Altamaha River Summer Bass
The author speaks to three local expert bass anglers as they pursue summertime bass on the mighty Altamaha.
If you have never given tidal water river bass fishing a try, don’t put it off until next summer. It’s time to plan a trip now.
Down in south Georgia, the Altamaha River offers up some of the best bass fishing in the entire state. The bass fishing is great along the entire 137-mile long river, but the tidal section located in Glynn County is something real special. Much like saltwater fishing, these tidal fish are known to stack up tight. When they do, 100-fish days are possible with plenty of chunky fish in the 3- to 5-lb. range and a good chance at tangling with a real lunker.
Don Harrison with the Waycross WRD Fisheries office was quick to point out the river’s current bass fishing opportunities.
“There are a lot of quality fish available and even better numbers of fish. When we last surveyed it last fall, we saw roughly 20 percent of the population was longer than 14 inches, which is a pretty good number, especially for a river.”
He went on to say that these aren’t the best numbers he has ever seen on in the Altamaha, but it’s definitely on the higher end of the spectrum.
The only downside to fish stacking up is if you’re not in the right place, the action isn’t nearly as fast paced. To get you there, I have interviewed three of the best tidal river anglers in southeast Georgia, all of whom use different tactics to successfully put big Altamaha River bass in the boat.
AJ Hendrix, of Waycross, is only 25 years old and has been making a name for himself up and down the Altamaha. With a string of impressive tournament finishes at Altamaha Regional Park, including a first-place finish in a field of 47 boats earlier this year, AJ has quickly gained an understanding of how tidal bass relate to various river conditions and water levels.
“You have to be versatile. These fish can be piled up anywhere, and you have to be willing to move around and swap your presentations up until you find them,” AJ said.
He admitted these fish can be caught a number of ways, but his tried-and-true tactic for consistently putting fish in the boat is the trusty Texas rig.
“So many guys out on the water are moving away from it, but it flat out works,” AJ said.
His favorite setup for fishing the river is a 7-foot long Carrot Stix rod with an Abu Garcia Revo Rocket spooled with 15-lb. test Trilene Big Game line. He uses a variety of soft plastics with a Bruiser Baits Crazy Craw being his favorite. He keeps the color selection simple, mostly using junebug and black/blue. He completes the Texas rig with a 4/0 flipping hook and a Flat Out Tungsten weight in the 1/8- to 1/2-oz. range, depending on the pull of the tide.
“I have experimented with a variety of crawfish plastics, but the arms on the Crazy Craw really thump, and I feel like it results in fish finding it better in the often dirty water,” AJ said.
Most days when he launches, AJ makes a short run upriver to fish.
“During June, the fish are in kind of a transition from the lakes they have mostly been holding in since the spawn,” said AJ. “They will be moving to the river, which is usually a few degrees cooler during the summer months.”
To figure out where they are holding, AJ likes to spend an hour or so fishing both the main river and one of the many lakes and creeks first thing in the morning. After trying both, he can generally get a feel for where the fish are relating that day.
“I think way too many anglers put too much emphasis on the tide. Don’t get me wrong, tide is important, but the fish are always here. You just have to find them,” AJ said.
AJ likes to fish his Texas-rigged craw slowly around laydowns and willow trees, especially keying in on isolated structures. When a fish picks up the craw, he said it’s best to give them an extra second to really eat it before driving the hook home.
“If you don’t let them have it that extra second of two, you will miss a lot of fish in this often dirty water,” AJ said.
AJ also mentioned that working shallow sandbars with a craw tends to produce a few keeper fish, especially on tough days.
One other lure AJ likes to keep tied on, especially during the summer months, is a Zara Spook.
“This is a great lure to throw along edges of lily pads in the Altamaha’s many lakes, particularly on cloudy days. You can cover a lot of area quick with the Spook,” AJ said.
He likes any color that resembles shad and fishes it on baitcasting tackle and 12-lb. test Big Game line.
John Que Thomas, of St. Marys, has had tremendous Altamaha River success, as well, weighing in bags of bass in excess of 20 pounds numerous times. To say his tactics are different would be an understatement.
“When I fish the Altamaha River, I’m looking for the really big bites, and for that reason, I throw really big worms,” John said.
By big, he means a whopping 15-inch NetBait C-Mac worm in the Okeechobee craw color. He threads this massive worm onto a 6/0 wide-gap hook and completes the rig with a 1/4-oz. Tungsten weight.
“It really comes down to what you’re fishing for; I don’t mind catching less fish, as long as they are good fish,” said John.
When possible, John likes to plan his trip where he fishes the last four hours of the outgoing tide, keying on wood cover, more specifically laydowns. When he approaches a laydown, John likes to slowly drag his 15-inch worm through the cover from multiple angles, taking his time to make sure he puts his lure in front of every fish holding in the structure.
During the month of June, he spends 90 percent of his time in the main river, only fishing creeks and lakes if he’s not getting bit.
“As the temperature rises, I find most of my fish holding in the main river, and it seems as summer wears on, the better fishing will be upstream of the Altamaha Regional Park,” said John.
If he can’t buy a bite on the big worm, or if he wants to cover water in a hurry, John opts for a KVD 1.5 square-bill crankbait in chartreuse sexy shad. He fishes it fast, banging it off any wood cover he can find, drawing reaction strikes from aggressive fish.
Last but not least, Dean Oliver, of Waycross, approaches the Altamaha with a go-for-broke topwater fishing mentality.
“I try to fish topwater baits all day on the river if I can,” Dean said. “I won’t always catch the number of fish other anglers will, but if I connect on the ones I do, I will be smiling at weigh-in time.”
He has affectionately named his favorite Altamaha River lure “Kermit,” and you can probably guess that lure is a frog. More specifically a BOOYAH Jr. sized frog. Dean likes most any color frog, believing the fish are more interested in the action. He fishes Kermit on a stout 7-foot rod with 50-lb. braid, so he can quickly drag fish away from wood snags and out of lily pads fields. Dean spends the majority of his time fishing the Altamaha’s many lakes and creeks.
“Within a few miles of the ramp at the park, there are several great lakes for frog fishing. Gamecock Lake, Pocket Lake and Jug Lake are all worth a try,” said Dean.
He fishes his way around these oxbows, working his frog quickly with a fast walk-the-dog presentation. As the tide rises higher, he moves as far into the backs of these bodies of water as possible, targeting fish that are less pressured.
“Everybody and their brother are throwing buzzbaits at these fish, but very few anglers throw frogs,” Dean said.
When he fishes the frog, he uses its weedless nature to its full advantage, making pinpoint casts as far back into cover as he possibly can. As summer wears on, heavily pressured fish are going to move as far back in the thick stuff as they can, and that is when the frog will really shine.
“Odds are if you’re not getting your frog tangled up and hung in structure, you’re not fishing it as tight to cover as you should,” Dean said.
If you don’t get bit on top right away, don’t put the frog down just yet. Dean mentioned that many days his best action has come between 11 and 2. During these brightest hours of the day, he moves extremely quickly from one shady spot to another and works fields of lily pads in search of big bites.
“Unless I see activity in the pads, I won’t spend much time fishing them until after lunch. As it gets hotter, the bugs get active, and that brings the bluegill in, and that’s when the bass really stage in the pads feeding on bluegill,” Dean said.
Altamaha Regional Park is a terrific place for a weekend getaway. Located off Highway 341 in Brunswick, it’s just a short drive from I-95. The park offers tent camping, RV sites and rental cabins. There is a general store that has most any item you may have forgotten, including fishing tackle and camping supplies. There is also a really nice playground and swimming area for kids. There is currently no fee to launch a boat. For current camping rates or other questions, you can contact the park at (912) 264-2342.
There is no better time than the month of June to try your hand at tidal bass fishing down on the beautiful Altamaha River. Whether you pitch a craw, fling a magnum-sized worm or walk a frog, one thing’s for sure, the fishing is going to be great!
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