Canoochee River Offers Redbreast Quality & Numbers

The author tackles another new river in search of his beloved redbellies.

Craig James | August 1, 2023

Stephen Lewis says quality fish can be found this month on the Canoochee River.

If anywhere is blessed with river fishing opportunities like that of south Georgia, I haven’t heard of the place, and if it does exist, I’m looking to buy property there. It’s true, no matter where you are in the southern portion of the state, some great river fishing is never far away. Altamaha, Ogeechee, Flint, Ocmulgee, Satilla, Savannah, the list goes on and on.

But what about the rivers you never hear of and rarely read about in the pages of GON or the ones that are often only seen in a quick blur as you speed across a tiny highway bridge? The Canoochee is such a place, and for a decade or so now, I’ve told myself that one day I would make a trip to this hidden blackwater fishery that lies tucked away down around Richmond Hill.

All the pieces finally came together a few weeks ago, and I finally got to spend a morning fishing the river with Stephen Lewis, of Guyton. Stephen has spent more than 30 years on the tiny black-water river around Fort Stewart, and through the years, he’s learned a thing or two about how to fish it. Here’s a breakdown of how our trip went.

My son and I met up with Stephen at the Love’s Travel Stop in Richmond Hill just before daylight, and Stephen proceeded to go over our plan for the day. He told me we would drop my two-man kayak and his creek boat at Landing 2, then take and drop my truck at Boyles Bridge. This section of the river takes a good half day or so to float, depending on the level of the river.

“There’s over 20 landings in Fort Stewart on the Canoochee and a bunch of different places you can fish. The stretch between Landing 2 and Boyles Bridge is my favorite because you can catch a bunch of fish and some really big ones, too,” said Stephen

Before we left the parking lot to make the short ride down to the base, Stephen reminded me to check into Fort Stewart on my phone. For more information on that process, take a look at the sidebar on page 33.

After dropping my truck, we managed to get in the water just as the sun began to poke through the trees. Moments later, Stephen had our first fish of the day. It was a spunky redbreast that tested the limits of Stephen’s tackle in the swift current. After a brief struggle, Stephen managed to swing a fat Canoochee redbreast into the boat.

The process was repeated numerous times throughout the morning as we floated down the river, and when the smoke cleared, we had caught 25 or so panfish, the majority of which were redbreast. Here’s how Stephen fishes the river in late summer.

Along with quality redbreast, big numbers can be found this month on the Canoochee River.


Stephen uses several different lures to fish the Canoochee during summer, but his two go-to baits are popping bugs and tiny spinnerbaits.

His favorite popping bugs are a BoogleBug and a Swamp Spider.

“I like both bugs, and they both catch fish. It seems like some days they will like one more than the other,” said Stephen.

Stephen likes to throw the BoogleBug in a chartreuse color and the Swamp Spider in neon green.

“They really like the bright colors on the Canoochee, and they like that bug to be moving,” said Stephen.

A key addition to the bugs he fishes is a tiny, bitten-off piece of plastic worm. The plastic gives the bug a little more weight, making it easier to cast with more precision. It also gives the bug a squishy more realistic feel when a fish bites.

Stephen fishes both bugs on a medium-action, 5- to 6-foot Ugly Stik rod paired with a Omega ZO2 reel. He uses 6-lb. test Trilene XL and only spools about 25 feet of line on the reel.

“I spoon the reel like this so I can really whip it hard when I throw my bug. Not filling it helps to keep it from getting tangled up on the spool when you cast it,” said Stephen.

Making pinpoint casts close to cover is crucial when fishing a bug on the river, and Steven focuses his efforts anywhere he can find a break in the current. His favorite areas are cuts in the bank, tiny pockets and the backsides of logs and other structure.

“You’re looking for those tiny breaks in the current. Little swirls of water, anything that looks different and gives a redbreast a place to post up while he waits to eat. That’s where he will be,” said Stephen.

Stephen fishes his bugs on top quick and rarely lets it sit still for more than a second or two. He pulls the bug 6 to 12 inches, then stops for a quick pause and quickly pulls it again. He says the key is to keep it moving to draw a reaction strike from the fish.

You can expect to catch plenty of roosters in the 9- to 10-inch range this month on the Canoochee.


When it comes to spinnerbaits, Stephen likes two locally made options. He throws a Satilla Spin made by Southern Fishing Company the majority of the time and a Colt .45 made by GA Boy Lures when he’s looking for a bigger bite.

“The Satilla Spin is my day in and day out go to, but the Colt .45 has a slightly larger profile that will put some bigger fish in the boat. I like to have both tied on when I’m on the river,” said Stephen.

Regardless of which spinnerbait he opts to throw, he almost always tips it with a live cricket. He says that adding the cricket will up your catch rate and it really helps when they miss it the first time come back and eat it.

Stephen says when it comes to color selection for spinnerbaits, any color will work as long as it’s chartreuse. All jokes aside, when I was with Stephen on our trip, I tried numerous colors on the river, none of which drew strikes other than those in chartreuse or similar patterns.

He works the spinnerbait on the same style setup he uses to pitch a bug and focuses on the same areas where he can find a break in the current. He fishes it at a steady speed and says that if the fish are really aggressive, he will speed up his retrieve to cover more water.

“I try to pay attention to how they react to it. Some days you’ll get more bites rolling it through there slow and a little deeper, and some days they want you to dang near burn it on top. Usually after an hour or so you can figure out how they want it that day,” said Stephen.

Live Bait

Though Stephen prefers to fish lures, he says live-bait anglers do well on the river. A cricket suspended a foot or so under a cork works well when fished in slower-moving current along bluff walls. Stephen added that worms also work well on the river, and that crappie fisherman do well fishing live minnows.

The Canoochee offers some fine fishing and beautiful scenery.

Water Level

As mentioned in this story, the Canoochee is a often swift-moving river and to fish it you need a strong trolling motor, or for kayak anglers a drag chain works well for slowing down while you fish. Stephen fished out of a 10-foot creek boat with a 55-lb. thrust motor on the day of our trip, and it worked well in the current. I had a few links of chain dragging behind my kayak, and it did a good job of helping me keep control in the swift water. Stephen recommends checking the river level online before you go and says that for the best fishing conditions, the water needs to be somewhere in the 4- to 6-foot range.

With the dog days of summer upon us, hopefully you can make a trip down to the Canoochee River this month for some red-hot redbreast action. It might not be on your map yet, but one trip and I guarantee you it will be!

To connect with Stephen with questions, you can reach out to him by sending him a message on Facebook. He also encouraged readers to check out the Canoochee, Ogeechee, Savannah, Satilla, Ohoopee and Altamaha River Report Facebook page. He says this is a great way to connect to other anglers on the river.

Fort Stewart Check-in/out Process

Before fishing, you’ll need to create an online account at

Before you jump in the truck, you’ll need the necessary permits to fish the Fort Stewart portion of the Canoochee River. The process isn’t difficult and only takes a few minutes to complete.

You first need to go to and register for an account. Once an account is created, you have to complete a five-minute online safety video, and then you can purchase a permit to fish on the base. At the time of my trip, a one-day pass was $15 and a yearly fishing pass was $50.

Once you purchase your permit, you next have to print it out to be displayed on your dash. Keep in mind if a child goes with you, they will have to have an account of their own set up and a permit printed, even though there is no charge for them to fish.

Once you arrive at the base, you must check in on your phone before entering. When exiting the property, you must promptly checkout. Failure to checkout results in a seven-day suspension of area privileges. The entire process may seem a little confusing, but it’s really quite simple and only takes a few minutes.

Canoochee River Bass

Stephen’s stepson Jayden Rahn with a nice Canoochee bass.

Stephen says that whatever you do, when you come redbreast fishing, don’t overlook the bass! He says there are plenty of fish in this section of the river and a good population of quality fish in the 3- to 5-lb. range. To target bass, he says it’s really hard to beat a Trick Worm or other similar type floating worm fished around heavy cover in slack water. Stephen’s favorite colors are white, bubblegum and black. He also says a local favorite on the river is a Bang-O-Lure. Stephen fishes the Bang-O-Lure with hard twitches, pausing every few seconds. Stephen likes to fish Bang-O-Lures in various colors, but he says without a doubt that those lures with red in them work best on the river.

Spotted Sunfish6.9-ozs.Jason Cone04/11/20
Warmouth14.08-ozs.Tim Stewart06/18/20
Redbreast1-lb., 7.36-ozsLonnie Bradley04/09/90
Shellcracker1-lb., 14.24-ozs.Lalah Pitts05/29/21
Bluegill1-lb., 0.32-ozs.Bo Moody05/04/24

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