By: Bert Deener, GA DNR Fisheries Biologist
(Deener’s reports can also be found in the Waycross Journal Herald on Thursdays)
The rivers are in good shape, and folks are catching LOTS of fish, even though the levels are not quite peak. Swamp and saltwater fishing have been good, also. It’s time to break out the fishing poles and Go Fish Georgia! The first annual Mattie’s Mission Bass Tournament will be held this Saturday, May 17. You can fish wherever you want and bring your catch to Ware County Farm Bureau for the weigh-in at 4 p.m. For more information and registration, call (912) 285-1816. The last quarter moon is May 21. To monitor all the Georgia river levels, visit the USGS website.
Altamaha River – The bream bite has started. An angler fishing above Jesup fished some backwaters over the weekend and caught a bunch of throwbacks and some really nice fish. On Sunday, they brought home 13 bluegills that weighed 14 pounds! They fooled them with crickets fished in super-heavy cover. Anglers reported catching nice shellcrackers, and they were already spawned out. Hopefully they were able to get off a good spawn while the water was up in the floodplain. I caught my biggest bass to date, a 10-lb., 1-oz. whopper, on a buzzbait fished in an oxbow lake above Jesup on May 7 (1995). This is the time of year to break out the buzzbaits. Connie at Jaycee Landing Bait and Tackle reported that big redbreasts and bream have started biting, and the bite should improve as the river continues dropping. Dannett from Altamaha Park reported anglers catching just about all species. Catfish, redbreasts, shellcrackers, bass, and crappie were tops this week. The bite should be excellent by the weekend. Fish the flooded willows for panfish and the backwater lakes for crappie. Bass will hit topwaters if you can find them. A new panfish tournament sponsored by Iron Pigs Motorcycle Club will be held on June 14th. First place is a guaranteed $500. The tournament will be based out of Jaycees Landing in Jesup. The winner will be determined based on the weight of their biggest 10 panfish (bluegill, warmouth, redbreasts, and shellcrackers are the species to be weighed). The entry fee is a modest $20 per angler (children under 16 years of age can compete free of charge with a paying adult). For more information, contact the Wayne County Board of Tourism at 912-427-3233. Check out my article on bream fishing the Altamaha in the May issue of Georgia Outdoor News if you want some details about panfishing the big river. The river level was 6.4 feet and falling (79 degrees) at the Baxley gage, and 8.7 feet and falling (75 degrees) at the Doctortown gage on May 13.
Satilla River – This was the Saturday for tournaments on the Satilla. I heard about a bass tournament at the Hwy 158 Bridge and a redbreast tournament out of Jamestown Landing (there were 26 trucks and trailers in the parking lot at about noon!), as well as the Satilla Riverkeeper tournament with the weigh-in at Blackshear. I do not know how the other tournaments went, but there were quite a few fish of many species weighed in at the Satilla Riverkeeper tournament on Saturday. The best bites were in the various tributaries, with the Alabaha and Little Satilla River being mentioned several times. Several anglers also fished the upper Satilla. When the dust settled, the 81 anglers paraded dozens of big redbreasts to the scales. The biggest was a 1.02-pounder. The biggest 3-fish limit was just under 3 pounds, and it did not even include the big fish for the tournament. That was an impressive trio of fish! The anglers I talked with caught their fish on crickets, Satilla Spins, and beetle spins. On Monday, an angler reported catching a mixed bag of species from a tributary to the Satilla on a yellow Satilla Spin. He had a nice crappie and bass to go with his redbreasts. Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross said that the river is on fire for huge redbreasts. Crickets, worms, Satilla Spins, Spin Dandy spinnerbaits, and small chartreuse Rapala minnows were all working well. The fish have been gorging themselves in the floodplains and are as fat as they can possibly be. Lots of catfish were also caught by anglers bottom-fishing with pink worms, rooster livers, and shrimp. Bass were caught with ZOOM worms. Some nice bluegill were fooled with crickets this week. Dust off your river boat – it is time to go! The river level at the Waycross gage was 8.4 feet and falling (74 degrees) and at the Atkinson gage was 8.9 feet and falling (77 degrees) on May 13.
St. Marys River – The upper river is getting right for redbreasts. Catfish and bream are already on fire. Crickets, worms, Spin Dandy spinnerbaits, and beetle spins are all producing well. If you want to catch numbers of channel, white, and bullhead catfish, it will be hard to beat the St. Marys over the next month. The river level at the MacClenny gage was 5.7 feet and falling on May 13.
Ogeechee River – The upper Ogeechee is currently producing the big redbreasts that it is known for. Several anglers reported catching nice fish, but tops was the catch made by Ben Spears and a couple of his friends. On Tuesday they fished the Midville area with crawfish-colored Satilla Spins and kept 43 giant redbreasts up to a pound. They released the females and smaller redbreasts that they caught, so in all they probably caught over 100 fish. The river level at the Midville gage was 2.5 feet and steady on May 13.
Local Ponds – The river fishing has been so good that it has overshadowed the excellent pond fishing this week. Michael Winge reported that anglers caught nice bream on crickets. Crappie were also caught with minnows. Buzzbaits produced some good bass early in the morning, while wacky-rigged and Texas-rigged worms produced once the sun got up. Green pumpkin and watermelonseed worms worked well.
Okefenokee Swamp – Tim Robison from Blackshear fished with a friend for just a few hours on the east side last Thursday. They caught and released 101 fliers, all on Okefenokee Swamp Sallies. Pink produced the best, but yellow was a fairly close second. They fished their flies underneath a float, but the fish were active enough that you would not have needed a float. Their biggest flier was 8 inches long, and they had several that size. Warmouth were also reported by those dabbling crayfish around tree-tops on the east side. The fish kill has stopped on the west side, and anglers have gone back to catching nice catfish, fliers, and warmouth.
Saltwater (Georgia Coast) – Whiting, trout, and reds were the best bites this week at the coast. The trout and reds were fooled with both live shrimp and artificials (mostly Sea Shads), while the whiting came on pieces of shrimp fished on the bottom. On the calm days, anglers fishing the ocean side of Jekyll Island sight-fished tripletail with live shrimp fished underneath floats. Trout were caught in good numbers from Gould’s Inlet and the McKay River. Bluefish and Spanish mackerel are starting to run, and some nice flounder (14 to 16 inches) were landed from the floating dock at Epworth. Mike and Trish Wooten of St. Simons Bait & Tackle said that from the pier the whiting and redfish bites were best. Dead shrimp produced whiting, and cut whiting produced bull redfish…a food chain in action! On Sunday, a 6-foot blacktip shark was caught from the pier. Lots of keeper-sized blue crabs were caught this week, and the crabbing should improve with the warmer water.
Best Bets – Take your pick this weekend, and you should catch fish. If you are going bass fishing, you should participate in the Mattie’s Mission bass tournament and help support childhood cancer research. For more information, call (912) 285-1816. The upper reaches of our rivers will be hard to beat this weekend, unless we get a bunch of rain out of the forecasted stormy weather on Thursday. Bass fishing in ponds and the Altamaha should be great. Fish for a big fish early in the day with buzzbaits. In saltwater, target redfish around the early morning low tide, then fish for trout around oyster mounds as they get covered up during the mid-day high tide. I like working a Sea Shad underneath an Equalizer Float to attract both trout and redfish.