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 very Merry Christmas, and I wish you each a Happy New Year! If the fishing this week is any indication of things to come, we are going to have a fantastic year of fishing! My prediction is that the Satilla will produce some excellent redbreast fishing this spring, but fall a little short of last year’s peak. I also expect the flier fishing in the Okefenokee to be the best it has been in years (because of all the high water). Around southeast Georgia this week, the crappie and bass fishing were good, and catfishing was great in the lower rivers. Sheepshead ate it up in saltwater. The rivers are very swollen from last week’s rains, and you will likely want to find other places to fish this week. Full Moon is January 5th. To monitor all the Georgia river levels, visit the USGS website.
Altamaha River – Connie at Jaycee Landing Bait and Tackle reported that the bite slowed with the rising river all week, but folks caught some crappie from sloughs. Minnows produced most of the fish. Dannett from Altamaha Park said that the big slug of water did not arrive there yet, and anglers caught crappie from the mouths of feeder creeks. They also did pretty well for channel, blue, and flathead catfish. Live bait was best for flatheads, while cut bait, worms, and shrimp produced the channel and blue catfish. The river level was 12.7 feet and rising (56 degrees) at the Baxley gage, and 10.9 feet and rising (57 degrees) at the Doctortown gage on Dec. 30.
Satilla River – I fished White Oak Creek (the lower Satilla near Woodbine) on Friday with my son Timothy and father-in-law Bob Springer from Maryland. Brentz and Alex McGhin also fished White Oak Creek the same day with us. Together our boats landed 61 white catfish. The most productive presentation was a small piece of shrimp tight-lined on the bottom with a Catfish Catcher Jighead. That setup produced the biggest of the day (an angler award-sized white catfish weighing 2-lb., 10-oz.) for Timothy. Some fish were also caught with Carolina rigs baited with small baitfish, and a few were also caught with red wiggler worms. It was a great day, and the boys had a blast. I will be writing an article on catfishing the lower Satilla for the March issue of Georgia Outdoor News, so keep an eye out for it if you are interested in catfishing. Michael of Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross said that with the river flooded, the fishing stopped. A few crappie and catfish were caught from the creeks feeding the river before the river flooded. He said that he expects the catfishing to be excellent once the river drops below 10 feet. This high water will help the spring redbreast bite, so it is a good thing (long-term). The river level at the Waycross gage was 16.2 feet and falling (59 degrees) and at the Atkinson gage was 14.9 feet and rising on Dec. 30.
St. Marys River – The upper river is flooded, so don’t try it. The lower, tidal portion will produce a bunch of white catfish. Rooster livers and shrimp on limb lines produced some decent catfish catches this week. The river level at the MacClenny gage was 10.0 feet and falling on Dec. 30.
Okefenokee Swamp – At the Folkston entrance, the warmouth bite was good. Anglers caught them on worms. With the warm temperatures forecasted over the weekend, the flier should bite well. Pitching yellow, pink, or orange Okefenokee Swamp Sallies is a sure-fire way to catch the tasty panfish. With the warm-up, you would not need a small balsa float, but you might want to try it if the fish will not come shallow to eat the fly. I’m writing an article in the February issue of Georgia Outdoor News about swamp fishing, so keep an eye out for it.
Local Ponds – Chad Lee of Alma caught a few crappie the day after Christmas but struggled for his fish. An angler fishing a Valdosta area pond pitched jigs to vegetation for a few bass up to 5 pounds. Swim jigs have been very steady over the last few winters. Swim them slowly around vegetation and wood cover and set the hook hard when you feel the “tick” of a bass inhaling the lure. Michael Winge said that in Waycross area ponds, anglers have been fishing the back side of spillways and whacking bass and channel catfish. Shiners have produced most of the fish. On the upstream side of the dams, anglers have been doing well for crappie using minnows and Tennessee shad Jiffy Jigs. Bass whacked lipless crankbaits and dark colored spinnerbaits.
Saltwater (Georgia Coast) – Capt. TJ Cheek reported that the water is clearing up and the trout are catchable inshore. The sheepshead fishing has been solid around hard structures. He has been spending a good bit of time offshore and has been whacking the black sea bass and bull redfish on nearshore reefs. He even saw a white shark on Friday. Michael Winge said that trout, redfish, and flounder were reported by Waycross anglers fishing the brine. Live shrimp produced a bunch, while electric chicken Assassin Sea Shads were the top artificial. The Brunwick area produced some impressive sheepshead catches for those fishing fiddler crabs or barnacles around pilings, rocks, and trees. Mike and Trish Wooten of St. Simons Bait & Tackle said that the sheepshead bite is phenomenal from the pier, with fish averaging 5 to 6 pounds. Fiddler crabs were the best bait. A few whiting were caught this week with dead shrimp on the bottom. Big blue crabs were thick under the pier, and all it took was to bait a crab net with chicken parts.
Best Bet – Sheepshead (if weather allows) fishing is the most consistent bite for the weekend. If the weather is too rough on the coast, pond fishing for crappie or bass should be excellent with the forecasted warm-up. Flier fishing on the swamp or catfishing on the lower Satilla or St. Marys are other great options.