I eased the boat up in the mouth of a small creek just as the tide started coming in and lowered the power pole. I pointed out a small pocket in the bank and gave my two fishermen directions to throw just across the front of it.
Every cast for the next 30 minutes produced an almost instant redfish strike. We kept 10 fish and released around 25 before the tide rose and the this school of redfish went on their way.
Then we moved on to another spot. Before the morning was over, we released another 20 redfish, along with catching trout, flounder, black drum, croaker and whiting.
This is the kind of fishing the Georgia coast can provide in September and October.
I’ve been fishing the Georgia coast for 50 years, and I have been fortunate to watch and learn quite a bit about the life cycle of redfish. The redfish will spawn in the winter, and then around the middle of June the small young-of-the-year redfish start showing up. The first ones we catch are usually around 8 inches long. Every week you can watch them grow, and by the middle of August they start becoming legal fish, which in Georgia means they reach 14 inches long from nose to tail.
By the first of September, most all of this year’s redfish are a legal to keep length. Best of all, these young 14- to 17-inch redfish are aggressively eating everything they see and are fairly easy to catch for these couple of months every fall.
In September, most of the redfish will be in the sounds or a few miles up the rivers. On into the fall, as the water cools, Georgia redfish will move miles up the rivers and creeks. A lot depends on the salinity levels of the rivers. During the dry years redfish move all the way up to the I-95 bridge on the Ogeechee River.
In the sounds, the main structure that consistently holds redfish are the oyster shell beds. The oyster shell beds around creek mouths and points—and the shell beds that just have deep water close by—are good starting spots.
Some places just hold fish for no reason other than a few oyster shells on the bank. On low tide, go out and look for shell beds that you will want to fish after the tide comes in and water covers them. A lot of these spots are good spots to fish during the outgoing tide, and some are better spots to fish on the incoming tide.
A lot of the better drops only hold fish for an hour or so on a certain tide. On high tide, a lot of the redfish move into the marsh grass to feed. When the redfish are shallow up in the grass, you can often see them chasing bait, and at times you can actually see the backs and tails out of the water as they feed in the shallow water.
Trying to locate redfish is pretty simple in September.
Go out on low water, and locate a few potential looking spots. As soon as the tide starts coming in, fish each one for about 15 minutes until you find fish.
Watch where everyone else is fishing. When you see boats on certain spots every day, remember where they are. Don’t crowd a boat that is catching fish, but instead keep looking—there are a lot of good drops.
Monday through Friday usually doesn’t see much fishing pressure. Weekends can get a little crowded at times when the fish are biting. On into the fall, after deer season gets going, the weekends will have a lot less people fishing.
You can also do some homework before getting out on the water. Some of the fishing maps are good tools to get you started looking for redfish. The free maps that the DNR used to print are real good if you can find one.
The basic tackle for September redfish is real simple. I usually use a slip-cork rig with a live shrimp when trying to catch slot limit redfish.
A basic slip-cork rig is simple: a stopper knot, a bead, a cork and a weight. Attach 14 inches of fluorocarbon leader and a 1/0 kahle hook. My preferred corks are a Comal Tackle Rat-L-Pop, a Harper’s Super Striker or a Billy Bay Low Country Lightning with a 1/2-oz. weight under them. The Super Striker cork comes with some small rubber bobber stops that work great.
Some days working these corks with short popping motions will get a lot more bites than a cork sitting still. The Comal cork has an internal rattle, and the other two have external moving beads. The Super Striker is one of the most durable corks on the market that I like to fish with.
A lot of hooks will work, but I like the kahle style hooks with the barbs smashed down. Smashing the barbs doesn’t seem to let any fish get off, and it makes unhooking fish much simpler. My working fishing rod is a 7 1/2-foot Ugly Stik Elite spinning rod (model USESP761M) with a spinning reel loaded with 50-lb. braided line. Put a 25-lb. leader between the sinker and the hook. Fishing around shell beds you get hung up a lot. Make sure your leader is lighter than your main line, so all you pop off is your hook. I keep a box of hooks in my pocket when fishing oyster shells. You can use lighter tackle, but occasionally a 15- to 20-lb. redfish takes your shrimp, and the 50-lb. braid will give you a better chance to stop him. When fishing fish in open water, light tackle will work great, but in the grass and shells the big reds often cut light line on the shells.
I have caught a lot of redfish on artificals. A Gulp Swimming Mullet in white with red with a 1/8-oz. jig head fished 2 feet under a cork works good at times. A Gulp Shrimp rigged on a weedless hook works when the reds are up in the shallow marsh grass. Early in the morning the redfish will provide some topwater action. Most of my guide trip fishermen can’t properly fish the artifical lures, but they can throw a shrimp under a cork.
If you are trying to target the big redfish for some catch-and-release action in September, head to the beach fronts. Along the front of the beaches find any kind of tide line, drop-offs or any kind of structure like a wreck or trees. The mouth of Big McQueens Inlet is a popular spot for big redfish.
A standard slip-sinker rig is 1 to 4 ounces of weight with a 8/0 circle hook on a 50-lb. monofilament leader. Put a 4- to 8-oz. fillet of mullet, whiting, bluefish, or about any fresh fish, and throw it out and wait. On a good day you can catch two or three big reds every hour almost all day long. All the red fish over 23 inches must be released immediately. Almost every beach has a few spots that hold big redfish in September. If fishing from a boat, attach a float to the end of your anchor rope, so you can drop your anchor and follow big hooked reds. Going to the fish is sometimes much easier than trying to stop a big red and bring him back to you, and a lot less stress on the fish.
In September, some big tarpon and sharks will still be around the same places as the big reds. I like a 4/0 Penn reel with 300 yards of 30- to 50-lb. test Big Game Trilene line. Bring a big dip net, and try not to harm the big redfish. If you can’t easily remove the hook, just cut it off and leave it in him.
One big female redfish can lay thousands of eggs every year.
Almost all of September and October should offer good fishing. Check the tide charts and try to go when the high tides are less than 8 feet. The better tides are usually when the moon is around half either waxing or waning. On the bigger tides you can catch fish, but the water runs a lot swifter, and finding clear water can be difficult. In my part of the coast in the Wassaw, Ossabaw and St. Catherines Sound area, most tide charts work off the gauge at Fort Pulaski on the Savannah River and will give a list of different locations to add or subtract the correct times for the tide. Get a tide chart either on your phone or a paper one before trying to fish coastal Georgia. Almost every Saturday I see boats stranded on mud flats.
The current regulations on redfish in Georgia is five per day 14 to 23 inches. Redfish caught in Georgia waters cannot be sold.
As long as we protect the big female fish, I think we should always have a good September crop of redfish.
If the hurricanes give us a break, we have as good of a crop of redfish this year as I have ever seen. Good luck. Hope to see you on the river.
Editor’s Note: The author is a full-time captain. To reach David, call (912) 756-4573.