Beat The Clock For Okefenokee Warmouth
Josh Forsythe targets trophy warmouth, but he says you better get on the water as early as you can.
There is something downright magical about the Okefenokee Swamp. Maybe it’s the reflective black water with endless banks lined with lily pads, or the lines of cypress trees that run for miles to no end. Maybe it’s watching alligators waste the day away sunning on mats of grass, while birds wade around the shallows looking for their next meal. Or maybe… just maybe… it’s the warmouth.
Depending on what part of the South you call home, warmouth are referred to by a host of names. Anything from google eye, molly, strawberry perch, redeye bream and a host of other nicknames they probably earned from our great grandpas.
Bottom line is that they are flat out fun to catch. And I don’t know of another place in the world they are more plentiful than the Okefenokee Swamp. My very first GON story years back was on warmouth fishing in the Okefenokee, and over the years in my stories, I’ve covered a few different ways to catch them. Truthfully I’ve always felt like you could catch them a variety of ways with plenty of different tactics, all about equally effective.
Until I met Josh Forsythe.
I actually first came to know Josh through an outdoor group on Facebook known as Satilla Outdoors a few years back. Satilla Outdoors is a group where members will post pictures of their success both in the woods and on the water in south Georgia.
Anyway, I quickly took notice of the success Josh regularly has on the Swamp, so I reached out to him to see if he would be interested in sharing his tactics with GON readers.
Josh lives down around Homerville, a tiny town on Highway 84 located fairly central between the western entrance to the Swamp in Fargo and the eastern entrance to the Swamp in Folkston.
We finally were able to line up a trip to the Swamp the first weekend in April, and Josh decided the east entrance in Folkston would be our best bet to try and put some early spring warmouth into the boat.
We met at the boat ramp about 20 minutes before sunrise and quickly backed his 15-foot Alumacraft paired with a 9.9 Suzuki down into the water.
“It’s a race against the clock first thing in the morning,” said Josh. “The gate opens 30 minutes before sunrise, and you want to be sitting at it waiting. Most days by 10 o’clock the bite is over, so every minute counts when you’re trying to get your limit of warmouth in the boat.”
Josh made a quick, 10-minute run down the Suwannee Canal to a place where cypress trees started to become more prevalent along the grass shoreline.
“The water’s still up, and it’s a little cold, but maybe we can get some good ones to bite,” Josh said.
He readied a 10-foot breambuster-style pole rigged with a large crappie jig and a cork. Using his trolling motor to move quickly along, Josh showed me how to use an underhand pitch to precisely land the jig next to cypress trees and other fishy targets along the bank.
It took all of about five minutes for the first action of the day. Making a perfect pitch in between a 6-inch pocket in the grass, Josh gave his cork and jig a couple of quick twitches. Just after the cork settled, it made a slight bobble.
“There he is!” Josh said, as he lowered his pole and then set the hook hard into a big fat Okefenokee warmouth.
After a quick struggle, Josh swung the fish aboard, chunked it in the cooler and quickly pitched his jig to another cypress tree.
I was impressed with the efficiency of Josh’s method. In a span of under 45 seconds, he had managed to make a cast, catch a fish and cast again. Pretty effective time management when you’re racing the clock against a fish that typically doesn’t bite well once the sun gets up high.
We repeated the success for the next several hours, covering a few miles of shoreline and catching more than 40 warmouth in the process. Not bad for a cool April morning behind a cold front.
After our trip, Josh and I sat down to go over the details of his simple but effective method for catching numbers of Okefenokee big warmouth. I’ve broken our conversation down into sections to make it easier to sort through the information.
Time And Location
Josh says May is as good as it gets when it comes to warmouth fishing in the Okefenokee.
“The bite always starts to pick up some in April and then really fires off in May,” said Josh. “It’s not hard at all to catch 50 to 100 fish a trip all month long. They will keep biting on into June and July, but so will the yellow flies. Normally when they get bad, I hang it up for the year.”
To take full advantage of the bite, anglers need to be parked at the gate early. It is on a timer to open 30 minutes before sunrise.
“I try to be at the gate 10 to 15 minutes early to make sure all my equipment is ready to go as soon as it opens. Minutes wasted rigging poles out on the water result in less fish put in the boat. They normally are only going to bite until 10 or so, and you’ve got to make the most of every minute.”
Josh says the Folkston entrance is your best bet early in May, and it’s not a hard area to learn to fish.
“You can start catching fish as soon as you put your boat in the water in Folkston,” said Josh. “Anywhere there is grass or other structure there will be warmouth in May. I like to run out about a mile or so before I start fishing just to get away from the crowd a little bit. Key in on areas where you find irregularities in the grass, and especially around areas with both grass and cypress trees,” said Josh.
Usually from mid to late May the Fargo bite will really pick up, and Josh says a trip to the west side can be really productive when the bite turns on. When fishing the west entrance, Josh normally likes to put in at the Suwannee Sill. He recommends fishing the cypress trees along the bank and says if your cork isn’t hitting the cypress trees, you’re not fishing close enough to them. Josh also said that the State Park boat ramp can be a good place to put in and make a quick run out to Billy’s Lake.
“Billy’s Lake is lined with lily pads, and they are gonna be your primary structure holding warmouth. If the Swamp is low, you will see lots of exposed cypress knees, and they can be really good targets, too,” Josh added.
Josh went on to say that regardless of where anglers choose to put in at the Swamp this month, the key is to focus on structure and fish close to it.
Tackle And Technique
Josh relies on a simple selection of tackle to catch warmouth, saying that readers don’t need to spend a bunch of money to get in on the action.
“Go to your local tackle store or Walmart and grab the cheapest 10-foot breambuster-style pole you can find, a roll of 12-lb. monofilament line, a pack of jig heads in either 1/32- or 1/16-oz., some small corks, and most important a few packs of Strike King Mr. Crappie Joker tube jigs.”
The Joker is a 2-inch tube jig with three tails, each with a ball at the end. It’s got a larger profile than a standard crappie jig, roughly twice the thickness, and Josh says the bigger profile helps with getting bigger bites.
“Plenty of folks use tube jigs for warmouth in the Swamp, but it’s mostly the smaller standard-size crappie tubes. They work great as well, but I believe the Joker tube gets the attention of bigger warmouth.”
Josh says he only uses three main colors, with refrigerator white being his favorite, though he does keep a pack of black/chartreuse and electric chicken tubes handy if he does decide to change things up.
“Refrigerator white is my hands-down favorite, I always start with it. It’s actually a white tube with neon green legs. I fish it 99% of the time,” said Josh.
Josh did go onto say that if the bite is slow, especially on the west side, he will give electric chicken or black and chartreuse a try.
“I don’t know why, but sometimes they seem to like that electric chicken color better in Fargo, so it definitely pays to have some in the boat just in case,” said Josh.
Josh said that the color of the jig head doesn’t seem to matter all that much to the warmouth, and he really can’t tell much of a difference between a 1/16- or 1/32-oz. jig head. What is important, however, is cork size.
“You may want to grab a few different packs of corks so you can match it up with your jig. You want it to barely float the jig so you can easily see those subtle bites,” Josh said.
“When setting your depth, you want to stay shallow, staying between 10 to 18 inches. A good trick is to put your jig in the water next to the boat and set your cork to a depth where you can’t see your jig anymore. Normally that’s about a foot or so.”
Josh fishes the jig by making underhanded pitches, swinging his jig and cork toward its intended target.
“Your first trip or two it can be a little aggravating to learn,” said Josh. “You’re going to get hung up some, especially when you’re trying to bump right up next to structure. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll love it, I guarantee you.”
The key to fishing this setup is constantly keeping both the jig and the boat moving.
“When I pitch to a tree or grass, I’m hitting the edge of it,” said Josh. “Then I’m going to give my jig a quick shake followed by a half-second pause, then I’ll repeat it quickly again. If that cork doesn’t move after the second shake, I’m pulling it and pitching again.”
When a warmouth does bite, they rarely to sink the cork. Most bites will be a quick twitch to the left or right.
“When you see that cork thump real quick, that’s the fish swimming up and sucking it in. When that happens, lower your pole and set the hook hard,” said Josh.
Josh rarely stops the boat, opting for a speed that he can quickly hit targets and cover plenty of water.
“My best piece of advice is to keep the boat moving,” said Josh. “If a fish is there, it’s gonna bite the first time the jig hits the water. It’s simple fishing at its best, and as long as you keep moving, you will have a great trip and catch plenty of fish.”
When you come back home with a cooler full of warmouth, it’s time to give this recipe a try, I promise the whole family will love it!
Filet the warmouth and rinse thoroughly. Put filets in a container, fill with water, and add a tablespoon of salt. This helps get rid of fishy flavor. Soak overnight.
Before cooking, rinse and pat filets dry. Season with your favorite blackening seasoning on both sides, and get a cast iron pan smoking hot. Toss a couple slices of butter in the pan and blacken the filets. It only takes a minute or so on each side.
Lay filets on warmed flour tortillas and garnish with shredded cabbage and shredded queso cheese. In a bowl smash an avocado with a fork until creamy and mix in a half cup of sour cream. Stir until smooth, and then season to your taste with salt, pepper and a quick squeeze of juice from a lime. Spoon mixture onto tacos and enjoy!
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