Saltwater: Inshore: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “When water temperatures reach 65, everything is alive. Bottom fishing is great in the sound, because everything is on the move. Bull whiting should show near sandbars in the sound. The best bait is going to be small pieces of peeled shrimp laced on small hooks fished directly on the bottom. Best hook size is No. 4 to No. 6 kahle hook, also known as a wide gap hook, or a No. 4 to No. 6 classic j hook. As far as the best bottom rig, I suggest a Carolina-style rig. This rig keeps your bait on the bottom, allowing for a better hook-up opportunity. You could find yourself catching spotted sea trout, summer trout, flounder, trophy redfish and shark. All fish are on the move, and they are hungry. It is best to use a light rod/reel setup with 15-lb. test main line when targeting whiting. However, for larger fish, such as sharks or trophy redfish, I suggest going with 20- to 50-lb. test main line and a Carolina rig made with a 30- to 60-lb. test leader. As far as best hook sizes, I suggest a classic j 4/0, 5/0 or 6/0. For those who prefer circle hooks, use 9/0 to 12/0. If using live bait, make sure the hook size and style matches the bait used. You don’t want to use a hook that is going to hinder the natural movement of the bait used. Best artificial baits for redfish and trout are DOA’s shrimp patterns and Berkeley Gulp Alive Swimming Mullet and mud minnow/croaker soft baits. As far as best live baits when fishing floats, or not, is going to be live shrimp. However, they might be hard to come by and also very expensive. Try using mud minnows. The best news is you can catch your own. All you need is a minnow trap and a place such as a shallow tidal slough to set it. As far as bait for the trap, I suggest using raw chicken parts, tubes of Saltines, bacon, cracked crabs, oyster or clams. The mud minnow can be fished lip hooked under a traditional or popping float rig. This bait also works great when just fished directly on the bottom with a Carolina rig. In some cases, two minnows on a hook are better than one. This hardy bait is not anywhere as delicate as a shrimp and can be used a number of times, even after it has been bit and hit. Capt. David Newlin reports, “Warm or cold weather over the next few weeks can make a big difference in the water temperature. The sheepshead bite has been hot all month and should stay that way through March. They have been all over the inshore and offshore structures and reefs. As usual, the best bait you can get is a fiddler crab fished just off the bottom. Some trout are being caught. Most of the trout are being caught fishing at depths between 8 and 15 feet. Try fishing a live shrimp or polywog on a slip-cork rig just off the bottom. As long as the water stays in the 50s, the trout should bite. The redfish bite should pick up as soon as the weather warms up a few degrees. A lot of big redfish are on the nearshore reefs and will usually stay through March into April. The whiting should start biting by the middle of March. This is some of the best meat fishing we have all year. Last year we had a lot of trips with 200-plus whiting. This is very simple fishing. Any kind of bottom rig with small, long-shank hooks and small pieces of shrimp will work. Find a sandy bottom in 12 feet of water in the sound, and go fishing. The beaches can also hold a lot of whiting in the surf and along the sandbars running offshore. March fishing should be real good, especially if we have some warm weather.”
Nearshore: Capt. Judy reports, “If you would like a short boat ride to the fish, I suggest heading out to one of the nearshore artificial reefs. These areas are holding some pretty interesting catching options. Normally, the black sea bass are holding on low-relief bottom. There are pallet balls, tires, concrete piles and culvert pipes, which offer these fish a lot of feeding opportunity. As far as the best bait, I suggest using cut squid or fillet of fish. Jigs tipped with or without any sort of bait jigged or placed directly on the bottom will also work. As far as the wrecks, these areas offer lots of vertical feeding opportunity. These spots would be great places to start your sheepshead catching adventure. The best bait when targeting this fish is the purple back or black back fiddler. I suggest always giving your fiddler crab a good once over before sending it back to the bottom.” In this month’s issue of GON, Capt. Judy did a story with GON about catching trophy redfish on the nearshore reefs. For more information, turn to page 38.
Savannah Snapper Banks: Capt. Judy reports, “This live bottom area is located about 29 miles off our coast. The best bottom rig is going to be a two-hook rig made with 3/0 to 4/0 j or circle hooks. I like making my rigs out of 80-lb. test monofilament line. In the charter boat world, 16-oz. bank sinkers are the best. However, you can get away with 8 to 10 ounces, especially when there isn’t as many fishing at one time. Expect to catch large green head black fish, triple trouble trigger fish, supper sized hog nose snapper, knobbed head porgy, amberjack, masked almaco jacks, banded rudder fish, football sized vermilion, and I could keep on listing. This is a great time of the year to bottom fish around the naval towers, as well as the live bottom areas located at the Savannah Snapper Banks.”
Blue water fishing: Judy reports, “The most popular areas to fish are going to be the South and Triple Ledges, which are located in about 160 to 200 feet of water. It’s a great time to catch wahoo and black fin tuna. We pull standard Ilanders lures in black/black and red/black rigged with medium/large ballyhoo, naked cedar plugs soaked in menhaden oil and Trackers Ilanders rigged with dink/pewee ballyhoo. Best ledges to work during this time of the year are going to be the South Ledge (3106.416/7955.300), Deli Ledge (3132.961/7943.493) and Triple Ledge (3116.769/7952.069). These ledges hold the interest of black fin tuna, wahoo and numerous kinds of bottom fish. You can troll the area, give vertical jigging a try or just bottom fish with a two-hook rig.”