Rob DeVore and Chris Patricella manned the camera boats shadowing the anglers, loaded to the gills with filming equipment. An easy trip became a logistical nightmare: a fierce tropical storm flung a band of torrential rain across the Southeast, and they faced cold, post frontal, raging muddy water - the absolute worst conditions for a river trip. The “Bass on the Road” project pitted two of the best saltwater kayak fishermen against long days, short nights, little sleep, foreign techniques, and horrendous conditions in the search for big river bass.
The crew road-tripped to Stewart’s rivers hoping for small mouth, but the passing tropical storm made a majority of the Southeast’s rivers unfishable. The crew beat a trail for Georgia and prayed for fishable water flows. Rod-bending hybrid striped bass were a high priority for the anglers, but our rivers were equally blown out and muddy.
High, muddy water is by far the toughest challenge a river can present an angler. The fish still feed with a vengeance, but your game plan is radically different. Predatory fish concentrate in swift, oxygenated funnel points, where they lurk behind current breaks to pounce on passing batifish. Muddy water means limited visibility, so not only is it difficult for the fish to spot your lure, but you also must compete with hundreds of live, swimming morsels. We targeted the rubble of a ruined Civil War-era dam that is rich with history, baitfish, and hungry hybrids by banging billed hard baits - the Unfair Lures “Stickminno 80” - off rock and rubble. This technique is difficult to master, and requires unwavering determination. I told Bob and Jim, “You may make 100 casts, but on cast 101 you will get an eight pounder.”
I began a routine circuit of paddling my Jackson Kayak “SUPerFISHal” up to the shoals, firing casts into the base of the old dam, and working the bait off the bottom. Each pass and individual cast carried the lure down a different course guided by turbulent water and the deflection of the bait; no two casts followed the same path. Persistence paid off as twice my lure deflected into the maw of a hard-fighting hybrid striped bass. One pushing 5lbs and another pushing 8lbs, these bruisers fought hard and bent my rod around and under my SUPerFISHal several times. Photos, video, and high fives made the rounds, and we released the scrappy fighters to prepare for the next day’s float - a small Alabama creek filled with big spotted bass.
Leaving Georgia, we road-tripped to rural Alabama to fish my favorite Coosa River tributary. The forecast called for severe thunderstorms and heavy rain, setting us up for prime pre-frontal fishing. A backwoods outfitter loaded our gear into a graffiti-paint-job van with busted out windows, and shuttled us up a one-lane cow trail for a put-in under a county bridge. Eric and I loaded up Jim and Bob with small spinnerbaits and green plastic worms, river staples nationwide, and laid out the plan to take rock bass, spotted bass, and redeye. Two paddle strokes from the launch Jim landed a stud rock bass, setting the pace for the day. Standing and directing the anglers from my SUPerFISHal, I pointed out likely habitat and structure and the Bass On The Road crew loaded the boat with big spots, mean rock bass, and feisty redeye.
With the anglers firmly on the pattern, I tied on a Bull Shad swimbait in search of trophy fish. Throwing big swimbaits is a technique I had never used on this small creek, but I had a feeling that with the oncoming storm front the fish would be aggressive. Whether it was the absolute perfect weather conditions, a bait that perfectly matched the forage, a bait they had never seen before, or some combination of all three I do not know. One thing is certain - the fishing was on fire! Tossing the big bait with my Dobyns “735 Champion”, I burned it across shoals, submerged timber and rocks, under overhanging cover, and across deep pools. Cranking the bait at a steady, waking clip, the river bass rewarded me with constant, explosive strikes. My relaxed guided trip turned into an all-out swimbait clinic. I landed twenty five to thirty stout river bass, with two that pushed the magical 4lb “magnum” status. Few things pump and jack me up more than big river-dwelling spotted bass that pound swimbaits. Fist pumps, yelling, screaming, and unbridled raw emotion pours out uncontrollably when I land a magnum-sized spot! The hits kept coming as I boated a steady stream of swimbait fish.
When we reached the end of our float, dragged the boats ashore, and packed our gear, I looked back upon the river and basked in the glory of what had been truly an epic trip with so many layers of satisfaction. Meeting new friends, teaching my favorite techniques, floating my favorite river, helping others achieve goals, a lights-out swimbait bite, and getting it all on camera made for a truly remarkable trip. Epic seems a poor descriptor.