By: Bert Deener, GA DNR Fisheries Biologist

(Deener’s reports can also be found in the Waycross Journal Herald on Thursdays)

Ron Johnson holds a bowfin (mudfish) that he and his son Nathanael caught on a yellow Okefenokee Swamp Sally.

Ron Johnson holds a bowfin (mudfish) that he and his son Nathanael caught on a yellow Okefenokee Swamp Sally.

I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas! By the time you read this, we will be in a warming trend that should fire up the Okefenokee and shallow ponds. The bite should be wide open by the weekend. The rivers are swollen and the water temperatures are in the lower to mid-50s. The river fishing will likely be slow for all species other than crappie (maybe). Tidal heights are good in saltwater, but keep an eye on the wind forecast before deciding to go to the brine. Last quarter moon is Dec. 25. To monitor all the Georgia river levels, visit the USGS website.

Altamaha River – There’s not much happening with the rising water. Folks simply aren’t fishing.  Some really nice bluegills were caught last week from the couple anglers I talked to, but the river will likely rise and muddy somewhat this week with the water flowing down from middle Georgia.  Connie at Jaycee Landing Bait and Tackle reported few fished in the Jesup area, but those who did caught some nice crappie in the backs of the oxbows by using minnows. The river level was 5.8 feet and rising at the Baxley gage, and 7.4 feet and rising at the Doctortown gage on Dec. 17.

Satilla River – Saturday’s rains caused the river to rise again into the floodplain. High water is not good for fishing this weekend, but it will be excellent for growth and survival of panfish for next spring! Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross reported anglers catching crappie, bream and redbreasts in good numbers before the weekend rain. With the rising river and warm temperatures late in the week, you should be able to catch some catfish in the deeper holes. If you have bank access at a deep hole, you’re in business. Rooster livers, worms or shrimp should produce a mess of whiskerfish. You may be able to find some crappie in the backwaters if you have a favorite oxbow lake. The river level at the Waycross gage was 9.6 feet and rising and at the Atkinson gage was 7.3 feet and rising on Dec. 17.

Local Ponds – Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle said the crappie bite is on fire in Waycross area ponds. Both minnows and jigs produced fish. Expect to find a few crappie moving to shoreline cover on Saturday and Sunday afternoon if the warm weather materializes. Some bream were caught on pink worms. If you have a good bass pond, expect some bass to move shallow and feed on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Throw plastic worms or jigs (and plastic craw trailers) to score.

Okefenokee Swamp – Reports from Stephen Foster State Park (west side near Fargo) were excellent. There haven’t been many anglers, but the success rate has been great. Warmouth and big fliers were reported from Billy’s Lake in the swamp. Dabble crayfish or crayfish imitations around stumps for hard-fighting warmouth. Pitch yellow, orange or pink Okefenokee Swamp Sallies to catch fliers all winter. Keep your eye out for a new jig I’m going to introduce this spring. It has worked great for redbreasts, bluegill and small bass, but it will whack warmouth too!

Saltwater (Georgia Coast)  – The wind cranked up again this week, but it was fishable for a few days. Michael Winge reported that Waycross anglers were able to catch sheepshead, redfish and trout in the creeks around Brunswick on days when the wind wasn’t blowing. Whiting are still biting for anglers fishing the beach, and that should continue from now until hot weather returns. Mike and Trish Wooten of St. Simons Bait & Tackle said that the winds were awful this past weekend, but a few folks still fished. On Monday, an angler caught a 14-inch flounder from the pier using dead shrimp. Trout, small black sea bass and sheepshead were also caught. Blue crabs were in decent numbers this week.

Christmas Gift Ideas: It’s time to make a final decision about Christmas gifts! Crooked River State Park cabin/guide packages are perfect for the saltwater enthusiasts on your list. The package includes 2 nights lodging in a cottage and a 2 1/2-hour guide trip. Packages start at $499, and you can customize your trip to your preferences. Call the park at (912) 882-5256 for more information.