By: Bert Deener, GA DNR Fisheries Biologist
(Deener’s reports can also be found in the Waycross Journal Herald on Thursdays)
Ponds and lakes are the places to fish right now. The rivers will be way up in the floodplains after the recent rains make their way through the systems. The swamp bite was excellent before the rains. The last quarter moon is March 24. To monitor all the Georgia river levels, visit the USGS website.
Altamaha River – The Altamaha will be rising once the upstate rains arrive (it has already started rising at Baxley). Dannet at Altamaha Park said the only thing reported this week was a few flathead catfish caught on goldfish and channel cats caught downstream toward the Champney River. The river level was 11.8 feet and rising (58 degrees) at the Baxley gage, and 9.8 feet and falling (58 degrees) at the Doctortown gage on March 18.
Satilla River – The river is now FAR out in the floodplain after a couple of more inches of rain over the weekend and early this week. The river was almost fishable when the rains came. Seems like a repeat of last summer! Anglers caught some catfish, bream, and redbreasts before the river came up. It will be at least a couple more weeks before the Satilla is fishable again. The river level at the Waycross gage was 13.3 feet and rising (59 degrees) and at the Atkinson gage was 11.4 feet and rising (60 degrees) on March 18.
St. Marys River – The catfish bite has been decent, but now the St. Marys River is flooded, also. The river level at the MacClenny gage on March 18th was 14.0 feet and rising.
Local Ponds – Bass are on beds in many ponds, and crappie are shallow now, as well. B.A.S.S. professional angler Patrick Pierce of Jacksonville used a plastic craw to sight fish some nice bass from their beds on Tuesday. His biggest was about 4 pounds, but there were lots of bedding fish. On Wednesday, Jacob Henderson of Waycross whacked a big bass right at sunset from a local pond. A group of anglers on Monday and Tuesday caught a bunch of bass. The hottest lure both days was a Keitech swimbait (3.8”) rigged on a Flashy Swimbait head. The surprise bite happened when the bass seemed to get lockjaw during mid-day on both days. Anglers started flinging small Bass Assassin 2-inch Curly Shads (crystal shad color) fished on a Flashy Jigheads (1/8-oz.) and using ultralight gear, and bass immediately started eating the miniscule offering. This tiny outfit accounted for over 25 bass up to 3 pounds. Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle said that ponds are where the best reports in Waycross originated. Bream, catfish, crappie, and bass were caught this weekend. Crickets and worms produced most of the bream, minnows and jigs fooled the crappie, and shrimp and rooster livers duped the catfish, while plastic worms and shiners accounted for the bass.
Okefenokee Swamp – The big rains from early this week will spread the swamp far out into the prairies, and the bite will likely slow for a week or so. Once the water level stabilizes and starts pulling back into the canals, the bite will pick up again. On the west side, you can still catch fliers and catfish in the boat basin. Fliers should eat the usual orange, pink, or yellow Okefenokee Swamp Sallies pitched with a bream buster pole around lily pads. This week’s warmer weather will make the fish actively eat, especially on warm afternoons. I would expect a float to work best, as the water temperatures are unusually cool for this point in the spring. Once the water warms to summertime temperatures (I am not trying to rush the season!), pitching a sally without the float will usually work just as well or better than with a float.
Saltwater (Georgia Coast) – The saltwater bite is improving with the warmer temperatures. Waycross area anglers caught whiting in the usual holes, with Michael Winge reporting the average catch to be 30 to 40 fish per trip. Jekyll Pier continued to be a hot-spot for local anglers. A few sheepshead and black drum were reported by those fishing around Brunswick. Nearhore reefs have been producing tons of black sea bass, but many are under-sized. On Tuesday, an angler brought in a 14-inch “green head” sea bass to St. Simons Bait and Tackle. A few flounder were caught this week over the mud flats near creek mouths. Mike and Trish Wooten of St. Simons Bait & Tackle (912-634-1888) said that the coolers were full of whiting this week. Dead shrimp fished on bottom fooled them. On Sunday, a few trout and black drum were also caught from the pier.
Best Bet – Bass fishing will be peak over the next couple of weeks as the biggest fish of the year move shallow. Area ponds will produce a bunch of bass and bluegills this weekend. Forget about the rivers (because of high water) at this point, even though they are usually the place to go this time of year. In saltwater, the whiting bite is cranking up. With the more stable weather predicted this week, whiting would be a good bet. Make sure to check the marine forecast late in the week before planning a trip, though. Put a small piece of shrimp on the bottom to fool them.