Blue Moon In June For Savannah River 2-lb. Shellcracker

Farrell Morgan holds the Savannah River shellcracker record. He says the three days before and the three days after the full moon are the best days to catch big fish, and in June there are two full moons.

Brad Bailey | June 1, 2007

Farrell Morgan with a string of 17 Savannah River shellcracker caught May 17. Every fish was between 1/2- and 3/4-pound. The bigger fish are yet to move onto the spawning flats.

The bobber and worm sailed over the water and dropped into the water 10 feet from the far bank. Farrell quickly reeled line back onto the spool, dragging the bobber and the trailing red worm back until it was over a light spot on bottom. He stopped the bobber, and the worm settled to the sandy bottom.

After a moment, the red-and-white float moved slightly. Farrell quickly snapped his wrist back, raising the rod tip and setting the hook. Immediately the float disappeared from the surface, ripping off to one side as a plump, green-backed, orange-and-yellow-bellied shellcracker went digging for the bottom.

Rod tip held high, Farrell grinned, enjoying the bow in the ultralight fishing rod.

“They fight good,” he said.

In a few moments more, he swung the fat fish into the boat and showed it to me, its gleaming red operculum flashing in the sun. The fish was a nice-sized shellcracker, aka redear bream.

The section of the Savannah River near Augusta has earned its reputation for producing big, fat shellcracker, and Farrell has had a hand in that.

We first met Farrell, who lives near the river in North Augusta, S.C., in July 2006 when he set the Savannah River record for shellcracker with a 15-1/4-inch-long shellcracker that weighed 2-lbs., 4.96-ozs. He caught the fish on July 8. Amazingly he landed another fish the same day that weighed 2-lbs., 3.04-ozs. on certified scales, as well as several other shellcrackers in the 1 1/2- to 2-lb. range.

Farrell broke a record set just over two months earlier by another Savannah River fisherman named Fred Ricketson III. Fred had claimed the title on May 1 with a ‘cracker caught on a chartreuse jig near the Fury’s Ferry bridge. The former river record weighed 2-lbs., 2-ozs.

Farrell with the Savannah River record shellcracker that he caught July 8 last year. The 15 1/4-inch-long fish weighed 2-lbs., 4.96-ozs. .. and Farrell caught a 2-lb., 3.04-oz. ‘cracker the same day!

Farrell, 23, is as knowledgeable and enthusiastic a shellcracker fisherman as you’ll ever find and likely one of the best on the Savannah River for catching big fish. He is on the river, at least for a few hours, more days than not, and he estimates that he has caught more than 40 shellcracker that have topped the 2-lb. mark. When he caught the river record, he offered to take GON fishing, and we eagerly accepted the invitation to come with him a year later as the shellcracker moved out of the depths of the river and into the creeks to spawn on the shallow flats.

On the afternoon of May 17, Farrell and I launched his boat in North Augusta for a look at Savannah River shellcracker fishing.

The fishing tackle is simple. Farrell had several ultralight rods equipped with Diawa reels and spooled with 4-lb. test line. The terminal tackle is the basics of fishing: a No. 3 hook, a split-shot and a slip-float — the kind of float the line goes through with a peg so you can easily change the depth of the bait.

Farrell also had a couple of cups of red worms. He takes a single worm and threads it on the shaft of the hook so the ends dangle and wiggle, and that wiggling action is important for attracting a strike.

Back-to-basics fishing: All you need for shellcracker fishing is a slip bobber, a hook and a red worm. The slip bobber allows you to adjust the depth so the worm sits right on the bottom.

Farrell used the trolling motor to guide his boat back into a creek to a small, shallow flat that was pocked with lighter-colored areas that were bream beds. Any creek from the Clarks Hill dam to the locks below Augusta is likely to hold bedding shellcracker, said Farrell. “The beds look like a blown-out pocket in the sand,” he said.

Keeping his boat at a long-cast distance from several beds to avoid spooking the fish in the clear water, Farrell cast his worm-and-float rig past the beds, then pulled it back until it was over the beds. Then he stopped the retrieve and let the worm fall. In a moment the bobber fluttered almost imperceptibly, and Farrell set the hook on another shellcracker that powered straight for the bottom, then did high-speed figure eights on the surface. Sporty fish.

Essentially, Farrell is sight fishing for bedding shellcracker, much like you would sight fish for bedding bass. The idea is to put a wiggling worm in the bed so the bedding shellcracker will pick it up.

“The ideal spot is to put the worm right in the middle of the bed,” said Farrell. “The shellcracker is defending it’s bed and trying to get the worm out of it.”

Casting accuracy counts. You can’t be wide right, long or wide left — you want the worm in the bed. If Farrell wasn’t happy with his bobber placement, he would immediately reel in and cast again to get it right.

“A smaller fish might come out to get the bait, but the bigger fish won’t. You have to be right in the bed,” he said.

Big fish are the norm for Farrell. He caught this table-full of Savannah River shellcracker last summer.

Polarized glasses are a big asset for seeing beds and fish.

If there was a fish on the bed, the worm dropping in from above sometimes made the fish leave, but usually they would circle back.

“See my float?” said Farrell. “There’s a fish just to the right about a foot that just left the bed. He’s come back, and he’s got to be looking at the worm that is just ticking down there.”

The fish had its nose down getting a close-up look at the worm, but it didn’t bite.

Farrell reeled his line in.

“No wonder,” he said, inspecting his bait. “The worm looks terrible.”

He pulled the old worm off and restrung the hook with a fresh, wiggling worm. It’s that wiggling that provokes the fish, he says. He doesn’t tolerate a dead or worn worm for long because the wiggling is important.

“Crickets work well, too,” he said. “A kicking cricket will provoke a strike.”

A few minutes later, I was watching Farrell’s bobber when he set the hook. I hadn’t seen the movement. You have to pay close attention.

“This joker’s good,” said Farrell, as his float ripped back and forth on the surface above the half-pound shellcracker. In an hour we had a half-dozen shellcracker in the livewell.

The fish come into the creeks and sloughs off the river to spawn starting in March, said Farrell. His experience has been that the fish move up in waves that vary by size of the fish, and the bigger fish don’t show up until June. At the time we fished, a 1 1/2-lb. shellcracker was his best fish of the season.

“I haven’t seen a 2-pounder on the bed, yet,” he said.

The best time to catch bedding shellcracker, says Farrell, is during the three days before and the three days after the full moon.

“The fish are more locked down guarding the beds on a full moon,” he said. “And the bigger fish move in on the full moon.”

After fishing the bedding flat, we moved down the creek to fish a couple of small patches of hydrilla in water about 4 feet deep. Interspersed in the greenery were the light-colored patches of clean sand that were shellcracker beds. Farrell adjusted his float and pulled his bait back across the surface so the wiggling worm would drop into a bed. Ideally, the line reaches the bottom so the worm lies in the bed without any tension on the line for the fish to feel.

In moments Farrell’s float barely wobbled, and he set the hook on the best shellcracker of the trip, a 3/4-lb. fish. In short order Farrell caught five fish to my none out of one small hydrilla bed. Since he was swapping out worms with each fish and I wasn’t, I figured his success, in part, had to be the new-worm factor. I swapped my tired worm for a lively fresh one and immediately caught a 1/2-lb. shellcracker from the edge of the hydrilla.
Shellcracker are often bunched in a small area, and where you catch one, you might catch a half-dozen or more.

Farrell and I caught 17 stout shellcracker during an evening trip. All the fish ranged from 1/2 to 3/4 pounds. According to Farrell, we were a little early to catch the biggest fish of the season, and we fished on a dark moon. With the full moon coming, the fishing should improve, and there is a bonus this June — a blue moon, a second full moon during the month. The first full moon occurs June 1, the blue moon occurs June 30. Three days before and three days after those dates should be prime time for hooking up with big Savannah River shellcracker.

“I don’t catch them all the time,” said Farrell. “Some-times they don’t bite. Some-times I catch 15, sometimes it’s 30.”

And sometimes it’s 2-pounders.

Editor’s Note: Boat ramps on this part of the river include two at the Clarks Hill dam; one at Riverside Park on the Georgia side off Hardy McManus Road; one at Riverside Park in North Augusta; and one in Augusta at the 5th Street Marina.

According to Fisheries biologist Ed Bettross, the population of shellcracker in the Savannah River is limited due to the relative infertility of the water coming under the Clarks Hill dam. The reduced overall population, however, allows more individual fish to grow to a large size.

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