Georgia Saltwater Fishing Report March 2017

GON Staff | March 1, 2017

Saltwater: Inshore: Capt. David Newlin reports, “Winter has almost disappeared on the coast. Water temperatures are in the low 60s, and the fish are biting. The last few days we have been catching a lot of trout. On several recent trips we have caught 50-plus trout. The trout bite should get hot in March—everything will happen early this year with the warmer water temps. Usually in February and March, the trout are in deeper water, but we are already catching trout in 3 feet of water. I have caught a lot of trout on jigs and live shrimp. A green screw-tail jig has been working great. By March, the trout should be all over the usual drops in the sounds. The redfish are showing up in good numbers in most places. I have caught reds good around some bluffs where there are a lot of dead trees in the water. Redfish should be all over the usual mud flats and oyster shells in a few weeks. Some big redfish have been caught on the beaches and at the artificial reefs a few miles offshore. The big bulls will hang around these places until the end of March. The sheepshead fishing has been good both inshore and offshore. All of the artificial reefs have been holding a lot of them. I have caught a lot inside over the last few weeks. Look for tree tops that keep water around them on low tide. The best bite seems to be on the last half of the outgoing tide and the first of the incoming. As always, live fiddlers are my bait of choice. The easiest fishing of the year is almost always the spring whiting run. This usually occurs during the last half of March and early April. I expect it to be hot by the middle of March this year. Find a sandy bottom in the sounds around 8 to 15 feet deep, and put a small piece of shrimp on the bottom, and start catching fish. I like a long-shank No. 2 hook on a slip-sinker rig. Whiting are great-eating fish with no creel limits. Good time to take a kid fishing. Last spring we had a lot of days with more than 100 whiting caught in a couple of hours. March should be some of the best spring fishing we have had in a long time.” Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “This is the month when water temperatures will start to rise, and not even a passing cold front can stop it, because it is still going to happen. There is an old saying my father used all of the time when talking about the water temperatures in March. He always said, ‘When it’s 65, everything is alive!’ Inshore bottom fishing in the sound, just got more interesting. Bottom fishing is great in the sound because everything is on the move. Bull whiting should show near sandbars in the sounds. The best bait for this great-sized panfish is going to be small pieces of peeled shrimp laced on small hooks fished directly on the bottom. The best hook is No. 4 to No. 6 Khale hook, also known as a wide-gap hook, or a No. 4 to No. 6 classic J hook. As far as best bottom rig, I suggest Carolina rig. This rig keeps your bait on the bottom, allowing for a better hook up opportunity. You could find yourself catching spotted seatrout, summer trout, flounder, trophy redfish, flounder and shark. All fish are on the move, and they are hungry. Please remember that it is best to use a light tackle rod/reel set up with 10- to 15-lb. test main line when targeting whiting. I like using monofilament, but braid will also work. For larger fish such as sharks or big trophy redfish, I suggest going with a little heavier tackle. I use 20- to 50-lb. test main line, and as far as the rig, I suggest a Carolina rig made with a 30- to 60-lb. test leader. As far as best hook size, I suggest a Classic J hook in 4/0, 5/0 or 6/0. For those who prefer circle hooks, use 9/0 to 12/0. If using live bait, make sure the hook size and style matches the bait used. You don’t want to use a hook that is going to hinder the natural movement of the bait. For fishermen who prefer inshore trout and redfish, March is a great time to look for potential fishing spots. The water is clear, and it is the best time to see exactly what’s down under. And of course while you are slowly making way, I suggest dragging some sort of lure behind you. Best artificial baits have proven to be DOA’s shrimp patterns and the Berkeley Gulp Alive swimming mullet and mud minnow/croaker soft baits. The best live bait is going to be live shrimp. However, they might be hard to come by and also very expensive. Your best live bait, and it travels well, is going to be the ever popular, cold-water loving mud minnow. You can catch your own—all you need is a minnow trap and a shallow tidal slough to set it. As far as bait for the trap, I suggest using raw chicken parts, a tube of saltines, bacon, cracked crabs or oyster or clams. Any of these baits will work like a mud minnow-attracting charm. The mud minnow can be fished lip hooked under a traditional float or a popping float rig. This bait also works great when fished directly on the bottom with a Carolina rig or hooked up just plain naked. And in some cases two minnows on a hook are better than one. This hardy bait is not anywhere as delicate as a shrimp and can be used a number of times even after it has been bit and hit. I had a fisherman tell me the other day that he always let the minnow go after it caught a fish on it. He called it giving back—I called it chumming!”

Nearshore: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “Fishing artificial reef areas equals to short boat rides to the fish. These nearshore reefs are holding some pretty interesting catching options. Normally the black sea bass are holding on low-relief bottom. These reefs have pallet balls, tires, concrete piles and culvert pipes, which offer these fish a lot of feeding opportunity. For the best bait, I suggest using cut squid or fillet of fish. Heck, jigs tipped with or without any sort of bait, artificial or not, jigged or placed directly on the bottom will also work. I have found that artificial reefs such as J, L, CCA or any others located in 55-plus feet of water hold the most concentrations of large black fish. The secret is to stop, drop, and move until you find the fish. And since the hurricane, some artificial bottom has been moved or covered with locking bottom sand. With that being said, fish holding on these areas in these conditions might find a small piece of bottom the perfect place to stage. So, if you mark a few fish up off the bottom, there is most likely a lot more sea bass locked down in the sand sitting in the current below them. The offshore sheepshead, aka convict fish, bite should still be strong for the first two weeks of March. I suggest keeping your search of these fish to those artificial reefs or wrecks located in less than 50 feet of water. Any structure that offers lots of vertical feeding opportunity will hold the most sheepshead. Normally this is the time sheepshead bulk up for their journey back to the inshore waters. The best bait when targeting this fish is the purple-back or black-back fiddler crab. Did you know that a sheepshead can hit your fiddler so hard that it can suck the insides out of the crab while leaving only its empty shell left balanced on your hook? With this knowledge, I suggest always giving your fiddler crab a good once over before sending it back to the bottom. After all, no respectable sheepshead would be interested in an old empty fiddler shell! I add Electron fish attractors to all of my bottom rigs. I have been using these fish attractors for more than a year. And to be honest, I don’t like to make my bottom rigs without them. These attractors do exactly what they proclaim; they really do attract fish. They can be added to any kind of jig or bait, so really it doesn’t matter whether you are bottom fishing or trolling, inshore or offshore, adding this attractor attracts a better fish bite.”

Offshore: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “The Savannah Snapper Banks live bottom area is located about 29 miles off our coast. It takes a longer boat ride but certainly does offer a lot of different catching opportunity. The best bottom rig is going to be a two-hook rig made with 3/0 to 4/0 J or circle hooks. I like making my rigs out of 80-lb. test monofilament line. In the charter-boat world, 16-oz. bank sinkers are the best. However, you can get away with 8- to 10-oz. Don’t forget the fish attractors! As far as the fish-catching possibilities, a few include large green head black fish, triple trouble trigger fish, supper-sized hog nose snapper, knobbed head porgy, amberjack aka reef donkeys, masked almaco jacks, banded rudder fish, football sized vermilion—and I could keep on listing, but I think you get the gist. This is a great time of the year to bottom fish around the Naval towers, as well as the live-bottom areas located at the Savannah Snapper Banks. I have fished these areas for years, and they are still holding fish. I have broken it down into three areas. For the North Snapper Banks, Naval Tower R7 has live-bottom areas at 3149.000/8016.500, and 3144.970/8013.890 is a good area to start a bottom-fishing drift. Also try 3144.192/8013.021, which is the coordinates to a good 160-degree ledge. For the Middle Snapper Banks, at Naval Tower R6 (M2R6) a live-bottom area is at 3132.000/8014.000, a ledge is at 3135.350/8021.660, and at 3134.990/8022.900 there is scattered live bottom. For the South Snapper Banks, Naval Tower R2 live-bottom areas are at 3122.530/8034.010. There are also tight, small but very productive live-bottom areas at 3124.768/8036.795 and 3124.658/8035.262. Prior to  heading out, it is best to always check the coordinates/areas in which you are planning to fish. I suggest purchasing a TOP SPOT Georgia offshore Brunswick to Savannah waterproof chart Map number N229. I provided coordinates to this company many years ago.”

Blue Water: Capt. Judy reports, “This is about a 60-mile run and is considered a more serious boat ride for sure. Please know that the secret to success when it comes to this type of fishing is that you must always factor in the weather. The most popular areas to fish are going to be South Ledge and Triple Ledge, which are located in about 160 to 200 feet of water. These areas hold the interests of some colorful fish. It’s a great time to catch wahoo and blackfin tuna. This time of year, old-school trolling techniques are the rule. We pull standard Ilanders Lures (black/black and red/black) rigged with medium to large ballyhoo, naked cedar plugs soaked in menhaden oil and Trackers Ilanders rigged with dink/pewee ballyhoo. To some fishermen, this means the basics, but for us elders, it just works! The best ledges to work this time of the year are going to be South Ledge at 3106.416/7955.300, Deli Ledge at 3132.961/7943.493 and Triple Ledge at 3116.769/7952.069. These ledges also hold numerous kinds of bottom fish. You can troll the area, give vertical jigging a try, or just go plain old bottom fishing with a two-hook rig. One way or the other, you will catch fish! For those who want to go a little deep on the blue-water wrecks, give these spots a try: Deep Water Wreck Dump Scow at 3121.525/7950.403, the Hopper Barge at 3142.878/7958.577 and Tug Semarca 40 at 3142.434/7958.281. I always suggest before heading out to check for any fish closures. Please go to for the latest information, or give them a call to get clarification at (843) 571-4366. Just to name a few that are currently closed: genuine red snapper (closed no season), grouper (opens May 1), and cobia (closed for the 2017 fishing year).”

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