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Georgia Saltwater Fishing Report March 2020

GON Staff | February 27, 2020

Saltwater: Inshore: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “I believe that all fish look forward to March. This is the month when water temperatures will start to rise and not even a passing cold front can stop it. My father used to say, ‘When it’s 65, everything is alive!’ Bottom fishing is great in the sound because everything is on the move. Bull whiting should start showing up near sandbars in the sound. The best bait is going to be small pieces of peeled shrimp laced on small hooks fished directly on the bottom. The best hook size is a No. 4 to No. 6 kahle hook or a No. 4 to No. 6 classic j-hook. Whichever hook you prefer, use the thin tinned style. Use a Carolina-rig, and fish on the bottom. Use a light-tackle rod/reel setup with 10- to 15-lb. monofilament (braid will work) when targeting whiting. March is a great time to look for trout and redfish. Live shrimp under a float is going to be the best bait. However, they might be hard to come by and also very expensive. So far this year dropping your cast net in the deeper holes has provided fishermen with some live shrimp. Not every deep hole is holding shrimp, so they might be hard to find. The best tide to catch shrimp is the bottom of the low tide. The proper cast nets for shrimping are a little expensive, but if you master this type of shrimping, you could save enough money to justify purchasing one. Sometimes these shrimp are too big to fish with but perfect for eating! Mud minnows are another great live bait. You can catch your own with a trap in a shallow tidal slough. To bait your trap, I suggest using raw chicken parts, a sleeve of Saltines, bacon or cracked crabs, oyster or clams. The mud minnow can be fished lip hooked under a traditional or popping float rig. This bait also works great when just fished directly on the bottom with a Carolina rig or rigged just plain naked. In some cases, two minnows on a hook are better than one. This hardy bait is not anywhere as delicate as a live shrimp and can be used even after it has been bit and hit.” For more on whiting fishing, click here for a feature article.

Capt. David Newlin Inshore Fishing Report: “February has been the best winter fishing I have ever seen. The redfish and big trout catches have been great. Redfish between 20 and 30 inches have been biting all month. I have caught good redfish every trip in February. March is always a good month for fish catching. Trout, redfish, whiting and sheepshead will all be biting in March. I am always waiting on the whiting bite to start. This is usually the easiest, most consistent fish catching of the spring. Every sound has a sandbar or two in it that will get covered with whiting around the middle of March. I usually start looking for whiting in 10 to 15 feet of water along the edge of a current. A 1-oz. slip-sinker rig with a long-shank 2x No. 2 hook with a piece of shrimp fished on the bottom will catch all the whiting you want. When the water gets above 63 degrees, look for whiting to start showing up. Whiting fillets fried are a real treat. Whiting have no limits, so catch all you want to clean. Redfish should be biting all month. The last half of March is usually good redfish catching all over the sounds. A lot of slot-limit fish will be way up in small creeks and out in the sounds. The large amount of freshwater coming down the rivers seems to have moved all the redfish out of the Ogeechee and almost all the usual brackish river systems. Trout fishing should be good in the sounds. They should stay in the deeper drops until the water warms past 65 degrees. The usual live-shrimp rigs will work. If you can’t find live shrimp, try a live pollywog fished with a light weight near the bottom.”

Nearshore: Capt. David Newlin reports, “Around all the nearshore reefs will be holding some monster redfish. Fish a big chunk of fresh fish on the bottom with a 10/0 circle hook for the big fish. Sheepshead catching should be good all month. All the nearshore reefs will hold sheepshead all the month of March. Almost any structure that is covered with barnacles in the sounds will also be holding sheepshead. As always, a live fiddler crab is the best bait around. I usually like to fish it a couple of feet off the bottom with a tight line.” Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “Nearshore reefs are holding fish. Expect to catch black sea bass on pallet balls, tires, concrete piles and culvert pipes, which offer these fish a lot of feeding opportunity. Use cut squid or the fillet of a fish. Jigs tipped with or without any sort of live or artificial bait and placed directly on the bottom will also work. Artificial reefs J, L, CCA, or any others located in 55 plus feet of water, hold the most concentrations of large black sea bass. The secret is to stop, drop and move until you find the fish. Since we have had several close hurricane encounters over the last few years, some artificial bottoms have been moved or are covered with sand. When drifting bottom spots at this depth, too many drifts will scatter the fish. Make a couple of drifts, move off and look for more active bottom. After waiting 30 minutes or so, circle back and fish this same spot. If the fish have moved, I suggest looking up or down current around the next piece of structure. The sheepshead bite should still be strong for the first two weeks of March. Fish on 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 that this fish bulks 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. Since sheepshead are also known as a convict fish, always giving your fiddler crab a once over before sending it back to the bottom.” 

Savannah Snapper Banks: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “This live bottom area is located about 29 miles off our coast.  Expect to catch trigger fish, hog nose snapper, knobbed head porgy, amberjack, masked almaco jacks, banded rudder fish, vermilion, solider fish, and the list goes on. The best bottom rig is going to be a two-hook rig made with 3/0 to 4/0 j-style or circle hooks. I like making my rigs out of 80-lb. test monofilament. In the charter boat world, 16-oz. bank sinkers are the best. However, you can get away with 8 to 10 ounces, especially when there isn’t as many fishing at one time. This is also a great month to bottom fish around the naval towers, as well as the live bottom areas located at the Savannah Snapper Banks. Prior to  heading out, I suggest purchasing the ‘Top Spot Fishing Map N229, Georgia Offshore Brunswick to Savannah.’ I provided coordinates to this company many years ago. These coordinates are proven. As with most passed around coordinates, the numbers used sometime aren’t exactly on the fishing spot. The reason being is, especially in my case, these coordinates were derived from the use of Loran. When transferring and re-computing coordinates, it seems that they never seem to be the exact spot to fish. To combat this problem, I always suggest slowing down before reaching suggested coordinates. While making your way slowly to the coordinates, keep an eye on your fish finder. Here are three areas to fish this month. One, is what I call the North Snapper Banks. It consists of the R7 Navy Tower (N 31° 49.000 W 80°16.500). A live-bottom area is at N 31° 44.970 W 80° 13.890. This is a good area to start a bottom fishing drift. Here is another spot: N 31° 44.192 W 80° 13.021. This is the coordinates to a ledge. Drift fishing 160 degrees and 330 degrees from this coordinate will keep you on the ledge. Two is what I call the Middle Snapper Banks. It consists of the M2R6 Reef (N 31° 32.000 W 80°14.000) Two live-bottom ledges are at N 31° 35.350 W 80°21.660. There is some scattered live bottom at N 31° 34.990 W 80°22.900. Lastly is the South Snapper Banks. It consists of the R2 Reef (N 31° 22.530 W 80°34.010). There is a live bottom area at N 31° 24.768 W 80°36.795. It’s a small area but very productive. Also try N 31° 24.658 W 80°35.262. Once you locate this coordinate, work your way back 290 to 310 degrees to find more live bottom areas.”

Bluewater Fishing: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “The most popular areas to fish are going to be the South (N 31° 06.416 W 79°55.300) and Triple (N 31° 16.769 W 79°52.069) ledges, which are located in 160 to 200 feet of water. The Deli Ledge (N 31° 32.961 W 79°43.493) is another good ledge to fish at this time, which is located a little to the north of these areas. It’s a great time to catch wahoo and blackfin tuna. We pull standard Ilander lures in black/black and red/black rigged with medium/large ballyhoo, naked cedar plugs soaked in menhaden oil and Iland Trackers rigged with dink/peewee ballyhoo. In some cases, big fish are holding much deeper. For these, I like using high speed planers with at least 30 feet of monofilament leader between the planer and lure used. I like to troll a 3 1/2-inch Drone spoon. It has two rings, which is what causes it to make erratic moves when trolled at about 4 to 6 knots. Double rings on a spoon changes everything is regards to the movements made. You can troll these areas or vertical jig and even bottom fish with a two-hook rig. As a bonus, here is a deep-water wreck in the blue water to try: N 31° 21.525 W 79° 50.403. For free online sea surface temperature charts, go to http://sstcharts.com. Check fish closures at www.eregulations.com/georgia/fishing and http://safmc.net. If you have trouble finding federal information, please contact Kim Iverson at 843.571.4366 or [email protected].”

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