in their native home, that have never been stocked in this section.
You guide for a wide variety of warmwater fish, can you give me a brief rundown on all the species you target on fly?
Kent: Outside of travel trips for saltwater species and others, I fish mainly for shoal bass on the Flint and striped bass on the Chattahoochee. Targets of opportunity include brim, gar, carp and river skipjack. I still love small ponds for largemouth bass too.
For shoal bass, I use a 6 weight rod, primarily with floating lines. We throw big nymphs, medium to large streamers, and top-water poppers and divers. Prime time is spring through fall, and the water is generally low and clear though it can blow out with heavy rains as there are no dams on this section to mitigate the flow.
I fish stripers some all year, but prime time on the river is spring when their natural inclination is to run upstream to spawn.
How did you get into guiding fly fishing?
Kent: It was completely by happenstance. In the early day of the “world-wide-web,” my son built me a basic web page to post fishing reports and pictures – because I fished a lot! Then I started receiving emails and phone calls from fly anglers all through the southeast. I had no idea there were that many out there fishing for bass and other warm-water species.
In the early 90’s, I met Carter Nelson, who ran the fly fishing program at Callaway Gardens. He was also a South Carolina native and we knew much of the same trout water. We fished some and then I went to work for Carter as a part-time guide. This was great for me as now I was in a community of fly anglers – I learned a lot. I began to do some independent trips for shoal bass and stripers, and in 2001 I started guiding full -time – a late mid-life crisis, I guess.
Do you prefer to fish from a boat/raft or wade?
Kent: I’m good either way. Wade fishing is up close and personal. It’s relaxed too – you fish at your own pace. My boat fishing is different. I fish mainly big water with heavy current with big rocky shoals. It can be a high-adrenaline atmosphere where things happen fast and the fish are big and strong. My boat is a 16-foot welded aluminum MV-jon powered by a 75hp jet outboard.
What do you fish for out of the Jet Jon?
Kent: The jet is mainly for striped bass on the Chattahoochee.
How do you target stripers on a big river like the Chattahoochee?
Kent: Stripers are current fish – their ancestors are from the Gulf Stream, so even a heavy river current is no big deal to them. Current brings them food, aeriation, and sometimes cooler temperatures (all of which they like). They move into the shoals (or in the runs just below the shoals) to eat bait being tumbled through, and sometimes for the higher dissolved oxygen content of the aerated water. And in the springtime, they seek high current areas for spawning. Striper eggs must drift for 72 hours to be viable – if they ever settle to the bottom they cannot hatch.
We use 8 weight and 9 weights with short, type five sink tip lines and shad or baitfish fly patterns.
Did you know Lefty Kreh, Bob Clouser, Flip Pallot, etcetera? Any memorable stories?
Kent: I’ve been lucky and have been gifted to know and spend time with many great anglers, some famous and some unknown. I’ve fished with Bob Clouser (showed him his first shoal bass) and with Steve Rajeff (didn’t show him anything, but had some fun). I’ve done several casting/fishing schools with Lefty and Flip – that was an honor and a privilege.
I couldn’t begin to tell all of the stories about Lefty Kreh. Not even talking about fishing, he was one of the kindest and most amazing humans I’ve ever met. Two things stick out in my mind most about Lefty. One was his un-ceasing desire to learn more about everything, from anyone and everyone. The other was one of his favorite sayings, “Don’t show what you know, share what you know.” It was his mantra.
How did you get into fly tying?
Kent: I started fly tying as an extension of fly fishing. I enjoyed tying flies to catch fish in specific situations on my local waters. And when I started fishing down here, there was practically no place to buy flies!
You’ve created some fantastic warmwater flies. Can you tell me more about them, specifically the Stealth Bomber?
Kent: The Stealth Bomber came about after a fishing trip out west. I was fishing the Henry’s Fork and the hot fly was a Turk’s Tarantula. When I returned from the trip, I tried to replicate the fly for bass and bream. I started tying it with sheet foam because it was more durable and cost effective than deer hair. I’ve sized it up and down, tried it shrimpy for redfish, snook and tarpon, and scaled it down to small panfish. The way it dives and then flutters back up to the surface is what makes it a great fly.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment, or greatest contribution to the sport of fly fishing?
Kent: Accomplishment-wise, I’d say I have gotten better and enjoyed the process. And being asked to help Lefty teaching his weekend fly casting schools was something I never even dreamed. I don’t think I’ve made major contributions to the sport. Maybe, I’ve helped bring some attention to the Flint River, and that’s helped it get some of the protection it deserves.
What I’m proudest of, and enjoy the most, is working with the little ones. Whether it’s just having some fun on the water, giving them a new technique to use, or helping them tune their cast or presentation.
What do you hope to pass along to other fly fishers or new fly fishers coming into the sport?
Kent: Always be learning, like Lefty. And always have fun on the water. And remember that one of the best ways to have more fun is to get better at the fundamental skill of casting. Talk to any guide and they’ll tell you that the main limiting factor for most of their anglers is casting. I guarantee that it’s more fun if you can make the cast. Not just the long bomb (occasionally useful), but maybe the short, controlled curve with slack in the leader. I’ve been there – I was a lousy to mediocre caster for years. I’m better now, but still learning. And I’m having more fun!
More information about Kent Edmonds as well as inquires about fishing with Kent can be found on his website: http://www.flyfishga.com
Photos provided by Kent Edmonds and David Cannon Photography (http://www.davidcannonphotography.com/)