Tips for Successful Coastal Georgia
Tides and their effects on Fishing: The stage of the tide, and how hard the current is running (caused by the tide flooding and ebbing) have an enormous effect on an angler's chances of catching Georgia's popular inshore species such as spotted seatrout, red drum, black drum, sheepshead, flounder, and whiting. Knowing how to read tide charts correctly and apply that data to your fishing decisions will determine how successful your fishing day on the water might be.
The coastal areas of Georgia have an average difference from low tide to high tide of about seven feet, with ranges from six to as much as nine feet or better. These extreme tides have a definite impact on fishing. The fisherman should be able to use a yearly tide chart to plan his fishing well into the future. Most tide charts show the date and time of the high and low waters as well as the height of the tide. The height above mean low water can make the difference between catching fish or going home skunked. Plan to fish when tides are in the mid-six to mid-seven ft. ranges. The height makes such a difference because the flow of the current becomes stronger as the height increases, which causes the water to becomes turbid. Turbidity is suspended silt which has been stirred up from bottom sediments. Turbid water reduces the chances of the fish seeing your bait.
To better understand what takes place during periods of strong tides, one must put tides in perspective with moon phases. To work this out, get a tide chart and find the moon phases. You will find four different phases of the moon: (1) new, (2) first quarter, (3) full, and (4) last quarter.
New Moon: This is the period when nights are dark with no or very little moon showing. Look at the height of the tide two to four days prior to the actual new moon. You will notice that the tides gradually increase in height. This increase is caused by the increased gravitational pull of the moon during this phase. This increase in tidal height causes turbid water. Try to limit your fishing during this time.
First Quarter: This phase typically results in much clearer water. Notice on your tide chart that the heights at high tides are in the 6.0 to 7.0 ft. range. During this moon phase (waxing phase) the current will not be as strong and the waters will be much clearer. Time to go fishing!
Full Moon: Just as with the new moon phase, you will see an upswing in tide heights starting about three days prior to the full moon and extending about the same number after the full moon. These high-seven and eight-plus tides make it difficult to catch fish because of the turbid water conditions. Do not plan fishing trips if possible during these big tides.
Last Quarter: This is referred to as the "waning" phase. As with the first quarter, you will find that the tides will be down within the "good fishing" range of 6 to 7 ft. again. Plan your fishing trips durring these "neap" tide conditions.
Finding Good Fishing Spots: Fish can be located in one spot today and gone tomorrow leaving us scratching our heads in a confused state. Inshore fish schools gather where there are concentrations of bait, plain and simple. When the bait moves, the fish move too, a simple statement describing a complex life cycle situation. However, many times the bait will be located at a spot but the fish will not. This is because fish schools move around. Therefore, you must do the same. Fish a spot for 10 to 15 minutes. If nothing bites, move to another spot, or try one you think "looks good." Keep moving around until you locate the fish. Remember, most spots are tide-specific. Fishing might be good on one tide stage, such as the flood tide, but not on the ebb (outgoing) tide, or vice-versa. So, as the tide stages change, you might go back and try an earlier spot that did not produce. Basically, it is a big game of running between several spots until you locate the fish. For the newcomer to coastal inshore fishing, the following information will be useful in locating a few spots that hold fish without spending many years of trial and error searching on a given stretch of water.
During the spring and summer, most inshore species will be found along the edges of the sounds, beaches and inlets. Try and locate bait. Look around the shallows of small islands and guts that drain the marsh. Trout will move into these areas and often congregate for entire tidal stages. Also look for bends in creeks that flow past shell mounds or points with sand or shelly bottoms. Most of these places will be productive during the last three hours of ebb, and first three hours of the flood tide. Fish along places where small rips form or where the water flows from a point. Trout will often be out away from the "structure" in 6-8 ft. of water, whereas red drum and flounder tend to be up close to the shells in less than 2 ft. of water. Adjust your fishing depth and try different locations until you get a strike. When a strike occurs, fix that spot in your mind, and cast right back in the same location. Trout are a tight schooling species and many times bite only in a very small zone.
When fishing around marsh islands and points try high flood and high ebb tide stages. Rips will be easier to find during these periods. During high tide, try fishing directly over submerged shell mounds and off the tips of marsh islands. During dead low tide, take a break, eat a sandwich and wait for the water to begin moving again.
During the early fall, fish will still be found in the sounds and lower reaches of coastal rivers. After a few hard northeasters in late October and November, fish begin moving up the creeks and rivers. The fish will be in deeper holes and are slower to bite in the colder weather. This is a good time to try trolling grubs slowly along the banks in 10 to 15 ft. of water, zig-zagging back and forth into 5 ft. once in a while, especially on the higher tide stages. Troll slow enough so the grub bumps the bottom once or twice per minuet. A good tip is to check the stomach contents of any fish you catch and if possible, make the adjustment to your bait or lure accordingly.
Remember, every time you go, keep notes. Refer to them regularly. Note the location, tide stage, time of year, and methods used. After 20 or 30 years, you might begin to notice a pattern. Good luck and keep those lines tight.
Tips for Successful Coastal Georgia
Offshore fishing in Georgia is good year-round. However, weather conditions determine if you will be able to take your boat out to get the fish. Check local marine forecasts before you venture offshore, and keep checking every 2 or 3 hours to make sure a sudden blow is not approaching. Use common sense and do not take chances going offshore. File a float plan and make sure your radio is working. Make a few calls during the day to make sure, (just ask for a radio check).
As a general rule, the following yearly calendar can be used to gauge what species to go after. The main offshore season in Georgia begins in mid-April when large schools of bluefish, Spanish mackerel, cobia, king mackerel, bait fish, and many other species begin their northern migration. Trolling around and over the live bottom areas, artificial reefs, and past Navy towers works well. Look for water temperature over 60 degrees F. Remember, many fish, or the bait they eat, are often located around structure. Therefore, fish around floating debris, weed lines, tide rips, and bottom reliefs. Also, watch those birds. Many times fish are caught where sea-birds are feeding. The birds feed on bait that is being pushed to the surface by predators.
Offshore fishing generally gets better as the summer progresses, and good weather allows one to venture farther from shore, even to the western edge of the Gulf Stream (about 60 to 80 miles). Out in this "green" water you are liable to hook into tunas, bill fish, sailfish, wahoo, and dolphin. These species tend to be present year-round, but the distance offshore and poor weather conditions in the fall and winter prevents most of us from catching them. Summertime fishing on and around the forty-mile live bottom areas (Savannah, Grand, & Brunswick Snapper Banks) is excellent for bottom fish such as snapper and grouper, as well as for kings, barracuda, cobia, and big amberjack. The Navy towers are good too. Look for schools of bait on the down-current side and either troll along them or live-line a pinfish, greenie, pogy, mullet, or other live bait along the edges of the towers.
Late June through early September is also very good nearshore for small sharks, tarpon, smoker kings (the big ones), schools of Spanish, and an occasional cobia. Fishing methods vary from drifting dead pogies on the bottom or anchoring and creating a chum-line with ground pogies and/or pogy oil and fishing both dead and live bait in the chum-line. Also, slow trolling is very productive too, especially along tide rips that form near shipping channels and inlets.
As the Fall and Winter approaches and the migratory species have moved through heading south, bottom fishing picks up. Excellent sea bass, vermillion snapper, red snapper, scamp grouper, gag grouper, triggerfish, pink porgy, and white porgy can be caught bottom fishing with squid, cut bait or live bait.
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