Georgia Blue Water Fishing Adventure To The Gulf Stream

Capt. Spud Woodward | June 1, 2005

Traveling offshore of Georgia in search of world-class gamefish is not the average angling experience. After all, an average person wouldn’t leave the bed at 2 a.m. just to cross 90 miles of open Atlantic Ocean in the darkness so he or she can be on the fishing grounds at sunrise. A blue-water trip means traveling to the western edge of the Gulf Stream, a river of current embedded in the Atlantic Ocean, which begins in the Caribbean and flows north past the coasts of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas at a speed of two to four knots.

As the Stream passes by Georgia, it runs across bottom features like ledges, humps, and wrecks, all of which provide a haven for marine life, and a hunting ground for gamefish. Some of the more popular spots are the Sow Pen, the Deli, Triple Ledges, Sapelo Scarp, and the South Ledges in 120 to 250 feet of water. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has built two deepwater reefs, WW and DW, which create fish habitat near the edge of the Stream. Anglers fishing from Savannah typically head to some well-known spots east of South Carolina such as the Edisto Banks and the 226 Hole, as well.

An Atlantic sailfish is the most common blue-water fish you’ll encounter in Georgia’s Gulf-Stream waters. Photo compliments of Chris Woodward.

Billfish such as blue marlin, striped marlin and Atlantic sailfish are found on the edge of the Gulf Stream. Immortalized in the writings of Hemingway, Zane Grey, and scores of others, these pelagic predators are the dream fish for most anglers. White marlin and Atlantic sailfish usually go about 50 to 70 pounds, while the blue marlin usually hit triple digits. Georgia law prohibits the landing of blue marlin and the other two species. However, high-quality fiberglass reproduction mounts by companies like King Sailfish Mounts in Florida offer an alternative to killing a billfish. Get the mate to take length and girth measurements of your catch, and the experts can create a work of art that will last a lifetime.

Looking and acting like a king mackerel on steroids, the wahoo is one of the fastest fish in the ocean. They are also voracious predators that prefer to feed near the surface at dawn and dusk. Wahoo can be successfully targeted during the middle of the day by fast-trolling artificial and natural baits on downriggers. Federal regulations limit the daily recreational catch to two fish per person. Wahoo are great when grilled or broiled.

Most think of tuna as something you can only get out of a can. Not true. Tuna are a perennial favorite with Georgia blue-water anglers, both for their fighting ability and the fact that fresh tuna right off the grill is tough to beat. The most common tuna species are the blackfin and yellowfin. Both are equally good as tablefare, but the blackfin is much smaller going 25 to 35 pounds. By contrast, the yellowfin can grow much larger, but most yellowfin caught off Georgia weigh less than 100 pounds. Feather lures and cedar plugs are the most effective trolling baits, although tuna will take rigged ballyhoo. There are no limits on the catch of either blackfin or yellowfin tuna.

These beautiful bull dolphin are another species you may encounter on a trip to the blue water.

The most-common species of gamefish encountered off Georgia is the fast-growing and abundant dolphin. Unlike many ocean-going fishes, male or bull dolphin can be distinguished from females (cows) based on the blunt shape of the male’s head. Both sexes frequently exceed 30 pounds with the bulls reaching larger sizes. Bulls and cows are equally acrobatic on the end of a line and delicious on the table.  Frequently found under floating debris and weed lines, dolphin fall for a variety of trolled baits including ballyhoo, feather jigs, and hard plastics like those made by Yo-Zuri. Most captains keep a spinning outfit or two on board for pitching baits to dolphins that follow a hooked fish to the boat. Dolphin are highly energetic fish, so give the gaff man plenty of room to clear the gunwale and deposit your catch in the fish box. Georgia law allows the harvest of 10 dolphin per person, all of which must be 20 inches or longer.

If you’re thinking about taking a blue-water experience, this five-step list to the right will put your on your way.

1. Find a reputable charter service with the right vessel, tackle, and know-how. Blue-water fishing off Georgia is not for amateurs. Not only will a skilled captain and crew get you to and from the Gulf Stream safely, they can put you on the fish with the right tackle.

2. Schedule your trip for the spring and early summer. The temperature contrast between the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and the cooler ocean waters back toward the coast is most pronounced in the spring and early summer. These are also the seasons when migrations of pelagic gamefish are in full swing. Most serious blue-water anglers save their leave days and fishing dollars for the months of May, June, and July. The weather usually stabilizes by late spring making for a more comfortable boat ride and fishing experience.

3. Be prepared for a long day on the water. Most captains will want to leave the dock in the wee hours of the morning, say between 2 and 4 a.m., depending on trip length and the speed of their vessel. Eat a good meal, lay off the adult beverages and try to get at least four hours of sleep. If you’re prone to motion sickness, take medication before you go to sleep and again in the morning before the boat leaves the dock. If you’re going out in a boat with a cabin or sleeping quarters, don’t hesitate to find a comfortable spot for a nap.

4. Take a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, a towel and a change of clothes. Lots can happen on a 12-hour offshore trip. It pays to have some extra personal items just in case. There are no Wal-Marts on the edge of the Gulf Stream (at least not yet).

5. Bring plenty of coolers and ice, but leave them in your vehicle. The fishing boat will have plenty of storage room for the catch. However, once you get back to land that catch will become your responsibility. Some guide services offer a fish-cleaning service, some don’t. Regardless, you’ll still need to make sure that you can keep the fillets and steaks properly chilled.

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