The fishing continues to be outstanding for this time of year here in coastal Georgia. Once again the mild weather has kept water temperatures between 52 and 60 degrees which has helped keep inshore species such as Trout, Sheepshead, and Redfish active and happy. The Gulf Stream fishing has been excellent with great catches of Wahoo and Black Fin Tuna coming in to the docks. Nearshore the Sheepshead fishing is good but difficult due to the abundance of Black Sea Bass.
What is yet to be seen is how the rain here and to the north of us will impact the inshore fishing. Rivers that stretch further inland such as the St. Marys, Satilla, and Altamaha drain the fresh water into the sounds and cause the fish to do some moving around. When this happens, the best way to adjust is to look for areas with minimal fresh water influence.
To find these areas just take a look at a chart and look for rivers that do not extend more than a few miles inland and come out nearest the ocean. Good examples of this are Crooked River, the Little Satilla River, and the Hampton River. The tides will bring in a fresh supply of ocean water coupled with minimal fresh water coming from up-river, causing the salinity to be more stable and consistent.
Trout- Excellent; The Trout fishing has been great and we have seen more and more fish caught up-river recently. Trout are still being caught on what would typically be Summer and Fall patterns of shallow shell banks and creek mouths but are also being caught in Winter patterns such as deep bends, docks, and bluffs. I am seeing more large Trout showing up and expect that to continue as Spring approaches.
Top baits right now are screw tail grubs, DOA Shrimp in natural colors, and live shrimp. My favorite color choices currently are Christmas Tree for screw tails and Near Clear with red flake for the DOAs. I like to rig the screw tails with the lightest jig head possible which most often is 1/8 ounce. You want it to be light enough to brush the bottom but not so heavy that it digs in and scrapes the bottom. The DOAs can be tied straight to the leader, under a cork, or my favorite way; Carolina rigged with a 1/8 ounce sinker and 18 inches of 15 to 20 pound test fluorocarbon leader. A slow retrieve is best for a natural presentation to simulate a shrimp slowly making his way across the bottom.
Redfish- Good; The Redfish fishing is still good, but not great. Most Redfish that I have seen are 20 inches or longer and very few that are smaller. Redfish grow at a rate of about one inch per month in the first two years of life which tells me that we have had poor spawns in the last two seasons. Hopefully this year’s spawn was successful and will give the Redfish fishing a boost in the coming months.
Inshore you can find the Redfish in small creeks at low tide. Look for the last deep hole in the back of creeks. It’s also good if you can find creeks with shell mounds near the deeper holes. A live lined shrimp or a shrimp on a jig head will typically entice a bite as will soft plastic grubs and Berkeley Gulp! baits.
Near the jetties and the nearshore reefs you will find Bull Redfish up to 45 inches which can be caught on large soft plastics cut bait, or live bait. You will have to contend with the Sea Bass if you fish the reefs, but be patient and you should find a hungry school of monster Reds. Remember that some of these larger Redfish are 30 years old or more and are critical to a successful spawn. If you take the fish out of the water try to keep it horizontal and don’t use Boga Grips. Holding a big Redfish vertically can cause fatal damage to the fish and they take a long time to replace.
Sheepshead- Excellent; Sheepshead fishing is good both inshore and on the reefs right now. On my fishing charters I have had to check a lot of reefs to find a couple that aren’t completely taken over by Black Sea Bass. Even when I have found good reefs, I have had to battle the Sea Bass but there are a few out there where the bass are minimal. Fiddler crabs and live shrimp have both produced some nice Sheepshead for me. Fish them on a Carolina rig using a 2 to 3 ounce egg sinker and 12 to 18 inches of leader.
Boat positioning on the reef is critical and usually requires deploying the anchor several times to get the necessary position. On my boat I use my trolling motor when possible to find the part of the wreck that is holding Sheepshead before marking it and using my anchor to hold the boat in position. Minn Kota I-Pilots also work great when you use the Spot Lock feature to hold the boat in place on calm days.
Inshore the Sheepshead are around laydowns, docks, and jetties. I have found that the biggest Sheepshead are caught on live shrimp and I use a combination of shrimp and fiddler crabs. The fiddler crabs will catch the big ones too, but I find that when fished side by side the shrimp catch more. Buccaneers Bait and Tackle in St. Mary’s and Hickory Bluff Marina each have a good supply of live shrimp and fiddler crabs.
To catch Sheepshead inshore use a Carolina rig with the smallest weight possible. You can then pitch this rig into laydowns or slowly jig it around dock pilings. You can also use an adjustable cork to drift shrimp or fiddler crabs by dock piling or laydowns. Sheepshead bites can be very subtle so you have to be on your game and ready to set the hook.
Forecast- In the coming weeks you can expect to see some changes. The Bull Redfish will move back inshore for a short time and if it stays warm we could even see Tripletail towards the end of March. Whiting are still here but will become even more abundant especially in areas near the beach. Flounder will also start to move back in and some already have. I caught my first Flounder of the year on February 20th so expect to see even more in March.
Until next time I wish you fair winds, calm seas, and great fishing. I hope to see you out there.
Capt. TJ Cheek