Georgia Saltwater Fishing Report – January 2022

GON Staff | January 1, 2022

Saltwater: Inshore: Capt. David Newlin reports, “December fishing has been really good. Trout, redfish, black drum and stripers have been active up the rivers. Water temperatures have been all over the place. Two weeks ago it was around 53 degrees, and on Dec. 19 it was 62 degrees. January fish catching will all depend on what the water temps do. If the water stays above 55, the fishing will be good. If the water gets below 50 degrees, the fishing will be much slower. The last few days we have caught redfish from 1 foot to 20 feet deep. A slip-cork rig set around 10 feet has been working in most places. On bright, sunny days, they have moved shallow in the afternoons as the water heats up. When the tide is low around midday, the redfish will move shallow as the tide starts covering the warmed up mud flats. During January use a little more stealth and slow down your fishing. The fish are usually easily spooked in the winter. A white Gulp Swimming Mullet on a 1/8-oz. jig head fished real slow along the bottom works good for me on winter redfish. The trout bite has been hot one day and cold the next. I have had a few good days on jigs and a lot of good days on shrimp. During January, fishing a jig will usually catch as many fish as live shrimp will. Almost any jig with a little green and a little sparkle will work. A sinking Rapala or MirrOlure in bright colors can catch some big trout at times. My favorite color is a white body with a red head. Trolling real slow for winter trout can be a very good method of covering a lot of ground and finding fish. Go just fast enough to keep your jigs off the bottom. When you catch a fish, work the area hard and there usually are more fish. My favorite January fishing is throwing lures up the river for rockfish, what you freshwater fishermen call stripers. It doesn’t matter what the weather does because the rockfish will bite. Bright-colored Rapalas and big white jigs will usually work. Creekmouths when the current is moving fast will usually hold fish. Make 20 casts and move to the next one and keep moving until you find a fish. These tidewater stripers are strong, hard-fighting fish. Use heavy enough tackle to turn a 20-lb. fish. I usually use 30-lb. braid with a 30-lb. fluorocarbon leader. If the weather will cooperate, January fishing can be real good.”

Capt. Judy Helmey, of Miss Judy Charters, reports, “By the time January rolls around, and with temps dropping, 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 paddletails while using 4- to 6-lb. test main line. As far as main line, I like monofilament because of the extra stretch cushion it adds. Braided line will also work. However, you need to make sure the drag set matches the main line used. 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, and you have to work it very slow. I like to use 1/16- and 1/24-oz. jig heads with assorted colors of curly and paddletails. My favorite jig color combinations are a white jig head with white tail and 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 lures 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. For those inshore fishermen who want to go the traditional route, use live shrimp or mud minnows or finger mullet rigged on a traditional adjustable float. This style of float allows you to easily fish different depths with just a simple slide of the cork. Normally during cold-water times, spotted seatrout are known for staying close to the bottom. This rig will allow you to cover a lot of bottom zeroing in on the prefect cold-water bite zone. The inshore redfish bite can be very good, but you got to know the rules. During cold-water times, the redfish can see and hear better. This fish stays in high-alert mode because of their two main predators. During this time, it’s the dolphin, aka porpoises, and the fishermen. They definitely fear the porpoises more than man. Porpoises are very diligent in knowing where to wait and how long in order to get a quick meal. Where you have porpoises staging, you most likely have redfish schooling toward the inshore. The best artificial baits are going to be flukes rigged weedless. Try a Strike King Z-Too and a 5-inch Zoom Fluke. Proven colors are blue and gray glimmer, ice, Arkansas shiner, pearl and smokey shad. Don’t be afraid to lay a bead of some sort of fish sauce into the grove of this bait. Berkley Gulp! Alive! baits 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 only entice the bite. Whatever you do, when you do get a bite, give them time to eat. Please always check regulations before heading out.”

Nearshore: 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 wrecks in the areas that you are going to fish. 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, sand fleas and shrimp. I have started using sand fleas as alternative bait for convict fish, better known as sheepshead. These baits can be purchased frozen and already packaged. I have been purchasing the packages that come with about 24 fleas per bag. You can purchase blanched or not sand fleas. The blanched fleas are pink in color and those that are not are still sporting the original light gray live-like colors. Fleas that are blanched seem to stay on the hook longer. However, I kind of like to take both types just in case I am dealing with fish that are not color blind. The secret to using this bait is to keep it frozen as long as you can. So if you can’t purchase or catch your own fiddlers, this would be your go-to bait. Does it work? Yes it does! Is it the best bait? No! However, when dealing with a fish that mainly wants to crush its meal up before eating it, sand fleas will definitely work as a perfect stand-by bait.  Your best plan is to anchor over a wreck, drop Carolina-style rigs to the bottom, and then reel up about 1 foot off bottom. Once you have either had a bite or caught a sheepshead, I suggest staying where you are. Sheepshead bites 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. For those fishermen who don’t want to have an offshore artificial reef fishing experience, I suggest giving any rocks, down trees hanging in the water or nearshore hangs/wrecks a try. These areas are definitely feeding places of interest for sheepshead, black drum, summer trout and flounder. Any surfaces that provide areas for marine growth are potential feeding spots for these fish.”

Trophy Redfish: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “Trophy redfish can be found schooling near the beachfronts, around offshore sandbars and on the artificial reefs. 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, as well as other tackle combinations. Best color diamond jig tubes have been red, yellow 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 on to 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 troll for redfish, I suggest pulling a 3 1/2-inch Drone spoon (silver or black with chartreuse flash) 20 feet behind a No. 3 planer or an 8-oz. trolling sinker. When trolling around diving/sitting birds, I suggest taking the boat in/out of gear, allowing the lure used to fall to 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 the Drone spoon, and let it out about 75 to 100 feet from the boat. Pull the spoon over where you think you have fish, pull the boat out of gear and simply let the spoon sink. After half a minute or so, bump the 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 sea birds are diving. The best news is that any and all size sea birds will follow and feed on the surfaced leftovers. So if you see gannets (also known sea turkeys), cormorants (also known as fish birds), loons (also known as on Golden pond birds) and any size sea birds diving or sitting on the water, there is a good chance that trophy redfish have been feeding. This boils down to they will most likely do so again and shortly. Don’t stray, stay in this area! Any sized redfish caught in federal waters are protected and have to be released. During this time of the year, it is possible to see blue fin tuna. For years during the cold months, we have seen these large tunas jumping off the Georgia and South Carolina coast. You are just as liable to see them near the beach fronts as you are in the deep blue water of the Gulf Stream. So while you are making you way to you fishing destination, I suggest keeping an eye out for jumping bluefin tuna and don’t forget that we also have right whales poking around on the surface. To find out more information on the tuna regs, go to or call 888.872.8862. To report whale sightings, please call 877 WHALE HELP (942-5343).”

Savannah Snapper Banks: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “The bottom fishing in this area is always very good, especially when you bait your circle hooks with plain old cut squid. If using live bait, I suggest lip hooking sand perch, rock bass, juvenile vermilion and tomtates. Please remember grouper season is closed and will not open until May 1, 2022. Red snapper is closed with no season opening dates posted yet. Please go to to get all of the current regulations, and always check before heading out. The naval towers located at the Savannah Snapper banks are R 7 3149.000/8016.500, which I call the north banks, M2R6 3132.000/8014.000, which I call the middle banks and R2 3122.500/8034.000, which I call the south banks. These towers sometimes hold African pompano, especially during these cold-water times. 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 lookdowns. The best presentation is either going to be rigging bait under some sort of traditional adjustable depth cork or basic freelining, letting it just swim naturally. 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 best to try to get them to the outside of the tower legs. Hooking them up and losing them due to getting broke off on the tower’s legs is only going to spook them. I suggest placing baits under floats or on a freeline on the outskirt and down current 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. Don’t forget your gaff or your camera.”

Blue Water: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “This is the time of the year to make a blue water run. However, please always factor in the weather predictions. Trolling for wahoo, king mackerel and black fin tuna can offer one heck of a catching affair. Dolphin, aka mahi mahi, are few and far between during this time, but hook-ups are still possible. I can officially report that 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 blue water fishermen. Those fishermen that wait until a flat day to make this run have been catching some nice blackfin tuna, which is the other red meat. Blackfin tuna is not considered as good a yellow or bluefin, but it does eat! Finding a well-defined edge at the Stream during this time of the year can be done, but there is 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, 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 baits 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 cedar plugs soaked in menhaden oil. Old school blue-water fishermen are still using chum bags. 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. Every time you throw a top or bottom fish in your cooler, I suggest checking for glitter in the box. If glitter is in your fish box, that is your sign that it is working. Back in the old days, I used glitter all the time. Believe me it is worth the time/money spent using it. I always suggest pulling a couple of birds in your trolling spread. I pull No Alibi Dolphin Delights about 5 feet behind by 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. Best bait is going to be cut ballyhoo, squid and cut fish. Or I suggest giving deep-water jigging a try. The best news for you is that I have tried all of these suggestions, they have worked, and they are already proven by fish bites received.”

2022 Captain Judy’s Inshore/Offshore Fishing Clinics: School is in! Join Capt. Judy and her staff for some educational time on the water. Dates are Feb. 18-20 2022. Cost is $180 for inshore and $180 for offshore. Morning trips are 8 a.m. until noon. Afternoon trips are 1 to 5 p.m. Snacks and drinks provided by Captain Judy Place. Leaving from Miss Judy Charters dock, 202 Wilmington Island Road, Savannah, Ga. 31410. Call 912.897.4921 or 912.897.2478 for more details.”

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