Altamaha River Tidal Bass

Catches of up to 100 bass in a five-hour period can occur.

Craig James | August 15, 2018

Stefan Carter has been chasing the tide for years going after Altamaha River bass like this.

Some of the best bass fishing you probably have never heard of will occur today. The bad news is it will only last five hours, six if you’re lucky.

On the bright side, though, it will happen again tomorrow.

Welcome to the tidal section of the Altamaha River, where the bass don’t run as big, but large quantities of fish can be caught, and in my opinion, any hookset in August is a good one.

The Altamaha tidal bass are strong and aggressive, and catches of 50 to 100 fish a day are quite common if you know where to look.

Before you hitch up your boat and step on the gas, read on a little, because this bite, though quite simple to master, requires a certain understanding of how the tide moves and positions schools of bass in the current.

I managed to land a seat in the boat with Stefan Carter just a few weeks ago, and he was happy to share some of his extensive knowledge with readers.

Stefan fishes tournaments on the river numerous times a month and has been quite successful in recent years, including winning angler of the year honors in the Altamaha Outcast Series last year on the river.

Stefan contributes much of his tournament success to the tidal portion of the river, and many locals believe he is one of the most knowledgeable anglers when it comes to fishing the tide.

When we met up to fish the river, it was midday, and with blue skies and the blazing Georgia sun, I was skeptical to say the least. Stefan assured me that this was the time to be on the water.

“You need to time your fishing around the low tide. Two and a half hours before low and the first two and a half of the incoming are crucial to get on a good bite,” said Stefan.

We launched his 2014 18-foot aluminum Ranger boat at the Altamaha Regional Park, (Seaboard to local folks), and it didn’t take long for his 115 Mercury Pro XS to get us on a plane and headed for the tidal water down the river.

“It’s roughly a half hour ride at 50 miles an hour down to the Champney River area, depending on water level and conditions, Stefan said.

When navigating the river, Stefan says it’s critical to always wear a life jacket and to use extreme caution, particularly when first learning the river, as both laydowns and sandbars can be all over the place.

“When making the run, it’s much safer to make the cut through Stud Horse and Lewis Creek and loop around. If you’re really unsure, you can put in at the Champney River on Highway 17, go downriver and take a right, and that will put you in the Altamaha by Two Way Fish Camp,” said Stefan.

After twisting and winding our way down the river, and watching pine-tree filled banks give way to marsh, we arrived at our first stop of the day.

Stefan Carter has been chasing the tide for years after bass like this. He holds a small sampling of the 15 bass he recently caught with the author last month.“This area between I-95 and the Highway 17 bridge on the Altamaha, is a great place to catch fish, and folks new to the river shouldn’t have trouble finding some bites here.”

Stefan proceeded to show me some of his favorite lures for fishing most any part of the tidal system.

His first pick for fishing the tide is a Bandit 100 or 200 model crankbait with pearl being his favorite color. His next choice, especially in August, is a pink Trick Worm rigged weedless with a 4/0 VMC hook. His third choice is a Texas-rigged 6-inch Zoom Dead Ringer in junebug. He likes to use a 3/8-oz. tungsten weight to help get it down in the swift current. His favorite big fish lure is a GA BOY LURES Gold Digger buzzbait in black or pink, depending on water clarity.

“All of these lures play a different role down here in the tide, and I will show you what I’m talking about. Flexibility and the willingness to change things up are important to have success on the lower river,” Stefan added.

Another important factor Stefan mentioned is rod selection. He prefers to use a Dobyns 6-3 MH for crankbait fishing, a 6-8 Dobyns MH for working on the bottom and buzzbait fishing, and a 7-foot Dobyns MH spinning rod for skipping a Trick Worm under trees. He uses Abu Garcia reels spooled with 30- to 50-lb. Power Pro braid, depending on how heavy the surrounding cover is.

After dropping the trolling motor, Stefan began to fish a small creek, working through the area quickly with the Bandit crankbait, bouncing the lure off cover as he went. After several casts without results, he quickly grabbed another rod and began pitching a Zoom Dead Ringer around laydowns and under bushes along the bank.

It didn’t take but a few casts for Stefan to connect with our first bass of the day, a spunky 1-pounder that inhaled his worm in 10 feet of water on the end of a laydown. Moments later, I hooked into our second fish, that due to some fancy acrobats, managed to get off at the boat.

“You see how that worked. We just fished this water with faster-moving lures without so much as a bite, then we slow it down for a second and get two hook-ups. You have to listen to the fish and give them several options to eat,” Stefan explained.

We continued fishing down from the I-95 bridge, targeting more creek dumps and laydowns as we went. Stefan continued moving quickly with the crankbait until he located a laydown that offered access to deeper water.

“There are literally millions of pieces of structure in the tidal portion of this river. The key is to find the ones that offer fish the ability to move up and down in the water column with little effort,” said Stefan.

This stretch of the river drops off rapidly to depths of 20 to 30 feet, so a simple laydown can harbor large schools of fish easily, and they can be holding most anywhere in the tree.

Stefan recommends a top to bottom approach and will normally start with a crankbait or buzzbait and work his way down until he finds where the fish are holding. If he fails to get bit, he quickly moves to the next laydown and starts the process again.

After landing a few more bass, we headed to our next location, the Champney River. We dropped the trolling motor and began fishing the bluff wall along the right side. This area is a mixture of bluff walls with overhanging branches and mud flats that are often covered with fiddlers that Stefan says are a big part of the diet of these tidal bass.

“You need to keep an eye out for areas with high concentrations of crabs, and baitfish. One or both need to be present to draw in the bass,” Stefan said.

As the tide continued to pull out, I noticed that the middle of the Champney River was becoming a large sandbar. Stefan recommends keeping your big motor down as the tide drops, that way you will know how much water you’re working with if you start scraping bottom.

After picking up a few fish in Champney, we began to head back upriver toward the south Altamaha River.

“This is the most important part of tide fishing. We call it chasing the tide, basically all you’re doing is heading back upriver to fish as the tide reaches dead low. It gives you more time to fish the cleanest water,” said Stefan.

Stefan pointed out there is a two-hour difference in tide from the Champney River to Altamaha Park, so by timing your trip right, you can effectively extend your prime fishing time.

As we entered the south Altamaha River, Stefan made several casts with a crankbait to no avail. Entering the creek, he continued throwing the crankbait and also alternating with a Trick Worm and the Dead Ringer.

“You don’t have to spend a lot of time in here. If there’s fish, you will get bit pretty quick. If not, it’s time to head on up the river.”

As he fired up the outboard and headed farther upriver, we made our next stop at Lewis Creek. As he worked the bank quickly with his crankbait, he pointed out the current water conditions.

“Lewis is approximately 30 minutes behind the Champney tide. Down there right now it’s dead low, and we still have a little bit to fish this cleaner water,” said Stefan.

A few minutes into fishing the creek, Stefan picked up a bass with his crankbait in a laydown. After several more casts with no action, he swapped to the Dead Ringer, picking up another fish, and then swapped back to the crankbait to pick up yet another.

“You really have to work these areas over to catch the maximum amount of fish. In the tide, you can almost bet where there’s one, there are several more,” said Stefan.

We continued fishing Lewis for the next hour or so, focusing mainly on wood cover and overhanging bushes. Stefan says that the fish can be anywhere on a given day, so you need to fish fast until you find them, and then pick each area that holds fish apart.

“You can almost always catch a limit in Lewis, and some days, you will get into some bigger fish,” said Stefan. “It sure doesn’t hurt to throw a Gold Digger buzzbait in shady areas or pitch a black/blue Bruiser Baits Crazy Craw around stumps to provoke bigger fish. What I like about the Crazy Craw is it is one of the meatiest craw baits on the market. I think that’s what really gets you the bigger bites.”

These lures will get you bit in the tidal section of the Altamaha River (from left): a GA BOY LURES Gold Digger buzzbait, a Bandit crankbait, a Trick Worm and a Dead Ringer.

After leaving Lewis, we continued heading up river, stopping at small creek dumps and making several casts as we went. As the water continued to rise, the water began to muddy up.

Stefan switched to the pink Gold Digger buzzbait and managed a few more solid fish for his efforts.

“The Gold Digger buzzbait has a distinct sound, and that gold blade gives it a lot of flash. I buy mine in Hoboken at Pa’s Place Bait and Tackle. It’s a great hometown store that carries everything you need to fish the Altamaha,” said Stefan.

“If you’re not near the Hoboken area, you can go to GA BOY LURES Facebook page and find a link to their website,” Stefan added.

As the summer sun continued to sink and the tide continued to rise, we decided to call it a day. Our final tally was 15 good fish, some throwbacks and a few decent bass that got boat shy at the last minute and decided to spit the hook. Not bad at all for six hours of midday fishing with temps nearing 100 degrees and bluebird skies.

If you plan to fish the tide, or chase it, as Stefan says, be sure to check the tide schedule before you go. Stefan says a low tide two hours after daylight or two hours before dark is the absolute best for fishing. He uses and check

s times for the Champney River to plan his trips.

As stated earlier, you can launch at Altamaha Regional Park or Champney River boat ramp to fish the tide water. Just use caution until you familiarize yourself with the river. It’s also a good idea to keep a cooler full of water on the boat, especially during the sweltering August temperatures.

If you manage to get too hot or a little on the hungry side, Stefan says Mudcat Charlie’s at 2 Way Fish Camp, just past the 17 bridge, is a good place to get your belly full and cool down for a bit.

“I hope everyone gets the chance to give tidal bass fishing a try this month. It’s a pile of fun. I started chasing the tide years back, and I plan on chasing it every chance I get for years to come,” said Stefan.

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