Bend A Rod At Jekyll Island

Georgia’s coastal jewel offers a variety of saltwater angling opportunities.

Capt. Spud Woodward | May 1, 2008

Bottom fishing is the most productive and commonly used fishing technique for shore-based saltwater fishing. If fishing from the piers, bridges or beaches on Jekyll, expect to catch trout, redfish and flounder.

The Georgia coast has changed quite a bit since my first visit almost 40 years ago, but Jekyll Island is still a laid-back, slow-paced escape from the modern world. Although the planned revitalization of the island has caused quite a bit of controversy, I think it’s safe to say that Jekyll will continue to be an affordable destination for anglers wanting to spend time on a coastal Georgia barrier island.

Whether you’re expert or novice, fishing with your buddies or with the family, Jekyll has something for you. A public boat ramp and a full-service marina offer the boating angler access to miles of tidal creeks, hundreds of acres of marsh, a nearby inshore artificial reef and the Atlantic Ocean. The list of saltwater species available to the boating anglers is a who’s who of salt- water game fish — redfish, speckled trout, sheepshead, flounder, tripletail, sharks, tarpon, king and Spanish mackerel, barracuda and cobia.

Shore-based anglers have their choice of two fishing piers, 10 miles of beach, several bank-fishing spots along tidal creeks and a 23-acre saltwater impoundment. Expect catches of whiting, croaker, spot, saltwater catfish, sharks, stingrays and flounder. A Georgia fishing license is required for any saltwater fishing activities, including crabbing, shrimping and harvesting shellfish.

Gear Up: If you plan on fishing from piers, bridges and beaches on Jekyll, the same tackle you use for freshwater catfish, stripers and such will work just fine — a 7-foot, medium-heavy-action rod matched with a reel that holds 200 yards of 10- to 20- lb. test line. Boat fishing calls for spinning or casting tackle of a similar size, except you can downsize to large- mouth-bass tackle when fishing slip- floats or rattling floats with live baits or soft plastics.

Bottom fishing is the most productive and commonly used fishing technique for shore-based saltwater fishing. Double-hook bottom rigs can be purchased at coastal tackle retailers or made by tying two dropper lines and a terminal loop for the weight in a 3-foot section of 20-lb. leader material. The fish-finder rig also works since it allows a fish to take the bait without immediately feeling resistance from the weight. Regardless of your choice in rigs, be sure to carry plenty of pyramid sinkers in sizes ranging from 2 to 4 ounces since the tidal currents can be strong.

Fishing with adjustable slip floats and rattling floats is the best way to tempt a speckled trout, redfish or flounder in the tidal waterways around Jekyll. These floats come in a variety of shapes and sizes with most anglers using an 8- or 10-inch pencil float or the depth-adjustable rattling float marketed by Betts. The pencil floats are coupled with a cigar-shaped weight of an appropriate size and finished with 20 inches of 12-lb.-test fluorocarbon, tipped with a hook size and style matched to the bait choice. A weight- and-hook combo can be used with a rattling float, but I prefer to use a 1/4- oz. chartreuse jig head as terminal tackle below the rattling float. That way, I have the flexibility to switch between live baits and soft plastics.

Choose 1/0 to 3/0 wide-bend or Kahle-style hooks or thin-wire circle hooks with at least a 1/4-inch gap between the hook point and shank for the business end of your terminal tackle. Live and dead natural baits such as shrimp, mullet, mud minnows, squid and fiddler crabs produce a mixed bag of saltwater species. Live shrimp can be purchased at the Jekyll Harbor Marina, while frozen bait is available at many island stores.

Live mud minnows and finger mullet are not usually available for purchase. Catching these is a matter of using a baited wire trap for the mud minnows and a small mesh cast net for the mullet. Scented artificials such as Berkeley GULP! Alive Shrimp and Peeler Crab patterns and Fishbites cut-bait strips are also productive, plus they’re non-perishable.

There’s no substitute for the right tackle, but sometimes the accessories make all the difference. Essentials include a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, a pair of stainless-steel pliers, a stainless- steel bait knife, a small first-aid kit, a cooler with ice, a fish-measuring device and information on saltwater fishing regulations.

An important beach-fishing accessory is a surf-rod holder or sand spike. Available from catalogs and tackle shops, they can also be made by cutting one end of a 5-foot length of thin-wall (Schedule 20), 1 1/2-inch diameter PVC pipe at a 45-degree angle. With a bit of effort, the pointed end of the sand spike can be pushed into the wet sand, providing a secure holder for a rod and reel.

Lifting a large fish from the water to the deck of the fishing pier can be an iffy proposition. Most pier anglers keep a pier net in their gear inventory just in case they get that catch of a lifetime. Basically, it’s a piece of sturdy webbing stretched inside a wire hoop about 3 feet in diameter. A hand line is attached to the net at three points and weights attached to the wire hoop. This net can be lowered into position beneath a fish and used to lift it over the rail of the fishing pier. A lift-ring-style crab trap can work as an inexpensive substitute in a pinch.

Once you’ve got your tackle, gear and bait ready, where do you start? Here’s a list of Jekyll Island fishing experiences as indicated on the map.

1. Jekyll Island Pier: Built in 1969, this T-shaped concrete structure on the north end of the island juts 360 feet into the waters of St. Simons Sound. The barnacle- and oyster- encrusted pier legs attract fish, as do old pilings deployed off the south end to create submerged fish habitat. Much of the pier is covered, offering anglers a respite from the heat of the coastal Georgia sun. The pier is also lighted and open 24 hours making it a nighttime destination for hard-core anglers. Nearby the pier, a picnic area provides ample parking, restrooms, grills and well-shaded tables. There is no concession stand at the pier, but the camp- ground store located opposite the road to the pier sells bait and tackle, ice, drinks and such.

2. Clam Creek Bridge: A small tidal creek parallels the road leading to the Jekyll pier and empties into St. Simons Sound a few hundred yards east of the pier. Along the road, two vehicle parking areas offer access to bank fishing in Clam Creek. A wooden bridge over the creek mouth provides pedestrian and bicycle access to Driftwood Beach. This bridge is also a great location to target flounder from spring through autumn.

Two wooden benches create a resting spot for bridge anglers, but there’s no shelter from the elements. The mouth of the creek is a broad expanse of firm sand, making it a great place to use fish-finder or Carolina rigs tipped with live shrimp, mud minnows or finger mullet. Slowly work your bait across the bottom, and you’ll increase the odds of finding a hungry flatfish. An ongoing oyster-reef restoration project will ultimately make the mouth of Clam Creek an even more productive fishing spot.

3. Jekyll Causeway Fishing Pier: After replacing the old drawbridge over Jekyll Creek, Georgia DOT partnered with Georgia DNR to leave a section of the old bridge in place as a fishing pier. The east fishing pier can only be accessed from the island, while the west end is reached via a small road at the western end of the new Jekyll Creek Bridge. Both piers are located north of the new bridge, and both can be productive fishing spots. Be warned, the location is pretty barebones as there is no restroom, no freshwater spigot, no shade and the side rails are about 4 feet high, making it difficult for small children to fish.

However, the west pier is located adjacent to a stretch of marsh famous for holding big schools of larger red- fish. This is one shore-based location where it can be productive to fish a float rig. A perforated minnow bucket lowered from the bridge or an insulated, aerated bait bucket will keep your bait alive and frisky.

4. St. Andrew Picnic Area: This is the access point for the long stretch of beach on the south end of Jekyll. Like other picnic areas, this one has restrooms, freshwater showers, plenty of parking and tables shaded by magnificent live oaks. Beach seining is a popular group activity guaranteed to provide healthy exercise if not good catches of large shrimp, blue crabs and fish. Consult the 2008-09 Georgia Sport Fishing Regulations for information on seining in saltwater.

A small tidal creek mouth, located at the intersection of the northern end of the beach and the marsh, can be a productive spot for slot-size redfish during autumn. A beach cart comes in handy for carrying your gear to this remote spot.

5. Beach Near Convention Center: A large sandbar extends perpendicular to the beach near the convention center, creating a popular beach-fishing access spot. While a great fishing location, the sandbar is covered by several feet of water at high tide, so use extreme caution when venturing to the outer end. Beachcombers and anglers have been stranded in the past. Time your beach-fishing trip to coincide with low tide. Look for sloughs, points, depressions and other features different from the surrounding beach. As the tide rises, these features will change the current and create congregation points for small fish, crabs and other food. Feeding birds often indicate that baitfish and predators are working a stretch of beach.

6. Ski Rixen Pond: Jekyll Island is home to one of coastal Georgia’s only public saltwater fishing impoundments — the 23-acre Ski Rixen Pond, located near the Summer Waves water park. Unlike in the surrounding water- ways, the tide only fluctuates about 6 inches within the impoundment. Bottom rigs and float rigs are effective, and you can fish from the bank, from one of two fishing piers or from a non- motorized boat. The Tidelands Nature Center rents kayaks and canoes that can be used on the pond and in the surrounding marshes.

While the Ski Rixen Pond has produced good fishing over the years, it only gets what Mother Natures chooses to send through the four culvert pipes connecting it to nearby Jekyll Creek. Over the years, the impoundment has produced some notable catches including 15-inch croaker and 20-inch-plus speckled trout. Georgia DNR is working to make fishing better by creating more fish habitat and by releasing hatchery-reared redfish. A restroom is located in the parking lot of the adjacent boat ramp.

7. Jekyll Boat Ramp: Coastal Georgia’s twice-a-day tides, ranging from 6 to 8 feet, make boating a challenging proposition for newcomers and veterans. However, a boat gives anglers an opportunity to experience the full spectrum of saltwater fishing. For that reason, anglers should give some thought to bringing a boat when visiting Jekyll.

Kayaks, canoes, jonboats and bass boats can be used with safety in the sheltered waters of Jekyll Creek. Just keep an eye on the weather, and make sure you pay attention to the tides. Larger boats allow access to the tidal rivers, the sounds and the Atlantic Ocean.

The public boat ramp located on Jekyll Creek will be undergoing renovation this summer so expect it to be out of service in June, July and possibly August. Contact Georgia DNR at (912) 264-7218 for the status of the ramp renovation. During the closure, the closest boat ramp will be at Blythe Island. The good news is the ramp will be larger and so will the boating-service dock and the parking area. A rest- room is located on the premises, and a freshwater hose is available for washing the salt off the boat and trailer. There is no additional fee to use the public boat ramp.

8. Jekyll Harbor Marina: Strategically located at Mile Marker 685 of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, the Jekyll Harbor Marina is
a favorite stop for traveling boaters. If you launch your boat at the public ramp, you can find fuel, ice and overnight dockage at the marina. It is also the only location on the island where you can purchase live bait shrimp, which typically go for $12 a quart. The marina is also the base of operations for several fishing guides who can help you find that catch of a lifetime.

Go to for more info.

9. Henry Cate Inshore Fishing Reef: Saltwater anglers know oyster reefs provide important fish habitat and some of the best catches of redfish, speckled trout, flounder and sheepshead. In an effort to create more fishing opportunities, Georgia DNR places materials that attract larval oysters along the shoreline of tidal creeks and rivers. Once the small oysters attach to the material, they begin to grow and soon the material looks like a natural oyster reef.

One such location is the Henry Cate Inshore Fishing Reef on the west side of Jekyll Island, along St. Simons Sound. During the 1980s, more than 100 PVC-and-concrete, fish-attractor units and several concrete pilings were placed along the shoreline. During low tide, most of these oyster-and–barnacle encrusted structures are visible. The reef site is marked with two pilings to warn boaters about the presence of the structure during higher stages of the tide. Probing the nooks and crevices of the structure with live fiddler crabs produces catches of sheepshead.

10. Atlantic Ocean: Explore the Atlantic Ocean east of Jekyll from late spring through early autumn. Anglers sight-fish for tripletail by looking for the mottled-brown or gray-colored fish floating on its side at the surface. Live baits or minnow-pattern flies draw strikes from the fish, which looks like a bluegill on steroids. Handle tripletail carefully as the edge of the gill cover is serrated like a steak knife.

Diving seabirds often betray the presence of a school of Spanish mackerel slashing into baitfish. Spoons and other lures that mimic that prey can be cast into the melee. If you suspect Spanish are in the area, but haven’t seen them, try trolling Clark spoons around the bait schools.

A $3-per-vehicle fee collected at the island entrance allows access to all public-use facilities on Jekyll Island State Park. Plenty of waterfront picnic areas with amenities such as restrooms, tables, grills and ample free parking make day visits to the island practical and low cost. There are signs every- where, so it’s very easy to find your way around the island. Lodging is available at several hotels, condo complexes and other rental properties. The Jekyll Island Campground at the north end of the island caters to everything from tents to big diesel pushers. Local businesses provide all the essentials, and restaurants offer everything from elegant formal dining to grab-and-go fare. The Jekyll Island Authority web- site, <>, is a source of detailed info.

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