The Great Outdoors: Our Family Fish
We often get asked where we’re from, and this question is usually followed by a raised eyebrow or a surprised look when the answer is Gwinnett County, Georgia. If you’re not aware, Gwinnett County is one of the biggest Atlanta suburbs, home to almost a million people (more than twice as many as the city of Atlanta) from across the country and around the world. Nobody is from here. Or at least that’s what everyone assumes. We’d daresay we’re one of the few families that can claim an ancestor born in Gwinnett all the way back to the 1820s, back when the county’s population was a little less than 5,000. Multiple branches of our family tree have seen some amazing changes in North Georgia, some good and some bad. And while very little of that county our family came up in remains, if you look closely enough you can still find bits and pieces of it.
So it goes without saying that we’re big fans of things that are native to Georgia. If you’re looking for a Georgia native, the shoal bass is about as native as you can get. Yeah, you can find him in a tiny corner of Florida and the Eastern side of Alabama, but make no mistake, this is a Georgia fish. You’re probably all very familiar with his cousin, the largemouth bass. They’re ubiquitous across much of America, and you can usually find 4 or 5 different shows on your cable line-up at any given time on a Saturday morning dedicated to the largemouth bass. They live in rivers, they live in lakes, and they even live on the brackish coast. They’re everywhere. But the shoal bass only lives in certain places, usually rivers with lots of shoals (hence the name), and it doesn’t do well elsewhere.
The shoal bass was thriving in the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers in Georgia long before the first European ever stepped foot in the state. Scientists have figured out that a shoal bass can travel more than a hundred miles to spawn, something that sounds more like a Pacific salmon than a bass. They can grow pretty big, too, with the world record being an eight pound, twelve ounce monster from the Flint River. They’re really an incredible fish. But they’re in danger of disappearing from many places they’ve lived for millennia.
In many ways, the shoal bass perfectly tells the story of how Georgia has changed. More than a century ago, we started building dams to harness the power of rivers. The city of Columbus was built on the power of the Chattahoochee River and its mill dams. Federal reservoirs like Lake Lanier followed in the mid-20th century, and forever changed the nature of the river. No longer could shoal bass migrate up and down the state, and in the case of our hometown the temperature was changed so much that trout replaced the shoal bass. In places where the shoal bass remained, other bass species from other parts of the country were moved in and either hybridized with them or simply outcompeted them.
And yet the shoal bass still remains if you look hard enough for it. In much the same way, you can find parts of old Georgia when you look hard enough. That’s why we’re so excited to share these stories with you when we come across them. And it is why we enjoy fishing for the descendants of a fish that our ancestors caught way back in the 19th century in the exact same places. In that way, you could say that the shoal bass really is our family fish. Perhaps so much so that we even ought to look into replacing the lions on our traditional family crest with the shoal bass.
If you want to try to catch the shoal bass, we can recommend a few places. The Flint River in middle Georgia near Thomaston probably has the best shoal bass fishing anywhere. We'd also recommend the Chattahoochee and Chestatee Rivers above Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River between Sandy Springs and Atlanta. Because of the nature of where the shoal bass lives, floating these rivers with a kayak can be a great way to fish the shoals of these rivers. If you have any further questions about the shoal bass or fishing in Georgia shoot us a note in the "Contact Us" section of our site.