Georgia Saltwater Fishing Report May 2018

GON Staff | April 27, 2018

Saltwater: Inshore: Capt. David Newlin reports, “In my 38 years of guiding on the Georgia coast, I have never seen wind like we have had during April. Day after day, we have had a wind blowing 15 to 20 or stronger. The weather has made fishing conditions tough. One week of good weather with some warmer, sunny days should turn the fish on. The sheepshead bite has been steady with a lot of fish showing up inside over the last few weeks. The nearshore reefs should hold fish through May. The sheepshead fishing inside will be good during May and on into the summer months. As always, a fiddler crab is the best bait. The whiting bite has been good all of April and should continue through May on into June. My best whiting fishing is usually on a sandy bottom in 5 to 10 feet of water out in the sounds or on the fronts of the beaches. Put a small piece of peeled shrimp on a long shank No. 2 hook on the bottom. The last half of the outgoing tide and the first hour of the incoming are usually the better fishing tides for me when trying to catch whiting. The trout and redfish bite has been off a little bit, a lot in part to horrible weather conditions. We need some warmer weather and a lot less wind. During May, they should be all over the sounds. The usual methods of fishing shrimp under a slip-float rig should work. The topwater bite should get going in May. You won’t catch big numbers of trout, but you can catch some big fish. The first two hours after daylight and the last hour or so before dark are usually the best times for topwater action. On cloudy days, it can last well into the day. MirrOlures and Zara Spooks work good for me. Redfish, flounder, black drum and a lot of other fish should be all over the sounds as soon as the water hits 70 degrees. We have been catching big redfish all April, but a lot more slot-limit fish will show up in May. The annual shark migration is in full swing. A lot of big sharks have been just offshore. They should get a lot more abundant as the water warms. Fishing around shrimp boats if you can find one picking up nets should be good during May. If no shrimp boats, anchor and chum with a lot of patience, and they will usually come. Cobia will show up in the chum line quite often during May and June. We can fish for cobia this year. The size limit is a 36-inch fork length with a one per person limit with a maximum boat limit of six. The month of May is always our best month to catch cobia. You need a large dip net when fishing for cobia. It is impossible to measure a cobia without a net. Fishing a jig with a single hook will catch cobia good and is easy to remove to release one. Fishing a live bait on a circle hook makes releasing much easier. The easiest method of release is to just to cut the hook off close to the fish. After the cobia fishing being closed all last year, this should be a good year. Everything past 50 feet of water seems to be loaded with big black sea bass. The month of May is always easy fishing for sea bass. Get on any live bottom or artificial reef a little off the hard fished places, and catching a limit should be easy work and the best fried fish dinner available. It has been a cold, windy, spring. With a little warm weather and a lot less wind, May fishing should be productive on the coast.” Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “By the time this month rolls around, the spotted sea trout bite is joined up with the flounder bite, meaning two types of fish for one type of bait. As always, live shrimp under an adjustable float or popping cork works like a charm. However, if you are wanting to get your bait closer to the bottom, but not right on it, an adjustable cork will do just that. When presenting bait this way, sea trout will find your bait and the flounder can see it. When purchasing adjustable corks, I suggest picking up some small, medium and large ones. The reason is if you are fishing on a windy day, you will need a larger cork. The lighter the winds, the smaller the adjustable cork needed. As I am writing this May fishing report, I am going to predict that bait shrimping will be much better in May than it was in April. After such a cold-water event in January, as of April we have not been able to catch live shrimp in the Savannah area. However, in the Brunswick area, they have started catching quite a few. I can only hope that our shrimp populations will be strong in May. For those who want to catch their own bait, I suggest to always have a cast net on board. While casting, if you happen to catch any small fish, such as finger mullet, yellow tail, peanut menhaden, etc., try to keep them alive. These baits works great when used in place of live shrimp. Larger spotted sea trout prefer a full bite over a smaller one. The best way to fish this bait is to hook it up either through the lips or the dorsal fin area. And it is best to remember when using larger bait like this, it takes longer for the trout to grab, turn around and inhale than it does for a live shrimp. So give them time to eat before setting the hook. For those fishermen who like to use artificial lures, I suggest purchasing yourself some Berkley Gulp Alive baits, which come in all sizes, shapes and patterns.”

Nearshore: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “Over the years, bottom fishing in these areas has been pretty good. However, I need to report, you can still catch fish, but you really have to look for them. It seems that those bottom fish, such as the black sea bass, didn’t migrate into these areas as they have in the past. The up side to this new occurrence is the fact that when you do find a school of these fish, they are normally very hungry and accommodating. It is kind of a look, drop, wait, catch or not, and move locations if you don’t get bit. My suggestion is if you fish in all of your normal places and don’t immediately start catching, try all the other structure. It’s best to be familiar with the artificial reef that you plan on fishing. Go to for the reefs. You should always have a copy of these artificial reef coordinates on your boat at all the times. It could be the difference in catching or not. When in the plain old bottom fishing mode, the best bait is always going to be cut squid and fish. If you are targeting larger sea bass only, I suggest using a whole fish steak. All you have to do is take a small fish and cut it up like a loaf of bread. Steaks should be around 1 inches thick, and the fins/appendages should be cut off close. Best rigs are two-hook bottom rigs with sinker located at the bottom, drop-through rigs and Carolina-style rigs. I can already report that we are experiencing a strong Spanish mackerel bite at the artificial reefs. To catch the Spanish, I suggest trolling the structure and keeping an eye on the fish finder. This is not the same scenario as we have in the hotter months with these fish. These fish do not jump during cool-water times. The Spanish normally start noticeably jumping in August. You might be able to find some of these fish by watching for any bird activity, but if not, stay near the structure, and you will find the fish. The mackerel are holding deep. You might not see them, but they are there. We have been catching quite a few Spanish while pulling small to medium Clark spoons at different depths. I like using No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 planers. You should attach a 90-lb. snap swivel to the back of all of your planers. Then tie the leader to the swivel. For my leader, I am using 10 feet of 30-lb. test monofilament. I like tying my spoon directly on to my leader. For those fishermen who don’t want to use planers and just want to cast, I suggest letting your lure fall deep into the water column. Normally these fish will hit it on the fall. Another trolling rig that really works is to pull a 2-oz. trolling sinker (oversized trout sinker) with a Clark spoon. I suggest using 25- to 30-lb. test monofilament as leader and tying the spoon directly on to the line. Once you pull this rig over the fish, take your boat out of gear, and let the sinker take the spoon deep. When using any sort of monofilament leader, I always suggest checking for any nicks. The best way to find nicks is to pull the leader through your fingers. If you feel any roughness or nicks, I strongly suggest changing your leader out or cutting out the bad spot. Please pick up a fishing regulations booklet put out by Georgia DNR. On page 45 of this booklet, it shows in picture form the difference between a king mackerel and Spanish mackerel. During this time of the year, we catch a lot of juvenile king mackerel while trolling for Spanish. For a king mackerel to be legal to keep, it must have at least a 24-inch fork length. To keep Spanish mackerel, they must have a 12 inch fork length. During this time, the allusive cobia arrives along with its various ways for driving fishermen crazy. You can see them, and they can see you, but sometimes bites don’t happen. Best baits are going to be juvenile black fish, pinfish, cigar minnow, Spanish sardines, peanut menhaden, live shrimp and eels. These live baits might not work in regards to getting the eating attentions of cobia. So, I suggest being prepared with some artificial green and white eels, which are threaded onto about a 3-oz. jig head. Cobia are known for schooling around the wrecks located at the artificial reefs. I like the ever-popular Cobia Candy, and you can order some today by going to This lure is a cobia head turner for sure. Jig heads rigged with big screw/paddle tails or some sort of plastic-shaped eel when worked in the upper water column will get this fish’s attention. Another jig type that also works is the old-school diamond jig with the tube tail in tow. I am using the 3-oz. jigs with either the red, green or white tail. I prefer the smooth metal jig over the hammered finished. As far as hook style, I suggest purchasing ones with j hooks. However, if you can only get jigs made with treble hooks, you can always change them out to the j style, which I strongly suggest doing. The month of May is not the only time that you should consider jigging the upper water column over any sort of structure.  Any time you care to give this type of fishing a try most likely will work more than not.”

Savannah Snapper Banks: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “When the month of May rolls around, offshore fishermen get excited because grouper fishing is wide open. The season for our area is May 1 until Dec. 31.  For more up to date fishery regulations, please go to Always check for current regulations because you would be surprised how much they change. This is the month where gags and scamps exercise their right to make a move to feed. I suggest the nervous baits, such as live cigar minnows or Spanish sardines, which are easily caught on just about any type of gold-hook sabiki rigs.  The secret is to use sabiki bait rigs made with No. 6 to No. 8 sized hooks laced with fish skin. Once these styles hooks are dipped into the water, baits can’t resist the gold flash or the secret smell delivered. Another method for getting a solid grouper bite is by jigging, which has been working quite well for me. As far as best colors, cigar minnow or Spanish sardine look-a-likes have been the catching deal. The secret to jigging when it comes to catching big grouper is to drop to the depth where the fish are holding and then work your jig by raising and dropping your rod. This basically works your jig about 4 to 5 feet up and down at the same depth. As far as topwater fishing at the Banks, anything goes from king mackerel to dolphin. The means you really never know what might bite your hook. When moving from spot to spot, I try to always put some sort of a swimming lure. We like to rig a naked ballyhoo on an inline three hook. For leader material, I am using 80- to 100-lb. single strand wire. I am using 60-lb. test main line. The setup works great because you can set a medium drag, and when the fish hits it, they get hooked up every time. Now you don’t get a hit every time, but when you do, it’s normally a good one. You will catch dolphin, king/Spanish mackerel, cobia, amberjack, skip jack and other biters.”

Blue Water: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “The blue waters of the Gulf Stream can certainly offer lots of action during the month of May. Water temperatures to the west of the stream are still cooler, meaning the edge is still strong. The best ways to find fish is to locate any temperatures breaks. Go to for free online sea surface temperature charts. The dolphin bite is normally the best during this month. You can catch them pulling small- to medium-rigged baits right on the surface. For those who don’t want to rig ballyhoo, pull old-school birds with artificial squid in tow ( Once you find a school of dolphin, I suggest stopping and pitching to them. You can use small jigs with screw tails, squid on a hook, cut ballyhoo on a hook or you use small live baits. If they come to the boat with their lights on (colorful attire), they are most likely going to eat just about anything you throw at them. To keep the school’s attention, always leave the last fish hooked up swimming in the water right by your boat until you have landed the one before. Dolphins are very jealous fish and always want whatever their counterparts are eating.”

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