Georgia Saltwater Fishing Report February 2016

Saltwater: Inshore & Nearshore: Capt. David Newlin reports, “Winter weather has come to coastal Georgia. Water temps are in the mid to low 50s. The sheepshead bite is hot. They will bite real good all winter. Fish a live fiddler crab. Some other baits will work, but fiddlers are my favorite bait for sheepshead. Inshore fish around structure like dock pilings, tree tops, wrecks, rocks anything that grows barnacles will work. Offshore all the reefs from the beach out to about 12 miles will hold sheepshead, sea bass, black drum and big redfish. Tackle is simple—slip-sinker rig with a 1/0 kahle hook. Look for trout way up in the rivers and creeks in the deeper holes. Fish a jig or live shrimp very slowly and close to the bottom. I like bluffs with some trees in the water from 10 to 20 feet deep. Jigs in yellow or green are my favorite colors. Redfish can be caught on all the nearshore reefs. These are big fish that can go up to 50 pounds. Put a big piece of cut fish on the bottom, and wait for the big bite. All the redfish caught in federal waters must be released. Inshore, some redfish will be on the flats on sunny days near low tide. Look very carefully to spot them, and throw a dead shrimp in front of them. Stripers will be biting all February in the Ogeechee River. Fish the area between I-95 downriver to Ft. Mcallister. Throw Rapalas and big jigs around creek mouths on the outgoing tide. The more miserable the weather, the better they will bite. February may be cold but some fishing can still be hot.” Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “Inshore redfish fishing has always been good in month of February, but you need to keep in mind that the water is a lot clearer, causing the fish to be a bit more skittish. Keep as quiet as possible. Pick areas in the sounds where sloughs flow onto bars or flats. Best fishing spots should have at least 6 inches of water at mean low tide. The best days are going to be those that have a midday low tide stage with sunny conditions. I like to fish the bottom of the low tide stage until the water floods the grass. Another reason why I like to fish low to high tide is the water under your boat gets deeper not shallower. No one wants to spend the day high and dry on a sand bar. For best baits, when it comes to the natural stuff, I suggest chunked pawn shrimp and whole mullet cut in pieces like a loaf of bread. I always suggest cutting the bait first before heading out. Put the bait out in the air and sun. This dries the bait, sealing in the fish juices that ring the dinner bell for a redfish once it is placed back in the water. Please remember reds can pick up on even the smallest scent. When using natural baits, all you need is 12 to 15 inches of 15- to 20-lb. test fluorocarbon leader tied to a small extra sharp circle or J hook. Cast into the area, let the bait fall to the bottom, and wait for a hit. Please keep in mind before you start reeling while using the circle or setting the J hook to give them time to eat. For those fishermen that prefer pitching artificial baits during the cold water bite I suggest Berkley jerkbaits or Strike King soft bait flukes rigged on 1/4-oz. jig heads. Please remember, white is the right color for this time of the year. Adding a little extra scent is also a good idea. Most flukes have a built-in channel in which you can lay a bead of some sort of sauce. I suggest purchasing any bottles that offer crab (shellfish) or shrimp scents, which are definite redfish head turners. For February’s possible spotted seatrout bite, since we have not had much winter conditions so far this year, the spotted seatrout bite has not missed a beat. January offered inshore fishermen a good solid trout bite while using both live shrimp and artificial soft baits. So if the month of February follows suit and the water temperature stay above 50 degrees, then a spotted seatrout bite can be found in all the normal places. If live shrimp or mud minnows are not available, I suggest using small 1/8- to 1/4-oz. jig heads rigged with screw or paddle tails. If you can’t catch or purchase any sort of live bait, nine times out of 10 the fish can’t find any either! Now if February goes cold, targeting trout by hitting the deep holes in the creeks and rivers. Best bait while in this mode is going to be the small artificial jigs rigged with screw or paddle tails. Cast into the hole, and work your lure very slowly. In some cases in order to get a spotted sea trout bite when in a cold-water situation, you have to wake it up first. So while working an area, and you don’t get a bite, I suggest repeating the same and most likely, if there are fish hibernating in the area, soft bites will happen. For the past couple of seasons, our striped bass bite in this area has been mostly hit and miss. However, we have started seeing some striped bass, also known as rock fish, activity in the Savannah River area. If you are looking to tangle with a strong-pulling fish, the striped bass will not let you down. Best baits are live shrimp, finger mullet and threadfin herring. These live baits work great under larger adjustable traditional floats. For those wanting to go artificial, I suggest 3-oz. lead head with hair jigs rigged with 4-inch plastic worms or paddle tails. The best jig for this job is the same bait that is called Cobia Candy. I have been using these jigs for year with great success. The best news is when it comes to striped bass it’s a fish that loves windy, rainy, and cold-water conditions. So if you are this kind of a fisherman, this is the type of fish for you!”

Nearshore: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “Bottom fishing at the artificial reefs during this time is always very good. Best bait to use when targeting black fish is small pieces of squid and cut fish. We normally make our bottom rigs with 4/0 circle thin tinned Eagle Claw hooks. However, during the colder water times, I suggest downsizing your hook size to 2/0 or 3/0, and downsize your bait. Flounder should also be on your list of catching options. Normally during this time, flounder burrow themselves on the outskirts of the structure with their head into the current. Best baits are small live baits lipped hooked such jumbo mud minnows or sand perch fished on the bottom. The old Carolina-rig and a 3-oz. hair jig are best. The jig is my favorite because casting away from the structure and working it slowly back covers lots more bottom. This is best of both worlds, which is live bait on a jig. Please always check http://www.safmc.net/ for current fishing regulations. Fishermen now have fishing, catching and keeping choices. You can bottom fish for black sea bass, and then go fishing for sheepshead, black drum and flounder. Although February is considered our coldest month, there is still plenty of big-time offshore trophy redfish action to be had. For fishermen who want to give openwater trophy red fishing a try, February is definitely the month. Most of these trophy redfish that have migrated offshore during this time are in the 27- to 45-inch and bigger range. The best place to start looking is at the nearshore Georgia artificial reefs located in up to 50 feet of water. A few artificial reefs that have been holding some nice trophy fish are SAV, DUA, CAT, KC and KTK. Best places to anchor are over barges or pallet balls. Since most artificial reefs are no longer are marked with yellow reef buoys, I suggest when researching for coordinates for the ones that mark the actual places that you want to anchor not the area. For up-to-date information on Georgia Artificial reefs, go to www.coastalgadnr.org/node/2089. While heading to your destination point, keep an eye out for any formed rips that are holding any interest from your eyes in the sky—the birds. I have caught many trophy redfish while working rips that the seabirds are also interested in. Once you have slowed down to the area in question, look on your fish finder for any large solid marks. These large marks should be the fish that you are looking for. While making way offshore to the structure on the artificial reef, quite often a school of large redfish will find plenty to feed on in a formed rip. A rip is two different currents being pushed together making what I call a wall. Small baits and other creatures get held up here or migrate to areas such as these. They think they are in a safe zone, but really they are feeding zones for bigger fish. As far as best artificial baits, two types that have always worked for me are Causeway Diamond jigs with red or green small tube lures or hair jigs without the tube. Once you have located the school, pitch your jig, let it free fall, and you should get a solid hit before it hits the bottom. When more than one fisherman is jigging, I suggest waiting few seconds before throwing out the second jig. Your hooked up redfish will most likely be followed by the entire school of fish. I have always called this a redfish’s tagging game. It’s as if each redfish is playing tag with the other. You need to be prepared in case this happens. I suggest cutting or chunking up any old mullet or menhaden that you might have. You should have this ready to throw right into the school of red fish. This food will keep them near the surface for an extra second, but as soon as the chunks start to sink, the fish will disappear with them. While all this is going on, I suggest dropping over another jig and letting it fall directly to the bottom. If you are lucky enough to penetrate the feeding school, believe me the jig will not make it to the bottom! Please remember all redfish caught in federal waters are protected and have to be released as soon as possible.”

Offshore: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “This report is for those fishermen ready and waiting to go to the blue water. When the weather is right, meaning calm seas along with light winds, I suggest making this run. For trolling this is a great time of the year to target wahoo and tuna. Since I fish Old School, I always drag the normal stuff, which means my trolling spread is basic. For the wahoo bite, I like pulling medium to large ballyhoo rigged on Ilander lures. I have found the best colors are the dark ones. I prefer pulling black-on-black or red-on-black. I do not like the new red color on the Ilander lures. I prefer the older color, which was more of a burgundy than a red. For tuna I like pulling cedar plugs, not the painted ones, and chin-weighted dink ballyhoo. The bottom line is during this time of year fish are more likely than not going to get a hit on just about anything you troll by them. The reason being is feeding opportunities are few and far between!”

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