Far and away the most popular fish on the Georgia coast is the spotted sea-trout. There is a good reason for it to be No. 1. It’s the most abundant and cooperative fish on the coast, and the creel limit of 15 fish means that you can bring home a lot of filets.
October and November are historically the best two months in the year to catch not only spotted seatrout but also redfish and flounder. The weather is cooling down, the water temperature is following suit, and the fish are really turned on.
I made a trip in mid October to the Darien area to find some seatrout that can be caught in November. Follow my plan, and you can have a limit of good eating-size spotted seatrout in no time.
This month look for seatrout to be schooling and feeding most of the day, and the tide stage really doesn’t matter. As long as the water is moving, the trout can be cooperative.
Seatrout like to cruise the edges of an oysterbed or marsh grass in water deep enough to cover the beds. These areas are where shrimp, finger mullet and small crustaceans live.
At low tide, all of the fish and other marine life have migrated to deeper water. So, while the oysters and marsh lines may be easier for us to locate on a low tide, we will have a harder time finding the trout in these low-water conditions.
I like to fish the last of the incoming and first of the outgoing tide for trout. The water is a few feet deep over the oyster bars and deep enough up close to the marsh for the trout to feed. Often an entire school of trout can be found in one good location. That said, it becomes a rather daunting task to find these locations on a high tide. Charts and maps work to some degree, but actual observation is the very best method to find good trout fishing water. If you are new to a given area, head out on an outgoing tide and stay with it until the water is dead low. At that point you will be able to see where the oyster breaks are located and where the channel edges run. After scouting around at low tide and locating some live, healthy oyster breaks, you can fish the incoming tide all the way up to the high slack and then fish the first of the outgoing tide.
So you don’t feel like you’re wasting your time at low tide, always be on the lookout for one or more tailing redfish cruising and feeding up against the bank or the oysters. Low tide is the best time for redfish in my opinion.
Baitfish move with the tide. As the water rises on an incoming tide, the schools of bait move into the estuary creeks and salt marsh areas. As the water drops, the baitfish sense the falling water and move out of those creeks and marshes to deeper water. The sea-trout, along with other predator fish, will follow the bait. As the tide comes in, they will position themselves in the mouth of a creek and feed on whatever comes their way in the current. As the tide changes and starts heading out, the trout will simply reposition to take advantage of that same bait source now traveling in the reverse direction.
Most of the time if baitfish are present in a given creekmouth or oyster break, you will see them moving in the water. Small schools of mullet scurrying about or menhaden shad flipping on the surface at the mouth of a creek are great indicators to seek. Remember, “Wheresoever the bait is, there also shall be the fish” (Book of Fish 2:15). If you can’t see any bait, the chances are the trout will not be there either.
Water current plays a very important role when fishing for trout. It’s the current that keeps the bait moving into the marsh and back out again toward low tide. Consequently, where there is no current, there will probably not be any feeding fish. Some creeks go quite a ways back into the marsh, and thus hold a lot of water. It has to move in and out with the tide, thus creating a noticeable current. Other creeks only go a short distance into the marsh and will have very little to no current.
With all this knowledge concerning seatrout, I headed out with my partner to fish the area around Darien and the Altamaha Sound. We chose the public ramp just south of Darien on US 17 on the Champney River and headed around to the Two Way Fish Camp for bait.
Leaving Two Way, we ran out through the creeks and salt marsh toward the western entrance to the Hampton River (N 31° 17.010, W 81° 22.978). The Hampton divides St. Simons Island from Little St. Simons Island to the north. It is a wide, deep river with direct access to the ocean. The channel entrance to the river on the coast is large enough and deep enough to be considered another sound.
Coming from the US 17 ramp, the water is brackish. Anglers head west to find catfish, bream and bass and head east to find saltwater fish. Hence the name “Two Way,” I suppose.
As we ran out to the east on the outgoing tide, the marsh was beginning to show mud banks along the edge. Swift water and mud banks were not what we were looking for. And apparently all the other anglers felt the same way, because we did not see another boat until we actually reached the western end of the Hampton.
Just past the Hampton River Club Marina, we began seeing two things. First, the oyster breaks popped up. And with them came the other boats. In almost every little creek or run-off that harbored an oyster break, there was an angler sitting in his boat.
We continued east in the river, and the oysters became more prevalent. We chose a small creek and positioned our boat off the mouth but close enough to easily cast to it. By now the tide was almost at its low ebb. The current, which is significant in this river, was slowing to a stop.
We used a pencil float rig with a bobber stopper and floated a live shrimp along the edge of the oysters. Also, I fished with a jig head and Saltwater Assassin Sea Shad (yes, electric chicken). My wife fished with a Thunder Chicken rattling float and a live shrimp on an 18-inch leader.
The trout we found were small, and we caught them on the live shrimp. But we also caught quite a few whiting, a pleasant find that kept us busy.
There are numerous small creeks that enter the marsh along the banks of the Hampton River. Almost all of them beyond marker 23 have oysters lining the mouth, and almost all of them had an angler or two anchored and fishing. The two areas where we found fish were at the creekmouth at N 31° 17.012, W 81° 22.978 and the eastern bank of the river at N 31° 16.642N, W 81 °18.936.
The second location is not a creekmouth. There are some sandbars in the river off the north bank. A small, unmarked channel runs between the sandbars and the oyster-laden bank. At low tide on this day the water in the small channel was about 3 feet deep, and the sandbars were almost out of the water. We used the short leader floats and live shrimp to catch our fish there.
Both of these areas are also good on a high tide. You will not see the oysters, but the fish should be there, feeding over and along the oyster breaks. I actually prefer the last of the incoming tide if I know where the oysters are located. When we fished, our tide was outgoing the whole six hours.
Greg Kincaid was fishing this area of the river, anchored just off the mouth of a creek. Greg is from Marietta and showed us two keeper trout he caught there. He caught them on a “jig rig.” A jig head and swimtail grub is tied to an 18-inch leader under a rattling float. As you move the float, the jig reacts underneath. Greg said he had been doing quite well in the Hampton over the previous few days. The trout were there, and they were cooperative.
There is an exception or two to my fishing at the high tide and in the current. The first is what I have called “tide runner” trout over the years. These are larger-than-average fish, probably female. And for some reason I tend to catch them on the slack, high tide when there is no current. I don’t catch very many, but the ones I do catch are big fish. When the current slows and stops, I tie on a jig head with a Saltwater Sea Assassin Shad tail. Any color will work, as long as it is electric chicken, my personal favorite.
I probe the bottom off the edge of the oyster break or creek mouth, looking for the deep edge. Once I find it, I work that jig through the deeper water where I often find one or two of these tide runners. A live shrimp under a float that will get the bait at least half way to the bottom is also a good choice. And, with no current, don’t rule out free-lining a live shrimp or small, live croaker along that deeper edge.
The other exception comes when the weather takes a dive. We are subject to a few cold fronts in November, and if a particularly cold one comes through, the trout will react. Dropping water temperature sends these sensitive fish to deeper water in an effort to stay warm. That deeper water is found along the channel edges in the ICW or on outside bends in larger creeks. Often, after a significant drop in temperature, an entire school of trout can be located in one of these bends. They won’t be very active and won’t be chasing your bait, but a live shrimp on a float rig that puts the bait very close to the bottom in that bend will be eaten if it floats by one of these trout.
So here is the plan! If you launch at the Champney River ramp, head east until you start seeing the oyster breaks. Head for the Hampton River, and begin looking for oysters as you pass marker 23. We did not see any oysters until we passed that marker. At high tide, the oysters will be underwater, so it may take some probing to identify a good creek. And almost all of them are good right now if they have oysters.
The weather pattern for this month looks to be promising. There are no really cold temperatures predicted. If the forecast holds, these trout should be there all month long. If a front does come through and the water temperature drops, head for the deep bends in the rivers and creeks.
For the most part, November is simply a great time to fish. The cooler air makes a more comfortable day for any angler, and the abundance of post-spawn spotted seatrout will make your day. Take a break from your deer stand, and head for the coast. Simply find the right spot, and fish it accordingly!