The barrier islands along Georgia’s southeast coast provide arguably some of the most beautiful coastal landscapes you will find anywhere. A virtually uninterrupted string of islands, covered in massive moss-laden oaks, is lined up along 100 miles of the Georgia coast. And their individual beauty is enhanced by the miles of salt marsh that surrounds them. Whether you are looking for a fine resort or a pristine wilderness, you’ll find it along this stretch of I-95 that connects Florida to Savannah.
What many don’t realize, however, is that this is also one fine fishery. The marsh is rich in nutrients, and these waters attract, and provide home for, numerous species of fish.
St. Simons Island, near Brunswick, is no exception. While St. Simons is probably best known for its resort and golf courses, there are excellent angling opportunities in the rivers and creeks that wind through the local marshes.
We had the opportunity to experience this great fishery with local guide Larry Kennedy Jr., owner of Kennedy Outfitters located near the St. Simons Airport. Larry has been fishing these creeks professionally for 16 years and grew up fishing the marshes with his dad. As a result, he is well acquainted with the fishing patterns during various times of the year.
In mid June, we left the Hampton Marina, at the north end of the island, at 7 a.m. and headed south through the marsh. Also aboard were Rocky Nepshinsky and David Brantley, two of Larry’s long-time fishing companions.
Pulling up the big center console and setting anchor at the mouth of a creek, Larry let the boat swing into the outgoing tide about 30 yards from the bank.
“During the summer months, the spotted seatrout that are prolific here go deep in search of cooler water,” said Larry. “We will be structure fishing along drops, points and creek channels at about 6 to 10 feet deep.”
The surface temp for our outing was in the low 80s, so the trout were still relatively shallow. In July, water temps will likely be in the high 80s, so plan to go deeper during the height of summer, as much as 15 feet, according to Larry.
The most important thing to remember is to stay off the banks.
“Many anglers spend their days casting right up against the banks over the oyster beds,” said Larry. “You might catch a redfish or two like that, but the trout will be much deeper.”
Larry suggested that you try a range of depths until you find where the fish are holding. Once you locate the trout, they will usually be in large schools and can provide a bunch of action in a short period.
Tackle, Line and Rigs
Larry set us up with light-action rigs, spinning and casting, with 10- to 12-inch slip floats. The big floats allow the drift to cover a lot of territory and still be visible to the angler.
The reels were spooled with 50-lb. test braided line terminated by a 20-lb. test leader. Larry recommends this rig so that when you hang up on the bottom, you generally only loose the leader and hook.
Below the float, Larry uses a 1 1/4-oz. sinker for a 10-inch float, slightly heavier for the 12-inch model. The built-in swivel on the weight attaches to an 18-inch leader that is terminated by a No. 1 or 1/0 kale hook, depending on the size of the bait.
One of the easiest ways to set your fishing depth is with the use of a stopper knot. A good example of this is found at www.netknots.com/fishing_knots/bobber-stopper-knot/. Be sure to place a bead between the float and the knot. Other types of stoppers are available for purchase if you prefer. An example can be found at www.alibaba.com/product-detail/Foam-fishing-stopper-trout-float_521688923.html.
Larry’s bait of choice is live shrimp.
“A medium-sized shrimp works best, not too large,” said Larry. “My experience is that trout are a little reluctant to take bigger shrimp.”
Larry hooks the shrimp through the head just in front of the black spot. This gives maximum longevity and freedom of movement. Keeping a fresh shrimp on the line will definitely improve your performance. Mud minnows are also productive.
Set several rods up at different depths at first to find where the trout are holding. Cast the rig up current and make long drifts.
“Don’t be afraid to let it go well downstream,” said Larry. “The key is to cover a lot of water when searching for fish.”
Let the float drift freely on a relatively slack line, but don’t allow the line to bow too much in the current or you won’t be ready when the hits come. Once you find the depth and location where the trout are holding, you can move in closer and shorten your drift.
Trout will average 15 to 16 inches in length and about 1 1/2 pounds, but some will be quite a bit larger. You can sometimes find redfish feeding along the oysters, but trout should be the dominate species. Flounder can be a bonus, and multiple other species show up at times, including sheepshead, croaker, jack crevelle, bluefish and ladyfish. Part of the fun is not knowing what you are going to pull up.
On our trip, we fished Jones Creek, Mosquito Creek and the Hampton River, but there are plenty of likely locations throughout the surrounding marsh.
“The key to locating fish is the depth and structure,” said Larry. “Look for abrupt bottom changes like ledges and points, and don’t be afraid to go deep.”
This pattern will work right through the summer, and Larry indicates he prefers to go out early.
“The fishing is more tide dependent than anything else, but it is more comfortable for the fishermen early in the day,” said Larry.
The fish are most active when the tide is running, either in or out. Slack water generally isn’t very productive. But extreme tides are tough. When the current gets too swift, it is hard to control the drift and keep the bait in front of the fish. Weather fronts and pressure changes will also affect the action. If a front comes through, Larry advises that you move in or out a little (shallower or deeper) to see if the fish have moved. Sometimes a foot or two of depth can make a big difference.
Larry said this method of fishing is not only productive, it is straightforward and an easy way to introduce the whole family to fishing and have a fun day on the water. Add to that the beauty of the islands and the surrounding marsh, and you have the makings of a great summertime outing. You’ll likely end up with some excellent table fare to boot.
If you’d like to experience some of this great action around the barrier islands, visit Larry’s shop or look up the website at www.kennedyoutfitters.com.
You can also call him at (912) 634-FISH (3474) to get more information or book a trip. Larry runs trips year-round and will be opening another outfitter location on Jekyll Island later this year.