By: Bert Deener, GA DNR Fisheries Biologist
(Deener’s reports can also be found in the Waycross Journal Herald on Thursdays)
I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas, and I wish you and your family a Happy New Year! The current cold snap will chill most bites somewhat, but crappie fishing should remain good during the cool. As I reflect on the year, I am amazed at what consistent high water can do to the fish populations. The rains we had this summer produced the best redbreast and bluegill fishing in my 20 years in Waycross. It looks as if we will be headed for another fantastic spring on the rivers if we keep getting regular rains this winter. Saltwater has been disappointing this fall, only because it seems like the wind was ALWAYS blowing. For those who could go whenever conditions were right, it was another great fall for trout, redfish, and flounder. New moon is New Year’s Day. To monitor all the Georgia river levels, visit the USGS website.
Altamaha River – Very few anglers are fishing in the higher water. A group of Waycross anglers fished the lower river on Saturday and caught more than a dozen bass, mostly on crankbaits. It took a reaction bait to get them to eat. There is a giant slug of water coming down from both tributary rivers (Oconee and Ocmulgee), as the upper basin got rain all weekend. I saw the river on Monday at Jesup, and it is about full bank and easing out into the floodplain in low spots. The water is not too muddy to get bites, but I would throw brighter colors. In the Altamaha Park area, anglers reported catching some big bream on worms from deep holes. Connie at Jaycee Landing Bait and Tackle said that the few who fished in the Jesup area were successful catching crappie using minnows in backwaters. The river level was 5.2 feet and falling at the Baxley gage, and 7.6 feet and falling at the Doctortown gage on Dec. 24.
Satilla River – Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross said the crappie bite was on fire in the Tellmore area of the river over the weekend. Both minnows and jigs produced the catches. Some catfish were also caught by anglers bottom fishing with shrimp. The river level at the Waycross gage was 8.1 feet and steady and at the Atkinson gage was 8.3 feet and falling on Dec. 24.
Local Ponds – A group of anglers caught 23 bass while fishing at a Tifton area pond on Sunday. In the warmth, the fish were surprisingly dormant. They would not eat slow or steady-moving lures. It took the anglers letting their baits drop into the grass and ripping them out to get a reaction strike. Their biggest bass was 3 pounds. They caught a “cooler-full” of crappie by trolling Assassin 2-inch Curly Shads (shad colors) during the last hour of daylight. The next day, one of them returned with another friend, and they caught another cooler-full both trolling and casting the Curly Shads before the front moved through. Their cooler-full was around 25 fish each day. Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle said the crappie bite was still on fire in Waycross area ponds over the weekend, with both minnows and jigs producing fish. A few big slabs were reported over the weekend. Expect to catch some nice bass during this cold snap on plastic worms and jig-and-pigs. On windy days, try suspending jerkbaits. I have whacked the bass during winter on a slowly-worked suspending jerkbait.
Okefenokee Swamp – When calling around, all entrances reported that nobody was fishing, and I did not personally receive any reports of folks who went to the swamp this week. That’s a shame, as I know the fliers were eating up yellow, pink, or orange sallies with the weekend warm spell. Warm afternoons in the winter will get them biting. I like to use the fly underneath a float during winter so that it will suspend in the fish’s face longer.
Saltwater (Georgia Coast) – On Saturday, a pair of Blackshear anglers fished out of Crooked River and did great while bottom fishing. They caught a bunch of whiting and yellowtails, and a few sheepshead, weakfish (yellowmouth trout), and redfish. Fiddler crabs worked for the sheepshead (their biggest was a 3-pounder), while dead shrimp produced their other fish. Another group of anglers fishing Thursday and Friday reported catching trout, reds, and flounder on live shrimp in the Brunswick area. The winds are forecasted to be strong until the weekend, so look for protected water if you go. Sheepshead were caught by anglers in the Brunswick area. Anglers fishing out of Village Creek reported catching trout. Mike and Trish Wooten of St. Simons Bait & Tackle said that sheepshead were thick around the pier pilings this week. The average was 2 to 3 pounds, but a few 7-8 pounders were caught. The whiting bite has slowed on the pier, and lots of dogfish (toothless sharks) were caught. Blue crabs were in decent numbers this week.
- The Altamaha and Satilla river panfishing will be awesome again this spring. With the rains at the time of writing this, and the fact that the rivers are pushing up into the floodplain, I expect survival and growth to be excellent. If the river gets to fishable levels at the right time, it will be off the chain.
- The Okefenokee Swamp fishing will be the best it has been in years. The flier population is huge, and the fishing will be truly unbelievable when the water pulls back off the prairies and into the canals. I believe you can catch (not keep) over 500 fliers in a day when the conditions are right.