October has to be one of my most favorite times of the year. With cooler temperatures, college football and hunting season upon us, it just doesn’t get better in the Peach State… or does it?
I failed to mention my favorite species to chase this month. Whether you call them spots, reds, spottail bass or a host of other nicknames, the bottom line is this, from Savannah to St. Marys, every creek, inlet and sound is slam full of them. From keeper-size fish, all the way up to giant bulls, October is most definitely the best month for catching redfish in Georgia.
As the sounds and beaches are currently filled with giant spawners, most anglers specifically target them this month. Stout poles, big reels spooled with heavy braid, a heavy sinker and a 5/0 circle hook baited with cut mullet or whiting are the norm for catching these powerful fish.
As for Capt. Bert Deener, of Waycross, I guess you could say he’s bucking the system in a quite literal way. As he targets giant bull reds this month, he forgoes the use of bait, opting instead for a hand-tied bucktail jig that he designed himself. Bert is the WRD Fisheries Region Supervisor at the Waycross office and owner of Bert’s Jigs and Things, making a full selection of handmade jigs and lures. He also is a freelance writer with GON.
“Bucktail jigs flat out work for big reds,” said Bert. “This summer alone we’ve landed numerous fish at and above 40 inches, along with many other species, including some really nice flounder and trout. October is only going to make things better.”
Planning a late September trip with Bert to target these fish proved to be more than a little difficult. As Hurricane Irma caused record flooding, giant swells and horrible conditions, it looked almost as if this trip wouldn’t happen. On Sept. 19, we finally had calm enough seas to make the trip happen and decided to give the fish a try.
We launched from the North River boat ramp in St. Marys and headed out for the Cumberland Jetties. As we neared the ocean, I was immediately thankful for two things; Bert being a licensed captain and his large Mako boat that was handling the large swells remarkably well.
As we rounded the jetties and headed toward the beach on the north side, Bert then located an area about a mile off the beach with water that was much calmer than other areas of the jetties.
“Out here, there are little sweet spots that you can find that are calmer and protect you from the wind and waves and also have cleaner water. These areas change hour to hour and day to day, so you have to always be on the lookout for the very best water,” Bert said.
As he dropped his 80-lb. thrust Minn Kota trolling motor, he handed me a 7’6 Penn Battalion rod (model number BATIN1220S76) paired with a Penn Slammer III 4500 spinning reel spooled with 30-lb. SpiderWire Ultracast Invisi-braid. Tied on was a 3/4-oz. Bert’s Jigs and Things Jetty Jig head tipped with a Saltwater Assassin Sea Shad in the Texas-roach color.
“I’m gonna start out with a bucktail and let you throw the Jetty Jig. When you have a couple anglers in the boat, it pays to give the fish a few different looks, and see what they like best that day,” Bert said.
As I made my first cast, Bert grabbed his tackle of choice, a massive 7’9 Veritas Toro medium-heavy casting rod paired with an Abu Garcia Revo Toro Beast, (model number REVOT2 BST50-HS) loaded up with 50-lb. SpiderWire Ultracast Invisi-braid.
“This is my favorite setup for throwing bucktail jigs,” said Bert. “The big rod ensures solid hooksets, and the Beast reel lets me crank with a lot of power in a hurry. I often will have tarpon take a swing at the jig, and with a combo like this, you can land them along with the biggest redfish the jetties have to offer.”
As waves violently shook the boat, and at times coming over the nose, I couldn’t help but think that with some of his dancing on the front of the boat, Bert would make an excellent candidate to be on Dancing with the Stars. Nevertheless, he focused on the task at hand. It didn’t take long for the first fish of the day to give the bucktail a try. After a brief fight, Bert boated the impressive 18-inch sea-trout.
“That’s the thing I love most about throwing a bucktail out here, you may have a 150-lb. tarpon inhale it, or a trout just the right size for dinner. It keeps things interesting,” he said.
About 15 minutes later, I felt a solid thump and set the hook into a 16-inch trout that I thought was bigger than he really was.
Over the next few hours we managed several more fish of different species, including a nice keeper redfish that was smaller than the bull reds we were searching for.
Suddenly, Bert yelled “Tarpon 12 o’clock!”
He quickly flung his bucktail at the tarpon’s boil. As the bucktail began to enter the water, the 60-lb. tarpon exploded on it, and despite a solid hookset by Bert, he quickly managed to get free.
“Every bucktail I make has a premium Gamakatsu hook for that reason. Tarpon are flat out hard to hook with their boney mouths, but the 5/0 Gamakatsu gives you a fighting chance,” said Bert.
As the morning lingered on, the bite diminished, and it was easy to see why. The water 3 miles out at the end of the jetties could be best described as looking like an Okefenokee Swamp wave pool of sorts. Every second, millions of gallons of fresh water from the St. Mary’s River was violently meeting the ocean.
“This problem here isn’t water clarity, it’s the amount of fresh water and lack of salinity,” said Bert.
Bert did say that the good news is that by the first week or so in October, water conditions should be favorable for a good bucktail bite.
When you come out to the jetties this month, Bert pointed out a few important tips to up your bucktail success and ensure your safety around the rocks. Starting with safety, it is extremely important to have your life jackets readily accessible in case of emergency. Equally important is to always be on the side of the jetties where you are being pushed away from the rocks. It only takes one big wave to set you on the rocks, so safe boat placement is crucial.
Paying close attention to wind forecast is also crucial, as rough seas generally make for rough fishing. As far as fishing for giant redfish goes, Bert pointed out that the very end of the jetties is a prime location. When the wind/tide allows, the end of the north side has water that is approximately 30 feet deep and is a good place to start. Bert said that the best tidal stages are the last half of the outgoing tide and the first half of the incoming. At these times, you will find the clearest water and typically the best conditions.
“You can fish a bucktail a variety of ways, including a steady retrieve, but my favorite way to catch big redfish this month is to hop it on the bottom much like a bass worm. Make long casts up next to the jetty rocks, and hop it back to you using three- to 10-second pauses, paying careful attention to your line,” said Bert.
Mix things up until you find what they want that day. In stained water, Bert opts for electric chicken and firetiger, and in clearer water, he ties on a more natural mullet color.
“When you get it right, it’s possible to catch between 10 and 30 bull reds in a day of fishing bucktails, and who knows what else. There is nothing better than having a huge fish nearly jerk the rod out of your hand,” Bert said.
For those interested in planning a trip to fish the jetties this month, nearby Crooked River State Park at (912) 882-5256 or gastateparks.org/crookedriver offers both camping and cottage rentals for reasonable rates. You can also book packages through the park that include a guided fishing trip for one bundled price.
For those searching for a guided trip only, Bert recommended Capt. Andy Gowen at (912) 729-1958 or andy gowenfishing.com. He typically fishes with cutbait on the bottom but also does artificial trips, including fishing with bucktails for giant reds.
To contact Bert with questions about his techniques, or to purchase bucktails, you can contact him on his cell at (912) 288-3022. You can also email him at email@example.com for a catalog, and also be sure to follow his Facebook page Bert’s Jigs and Things.
Anglers may keep five redfish between 14 and 23 inches (total length). All other reds, which includes those trophy-sized bulls, must be quickly released.
Hopefully as the water clears and the temperature drops this month, you will get the chance to target giant reds with bucktails at the jetties. I can guarantee that one big fish will make the whole trip worth it.
Learning To Get Un-Hung At The Jetties
As you may have guessed, with all of the rocks at the jetties, hang-ups aren’t just possible, they’re guaranteed. Luckily Bert has a sure-fire way to save you lots of money on lost jigs.
When you hang up, don’t jerk and jerk. Instead hold your rod high, use your free hand to pull the line extremely tight, and release it suddenly, much like a bow and arrow. Sometimes it will take a few tries, but this will usually pop the jig free and save you lots of time and money.