Georgia Saltwater Fishing Report – January 2019

GON Staff | December 23, 2018

Saltwater: Inshore: Capt. David Newlin reports, “January is the toughest month of the year to catch fish in coastal Georgia. Trout are deeper and slower in the cold water. Fish a jig deep and slow just off the bottom. A Gulp! Swimming Mullet in green with a red jig head works for me. Most of the redfish will be deeper, with some moving into shallow water on sunny days. A live shrimp or a Gulp! Shrimp on a jig head will work. Sheepshead will be biting all month. As always, a fiddler crab near structure will work. Stripers will be biting in the Ogeechee and Savannah rivers. Try casting or trolling a Rapala type lure around creek mouths on the outgoing tide. January is sometimes just a good month to work on boats and tackle. Happy New Year. Spring is only a few weeks away.” Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “By the time the month of January rolls around, the inshore fish that are migrating have left, and the ones that are staying have gone into the hibernation mode. Spotted seatrout during this time are normally wintering in deep holes in the rivers or sounds. The best way to catch spotted seatrout when in the hibernation mode is to use small saltwater or freshwater jigs with curly or paddle tails while using 4- to 6-lb. test main line. As far as main line, I like monofilament because of the extra stretch it adds. Spotted seatrout have soft mouths, and a hook can easily be pulled free. The bottom line when targeting saltwater fish in cold-water conditions is to go with a lure that is smaller but still gets their attention when worked. The secret is that these soft lures have to be small and worked very slow. This slow action will still do the job of imitating live bait. When the water is cold, everything is moving slow. I like to use 1/16- and 1/24-oz. jig heads with assorted colors of curly and paddle tails. My favorite jig color combinations are a white jig head with a white tail and a red jig head with chartreuse flake. Another favorite is a white jig head or a plain lead jig head rigged with your favorite yellow/white/chartreuse tail. The best method when fishing a deep hole is to cast into the deepest part, let your lure hit the bottom, wait, reel a few times, wait and repeat. Then I suggest casting the lure to the sides of the hole so as to work this area. The secret to getting solid hits during cold-water times is to work your lure as slow as you can while still keeping it near or right on the bottom. The inshore redfish bite can be very good, but during cold-water times, the redfish can see and hear better. This fish stays in high-alert mode because of their main predator, the dolphin (aka porpoises). Where you have dolphins staging, you most likely have redfish schooling to the inshore. The best artificial baits are going to be flukes rigged weedless. Fish a Strike King Z-TOO salt impregnated soft jerkbait or a slow-sinking 5-inch Zoom Fluke in blue and gray glimmer, ice, Arkansas shiner, pearl and smoky shad. Don’t be afraid to lay a bead of some sort of fish sauce into the grove of this bait. Berkley Gulp! Alive! minnow baits also offer up that favorite scent for getting a cold-water fish to eat. Fresh, frozen pawn shrimp pieces and mullet steaks will also work. Adding, dipping and soaking your bait, whether it is real or not, is going to entice the bite. When you do get a bite, give them time to eat. Always check regulations before heading out. Go to”

Artificial Reefs: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “The artificial reefs located in less than 50 feet of water are holding the winter migration of sheepshead.  These fish are going to be staging on the wrecks that offer the most vertical feeding opportunity. Before heading out, make sure you know the coordinates for the wreck that you are going to fish. To get all the information on Georgia’s artificial reefs, go to The best baits for this fish is going to be anything wrapped in a shell, such as purple back fiddlers, black back fiddlers, barnacles, green mussels, oysters and shrimp. It is best to anchor over a wreck, drop Carolina-style rigs to the bottom, and then reel up about 1 foot off the bottom. Once you have either had a bite or caught a sheepshead, I suggest staying where you are. The sheepshead bite can come in flurries and then stop completely. I suggest when the bite stops, not to relocate but to re-situate your bait. Then I suggest waiting until the school makes its way back around to the wreck area that you are fishing over.”

Trophy Redfish: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “Trophy redfish migrate to the offshore water during the cold-water times. They can be found schooling near the beachfronts, around offshore sandbars and on the artificial reefs. These fish are normally schooling and feeding on something that they have corralled. I have caught them on 4-oz., single-tube diamond jigs and jigs. While ordering jigs, I suggest ordering some of the Cobia Candy white eels. These eels work when threaded on the jigs. Best colors for the tube diamond jigs have been red and green. The best color jig-hair combinations have been blue/white and chartreuse/white. For those fishermen who prefer using real bait, I suggest squid and shrimp laced onto 4/0 J or circle hooks fished directly on the bottom or suspended in the mid-water column. Make sure your drag is set light to medium and not locked down. For those offshore fishermen who want to troll for redfish, I suggest pulling a 3 1/2 inch Drone spoon in silver, or black with a chartreuse flash, 20 feet behind a No. 3 planer or an 8-oz. trolling sinker. When trolling around diving or sitting birds, I suggest taking the boat in and out of gear, allowing the lure used to fall at different depths of the water column. Or if you don’t like using planers, tie on a 100-lb snap swivel to your main line, attach a 3 1/2 Drone spoon, and let it out about 75 to 100 feet behind the boat. Pull the spoon over where you think you have fish, put the boat out of gear, and simply let the spoon sink. After half a minute or so, bump engine in gear, speed up a bit, and then take out of gear. If the reds are there, you will know it. The best way to find an offshore redfish is to keep an eye to the sky. If the reds are feeding, the seabirds are diving. The best news is that any and all-sized seabirds will follow and feed on the surfaced leftovers. Please remember (any size) redfish that are caught in federal waters are protected and have to be released. During this time, some of this trophy redfish being caught have been up to 45 inches long, so please handle with care.”

 Savannah Snapper Banks: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “The bottom fishing is always very good, especially when you bait your hooks with cut squid. If using live bait, I suggest lip-hooking sand perch, rock bass, juvenile vermilion and tomtates. Grouper season is closed and will not open until May 1, 2019. Red snapper is closed, and no season opening dates have been posted yet. Please go to to get all of the up-to-date regulations, and always check before heading out. The Naval towers located at the Savannah Snapper banks are R7, M2R6 and R2, and they sometimes hold African pompano. Although this is not a fish that we normally catch in this area, this is the time we see them. Best bait is going to be the live ones, such as a tomtates, menhaden, horny belly or lookdown. The best presentation is either going to be rigging bait under some sort of traditional adjustable depth cork or basic freelining. We normally try both methods. Targeting African pompano can be a little challenging because sometimes you can see them swimming on the surface right in the center of the tower. Once you see them, you most likely can get them to eat, but it is best to try to get them to the outside of the tower legs. I suggest placing baits under floats or on a freeline on the outskirts and downcurrent side of tower leg. In some cases, also dropping a bottom rig, hooking up and reeling in a live fish will sometimes spark their interest. Once outside of the legs, this fish is most likely going to feed. So be ready.”

Bluewater Fishing: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “Trolling for wahoo, king mackerel and blackfin tuna can offer one heck of a catching affair. Recently there have been a few yellowfin tuna caught off our coast. Their sizes have ranged from 20 to 40 to 80 pounds.  This is very good for Georgia and South Carolina bluewater fishermen. Finding a well-defined edge at the stream during this time of the year can be done, but there are not that many large fish or schools of bait lining it. Your best bet is to know the coordinates of all ledges, holes and live-bottoms areas where you intend on fishing. When departing Savannah, Ga., I suggest always heading to the South Ledge area (3106.416 / 7955.300. This ledge has always held the interest of topwater fish, as well as bait during this time of the year. Best rigged baits are going to be chin-weighted dink ballyhoo pulled naked and medium/large ballyhoo on black or black/red Ilanders. I suggest rigging small dinks with 60-lb. test fluorocarbon and medium/large ballyhoo with 80- to 100-lb. test wire leader. When it comes to pulling the artificial stuff, I always suggest not forgetting menhaden soaked cedar plugs. Old school bluewater fishermen are still using chum bags. And for those who are making their own homemade chum, I always suggest adding some gold/silver glitter and lots of menhaden oil. The addition of glitter, especially when sunshine is added, makes for an interesting 3-D fish attractant. I always suggest pulling a couple of birds in your trolling spread. I pull No Alibi Dolphin Delights about 5 feet behind my birds. My preferred combination colors are pink/white and blue/white. If your trolling spread doesn’t produce, then I suggest dropping to the bottom. The best bait is going to be cut ballyhoo, squid and cut fish. Or I suggest giving deep-water jigging a try.

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