It happens each year. Fish move with the seasons. Sometimes it’s a move to spawn; sometimes it’s a move to warmer or cooler water; sometimes it’s a move with the tidal currents. But the irrefutable fact is that they do move. That’s a handy piece of information to have when you are fishing a particular season.
Early spring in our Georgia waters means that some species of fish move back inshore and can be caught. During the winter, redfish and sheepshead travel as far as 30 miles or more to offshore reefs. April on the Georgia coast means the return of warmer water and of big redfish, along with sheepshead, to inshore waters. It’s an exciting time to be fishing. If I had to choose only one month to fish, it would be April. The water is warming, the air is warming, and fish are feeding.
Along the Georgia coast in every inlet, breeder-sized redfish are moving in, and knowing their habits can mean a very successful trip. If we know where the fish are, we can plan our strategy to catch them.
Down south at the mouth of the St. Marys River, we fished for some of these big redfish in March. For this article, I wanted to give you an idea of where they can be caught and what tackle to use. What we used may surprise you, as you will see later.
Redfish have a number of habits. For one, these spottail bass like to school. Even on the offshore reefs over the winter, if you find one redfish, you will have found the whole school. Smaller redfish that did not make the offshore trip will be even more prone to schooling, and if you catch one small red, you will definitely catch more.
Second, redfish are very peculiar about having to move to a bait. I have had several instances where we got into a school of redfish and began catching them on live shrimp. The current was running around the tip of a grass and oyster bed island, and the fish were staged in deeper water close to the point. If you put your bait where the fish were, you got bit. If your cast was 10 feet off, your bait would sit on the bottom untouched. We had to make sure we put our baits down in the same place on each cast. On more than one occasion, we caught upward of 50 redfish in a spot just like that. It was a matter of putting the bait down in front of the fish’s nose. Miss that spot and you may as well cast again.
Third, redfish prefer current. I seldom catch any redfish on a slack tide. I believe they don’t feed on a slack tide because that would mean moving about to search for food. It sometimes matters whether the tide is moving in or moving out, although there are places where the reds will bite on either direction of the tide. It all has to do with the underwater structure.
Jetties are a structure unto themselves. They are built by dumping huge rocks or granite boulders down to the bottom, each successive dump piles on top of the preceding one. When the rocks protrude from the water, you are looking at the top of a triangular-shaped jetty. The rocks at the surface may only be 5 to 10 feet wide. But as you move down into the water column, you see that the top rocks are piled on a wider second tier of rocks. And that second tier is on an even wider third tier. The deeper the water, the wider the very bottom tier, i.e. the base, will be.
The end of the jetty that you see protruding above the water’s surface is not the end of the rocks. Jetties usually tapers down for a good 100 yards or more. Water depth will gradually increase over the submerged rocks until the last rocks are all alone on the bottom.
The St. Marys jetties run for more than a mile off the beaches. The Georgia/Florida state line runs the middle of the St. Marys river, so there is a “north jetty” and a “south jetty.”
To fish the north jetty, one needs a Georgia fishing license. You can actually pull up Google Maps and see the north jetty coming off the southern tip of Cumberland Island.
The south jetty extends off the northern beach of Fernandina Beach, Fla. To fish this jetty, you will need a Florida license.
Farther inland you may fish either side of the river with either license, as long as you don’t move into any side creeks in the other state’s territory.
The south jetty is a good distance off the channel, so you will experience much shallower water there. Most of my fishing, especially this time of year, is done on the north jetty.
Moving east off the end of the St. Marys north jetty, where we like to fish, the water gradually deepens from about 1 foot down to about 20 feet in a direct line from the jetty. On either side, the water drops to 30 feet or more. You need to be aware of this if you approach the end of the jetty.
Here is why this depth change is important. Current does some crazy things down in the water column. On an outgoing tide at the St. Marys jetties, the current runs out and turns north over the shallow rocks at the end of the north jetty. That means water will be hitting the inside of those rocks head-on with full current. On the back side of the underwater rocks, the current does some crazy things. As it washes over the rocks, there will be some vertical, underwater eddies formed. The current is broken up. This is where redfish will stage along the bottom, waiting for the current to wash baitfish their way.
Trail-and-error and experience will teach you just where some of these eddies are. A good depthfinder will actually mark the redfish for you as you idle around off the end of the jetty.
Here is how we located and caught some big reds on the end of the north jetty while fishing with freshwater crankbaits.
Anyone with a jetty anchor can get anchored up over the end of the jetty. But I find that I was better able to position the boat with my trolling motor. It also allows us to chase down any larger reds that hit.
Use a depthfinder and move about over the end of the jetty and look for fish being marked. Then judge where you are in relation to the last surface rocks at the end of the jetty. You will want to back off to the north with the current and cast back on top of the submerged rocks. We used Norman DD22 crankbaits and Academy Sports branded H2O XPRESS CRD crankbaits. The color patterns were slightly different between lures, but all of them were made to mimic a menhaden shad, a favorite of the big reds.
We cast up to the rocks and cranked back to the boat. The lure slipped right along the top of the rocks. We had to crank slowly at first, because the water was only about 10 feet deep where we were casting. Then we sped the lure up a bit, and it dove right along the rocks all the way back to the boat.
The process was to mark fish on the edge of the rocks and then position the boat so that our cranking would come right to them. These will be big redfish staged in a rock eddy out of the current. When one of our crankbaits comes by them, they should nail it!
We fished the outgoing tide all the way to the slack tide. On the incoming tide, the location we had been fishing had strong current running right at it. The current comes from the north and enters the inlet around the north jetty. It’s interesting that as good as our spot was on the outgoing tide, it was senseless to fish it on the incoming.
Now on the inside of the submerged tip, we followed the same pattern. Cast up on top of the rocks in 10 feet of water and crank back to the boat. The difference was that we did not get a strike at all.
We repositioned the boat so we could cast to the rocks that were above water. It is here that the current comes round the bend so to speak and heads inshore. That bend in the current formed an eddy right on the inside of the jetty, about 10 feet in from, and right next to, the exposed jetty rocks. Ordinarily, this is where the bigger reds will move to on the incoming tide.
Because the trolling motor was out of juice by this time, we decide to try and anchor farther inland along the jetty. About the time we left the end of the jetty, a charter came up and anchored just inward of where we were catching fish. They were fishing with live shrimp and using a slip float. The captain adjusted the floats so that the bait would be right off the bottom. If their float was too far off the rocks, nothing would touch it. These fish were staged in an underwater eddy around a big submerged rock.
As for us, we began drifting along with the current along the edge of the jetty. We were casting jig heads with plastic tails in the electric-chicken color—chartreuse under pink.
When working the edge of the jetty, casting to it and working your jig along the bottom in a hopping-type retrieve, you will catch small reds, big trout and an occasional flounder. If you use a float with a live shrimp under it, a sheepshead is also a good possibility.
The water temperature the day we fished was still in the high 50s, too cold really for the fish we were seeking. However, when the water gets up to about 65 degrees or warmer, the fish will cover up the jetties. Local anglers will also be out there in good numbers.
In Georgia, you may keep up to five redfish between 14 and 23 inches. Fish larger than 23 inches must be immediately released.
If you’re fishing the south jetty in Florida waters, redfish must be between 18 and 27 inches, and there’s a limit of only two fish per angler per day.
In addition to the St. Marys jetties, you can use this same tactic with crankbaits at the end of and along the Savannah River entrance channel. There are two long jetties, one on the north edge and one on the south edge of the channel. While we fished at St. Marys for this article, the Savannah River jetties will be productive, as well. Fish the ends, and then work the jetty sides as if you were casting for largemouth with crankbaits on rip-rap.
The current in and out of not only the St. Marys River but every sound on the coast will vary depending on the sun and the moon. When the sun and moon are lined up together on the same side of the earth, their combined gravitational pull will make the high tide higher and the low tide lower. That means more water has to move in and out, and that means a much stronger current. The new moon and the full moon are the two times when this phenomenon occurs. On the half moon, either waning or waxing, the tidal currents will be much weaker.
Current is important, because fish generally won’t bite when there is no current. On the other hand, when the current is too strong, they tend to stay close to cover and not range out and fight the flow. Fishing from the quarter moon to the half moon will be much easier and more productive out on the jetties because the current will not be as large a factor.
Check your calendars before you fish. Ideally you want to fish according to the tide and moon to get the best action. In April, low tides at the jetty tip between 10 a.m. and about 2 p.m. will occur from April 1-6, April 15-20 and on April 30. You also want to look at the moon phases. The best moon phases for low current occur on April 1-2, April 13-17 and April 30. All these numbers are confusing. The bottom line is that the best fishing time relative to moon and tide at the St. Marys jetties will be April 1, 2, 15, 16, 17 and 30. That’s the six days that fishing should be best. Now it remains for you to watch the weather and pick a day when the wind will be 10 knots or less. I’m sorry, but we haven’t perfected a process for determining future wind speeds.
Of course you can catch fish on other days. This is just a selection of days that should provide you the best opportunity to catch some crankbait reds.