If you want to fish the Georgia coast in an offshore party boat, you usually head for the area around Savannah. There are multiple head boats or party boats located in the area, and they can all put you on the fish. But if you live farther south and don’t want to make the drive to Savannah, you have another option.
Capt. Larry Crews operates three boats out of Jekyll Island Marina, and one of them is a 20-passenger party boat that takes groups offshore for some fantastic bottom fishing.
The 44-foot long “Oslo” is licensed for 27 passengers plus crew, but Capt. Crews only puts 20 people on board when he heads offshore.
“There are 100 feet of rail space around the boat,” Capt. Crews said. “Most boats load people to the Coast Guard maximum, and that means shoulder-to-shoulder fishing. By limiting my trips to 20 anglers, it means that every fisherman has 5 feet of rail space to himself. It just makes for a better fishing experience.”
Capt. Crews has been fishing the waters off the Georgia coast for more than 30 years. He operates two other smaller boats, the “4 Play” and “4 Play II” that can take parties inshore fishing for trout, red drum, shark and flounder, or up to four anglers on an offshore trolling or drifting trip. One of Capt. Crew’s specialties is tripletail fishing in the fall.
We headed out from Jekyll Island Marina just after the sun broke on a very pretty day in August with 20 anglers on board. We were looking to see what the fishing will be like in September and October — two of the best bottom-fishing months of the year.
“September and October should be really good months,” said Capt. Crews before we left. “We always have more charters from local anglers during those months. The tourist trips happen all year, but it’s those two months that bring more people to the boat to fish.”
The captain on the “Oslo” the day I fished was Capt. Larry Davis. He is the usual captain and is extremely familiar with the waters off Jekyll Island. His mate was Simon Younce from McIntosh. Simon kept us baited and ready all day long — quite a chore for only one man.
As we headed out toward the sound, Capt. Davis slowed the boat and idled up on a large school of pogies — menhaden shad. Simon used his 12-foot cast net and caught fresh bait for us to use offshore. Earlier that morning Simon had net- ted a number of larger pogies, and these were swimming nicely in the livewell at the stern of the boat.
Simon took one of the rods down and showed me the bottom rig we would be using. Unlike many other party boats that use a fish-find- er or chicken rig with the weight on the bottom and the hook or hooks up the leader on a branch, we would be using a straight bottom rig. An 8-oz. egg sinker was on the line above a snap swivel. Tied to the snap swivel was an 80-lb. test fluorocarbon leader about 3 feet long with a 4/0 hook.
Capt. Crews had told me on an earlier tripletail trip that they like to use a single-hook rig. They feel like it provides a better bait presentation and allows them to catch more red snapper and grouper instead of lots of junk fish. It does lend itself to switching from cut bait to small live bait very easily.
On the way out, Simon made all the preparations, including cutting up bait and making sure all the rods and reels were in good working order.
Although you can bring your own tackle and rod, on this trip we were going to be fishing with the equipment and tackle provided by the boat. These rods were all good, solid, bottom rigs with Penn or Pflueger reels and All-Star or Ugly Stik bottom rods. They were well maintained — something you don’t always find on a party boat.
The first stop was in the area of the “G” reef. This hard-bottom area is about 30 miles due east of the St Andrews Sound and consists of all kinds of reef-making debris. Around 4 square miles in size, it provides a lot of room for multiple boats to fish.
Capt. Davis slowed the boat and began searching with his fishfinder for some bottom structure that had fish on it. He judged the wind and tide, and with Simon at the bow handling the anchor, we dropped a hook and began fishing.
Bottom fishing from a party boat can be either a really good experience or a really bad one. It depends on the crew and also on the other anglers. In the case of the trip aboard the Oslo, we had some special attention. As I said before, they only take a maximum of 20 anglers, and that means plenty of room for everyone to fish. I think we only had one or two tangled lines during the whole day of fishing. That’s because we did not have to crowd the rail next to each other.
I must say now that neither the captain nor the mate fished for them- selves all day. I have been on many boats where the mates and captain fish as much as the customers, and that means some paying passenger is not getting helped as much as they might.
We caught some small vermillion snapper—beeliners—at the first stop. We also caught quite a number of grunts and pinfish. If you left your bait on the bottom, the small grunts would eat it, and you usually ended up catching one of them. If you wanted to catch a beeliner, you need- ed to crank up off the bottom a ways.
Vermillion snapper are not bot- tom fish and do not feed on the bot- tom. They like to school up higher in the water column, and it took a little practice to get the bait right where you wanted it. Some anglers on the boat were very good at mastering this technique. Others were satisfied to catch grunts.
George Hendrix from Ludowici, who fishes offshore a lot, was the first to get onto the beeliners. He was catching one on almost every drop while everyone else came up with a bare hook needing to be baited.
Our bait consisted of the standard frozen squid and frozen cigar minnows found on all party boats. But our boat had the fresh pogies that we stopped and caught and live pogies in the live well. Simon kept the bait containers that were placed around the rails filled with the cut bait and cut squid.
While we bottom fished, Simon put out a live pogie under a float well behind the boat. We were looking to find a kingfish to eat that pogy.
There were multiple boats in the area of the “G” reef slow-trolling for kingfish. I watched as we fished and saw numerous kings being boated, some of them appeared to be quite large judging from the gaffing.
As we fished the bottom, a way- ward kingfish took our pogy and headed away from the boat. He was hooked for a moment, but the hook pulled and we would not hook another king all day.
Several small gag grouper were brought in by anglers manning the rails. Groupers must be 24 inches long to be legal. Some of these groupers were close to being legal but still had to be thrown back.
We moved multiple times while fishing the entire “G” reef area. Each time we stopped, Capt. Davis would take particular care in anchoring the boat. On several stops, it took two or more attempts to get the boat positioned just right over the fish and the good bottom structure.
At each location, we picked up a few more fish. Lots of small beeliners were caught and one short red snapper. Red snapper must be 20 inches to be legal, and this one was 19 inches long. The captain and his mate worked hard to keep us in the best position to catch fish. I looked at the color fishfinder and the bottom was covered up with fish all the way up the water column. They just were not really feeding aggressively.
At one particular drop, Capt. Davis said we were fishing over some sunken barges where three days before they had filled the cooler with limits of red snapper and beeliners.
On board the “Oslo” were three different groups of men — although please note that the boat is not restrict- ed to just men. One group came over from Ludowici, one from the Jesup/Waycross area, and one from Fort Stewart/Hinesville. The latter was a group of four soldiers who had recently returned from a tour in Iraq, and they were anxious to catch fish. Two of them had never been on the ocean before. For the benefit of you ladies, the boat, including the head facilities, was as clean and neat as any I have been aboard.
After a number of moves to locate fish, Capt. Davis took us in about 5 miles to the “SFC” reef area. This is another 4-square-mile area of artificial bottom that holds fish. Lots of the bot- tom in this area contains rubble and parts of the old U.S. Hwy 17 bridge from near Brunswick that was replaced by the big suspension bridge in place there today.
On any party-boat venture, there will be some people who are better at sensing a bite or better at setting a hook than others. Our trip was no exception. While everyone caught something, there were one or two anglers that caught more than others.
Tom Dorety Sr., fishing with his two sons Tom Jr. and Joe, managed to boat a very nice legal red snapper, the only triggerfish caught and a 6-foot nurse shark. He was quite pleased.
There were a number of grouper caught, although all of them were shorter than the 24-inch minimum length. Howard Shannon, one of the soldiers, caught a 23-inch fish that we tried our best to stretch to 24 inches. Steve Manning, from Ludowici caught a 20-inch grouper.
At several points, we put some of the small fish that we caught — 6 inch- es long or less — back out on our lines. These live baits are often just the ticket to draw a strike from a big grouper or red snapper when nothing else is working. We hooked them through the back, just behind the dorsal fin and sent them to the bottom. One was eaten and another fish was missed. Today, the bigger fish just weren’t interested, it seemed.
Several anglers hooked up to big fish that immediately took them into a hole or under a rock. You have to be fast, and you have to keep a lot of pres- sure on a big, hooked fish. You can hear the captain from above you and the mate almost yelling, “reel, reel, reel!” because they want that fish to come up off the bottom as fast as you can reel to prevent him from getting to a hole. We had several fish that made it to the hole before we could turn them.
If you plan to fish and look for a party boat on the southern Georgia coast, look no further. The “Oslo” is the only one for miles around. They work out of the Jekyll Island Marina and can fish on almost any day. Fuel prices are driving prices up on everything these days, including fishing, so they have a minimum number of anglers required before they will head out to fish. Make sure you call and make a reservation before you head to Jekyll.
Capt. Larry Crews and his wife Judy run Offshore Charters on Jekyll Island and while theirs is the only party boat, they represent several other charter boats and captains. Visit their web- site at <www.offshore-charters.com>, or call (912) 265-7529. Offshore Charters has a store-front located in the shopping center across the street from the Jekyll Island Convention Center.