Sinclair, Lanier, Blackshear, West Point… we could go on and on about how blessed we are in Georgia to have some of the finest bass-fishing reservoirs in the country. That said, if big time big lake bass fishing is all you care to do, this particular article isn’t for you. If you want to learn about the best bass fishing you have probably never heard of, then keep reading.
The Satilla River in southeast Georgia is widely known for exceptional redbreast fishing. Year after year it produces redbreast action that’s tops in the country. Beneath the black-coffee surface, other fish lurk, and compared to the redbreast they’ve stayed under the radar.
The current bass record from the Satilla is 12-pounds and was caught in early spring of 2015 near Waycross. Another 11 1/2-lb. behemoth was caught this spring at the FFA landing near Blackshear. These bass aren’t just coincidences. Year after year, the Satilla bass fishing is getting better and better.
When you fish for bass in the Satilla, large fish aren’t all you will encounter. Days producing more than 20 bass are the norm. And best of all, these bass are rarely pressured. That said, some adjustments in presentation are needed to effectively fish the Satilla River.
The best way to move around this often tiny river is with a small jonboat, canoe or kayak. My personal favorite would have to be a kayak due to its light weight and maneuverability. I’m going to tell you right now to leave the Rangers and Nitros at home because trying to run on the Satilla in a bass boat won’t end well. As the Satilla winds and curves in its run to the ocean, at times it becomes an inch deep and a foot wide. Fallen trees are a common occurrence, and whatever you choose to fish out of you need to be able to drag and lift easily. If you do use a small outboard, I recommend you do so carefully, as many a motor has been retired thanks to a submerged log or stump just below the water’s surface.
The end of summer, particularly September and October, are the best times, in my opinion, to pursue trophy bass on the Satilla. Super low levels make finding and targeting the bass easy.
The best place to target Satilla bass this month is upstream of the Highway 84 bridge boat ramp between Blackshear and Waycross. Levels in this part of the river remain low into the fall and make for consistent bass fishing day in and day out.
Other ramps in this area are located at the Jamestown landing in Waycross and at the Highway 158 bridge between Waycross and Douglas. When the river is at its lowest, the FFA ramp in Blackshear is pretty good, too.
Now with that said, always check the river level at Waycross before making a trip. This is easily accomplished by going online to http://waterdata.usgs.gov. This will help you prepare for your trip and the conditions you will face. I prefer the river to be below 6 feet, and the lower the better. If persistent rains have the river level raised, bass fishing remains good up to about 9 feet. If it gets any higher, the river becomes too swift to bass fish properly.
When I put in at any given ramp, the first 30 minutes to an hour is spent heading up or down the river from the ramp. This consumes some time out of my trip, but it also ensures the fish haven’t been as pressured. At times I have made trips an hour upriver. I won’t lie to you; it’s hard work, but it is almost always worth it.
When water levels permit, I love to float the river with a friend. On a float trip you get to cast to some bass that have rarely seen a lure. This ups your odds of running into a real trophy bass. To properly plan a Satilla float trip, it’s a good idea to go on the DNR website and get distances between landings. Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to reach your destination. It’s a good idea to bring plenty of water and a flashlight just in case you’re running a little later than you anticipated.
There are numerous techniques that will catch bass on the Satilla. My favorite would have to be fishing a Zoom Trick Worm rigged weightless, pitched up next to cover. I prefer to fish it on baitcasting gear with 12-lb. test line. As far as color goes, I like bubblegum, bruised banana, black and California 420. Other colors work great, too, but these are the colors I have had the most success with when bass fishing the Satilla River. I generally fish a Trick Worm on a 3/0 wide-gap Eagle Claw hook, rigging it weedless. I fling the worm up into cover and watch it sink. As it goes out of sight, I give it a twitch, bringing it back up in the water column.
When fishing darker-colored floating worms, it’s harder to see them, so watching your line is crucial. A good 80 percent of your strikes will occur within a second of your worm hitting the water when you cast. For this reason, it’s important to pay close attention and be prepared to slam the hook home. When fishing a Trick Worm in the Satilla, if the action is slow, try varying your retrieve by letting it sink farther down and giving subtle twitches. If you get a fall cold front, this tactic almost always produces some quality bass. When all other methods fail, I like using a 1/16-oz. bullet weight and working the worm Texas-rigged around heavy cover and cypress knees.
Along the same lines as the Trick Worm, a Zoom Super Fluke is also a great bass producer in the Satilla River. I fish flukes weightless on the same tackle as Trick Worms. When casting, I like to throw it out, wait 5 to 10 seconds, and give it a sharp twitch, making it break the water’s surface slightly. Most strikes occur right as it begins to fall after that strong twitch. My favorite fluke colors for probing the river are baby bass, pearl and Arkansas shiner.
Another great bass-producing lure in the Satilla would have to be a buzzbait. A local expert on Satilla buzzbait fishing is Ryan Lee, of Waycross. He’s been flinging these noisy fish producers for years and believes there is no better bait for producing the Satilla’s trophy bass. His favorite buzzbait is the Quad Buzz made by Capt. Bert Deener, of Waycross. Bert regularly writes for GON, and he designs some top-notch lures for fishing. Many of his lures are available at Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross. For more of Bert’s products, give him a call at (912) 287-1604.
Getting back to the quad buzzbait, what makes it so special are the four blades, enabling you to fish it slower while staying on top. As far as what color to throw, Ryan said he prefers black but noted that white is effective, too. When fishing a buzzbait, Ryan likes to add a Mister Twister grub for added appeal. Another important add-on is a trailer hook to cut down on short strikes and missed fish. This lure is best fished on heavy line and a stout rod to ensure solid hook-ups. Ryan likes to start flinging the lure as soon as the sun begins to break through the darkness, and he doesn’t stop until the bass quit hitting it. He notes that there have been some days that they bit it from daylight until 3 in the afternoon.
Fallen trees, cypress knees and sandbars that drop quickly into deep water all produce some big Satilla bass. When a buzzbait fails to produce early, a Rebel popper is another great topwater lure to try. I find it definitely works well when they just won’t run down the buzzbait. A pop followed by a five-second pause frequently produces good bass.
Another great lure for fishing the Satilla would have to be a shallow-diving crankbait. My personal choice would have to be a Bomber Model A in a chartreuse pattern. This lure is best fished on 12-lb. test line to help it run properly and at the same time give you some power to quickly work fish away from heavy cover. Other diving baits also work well, such as Rattling Rogues and Rapalas, particularly in a gold pattern. Be sure to keep some pliers handy, as another Satilla predator, the bowfin (mudfish), frequently leave toothy tattoos on properly worked plugs.
Another great lure choice for Satilla bass is a Zoom Speed Craw Texas-rigged and flipped to the heaviest of cover. My line choice here is 20-lb. mono or braid. This is spooled onto a good baitcasting reel and a 7-foot rod. With this setup, you can quickly pull bass away from structure and toward your boat. Top colors here are black/red flake and junebug. I really depend on a Speed Craw to catch Satilla bass when they won’t hit anything else. It’s really slow, methodical fishing, requiring you to work every nook and cranny, but it will produce bass and some good ones at that.
The final lure I’m going to mention is the old and faithful Culprit 7.5-inch worm. It’s been around forever and flat out produces some whoppers. Like the Speed Craw, I prefer to fish it Texas-rigged with a 1/8-oz. weight. I cast to structure, let it settle, and then hop it off the bottom. I then pause a few seconds and repeat. It’s really important to watch your line because a lot of times bass in the Satilla will inhale the lure on the drop. Top Culprit colors you need in your tackle bag are red shad, tequila shad, moccasin and black. This fishing method is effective for bass on the Satilla into late winter. I can remember one Christmas Eve morning years ago I spent catching several nice bass out of cypress knees while the outside temperature hovered around 40 degrees. All of the products I have mentioned in this article can be purchased at Winge’s in Waycross. An added bonus is Michael Winge is always ready to discuss what’s working and where to put in. I’m sure it won’t take you more than a trip or two down to the Satilla to find out just what it has to offer in the world of bass fishing. I have no doubt you will be pleased with both quality and quantity of fish that are present.
If God made a prettier river then the Satilla I have yet to see it and doubt I ever will. I’m still not sure how the Satilla has gone unnoticed in the bass fishing community for so long, and as tempting as it is to keep it a secret, there is plenty enough river for all of us. So one fall day come on down to Waycross and see what the Satilla has to offer. I’m sure the only disappointment you will face is having to load the boat up to leave!