A Catch-All Saltwater Surprise Trip

Catch trout, reds, tarpon and more with Capt. David Newlin.

Daryl Gay | June 26, 2013

Ever stood on a beach, looked out over the waves and asked, “I wonder what’s really swimming around out there?” Capt. David Newlin can help answer that question.

For 34 years, Newlin has been taking fishermen out on both inshore and offshore excursions from Richmond Hill’s Kilkenny Marina, south of Savannah, for the best saltwater fishing you’ll find. Whether you’re looking for superb table fare or a monster that will happily have you for lunch, Newlin can put you on it.

For instance, the last time I made this trip, a couple of years back, Newlin set my son Myles and me smack-dab on top of a veritable horde of big reef sharks, and Myles reeled in a blacktip that weighed more than 125 pounds. At the time, Myles didn’t weigh much more than 125, and it was an hour-plus battle that is still the highlight of the young man’s fishing career. That shark was very near the state record and provided some of the finest steaks ever to grace a grill. At the time he smashed Myles’ pogy bait, there were literally dozens of fins breaking the water all around.

I revisited with Newlin about a month ago. It was a day ahead of a tropical storm’s landfall along the Georgia coast. Newlin, Myles and I decided to leave the really big boys alone and see just how many different species of fish we could find to eat. Most of the locals consider the trout tops at supper time, so that’s where our search started.

The area we focused on, and which Newlin grew up on, is St. Catherine’s Sound. By day’s end, we would run a roughly 12-mile circle, fishing off St. Catherine’s and Ossabaw Island, as well as creek mouths and various other structure. Most freshwater fishermen are not aware of the key elements that go into catching saltwater fish—which is where the Captain comes in.

“Water-wise, what you’re looking for is the cleaner the better,” Newlin says in his gravel-throated growl. “Tide-wise, the best is usually around half-moon phase. The bigger tides are on the new and full moons. If you’re looking at a tide chart, look to stay under 8 feet for the best conditions. Over that, things start to get muddy.”

Remember that a storm was on the way, which meant we were already getting fairly strong winds. And that’s not good.

“Wind is always the big factor in muddying up the water,” Newlin commented. “If it’s blowing strong, it doesn’t matter where you look; you’ll find muddy conditions.”

July is also a great time to catch bass, also known as redfish, spotted bass and spots. Beyond that come the sharks and tarpon; as the weather heats up, so does the fishing for these big guys. When you think tarpon, consider the Fourth of July as opening day of sorts. I’m going back on a personal mission to catch a 100-lb. tarpon. I’ve seen 100-lb. tarpon a half-dozen at the time within 20 feet of Newlin’s boat in the past. I just haven’t pulled one yet. For now, I’m thinking August. I’ll let you know.

But on this trip, I wanted a bass—on my own light tackle in my own hard-headed way. We started just after 7 a.m., however, on a trout hunt. Newlin’s 25-foot, center-console Carolina Skiff eased out of Kilkenny and into a gorgeous morning, the sun not yet beating mercilessly down. If you make this trip during these upcoming summer days, be sure to take that sun into consideration and slather down with sunscreen. Better yet, dress in lightweight, light-colored clothing and a hat—not cap—to keep your head and ears covered. There is no burn like the one you’ll get in a couple hours on the ocean.

After 34 years in the saltwater guiding business, Newlin has his spots for each species well-ingrained. He can run quickly from one to the other to find what he wants.

“We usually look first on the ocean side of St. Catherine’s and Ossabaw, out there on what looks just like a swimming beach. You have to find structure, whether it’s a drop-off, creek channel or a submerged tree. There’s always a reason why fish are in a certain spot, whether it’s structure or bait.”

While I took a couple of my favorite casting outfits along, Newlin has any kind of fishing equipment needed for any species you happen to want to catch. For the inshore style we were doing, spinning tackle with 40-lb. test braided line and medium-action, 7 1/2- to 9-foot rods fill the bill. All Newlin’s equipment is in perfect condition, and you’ll probably come out better using it. He has tried and tested all kinds over three decades, and equipment failure is not an option for his customers.

In the stillness of the early morning, it was important to watch the surrounding water. There’s always something chasing something, and Newlin can identify most of what’s what by the splash, location or wake being pushed. Or, as at the first place we stopped, you can be a spectator as a 4-foot shark pushes his prey right up onto the beach and has to wiggle his way off the sand and back into the water.

Dunking a live shrimp, I caught the first trout of the day, a good one, within two minutes. But this early in the year and with the big weather front approaching, we couldn’t find them gathered up. Talking with Newlin two weeks later, just before the magazine went to press, they’re beginning to be boated 20 and 30 at a time.

The fascinating thing about using shrimp as bait is that everything in the ocean seems to enjoy eating it as much as I do. The technique is to use a popping-cork rig with an adjustable sliding knot on the line to instantly be able to change depths of the bait. The big cork has a small top floating loose, and with a flick of the wrist the cork “bloops” and the top produces a “click” as it slides up the line and then comes back to rest. This fish-attracting movement and sound are keys to the catch.

The trout nailed the shrimp and took it straight down, put up a good fight and was soon gathered into the net. These fish are paper-mouthed much like crappie, so the net is always necessary. Too, what’s on the other end of the line may have large teeth, so keeping the net close by is a wise choice.

Minutes later, after moving to a different location, I watched as the cork was slightly bumped once, then slowly drifted downward. Flounder, one of my favorites, and he was added to the ice.

“There’s a really good seafood restaurant in Savannah that will fix you up a plate of flounder half the size of that one,” Newlin remarked with a grin. “Sixty-five dollars!”

Fifteen minutes passed before I noticed a large shadow coursing through the water off to the left, 30 feet away. Tarpon. Big tarpon! I would gladly have given 65 bucks to have him on the business end of that rod, but he was here one second, gone the next. That’s the ocean for you.

We continued to skip and hop around the Sound, always looking for clean water, which was hard to find when the wind began to come up. But we were catching fish at almost every brief stop. While I cast along the banks for trout, Myles was fishing cutbait from a ladyfish along a creek channel. The premise was to let it hit bottom, then bump it. But he seldom had time to move it because of the croakers, whiting, sting rays and small Atlantic sharpnose sharks. The first two hit the cooler, the others were placed back into the water—with care. The croakers and whiting won’t provide a lot of poundage, but they’re great on a plate.

Through the middle of the day, we ran to a spot to, as Newlin commented, “catch our sharks.” It was a creek channel, and I believe if a fisherman sat there from noon until dark he could boat a hundred sharpnoses. By law, you can keep one shark apiece, so we picked out a trio we liked and tossed quite a few back. There was also a crowd of sting rays that appreciated the cutbait much more than we did them. It’s a pretty sobering thing to see the Captain holding up a ray for display, showing the serrated barb and then the hole in his leg where he had one surgically removed many years ago.

Handle with care, indeed.

Mid-afternoon, we sat between a pair of large storms, watched the lightning flash in the distance on both sides and listened to the storms’ locations and paths on the boat’s weather radio. Deciding to wait it out, we got refreshingly damp in a drizzle that never got heavy. Beginning the next morning, this coastal area would get 6 inches of rain within 24 hours.

It was time to hit the shallows in search for bass. I knew it was early in the season, but my quest was to see a broad-shouldered, forked-tailed bass in the grass nose-bumping the bottom in search of shrimp. Despite the fact that there’s a 115-horsepower Evinrude on its back, the Carolina Skiff will slither along in mere inches of water. And as we inched up a creek barely wider than the boat, there came a resounding splash from something heavy just ahead.

Newlin said one word: “BASS!”

We couldn’t spot him as he entered the back end of the grass, but I had a pretty good idea of where he went. With a Gulp soft-plastic imitation shrimp on one of my freshwater largemouth outfits, I began pinpointing any open piece of water I could find in the vicinity of that splash. It’s rare to catch a bass like this while casting blind; the trick is to see the fish, stalk him and make the right cast. But without that option, you do the best you can; and on the fourth cast it was good enough.

Even though there was no pounce-out-of-the-water strike, the inhalation of the bait was obvious enough that I set the hook hard, a fact not at all appreciated by that fish. I felt him for just a few seconds before he sawed the light line in the grass. But it was enough.

“That fish was 10 or 12 pounds,” Newlin said. “He doubled that rod in a hurry.”

There is a 14- to 23-inch slot limit for keeping these bass, and this one was well longer than 23 inches, so I would have had to release it anyway. Not much consolation, but at least I felt the power and got a good look at what I came to see.

“That’s the problem we’ve had so far as far as keeping fish. They’re all on the big end of the scale, over that 23-inch limit,” Newlin remarked. “But that’s not a bad problem for the catch-and-release guys,”

Before the day was out, we did have that classic spot-and-stalk episode, watching a big bass work in and out of the grass, his shoulders like a linebacker’s. But despite Gulps right on his nose, he wouldn’t bite. It is finesse fishing and a ton of fun win or lose.

The coastal water has cleared up, and bass fishing has already improved since that June 4 trip. It will get better and better, and tarpon time has now arrived. Black drum, tripletail, sheepshead, sharks, they’re all here inshore. And if you want to ride out several miles for kings, cobia, barracuda, grouper, amberjack—you name it—Capt. David Newlin knows the spots.

Check him out online at, or call (912) 756-4573 for reservations and information. Four-, six- and eight-hour trips are available for up to four fishermen.

And there’s no telling what’s swimming around out there.

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