July is a month when fish can be hard to find, especially inshore. It’s hot; it’s brutal on the anglers who may sit and anchor; and, the fishing just doesn’t seem to be as much fun as it is in cooler months.
The fish can get lethargic on hot days as the water heats up in the Intracoastal and the creeks. Frankly, anglers can also get lethargic on days like that — chunking lures and jigs from the front of a boat can wear you out on a hot day! But that doesn’t mean you have to stay home and not catch fish. You can still fish, and catch fish, while taking it easy in your boat.
We went to investigate some creeks that run into the ICW on the Georgia coast in late June. We found some deep creeks and some shallow creeks, and we fished the ones that looked good. Most importantly, we caught trout in those “good” creeks. What we did, anyone in a small boat can do.
So what is it that makes one creek look good and another not so good? We began by looking at the mouths of all these creeks. We were looking for signs of activity — specifically baitfish activity. I don’t care how good a creek looks, if the bait are not in that creek, the chances are slim that any fish — and we were looking for trout — will be there either.
It’s a simple rule. Big fish eat baitfish. They follow the baitfish, because that’s the source of their nourishment. If you are looking to catch big fish, look for their food source first.
When we found a creek that looked dead — no mullet schools around; no pogie pods close by — we put that creek at the back of our list. When we found a creek that had a school of mullet swimming into it, we put it to the top of the list.
The second aspect of a “good” creek is one that has water in it at low tide. Tides along the Georgia coast can be brutal, fluctuating by as much as 8 feet at times. You can go into a creek at high tide thinking you have plenty of water, only to find out that a 4-foot-deep bar you crossed at the mouth is now out of water as the tide drops. That makes for a miserable six hours as you wait for the tide to come back in and allow you to get out of the creek.
What we planned to do was to fish the creeks that looked good. How we planned to fish them was a bit different. Our plan was to troll for seatrout.
You may want to do a little background work to catch fish like this. Some of you may already know a lot of creeks and how deep they are. So to begin with, let’s check out a typical creek.
I like to go on an outgoing tide and scout the water all the way down to low tide and half way back up. I find the creeks that hold water at low tide — those I can get into with my boat. Because, if I can’t get into them at low tide, I can’t get out of them if I get stuck way back up in them as the tide rolls out.
So, I hit a number of creeks, looking to see (1) can I get in and out of the creek, and (2) do I see any sign of baitfish. I only need to find the deep creeks once. On the next trip, I need only run from mouth to mouth of those creeks looking for signs of bait.
That’s the safe way to fish these creeks. You can fish any of the other creeks you find at high tide, but you will need to be careful that you don’t stay too long. And, yes, those other creeks can hold fish as well. I just like to be comfortable knowing I don’t need to rush or worry about getting out of the creek as the tide drops.
On this trip we found some finger mullet working the mouth of Beach Creek at the south end of Cumberland Island. I eased into the mouth watching the bait. In addition to finger mullet, a couple of schools of glass minnows were wandering the edge of the creek. As I watched, they showered out of the water running from some predator fish below. As it turned out, there were mullet way back up in the creek as well, which was just ideal.
The entrance to Beach Creek has a channel that runs along the western side and out into the St. Marys River. You need to stay on the southwestern approach at low tide to get into the creek. The first bend in the creek takes a sharp turn east and that bend is quite deep.
This creek is deep all the way back into the marsh, and you should have no trouble running to the back of the creek. But, don’t be tempted to run all the way back there.
If you are the only one in the creek — and on a weekday morning you probably will be — troll your way to the back of the creek. Running a creek like this churns the water and spooks the fish. You would not like living next to a commercial airport — fish don’t like engines buzzing by them, either.
The troll should be about as fast as you can walk. Some people vary the depth of their lure using boat speed. When you’re trolling lures without lips, the faster the troll, the shallower the bait will run and vice versa. However, if you know the water depth in the creek, you can set the trolling depth of your bait by changing the weight.
Let’s talk about baits. I prefer a jig head with a swim-tail grub on it. Some call it a screw-tail. I use a jig head that weighs from 1/8 ounce up to about 1/2 ounce, depending on the creek and the water depth. Remember, the lighter the jig, the shallower it will troll.
I will also troll plugs, although boat speed is the only way to manage the lure depth. One of my favorites is a Boone Spinana. This is a floating, semi-diving lure. It will run about 2 to 3 feet under the surface when trolled and has a very erratic action. I like either the red/white combo or the pink/white color scheme. I have tried other colors, and these just seem to do the best for me.
For the plastic trailer on the jigs, I like a Saltwater Assassin Sea Shad electric chicken in color. I know other colors will work, and I know many of you have other preferences. But you need to fish with a “confidence” bait — one that has produced for you in the past. As you can see in the pictures, that electric chicken works for me.
The seatrout has a paper mouth like a crappie. Hooks penetrate it quite easily, and it will also tear quite easily. This “soft” mouth means you need to pay attention when fighting a trout. Lots of fish are lost because the angler puts too much pressure on the fish during the fight and the hooks tear out. And, invariably, you will lose a fish at least once during a fishing day when you try to lift a good one into the boat using just the rod. One shake of the head, the trout’s mouth tears, and off he swims. Use a net!
I actually use the jigs more than the plugs, because fish are easier to de-hook with a jig, particularly seatrout. That soft mouth means both sets of trebles will usually find a place to bury. While removing one treble, the other treble gets hung with every fish movement. Trebles can easily be lodged in an angler’s hand as well.
When I reach the point in a creek where I want to begin trolling, I simply chunk a jig or lure out of the back of the boat and put the rod in a rod holder. If I am alone, I might fish two rods, but no more. Double hook-ups are common, and a circus of sorts ensues when you are alone with two fish on your lines.
Knowing the general rule for creek depths means you can find fish a little easier. That rule says that — in general — the outside bend in a creek is the deepest water. The inside bends — again, in general — will be the shallowest. So, while trolling, plan to maneuver the boat so your bait trolls through that deeper water.
I prefer to fish the low incoming tide for trout. It seems to me they move out of the creek with the outgoing tide and then move back in — following the bait — as the water begins to rise.
In Beach Creek, we put two rods out as soon as we got over the entrance bar and began to slowly idle our way back into the creek against the tide. I had a 3/8-oz. jig with an electric-chicken Assassin on one rod and a Boone Spinana on the other. That Spinana was running about 2 feet under the surface, roughly 30 feet behind the boat, and the jig was running about 3 feet down at roughly the same distance. As we trolled, I made sure the boat took the lures through the outside bends on every turn.
It took only a few minutes to hook-up. A school of jack crevalle came through, and we ended up with a double hook-up. These feisty little fighters can be great fun on light tackle. They never quit fighting.
On the second bend, the jig rod was hit, and my partner brought in a nice trout. It was going to be a great day! We continued all the way to the back end of Beach Creek, watching the Cumberland Island wild horses in the marsh and catching some nice trout along the way.
We reeled in as I turned the boat around and began to troll our way back out. This meant trolling with the tidal current as opposed to against it, so I changed to a 1/2-oz. jig. The boat would be moving faster because of the current.
Varying the boat speed can often produce results. A little faster or a little slower moves the jig a little shallower or a little deeper. Some boats move too fast to troll even at the engine’s idle speed. In these cases, you can drag a bag or bucket behind the prop wash to help slow the boat.
We continued trolling up and down current in Beach Creek for about three hours. And we caught fish. We took our time, never revved the engine and kept the water as still and quiet as possible. We were fortunate it was a weekday, as we had the whole creek to ourselves.
You can fish Beach Creek, and any other coastal creek on the weekend, but you will likely have company. But, you can still catch fish. Most boats fishing these creeks will anchor and fish with floats or on the bottom. Once they anchor and set up, it takes a few minutes for any spooked fish to calm down. These anchored boats can and do catch fish, but they limit themselves to just their anchoring area. You can troll right past them and cover a lot of territory. That gives you an advantage and will usually result in more fish.
Creek trolling is easy and can be done from any boat that is easily maneuvered in a creek. It’s a good way to relax in the summer heat and still catch fish!