November is a magical time. Cool winds begin to blow, temperatures drop, and a table full of Thanksgiving food is just days away. For Joe Corley, of Waycross, November brings an entirely different agenda. While most outdoorsmen are trying to down a big buck, or readying decoys for the upcoming duck season, Joe is hitching up his boat and heading for the Georgia coast, the Crooked River to be exact.
Joe, who is a mechanic with Georgia Power in Valdosta, works four days a week, tries his best to fish two, and then spends his Sundays at Swamp Road Baptist Church where he teaches Sunday School. When I approached Joe about doing an article for GON on the Crooked River for November, he was thrilled to not only share his tactics, but also eight of his best spots to load down the boat this month.
On a late October morning, we launched Joe’s 17-foot War Eagle at the Crooked River State Park and headed toward our first location.
No. 1: 30.8537, -81.5255: After a quick ride with the help of Joe’s 60-hp Mercury, we arrived at our first destination and positioned the boat just within reach of the grassy shore.
“I like to fish here as the water begins to touch the grass as the tide rises,” said Joe. “You can catch fish here anytime, but when that water begins to meet the grass, the bite can be unbelievable.”
To hold the boat in position, we used Joe’s 80-lb. thrust Minn Kota i-Pilot’s Spot-Lock feature. He mentioned that a cheap Wal-Mart anchor works equally well. Just position yourself far enough away that you don’t spook the fish.
For fishing the grass edges, Joe said it’s hard to beat a live shrimp fished under a popping cork 2 to 3 feet deep. He makes long casts with a medium-action spinning outfit spooled with 30-lb. Power Pro braid and lets the current carry his offering down the bank. Interestingly, he uses braid for all of his tactics on the Crooked River and very rarely uses a leader.
Joe will also throw a Bert’s Flashy Jig Head made by Bert’s Jigs and Things. He will thread a new-penny Saltwater Assassin body on it. He reels it quickly right over where he believes the school is located. He said sometimes this combination is hard to beat.
“When you do get bit, pay careful attention to where. These fish will often stack up really tight on the curve in the river,” said Joe.
No. 2: 30.8241, -81.5276: This area is best fished around a full moon. Joe said as the currents increase, the current really rips hard, and the trout love to stack up around grassy mounds anywhere there is a break in the current. Joe also targets these fish with live shrimp under a cork floated along the grass.
“This spot is also awesome for catching reds around dead low tide. The key is looking for their wakes around shellbeds and casting to them,” said Joe.
For targeting shallow reds in this area, Joe opts for baitcasting gear loaded with 30-lb. braid tied to a Zara Spook Jr. He likes any color, as long as it has a little hint of chartreuse or orange in it. He makes long casts to waking fish and works the Spook back quickly with a walking-the-dog action. When a fish blows up on the lure, it will often take several swings at it before they eat it.
“Just continue working the plug quickly, despite the fish missing. Sometimes a red may miss five times before enhaling the bait,” said Joe.
No. 3: 30.8219, -81.5192: Joe calls this area the horseshoe due to the way islands of grass curve around in a u-shape. He said this area is one that you could spend an entire day fishing. The best strategy is to use your trolling motor to work around the grassy areas until you locate schools of fish. We picked up several trout here and caught them using several different tactics.
I pitched a white Berkley Gulp! Swimming Mullet on a 1/4-oz. jig head and reeled it slowly through deeper water to pick up several fish, while several reds and trout took a swing at Joe’s topwater plug. When we located schools with our artificial offerings, Joe used the live shrimp to put a few more fish in the box.
“This area is my favorite on the entire river, and I’ve fished here for nearly 25 years. This area always holds some fish and very rarely will let you down if you fish it thoroughly,” said Joe.
No. 4: 30.8243, -81.5097: We only spent a few minutes at this island and didn’t manage many fish, but Joe said it’s always worth a few casts, as he has often caught limits of trout off of this spot. Joe said if the trout are holding here, five to 10 minutes of fishing will let you know.
Joe likes to throw a Bruiser Super Swimmer Jr. in the sexy-shad color threaded on a 1/4-oz. electric-chicken jig head made by Bert’s.
“I like this setup because I can cover lots of water quickly, and the razor-sharp Gamakatsu hook makes sure I don’t have many missed opportunities,” said Joe.
Make one circle around the island, working your jig quickly, and then move on if you fail to locate fish.
No. 5: 30.8897, -81.4456: This was my favorite spot of the trip and for good reason. We managed more than 25 reds here in less than an hour. Two of them were close to 30 inches long. As the tide rose over shellbeds, we also picked up some quality trout, as well.
“It’s a good 30-minute ride from the launch to this spot, but it’s worth it, especially for catching reds,” said Joe.
He begins working this location with his Spook and looks for reds on the shallow flat on the left side of the creek. As we began to see redfish moving shallow, we threw chartreuse Berkley Gulp! Swimming Mullets on 1/4-oz. heads into the school. Nearly every cast was greeted with a feisty keeper-sized redfish enhaling our offering.
After limiting on reds, and catching several more for fun, we reluctantly moved away from the school to focus on trout in the creek. There is a shellbed that runs out from the right side, and we managed a few nice trout by floating shrimp over it.
No. 6: 30.9008, -81.4473: Focus on fishing the grass, particularly within two hours of high tide. Large gator trout will often move into it as the water rises. Joe uses a popping cork with a short, 2-foot leader to float over submerged shells.
“For those looking to throw artificials, it’s hard to beat a Bruiser Baits Super Swimmer Jr. in the gold-shad color suspended under a cork. Use quick jerks, and fish it along the grass,” said Joe.
No. 7: 30.9036, -81.4605: There are two ways to fish this spot. Around low tide, Joe works a 1/4-oz. jig with either a Bruiser Super Swimmer Jr. or a Berkley Gulp! in chartreuse along the bottom to catch redfish cruising the shells. If the water is higher, he likes to float a shrimp and often catches trout and black drum in this spot. Sometimes, the trout will school up a little deeper in the middle of the creek, and a Suspending Rattlin’ Rogue in a gold color is hard to beat. We picked up several fish here, including a 17-inch black drum by throwing jigs.
No. 8: 30.9059, -81.4588: Last but certainly not least, Joe has one strategy here. He likes to work a Berkley Gulp! Swimming Mullet slowly, much like you would fish a bass worm. There is a white sign on the bank, and Joe likes to anchor out from it and fish the pocket in front of it, especially at low tide.
“Color doesn’t seem to matter here. Pink, white and chartreuse all work well when fished slowly around the submerged shells,” said Joe.
We ended a terrific day on the water and managed 60 quality fish in the process, an excellent day on the water by anyone’s standards.
Hopefully you will make it down to the Crooked River this month and try these locations for yourself. For those looking for lodging, Crooked River State Park is a terrific place to stay. They have cottages and campsites available and even have a tackle shop located right next to the boat ramp. The park’s number is (912) 882-5256.
I’m more than confident that one if not all of Joe’s picks will produce for you this month, so gas up the boat, head for the Crooked River, and don’t pour out that peanut oil at Thanksgiving… you’re going to need it to fry up some fish!