Georgia Shark And Tarpon Combo
Hunt big game with a fishing rod—it’s peak time for Georgia’s amazing tarpon and shark fishing right off the coast.
I was watching a school of menhaden, also called pogies, getting attacked from big fish on all sides. I had a client with a rod ready to throw a hooked pogie into the fray. A perfect cast, and we had a tarpon 6 feet in the air peeling line off a reel like a hooked jet ski.
Forty-five minutes later I was reaching over the side pulling the hook from a beautiful 70-inch tarpon to release the huge Silver King.
We took a moment to calm the adrenaline rush that comes with this type of fishing, got things ready to fish again, and soon we found another big school of pogies being terrorized by big fish. We eased up on them, threw a live pogie under a popping cork in the mix, and two minutes later it headed in the direction of the African coast like a submarine. After an hour battle, a big blacktip shark was alongside the boat posing for pictures before I cut it loose.
You might think I was in the Florida Keys or some other distant fishing destination for this kind of fishing adventure. I was 2 miles off the front of Ossabaw Island, practically in the backyard for many Georgia residents.
Since 1979, I have been a full-time fishing guide in coastal Georgia. I specialize now with inshore fishing, taking advantage of the great action our coast offers for seatrout, redfish, flounder and a variety of other fun and tasty fish.
But come every summer, I get excited waiting on the schools of tarpon and sharks to make their appearance right off the coast. As the water heats up into the 80s, big schools of migrating baitfish show up in our waters. Schools of sharks and tarpon are not far behind. Usually the month of August is when this activity will peak. The hot, dead-calm days in August can be tough for most every other type of fishing—freshwater and saltwater—but it offers great fishing for Georgia tarpon and sharks.
Tarpon Fishing 101
I will take you through a short course in tarpon fishing basics.
My tackle will consist of a 4/0 Penn reel full of 60-lb. mono, or a well-built spinning reel full of 80-lb. braid mounted on a heavy 7 1/2-foot Ugly Stick. Make sure you have at least 300 yards of line on the reel. You’ll need some strong 7/0 live-bait hooks, and some really strong popping corks. I will take a cork and put some 120-lb. mono through with a 90-lb. test swivel 6 inches on both ends of it. A cheap Comcal cork with the tube glued in works great. Put 6 feet of 100-lb. test clear mono behind the cork.
I will rig up a bottom rig in the same manner. Take a 4-oz. egg sinker and put a foot of 120-lb. mono through it with a good swivel on both ends, and attach a 6-foot clear mono leader.
If you are also wanting to catch some sharks, put a foot of 100-lb. test single strand wire on the hook.
The next thing you need is bait. A live pogie is my first choice, and a live mullet is my second choice under a cork. On the bottom, three dead pogies with the tails cut off will work great in muddy water. A blue crab has worked well at times. I have caught tarpon on a lot of other live fish—blues, croaker, pinfish and even a 15-inch trout.
The next major ingredient is a lot of patience. Finding tarpon is your next project. Almost all of our channels leading offshore will have tarpon on the surface on the last half of the incoming tide. Watch for silver flashes on the surface.
All of the sounds have sandbars and drop-offs that form tide rips that will occasionally hold some tarpon. On the incoming tide I like to anchor on the side of a channel a couple miles offshore or on a tide rip in the sound.
Put two rods with live bait out on top, and put two on the bottom with live or dead bait. Clear water live bait—muddy water dead bait.
If this doesn’t work, on calm days go roam the beaches looking for schools of pogies with tarpon chasing them. When casting a live-bait rig, I usually prefer the spinning reel setup. I have had good luck with the large tightline spinning reels. Tarpon will destroy cheap tackle. Keep moving until you can see some tarpon on the surface, almost always I will see tarpon in the area I catch them in.
As the water heats up in late August, tarpon can be as far as 15 miles up the rivers. If you see them up the river, fish for them. After over 50 years of fishing for tarpon, I am still learning new things about tarpon fishing.
Shark catching is a lot easier than tarpon catching. The same tackle setup works for sharks, the main difference is the addition of 3 feet of 180-lb. test single strand wire and a larger hook. A 12/0 circle hook works great on sharks that weigh more than 40 pounds. With the sharks, usually the bigger bait, the bigger shark. A live fish will sometimes catch big blacktips better than dead bait, but any fresh fish will work. I usually save my fish heads for a few days and put them to work tempting sharks.
Georgia sharks can be found almost anywhere in August. Small and big channels on the ocean side of the islands always hold a lot of sharks.
In St. Catherines Sound, I have caught a lot of sharks near the tips of both Ossabaw and St. Catherines. Anchor in about 25 feet of water on the incoming tide. In Ossabaw Sound, the south end of Wassaw Island has some good drops around it. Try to avoid the really hard-running current areas. Finding big schools of pogies and drifting around a bait will almost always get a shark bite. The bigger blacktip sharks seem to really like noisy popping corks. Working a popping cork hard will increase your hook-ups dramatically on blacktips. Shark fishing can be a waiting game. Some days you just have to let the sharks find you. Chumming sometimes helps, but most of the time it is not needed.
The only sharks I almost ever keep are bonnetheads and blacktips. Sharks need to be gutted in the first hour after killing them. The big blacktips are a lot of trouble. If positively identified as a legal shark, I usually put a 12 gauge slug through their head after I gaff them and hang it over the side for a few minutes. It can be a big bloody mess. Make sure you study the regulations before killing a shark.
A few items you should have to go fishing. First, have a good knowledge of the area. Have a sturdy, dependable boat and motor and 150 feet of anchor rope with a good anchor, plus a large float to put on the end of anchor rope so you can quickly release the anchor when you get a big fish hooked. This is a 60-second fire drill—fish on, rods in, motor cranked, toss anchor float over, and chase fish before all your line is off the reel. Take a couple of pairs of gloves to handle leaders and fish. Take some 100 SPF sunscreen and good sunglasses. Watch out for the afternoon thunderstorms.
These big fish can hurt you—be careful when they are around the boat. I have several shark and tarpon scars from wild fish by the boat. Do not attempt to put a tarpon in the boat if he is hooked in hard bone, just cut the line close to the hook.
Give big game hunting with a fishing rod a try. It’s great here in Georgia.
Editor’s Note: For more information on Georgia tarpon and shark fishing, you can call Capt. David Newlin at 912.756.4573.
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