I have had many phone calls from “land-locked” friends headed to the Georgia beaches with their families on their week-long, once-a-year pilgrimage. It usually starts something like this, “Hi, Bert. I’m headed to the beach with my family next week. What’s biting? Which of my bass rods do I need to bring?”
The discussion centers around the hot bite and whether they want to bring fish home for the table or just trophy-fish. The next few pages are my typical answers to the above questions that will allow you to take advantage of some of the best bites during your vacation this summer.
One of the first decisions you are going to have to make is whether you want to drag your boat or not. A boat allows you much more range, but it is also a hassle to manage on a family vacation, unless it is a “fishing” vacation. Remember that saltwater will quickly eat up equipment not designed for the brine unless you thoroughly clean it. You will have to plan significant time to clean up your boat and trailer properly. That being said, there are many good land-bound fishing opportunities on our coast, and those are the ones on which I will focus.
Some of the prime bites during the summer are seatrout, flounder, redfish, Spanish mackerel, whiting, croaker and bluefish. There are several ways to catch them and various rigs, which will allow you to target them. Basically, three outfits will allow you to chase just about everything in the surf and from piers: a heavy, long surf rod, a medium-heavy action outfit for bottom rigs and a medium outfit for casting artificials. Your bass tackle can suffice for the latter two, but there is no substitute for a good surf rod to get a heavy bottom rig and large offering far from where you are standing.
Heavy-duty (Fish Finder) Bottom Rig: A single-hook rig is used to get big chunks of bait or even whole baitfish to the bottom where the big fish feed. The longer the rod, the more leverage you can get to heave a heavy sinker far from land. Surf rods are designed to do just that, whether you use a casting or spinning model. The spinning outfits are reasonably priced and work well for many species. There is no freshwater equivalent of a surf rod. This is one you will simply have to purchase for this application, if you will be fishing from the surf on your vacation.
My favorite surf outfit is an 11-foot Penn Torque Surf Rod paired with a Slammer 760 spinning reel. I prefer 25-lb. test Vicious Ultimate Mono for this outfit because it is economical line (and it takes a bunch of line for a reel that big). The pound test is a give and take. You can fish a larger sinker and bait with heavier line, but the heavier the line, the shorter the cast. For me, the best balance is 25-lb. test, but you may have situations where you want to go lighter or heavier on the line.
If night fishing, the Berkley Glow Stik rod series is a great option. These rods have an internal light that keeps the rod lit up so you can see it double over when a big redfish or shark takes your bait.
To rig up the heavy-duty bottom rig, thread your main line through the plastic sleeve on a sinker slider and then through a plastic bead. Tie it to one end of a swivel (No. 5 or No. 7 works well). On the other end of the swivel, tie on a 3- to 5-foot piece of leader material (80- to 100-lb. test monofilament usually keeps most toothy critters from biting through).
To the leader, tie a big circle hook. A 7/0 or 8/0 Gamakatsu Octopus Circle Hook works great, but expect to give several of them to big sharks. If economy is important, an Eagle Claw L2004 circle hook (sizes 7/0, 8/0, or 9/0) works well.
To complete the rig, choose the weight pyramid sinker that will hold bottom and clip it to the sinker slider. With big surf rods, I usually choose 4- or 5-oz. weights (or heavier) for increased casting distance. Some of the common species you will fool with when fishing the surf with these rigs include redfish, sharks, stingrays and during the dog-days of summer, an occasional tarpon.
Double Dropper Bottom Rig: This is my workhorse rig for saltwater bottom fishing. It is comprised of a main wire cable with two droppers out the side. Most of your heavier freshwater bass outfits will effectively fish this rig.
A long medium-heavy spinning reel works, as does a flipping stick (I prefer spinning equipment). My favorite outfit for fishing this bottom rig is a 7-foot, 6-inch Penn Legion fast-action rod (#LEGIN1220S76) paired with a Penn 460 Slammer spinning reel. I spool up with 20-lb. test Vicious Braid for this application because of the extra sensitivity of braid. This setup is light to hold all day from a pier or bridge, but the spool has plenty of line capacity in case you hook a big redfish.
The variety of bottom rigs is astounding. Some are built with giant monofilament leaders and lots of hardware reminiscent of walking down a craft-store aisle and putting one of each thing in reach on the rig, while others are more subtle.
I custom-build what I call a Stealth Rig, which is constructed from nearly invisible wire leader with two lears that hold your hooks out from the main wire. I like having as little hardware visible as possible, even in our usually murky water. The beauty of a double-dropper rig is its simplicity. Just tie your main line to the top swivel, thread on two snelled hooks to the lears, and clip on a sinker on the bottom. I generally use as light of a weight as will hold bottom (if I am letting it sit) or keep me from being swept against the pilings (if I am vertical fishing pilings from a pier or bridge).
You can buy pre-snelled hooks or build your own. I typically use a baitholder hook (Eagle Claw #186) in sizes No. 4 through No. 1, as the little slices on the shank do a good job of keeping your bait from sliding into the gap of the hook. I use a bronze hook, because I do not expect my hooks to last more than one trip.
I usually snell my own hooks with 20- to 30-lb. test monofilament, but I will use a wire leader if I get into bluefish or other toothy fish.
Artificial Lures: Because of my bass-fishing background, I will fling an artificial lure whenever possible. The same-sized outfit you throw Zara Spooks will work in saltwater, as well. I prefer spinning, but casting gear works.
In my opinion, the perfect all-around inshore outfit is a 7-foot, 6-inch medium-light action Ugly Stik Lite rod paired with a Penn Slammer 360 spinning reel. I usually spool with either 15- or 20-lb. Vicious braid on my artificial outfits as the lack of stretch with braid will allow a good hookset even on a long cast.
Some of your bass lures you will want to bring to the brine include Zara Spooks (shad colors) and jigging spoons (the same ones you vertical fish in winter for bass or stripers). A couple rigs you will want to pick up are Cajun Thunder Rigs and Steel Shads.
Steel Shads and jigging spoons work well when casting to visible Spanish mackerel (you will see them skyrocket just behind the breakers). Silver is always a good color for mackerel. If your favorite tackle store does not carry Steel Shads, you can get them online at www.steelshad.com.
If you see any topwater commotion, cast a shad-colored Zara Spook at it, and work it back just as you would for bass. Around current breaks, creek mouths and oyster mounds, work a Cajun Thunder popping float rig. It consists of the float (either oval or cigar-shaped), then an 18- to 24-inch fluorocarbon leader (17- to 20-lb. test) and a 1/4-oz. jig head. Onto the jig head, thread an Assassin Sea Shad (electric chicken, Calcasieu brew and Texas roach are three of my favorites). To work it, cast it out and let it sit for a couple seconds. Work it back to you with intermittent hard twitches of your wrist followed by pauses to let the float sit up again.
Bait is an important consideration, and a good local tackle shop can direct you to what bait is working for different species in the area you are heading. This quick guide will get you started:
Shrimp: Shrimp are by far the most popular bait for coastal fishing. Essentially everything in the ocean eats the little crustaceans. A surprisingly small piece of shrimp will get the job done. Most “large” shrimp will make three to five baits for fish like whiting and croaker. For larger species like redfish, a whole shrimp threaded on the hook works well.
Squid: While shrimp comes off the hook fairly easily, squid stays on the hook pretty well. I usually tip a bottom rig intended for bait-stealers, such as whiting and croaker, with a small piece of squid so there is something there for them to eat if they steal my shrimp.
Mullet: Growing up surf fishing the Outer Banks of North Carolina and coast of Virginia, mullet were the gold standard. Every tackle store had coolers of freshly caught mullet. Here in Georgia, you can cast net your own or buy frozen mullet. A live “finger mullet,” which gets its name because it is the size of your finger, is a good bait for many different predators, especially flounder. A larger mullet is fantastic cut bait. Cut it into about 2-inch long chunks and thread it onto the circle hook of your heavy-duty bottom rig.
Do not throw out the head, as it is the primo part of the bait. Hook it through the eye sockets, and it will stay on the hook well. Using small strips of mullet filets is another way to serve up mullet, especially on a double-dropper bottom rig.
Mudminnows: These hardy baitfish are flounder candy, and trout and redfish will scarf them up, as well. Put these on a small bottom rig, Carolina rig or even a jig head, and fish them near an inlet, by pilings or near rocks, and you will likely catch flatfish. They are easy to catch on your own if you have access to small, muddy tidal creeks where you can pitch a minnow trap. I usually bust up a blue crab in the trap for bait, but I have heard a can of cat food works well, also.
While you are at the beach, there are a couple special situations that you will want to keep in mind and take advantage of.
• Lighted docks and piers are great at night. The lights attract baitfish, which in turn attracts the predators. If the light is near the water, expect sea-
trout to be darting through baitfish or sitting in the shadows waiting to pounce. Swim a Sea Shad on a jig head and hold on.
• Flounder like current breaks—fish creek mouths on the outgoing tide and current breaks around pilings to catch flatfish.
• Redfish roam the edges—the grass edges are great places to search for redfish on the top end of the tide as they cruise around looking for baitfish and fiddler crabs.
• Spanish mackerel jump—often a Spanish mackerel will tip off its location. Look for the silvery fish skyrocketing just behind the breakers and cast to the vicinity. There are usually more than just the one you saw.
When you get to your destination, check with a good local tackle shop for up-to-the-minute information. You can get the latest marine forecast from www.srh.noaa.gov/jax/.
For fishing regulations, go to www.gofishgeorgia.com and click on the regulations cover on the left-hand side.
When going to a new location, hiring a guide is a good option, if the budget allows. The guide will provide all the gear and years of fishing experience in that area to help you get on a great bite if the “catching” is the important part of your trip. But, much of the excitement for me when I was growing up was going to a new beach destination with my family and figuring out the best bite in the area. The details in this article will help you begin your search this summer. To make it simple, grab a rod, a few bottom rigs, bait a 5-gallon bucket and head to the beach or pier.
Editor’s Note: Capt. Bert makes the Stealth Rig and custom lures. You can order a catalog by calling him at (912) 287-1604 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. His rigs are also in tackle shops in the Waycross and St. Simons areas.