Georgia Saltwater Fishing Report – December 2019

GON Staff | November 22, 2019

Saltwater: Inshore: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “All fish from spotted seatrout to flounder to redfish are bulking up for those cold-weather patterns. Normally the inshore bite will turn on big time when there is an approaching cold front. The fish usually feed hard 18 to 24 hours before the big weather change. The best natural bait is going to be live shrimp, and the best artificial baits are those that imitate them. Live shrimp will work under popping or traditional adjustable corks or just plain naked. Once you get the bite going on the live or fresh dead shrimp, it’s easy to change to an artificial, such as DOAs. When it comes to getting the redfish bite, I suggest fishing copper penny, baby bass or ice-colored flukes made by Strike King (ZTOO). Rig them weedless and cast them right into the grass. When using artificial bait during cooler water times, work your lure slower than normal. When you can’t purchase or catch your own live shrimp, the mud minnow is easy to catch, and it’s a hardy bait. If one lipped-hooked minnow under a popping or adjustable cork doesn’t work, I suggest adding another one. For those fishermen who prefer night fishing, this is the perfect time of the year. Most all isolated dock lights will hold some sort of bait. Best baits are DOAs artificial shrimp patterns rigged on 1/8- to 1/4-oz. jig heads and small floating and diving lures. For fishermen who prefer the live bait, such as shrimp or mud minnows, these baits will also work. Best procedures for working a dock light can be quickly discovered by pitching and retrieving a few lures in different directions or placing bait rigged under a cork up current of the light. Bites should be consistence for about 15 to 20 minutes, and then it will be time to move on or take a break to give the fish time to regroup.”

Capt. David Newlin reports, “On Nov. 23, the water was 57 degrees. Over the last few days, the winter fish patterns have started happening. A lot of trout and redfish have moved up the rivers. We caught trout up the Ogeechee for the first time this year this week. Over the next few weeks, look for the trout to move up in the creeks and rivers and move into some deeper water. Today, almost all of the trout we caught were in 8 to 15 feet of water. All of the shallow spots still held redfish, and the trout seemed to be deeper. Fishing a slip-cork rig with a 3/4-oz. sinker will work good down to about 20 feet. A lot of trout are hitting artificials real good. All the usual jigs are working good when you can find fish in clear water. A plain green screw-tail on a 1/4-oz. jig has worked real good. Under some dock lights, try a silver Rat-L-Trap when your jigs don’t work. The trout bite should remain good until the water cools down below 50 degrees. The redfish are still biting in shallow water. On the days with sunshine, they will stay shallow all winter. A live shrimp as always will catch them. A white Gulp Swimming Mullet will catch the reds good during the winter months. Retrieve it slowly, occasionally bouncing it off the bottom. The monster redfish should start showing up on all the artificial reefs a few miles offshore. The sheepshead bite should start heating up in the next few weeks. A live fiddler crab fished around docks, trees and about any structure should catch a sheepshead. A lot of stripers are being caught in the Ogeechee tidewater. They will bite all December no matter how cold it gets. Try throwing Rapalas or jigs around the mouths of creeks on the outgoing tide. At night, fish around dock lights. The limit on saltwater stripers is a 22-inch minimum with a two-fish limit.”

Offshore: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “Artificial reefs are holding sheepshead, black drum, trophy redfish, flounder and cold-water sharks. Best baits for sheepshead, black drum and trophy redfish are going to be the purple back fiddler, juvenile rock crabs and green mussels. Small pieces of shrimp will also work. Flounder are known for situating themselves on the outskirts of the structure while waiting for that perfect meal. Best baits for the flounder are jumbo mud minnows or small sand perch placed on a Carolina-style bottom rig. Cast to the outskirts of the structure, set the drag to medium and place rod in holder. You an also take a 3-oz. jig head and bait it with live finger mullet, or any live bait that is about the size of a cigar, and put it on the bottom. The best thing about jig-head fishing is that you can move your bait along the bottom, and it imitates a small fish. Or you can butterfly a small fish, which offers up two working flowing tails. When you get a hit, don’t try to set your hook because flounder are known for being slow bait takers. Give them time to eat. If you miss the set, I suggest quickly dropping your bait back and letting it just sit. If sharking is on your mind, bring along some squid or cut up some freshly caught fish. Another great shark bait is the belly strip cut from a sheepshead. It’s best to try to place this bait as far on the outskirts of the structure as possible. Check state and federal regulations for any closers and size limit. For state:, and for federal: During a normal winter season, all sizes of black fish make their way to most all artificial reefs. This is the best time to find large schools of these fish holding on all types of structure from the lower relief to wrecks. Large summer trout can also be found schooling on the artificial reefs, and some of these fish are in the 20-inch-plus range. The best bait is small pieces of cut fish, squid and cigar minnows. Grouper season is open until Dec. 31. Large gags are known for migrating into shallow water during this time of the year. Artificial reefs located in 35 to 90 feet of water are stopping off places. The best places to fish on the artificial reefs are the places where you have wrecks, such as the barges, battle tanks, subway cars, ships, tugs and dredges. These fish prefer these areas because they can move in and out of structure feeding on those smaller fish that feel safe inside. Grouper not only take advantage of its camouflage of blending in but also its ability to get into tight spots. I always suggest using the preferred live baits, such as pinfish, ruby red lips, sand perch and rock bass when targeting grouper.”

Savannah Snapper Banks: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “The bottom fishing in 90 to 100 feet of water can be very interesting because you really never know what you might catch. Best bottom fishing baits are going to be small pieces of squid, cut fish and fresh or frozen cigar minnows. If you happen up on schooling cigar minnows or Spanish sardines, I suggest getting out a sabiki bait rig. Fresh dead or halves of minnows in most cases work great. You can catch black sea bass, vermilion snapper, white grunts, porgy, trigger fish and other colorful bottom biters. If you are looking for a bigger bottom bite, I suggest dropping a lipped-hooked ruby red lip, sand perch, vermilion or rock bass down to the bottom. These baits attract amberjack and grouper. Always check for current offshore regulations.”

Blue water fishing: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “Our blackfin tuna run is on wide open. You can find these fish holding over the ledges in 180 to 250 feet of water, or you might just happen to find a school holding in the upper water column that has rounded up a school of bait. The best lures  are actual cedar plugs pre-soaked in menhaden oil. For those fishermen who have to troll with real bait, I suggest Ilander Trackers rigged with dink ballyhoo baits. The trick here is to rig the Ilander Trackers with 60-lb. test fluorocarbon and small, short-shank, extra-strong, 4/0 to 5/0 hooks. This style rig works well when rigging with dink (small) ballyhoo. For those fishermen who love to do a little jigging, once you find the tuna, drop your lure to this depth and work it. Best deep-water jigs are those butterfly-type designs from 3 to 6 ounces. For the best jigging results, I suggest using braid as the main line and a fluorocarbon leader above the jig.”

Editor’s Note: 2020 Captain Judy’s Inshore/Offshore Fishing Clinics: Miss Judy’s clinics will run Feb. 22-23, 2020. Inshore and offshore clinics are $150/person for inshore or offshore. Both clinics are taught on the water. For the inshore clinics, you’ll learn proven light-tackle techniques for redfish, spotted seatrout and flounder. Offshore clinics will share proven techniques that took years to modify for artificial reefs, Savannah Snapper Banks and the Gulf Stream.

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