South Georgia Inshore Fishing

There is an almost untouched fishing resource along the southeastern US coast.

James Brooks shows off his nice seatrout. Photo by Ron Brooks
I took the opportunity in late March to do some fish finding in South Georgia. From the St Marys River on the border with Florida, north to the Satilla River, there are fish just waiting to be caught there.

The most prominent piece of the coast in this area is Cumberland Island. This barrier island runs from the St Marys River entrance north to the Satilla River and St Andrews Sound. The inshore side of Cumberland provides myriad rivers, creeks and flats that really hold fish.

The first thing I noticed when we fished this area was literally a lack of fishing pressure. All the pristine creeks and oyster bar laden shorelines were almost void of other anglers, making the day one that left us alone to find fish. And, find fish, we did!

There were eight specific places we fished, and we caught fish in all of these locations. You can do the same thing in the same locations the entire month of April.

Armed with tackle, some live shrimp, and a GPS unit, we launched at the public ramp in St Marys, Georgia. On a beautiful, warm Saturday morning, we were greeted by only three other anglers launching their boats. Two of them were headed offshore. It was so uncrowded that it made me wonder about the fishing prospects!

We followed a plan and hit various locations, the order of which was determined by the tide. Here, in the order we fished them, is our fishing day.

Location Number 1 (30°42’20.39”N, 81°27’17.80”W)

First stop was the groins, or rock outcroppings, that lie along the beach in front of Fort Clinch at the mouth of the St Marys River. Actually on the Florida side of the St Marys River, these groins protect the fort from crashing waves in heavy weather.

We fished with jigs heads and a saltwater Bass Assassin tail, looking for seatrout.

The preferred color early this morning was a green and pink one named Electric Chicken. We cast the jigs up close to the rocks and between the groins, and worked them back to the boat in a bouncing motion. Three vertical jerks of the rod were followed by two turns of the reel. This action made the jig move up and down in the water column several times before it moves toward the boat.

The tide was high and moving out, and we used the trolling motor to keep us parallel to the rocks. Anchoring will work for those boats without a trolling motor, and you can anchor in a position that will allow you to work three of the groins from the same anchored location.

In addition to the trout we caught here on a high tide, redfish can also be caught. Look for redfish in this location as the tide moves to low and begins coming back in.

Location 2 (30°42’26.20”N, 81°24’23.47”W)

From the groins we moved on out the river toward the jetties that line the channel on the north and south. We fished along the inside of the jetties, as noted by the GPS coordinates, and we caught some sheepshead. We chose the inside of the south jetties simply because of the direction the of the wind. In April, sheepshead can be found all along the jetty rocks.

They will sometimes move from one area of the rocks to another on any given day, and you may have to try several spots to find them, but they are there.

We used fiddler crabs, a bait that is currently in short supply. We also caught some on small live shrimp. Fresh dead shrimp will also work, but they must have the heads on them. Larger shrimp really do not work very well, and the sheepshead tended to leave them alone. This time of year, the live bait shrimp are local shrimp, and they are large.

We took the large shrimp and broke them into smaller pieces, and did manage to catch a few that way. But by far, the smaller, whole shrimp did better.

Use a short leader, small hook, and a weight only heavy enough to get the bait down. Fishing vertically just off the bottom works best, but sometimes the fish are close in on the rocks and you must cast to them.

Location 3 (30°47’00.91”N, 81°28’48.64”W)

From the jetties, we moved back into Cumberland Sound, and turned north, moving along the eastern shore of the waterway. To our left, beyond several marsh islands, was the entrance to Kings Bay Naval Base, The north end of the middle marsh island at this location proved to be very productive for seatrout. With the tide about half way down by now we fished with the current, tossing our jigs and grubs to the edge of the marsh. The color preference at this location was a white grub with a pink tail. The vertical jigging motion was again the favorite retrieve and it quickly generated a number of strikes.

As we moved south with the current and worked the marsh edge, several oyster bars began to be visible in the falling water. This pushed us farther out from the marsh, and we began working the deeper water some thirty or forty feet off the marsh. The trout had moved as well, and we continued to pick up fish.

We left this location to move on to the others on our list, but returned a few hours later. By now, the tide was low and had started moving in.

The oyster bars, invisible at high tide, were all showing; some were several feet out of the water.

Along these oyster bars, we found and followed several schools of redfish. They were tailing and feeding just at the edge of the oysters, and we were able to pitch jigs tipped with shrimp just ahead of their progress.

These were big reds, all of them larger than the twenty-three inch upper slot limit. Our tackle was light and the oysters were sharp, a combination that caused numerous cutoffs on some very nice fish. Had we brought heavier spinning or casting gear, we could have horsed the reds way from the oysters, allowing us to get the larger ones to the boat.

These fish were visible in the very clean, clear water, and would be easy targets for a fly-rod and a nice clouser minnow.

Location 4 (30°46’43.25”N, 81°28’40.00”W)

On the south end of this strip of marsh island is a small cut that actually creates a new island out of the tip.

Tidal currents had cut through the marsh, and we were able to work this cut with our jigs.

On around the tip, a large mud bar extends to the southwest. The east edge of the mud bar where it dropped to deeper water provided some additional action on our jigs and grubs.

Location 5 (30°46’44.29”N, 81°29'02.83"W)

This spot is directly southwest of location 3 and is the north end of Drum Point Island. Here we worked the edge of the grass line and oyster bars that border the east side of the island. Once again, the trout were cooperative.

Location 6 (30°46’59.00”N, 81°28’22.96”W)[\b]

While we did not fish at this location ourselves, we stopped and watched two boats that were black drum fishing. While we were there, one boat hung and lost a very large drum after a ten minutes battle.

Big black drum make their way into the inlets at this time of year looking for a mate. They will be found in the deeper water inside the inlets, and their drumming noises can often actually be heard through the bottom of the boat.

The bait these anglers were using was a half or whole blue crab, fished right on the bottom. Their tackle consisted of medium heavy bottom rods and Penn reels. Some of these spring drum can reach ninety pounds, so heavy gear is the order of the day.

Location 7 (30°47’35.90”N, 81°28’35.40W)

Farther north in the sound, we eased along the west side of Cumberland Island. We moved around the east side of Stafford Island and came to Oldhouse Creek. The tide was low and beginning to move in as we entered the creek with our trolling motor.

There are several slough entrances to the marsh in this creek, and on one bend in the creek, we stopped and began watching the water. We were looking for baitfish, a sure sign that redfish would follow.

Using Thunder Chicken weighted float rigs with two-foot long leaders, we cast far into the bend with a live shrimp. The weighted floats allowed us to cast far enough to keep our boat from spooking the fish in the relatively shallow water.

Redfish would grab our shrimp and make off with the float., The water wasn’t deep enough for the fish to take the float under. You knew a fish was on because the float began moving sideways to the current.

There was bait in Oldhouse creek on this occasion. There might not be bait there on another day. There are literally dozens of creeks just like this between the St Marys and Satilla Rivers.

While we found bait and fish today, the fish won’t be there if the bait is gone tomorrow. The trick is to locate the creek or creeks that are active with baitfish. These are the creeks that will hold fish.

Location 8 (30°45’24.78N, 81°27’13.59W)

This location is the beach all along Cumberland Island. April is the month for big redfish to be prowling the beach. Look for big pogie pods as the bait begins to arrive in April. The big bull reds can be caught on the bottom under the pods of baitfish.

Cobia also begin to show in April along the beach. Be ready to toss an artificial black eel or live bait to a surface cruising fish.

In all, we fished eight identifiable locations; all of them are are identified here with GPS numbers. We found fish in every location, but, we made our fishing location selection based on the tide situation.

The seatrout we caught generally liked to feed from just before high tide to about half way down to low tide. They liked the cuts around the oyster and mud bars that dropped off into deeper water. While we caught fish at the marked locations, there are numerous bars and cuts that we did not fish that will also hold fish.

We caught the redfish feeding on a dead low tide. They hung around and could be caught until the oyster bars were almost covered by the incoming tide.

In the creeks we caught redfish moving in with the tide looking for bait. Although we didn’t fish for them on an outgoing tide, we could have caught those same fish as they moved off the flats and into the creek.

You can see that part of our fishing success is not simply marking a location.

Rather, it is being in that location at the right tidal stage to find feeding fish. Had we fished for trout at location 3 at low tide, we would probably have been skunked.

And, speaking of tides, you need to know that tidal changes from high to low in this area are significant. We measured at least a four-foot difference in depth from high to low tide.

This is important to remember. It is very easy to get caught on one of the numerous bars or flats as the tide heads out. It drops faster than you believe and it will leave you high and dry for several hours!

This applies to the jetties as well. Swift tidal currents can have your boat breeched on the rocks if you do not pay attention to dropping water.

South Georgia anglers have quite a secret on their hands. The saltwater fishing here is like it was twenty years or more ago in other more populated areas. Those that fish the area know it. Fishing guides that serve the area also know it. It is an outstanding, uncrowded, pressure-free fishing area.