Gauging Success

Craig James | June 3, 2021

I’ve fished the Satilla River for more than three decades. I have to say the past couple of years I’ve had more success than ever before, and it’s not because I’m getting any better at fishing, I promise you that. Nor have I discovered a new top-secret lure or technique guaranteed to make them bite every single time I go.

I’ve been successful on roughly nine out of 10 trips I’ve made to the river this past year, and I owe it all to my cell phone. Yes, you read that right. More specifically the river gauges that are readily available with a quick Google search on my device.

By constantly monitoring the gauges throughout the week and learning what the levels translate to as far as river conditions go, it’s easy to make a good plan for a weekend trip to the river.

Let’s say that it’s Thursday afternoon, and I’m getting ready for a trip to the river on Saturday morning. I check the Satilla River gauge and see that the water level is at an extremely low level of 5.2 feet. I know that at the particular boat ramp I want to access that I can’t go downriver in a boat more than 100 yards unless the level is 6 feet or greater. This instantly tells me to leave the boat under the shelter and to load up my kayak. Without even looking at the river, I know on Saturday I will have the river to myself, effectively putting the odds of success in my favor.

Another important factor when looking at a river gauge online is the discharge rate. In redneck terms this is simply a measurement of how fast the water is moving. Learning what the river looks like at different speeds enables you to know what kind of lure presentation is most likely to be effective. For instance, if the water level is moving 300 cubic feet a second on the Waycross Satilla Gauge, I know that a Beetle Spin isn’t going to be effective in current that fast. I also know that topwater baits will be my best bet to put fish in the boat.

Many gauges on our rivers in Georgia also measure another very important factor: Temperature. I look not only at the current reading but what it has been doing over the past week. A warming trend on the gauge tells me fish will probably be pretty active, where a sudden drop lets me know I may want to skip the trip and get some chores done around the house until conditions improve.

If you love fishing rivers like I do, it pays to understand what the river is doing and how it impacts the fish. By doing a little homework it’s easy to gauge success.

USGS Current Streamflow Conditions For Georgia

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