Our coast has a cornucopia of fishing opportunities, and having a boat is not a prerequisite. Our marshes and beaches are teeming with fish that pull hard and eat well.
While growing up, my family camped regularly at the coast. Some of my fondest memories were loading a rod, dip net and chicken necks on strings onto my bike and heading to whatever saltwater creek or flat was around and crabbing and fishing for the day with my sister or alone (back in those days you could do that).
We would almost always bring back a smorgasbord of seafood for family supper. From Tybee Island to St. Marys, many bridges, beaches and piers provide sufficient access to catch most of the inshore gamefish species available in Georgia. If you’d like to tap into this summer action, try these locations and techniques.
The St. Marys Waterfront Pier juts out into the St. Marys River. Catfish, croaker, whiting and an occasional trout can be caught here. The pier is lighted and is adjacent to restrooms and the St. Marys Waterfront Park. This is a great place for a family outing, as restaurants, shops and a playground are all within walking distance. If you are so-inclined, you can also catch the ferry to Cumberland Island National Seashore from the docks here and spend a day of fishing. GA Highway 40 will take you to the St. Marys Waterfront Park.
If surf fishing is your forte, then Cumberland Island National Seashore offers miles of productive shoreline. I would recommend targeting trout during June and July, as they are concentrated in the sloughs just behind the breakers. Cajun Thunder floats rigged with Saltwater Assassin Sea Shads about 2 feet below will typically score big on beach trout. All summer, bottom fishing in the surf will produce whiting, croaker, catfish, bluefish, sharks and an occasional flounder. The most productive areas of the beach are typically in the vicinity of runouts—cuts through the sandbar where the water returns to the ocean after washing up on the beach. Fishing near runouts increases your odds of connecting, because predators and bottom feeders alike wait at the edges of the current to ambush disoriented prey swept up in the strong current. You will have to walk everywhere you go on the island, so wear good walking shoes, bring water and pack light. But, the rewards can be worth the day of exercising.
For more information about the Cumberland Island Ferry and visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore, check out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website for Cumberland Island at www.nps.gov/cuis.
White catfish are regularly caught from the Woodbine Waterfront along the Satilla River. The access includes a boat ramp and a walkway where you can fish. Bottom fishing for white catfish is your best bet here. A piece of shrimp on a bottom rig is all that you need. During the colder months, you might even pull a striped bass from around the pilings, but almost all of them are below the 22-inch minimum size. The waterfront is beneath the U.S. Highway 17 Bridge in Woodbine.
Golden Isles (St. Simons and Jekyll Islands)
The middle part of our coast, known as the Golden Isles because of Jekyll and St. Simons Islands, is loaded with bank fishing opportunities. Almost every bridge on the causeways has some form of bank access for anglers.
The Jekyll and St. Simons Island piers are the highest volume fishing accesses on the islands. Both are in the St. Simons Sound, and one juts north off Jekyll, while the other juts south off St. Simons Island into the sound. Because of their locations, the Jekyll Pier is protected when winds are from a southerly direction, while the St. Simons Pier is the better option to stay out of the wind when it blows from northern quadrants.
Both piers are near enough to the channel that big fish roam nearby. Our state record flounder (15-lbs., 10-ozs.) was caught in 1990 from the Jekyll Pier. While flounder of that gargantuan size are rare, many flounder in the 1- to 3-lb. range are caught each summer from both piers. The primary summertime targets are flounder, seatrout, croaker, whiting, sharks and Spanish mackerel.
Because the St. Simons Pier is located in the Village on St. Simons Island, there are restaurants, shops, bait, and tackle within sight of the pier. If children are involved during the trip, there is a park with a very nice playground adjacent to the pier.
The Jekyll Pier is also ripe with amenities, as there is a bait-and-tackle shop at the pier along with a playground and hiking/biking trails. Just east of the Jekyll pier you will notice a small creek with a bridge over the creek. I enjoy fishing and crabbing off the beach near the bridge. Flounder find it hard to resist a mud minnow worked along the shallow sandy edges in this stretch of beach.
Almost all of the bridges along the St. Simons Island Causeway have some kind of fishing access. The second bridge (Middle River) contains a fishing walkway and is one of my favorites. There is an inshore artificial reef just south of the walkway. Sheepshead are a big attraction at this location, as the pilings are encrusted with barnacles, and the nearby reef holds sheepshead. In addition to sheepshead, croaker and whiting frequent this location. Parking is on the south side of the road, just west of the Middle River Bridge.
The James Allen Williamson Park is found on the Champney River, one of the braided channels of the Altamaha River. This distributary is slightly less salty than the Darien River, thus the gamefish will tend more toward freshwater species. Catfish are the most commonly caught species here. As summer gives way to fall, striped bass also prowl the eddies created by the pilings and bridge abutments in the vicinity. There is an angler walkway on the east side of the Highway 17 bridge that is accessible from the northwest corner of the parking lot.
In the city of Darien is the Waterfront Park along the Darien River. It’s located immediately below the northern end of the Highway 17 bridge. For bank anglers, there is a walkway and a floating dock. Throughout the summer, catfish are the prime targets at this brackish-water location, but an occasional striper can be caught behind the pilings during the colder months. Shrimp or worms fished on the bottom are best for catfish, while bucktails, plastic grubs and live baitfish tossed to the piling eddies frequently produce stripers. Remember, minimum legal size for striped and hybrid bass in the Altamaha River and its seaward braided channels is 22 inches.
The Tybee Island Pier is built out into the Atlantic Ocean, a rarity for our coast. Whiting, croaker, sheepshead and flounder are likely catches, but don’t be surprised to hook a Spanish mackerel or red drum, also. From Savannah, you can get there by taking Highway 80 onto Tybee Island and following signs to the pier. A public parking lot for the pier and pavilion is located at the east end of 14th Street. The Tybee Island Marine Science Center (www.tybeemarinescience.org) is located nearby and is a great diversion for adults and youngsters.
The type of bait you use is often the most important part of the equation. Different species prefer different baits, but if you have only one bait, shrimp will consistently produce. Frozen shrimp is available at almost all bait-and-tackle shops. Fewer shops carry live shrimp, and although they are expensive, they are the preferred bait for seatrout. Whiting, croaker and catfish are easily fooled with shrimp. Pieces of both fresh and frozen shrimp get the nod.
While they will also bite other baits, sheepshead are notorious for biting fiddler crabs. Take plenty, as a sheepshead can often steal several crabs before getting hooked. Flounder attack live mud minnows and finger mullet as if they were candy, but they can also be caught on live shrimp, strips of squid or cut fish belly strips.
As you can tell, if your plan involves multiple species, it is a good idea to bring several types of bait. Several manufacturers make aerated and insulated buckets, so keeping live bait frisky is not as difficult as it once was.
I have witnessed some very interesting rigs and bait combinations over the years. I believe that a few of those folks just went into the tackle store and started hooking together hardware. While that approach will catch an occasional fish, the following traditional rigs and baits have caught the majority of fish on the Georgia coast.
Bottom fishing remains the most common approach for pier and bank fishing. The pre-assembled rigs in tackle stores work well. For decades, I’ve used the wire double-dropper rigs with success. You can attach snelled hooks to the droppers by threading the snelled loop through the wire loop, then tucking the hook through the snelled loop and tightening. Sometimes the snell is too long and the hooks will tangle. If you don’t like the constant aggravation of untangling a mess, you should shorten the length of the leader. Commercially prepared single dropper rigs work well, also, but I like giving them two baits.
Another very effective bottom fishing rig is the simple Carolina rig similar to that used by bass fishermen when using plastic worms. To rig one, you thread the main line through an egg weight, then a bead, then tie on a barrel swivel. You then attach a leader and your hook. The bead keeps your weight from beating into and weakening your knot.
The leader length can vary depending upon the clarity of the water and the species for which you are fishing. For instance, sheepshead bite very lightly, so you would have extreme difficulty feeling the bite if you use a long leader. A suggested all-around rig would include 12- to 15-lb. main line, a 1-oz. egg sinker, red plastic bead, No. 5 black barrel swivel, 8 to 12 inches of monofilament leader (10- to 17-lb. test —heavier if around shells or pilings, lighter if around sand or fishing for non-toothy species) and a hook.
For a main line, I love the braided lines due to their sensitivity, but many people will argue that monofilament is still the way to go. Whiting, croaker, catfish, black drum, sheepshead and flounder are susceptible to these types of bottom rigs.
When bottom fishing, most people do not put much thought into the sinkers they choose for certain applications. In reality, a sinker choice can make the difference between a limit of fish and a couple of bites. Bank sinkers, bell sinkers, egg sinkers and several other styles of rounded sinkers are designed to weight your baits down, but they will not hold well in the sand. If you are fishing vertically or letting your bait sweep with the current, these styles work well. If you want your bait to stay put in a certain sandy area, a pyramid sinker is the best choice. If you are using larger baits, or if there is strong current or wind, you may even need a storm sinker. These sinkers have small wire appendages that drag and anchor the sinker in the sand. As a rule of thumb with all sinkers, you want to use as little weight as possible while still being able to stay in contact with your bait.
If fishing for trout is your preference, the most popular approach is to fish a live shrimp under a large float. The rig consists of an adjustable bobber stop, a bead, an 8- 10-inch long cigar-shaped float, a sinker of appropriate weight for the float, a barrel swivel, an 8- to 12-inch monofilament leader and a hook. Kahle hooks in No. 1 to 2/0 sizes are the most popular hooks for seatrout. The smaller sizes allow the shrimp to swim more freely. The beauty of this rig is that when you reel it in to cast, the float slides down your line to allow the cast. After splashdown, the sinker pulls the line through the float until the float hits the bobber stop at the preset depth. Thus, you are able to fish deep water with this rig and still are able to cast well. If you can fish this rig near the mouth of a creek with oyster beds, the result is often seatrout in the frying pan.
Occasionally, you will have trouble getting live shrimp, your shrimp will die, or you will run out of live shrimp. If trout or redfish are around, a Cajun Thunder or Equalizer rattling float rigged with an artificial lure will allow you to catch them (I usually do not even start with bait, but go right to the artificial rig for trout). My favorite for beach or pier fishing is an oval-shaped Cajun Thunder with a Saltwater Assassin Sea Shad on a jig head dangling about 2 to 3 feet below. My go-to leader material is 20-lb. test fluorocarbon, as this material is extremely clear and abrasion resistant. The most consistent colors of Sea Shads have proven to be electric chicken, candy corn, new penny, limetreuse and Texas roach (black/gold-chartreuse tail). Fished near creek mouths and oyster beds, a twitch-twitch-pause presentation is deadly on trout and redfish.
The locations discussed in this article are only a few of the many bank fishing locations on the Georgia coast. Much of the fun of fishing is in searching out your own honey-hole and learning well the details (tides, winds, current, clarity, etc.) of how to effectively fish it. These well-known spots will consistently produce decent catches until you can find your own secret spot. Other fishing access locations are listed in A Visitor’s Guide to Accessing Georgia’s Coastal Resources, available online at http://coastalgadnr.org/sites/uploads/crd/pdf/Access/ACCESS_Guide.pdf.
The guide has not been updated since 2008, but there is plenty of information that is still applicable.
Don’t forget to pack the fishing rods this summer while on vacation. With minimal tackle and planning, an extremely fresh seafood dinner is closer than you think. Our coast offers a bounty of fishing opportunities, and you do not have to own a boat and motor to partake.
Chicken Necks For Blue Crabs
Crabbing is a fun, exciting activity for the whole family while at the beach, and it could even provide a tasty meal if you are successful. Hand-lining and traps are the two most popular ways to catch blue crabs on the Georgia coast.
Hand-lining involves baiting crabs in and netting them. Any small 1/8-inch or smaller rope or twine will work. Cut each line 10 to 20 feet long. Tie a chicken neck to the end of each line and the other end to a dock or other fixed location near you (as a kid, I would tie one to each belt loop). Throw the chicken necks out in several directions and wait until the line becomes taunt with a crab playing tug-of-war on the other end.
Slowly pull the crab toward you until you can net it with a long-handled dip net. The metal mesh ones work best. Once you dip one, put it in a 5-gallon bucket or throw it on the bank to measure it. The legal minimum size in Georgia is 5 inches from spike to spike.
Traps are simpler to deploy, but much less fun, especially to a kid. You basically tie a chicken neck to one of the many styles of commercial crab traps, throw them out, and pull them up at regular intervals to check for crabs.
No matter how you catch them, handling crabs can be a painful endeavor if you do it wrong. They have very strong claws that can reach around an amazing distance behind them. The only safe way to grab a crab is by the backfin joint (the farthest ones from the face on each side). Crabbing tongs will allow you to handle them much more safely.
Make sure to keep your crabs fresh, as you never want to cook a dead crab. Check the myriad of recipe books for cooking instructions and recipes for the tasty crustaceans.
For more information and regulations on crabbing, check out the Georgia Sportfishing Regulations booklet or an online version at www.gofishgeorgia.com.