The paddle barely made a sound as Roger Giddens quietly propelled the canoe across the mirrored surface of quiet, black water in the upper St. Marys River. The only noise was that of the long fly line sailing through the air as the expert fly fisherman in the front of the canoe deftly landed a small popping bug slightly up-current from a fallen tree that formed a small, spinning eddy in the flowing water. The diminutive clump of painted cork and deer hair had barely made a circle on the dark water before an audible sucking sound was heard and the tiny lure disappeared from view. Quickly, the experienced angler gathered line, lifted the long rod, and began a fierce battle with some unseen aquatic warrior. The rod seemed to bend to the breaking point, and the line made a singing noise as it split the calm surface on a fast-paced run upstream. Nevertheless, the expertise of the fly fisherman soon overcame the valiant efforts of the fish, and a brilliantly colored redbreast sunfish was carefully lifted into the boat. Both Giddens and the visiting angler had to marvel at the beauty and strength of this native fish before it was lovingly returned to the pristine waters of the St. Marys River.
During the course of nearly eight hours on the river with Roger Giddens that day, the Gwinnett County fly fisherman landed and released more than fifty, beautifully marked sunfish of several species. The two men had seen numerous wading birds, ducks, birds of prey, and a couple of shy alligators, but what they had not encountered was any other humans or boats.
For those who are unfamiliar with the St. Marys River, it begins near Ellicott’s Mound as a slight current of swamp water in the Okefenokee Swamp and runs a wild, meandering, scenic route for 135 miles to the Atlantic Ocean near the southern tip of Cumberland Island. Just below its headwaters, the St. Marys is a small, very beautiful stream that is slow when the water is low and quite swift after rainy periods. The most popular fishing area is the second stage of the river, which starts at Highway 2 near St. George, Georgia, and continues for another 35 miles. Because the St. Marys River is wider and the current allows more maneuverability, fly fishing for both sunfish and bass is easier along this stretch. Nevertheless, the river still maintains the scenic beauty and intimacy it had upstream. This section of the river is also the best for canoeing, and many sand beaches are available for a picnic or campsite. Below Canoe Country Outpost, and all the way to the coastal waters of the Atlantic, high bluffs replace the sandy beaches, the fishing changes, and paddling progress is increasingly determined by the level and direction of the tides.
Giddens Canoes the St. Marys RiverCanoe Country Outpost is owned and operated by retired Lt. Col. Roger Giddens, who grew up in nearby St. Marys, Georgia, went to UGA, and spent most of his life as an infantry officer defending our country in 22 countries and 44 states. After his discharge, he decided to come back home and make his living doing some of the things he had so enjoyed as a boy, and several years ago, he opened his canoe business just across the St. Marys River in Florida. Now, he offers a multitude of opportunities for individuals and groups, and will do all that he can to customize trips to fit anyone’s needs. He can be contacted by phone at (904) 845-7224 or his web site at: www.canoecountryoutpost.com.
The breathtaking beauty of the pristine, tannic acid tinted, dark waters of the St. Marys River is highlighted by extremely contrasting ribbons of pure, white sands on either side, and surrounded by a kaleidoscope of interesting flora and fauna. Below the surface of this gorgeous river, however, is a fishery for sunfish and bass that is basically untapped, and certainly worthy of any anglers time. Add to this the solitude of rarely seeing any manmade structures, boats, or people, and any nature lover will realize that this wild, scenic river is one of the last of its kind on the planet!