GON Goes To The Savannah Snapper Banks

And The Fishing Was Fantastic!

GON Staff | April 6, 2006

GON Editor Brad Gill with a nice red snapper caught over the Savannah Snapper Banks while fishing with Capt. Judy Helmey.

Capt. Judy was on deck directing traffic —“Bring your line under this one — you guys bring your lines in.”

At the center of the commotion on the rocking fishing boat was GON Editor Brad Gill, who had a white-knuckled, death-grip on a pool-cue-sized rod that was bent over the gunnels like he had hooked the bottom of the ocean. The rod-tip pulsed, however, as the fish on the other end powered back toward the bottom again. We had been catching good numbers of vermillion snapper up to three or four pounds, but this was something else. Part of the appeal with saltwater fishing is that you never know what’s coming up next.

Capt. Judy guessed it was a big red snapper. “They never give up,” she said. “They will fight you all the way to the boat.”

After several minutes we saw the fish swirling up through the blue water — a red snapper that would go better than 12 pounds — and we cheered as the fire-red fish came into the boat.

At sunrise on May 16, after downing a dose of Dramamine, the GON editorial staff — Publisher Steve Burch, editors Brad Bailey, Daryl Kirby, Lindsay Thomas Jr., and Brad Gill and Advertising Director Mike Rhodes — headed east into the Atlantic Ocean aboard the 31-foot Miss Judy II and in the care of Capt. Judy Helmy and Capt. Ali Young.
Our mission was fishin’.

More than two hours later when Capt. Judy shut the engines down, we were 34 miles off the Wassaw sea buoy, or about 37 miles offshore.
Most of the ocean bottom off the Georgia coast is mile after mile of flat sand with nothing to provide cover for fish. The Savannah Snapper Banks, however, are areas of “live bottom” where rock ledges emerge from the sand. The patches of rock are covered with coral, sea fans and other vegetation that rise two to five feet off the bottom and provide an oasis of cover for fish in the desert of sand.

Miss Judy Charters can book you a saltwater fishing trip to catch everything from sea trout to tarpon to blue marlin. Capt. Judy and Capt. Ali, however, specialize in fishing live bottom for big red snapper and big grouper. When Capt. Judy stopped the boat, we were 130 feet above a small area of live bottom that was lit up with fish on her color monitor.

“The spots I fish are isolated, and that’s why they are so good,” said Judy. “There are areas where there is a good bit of live bottom, but that’s not where you want to be. You want to be where the fish school tightly.” We fished several different ledges during the day, some of them were less than 50 feet across.

Capt. Judy positioned the boat, while Capt. Ali lined up the GON staff in the back of the boat with bottom-fishing tackle.
When Capt. Judy was satisfied that her drift strategy would put our baits on the live bottom below, she gave the word and our lines headed for the ocean floor.

The bottom-fishing rig we used was 80-lb. line with a 16-oz. weight tied to the end. Approximately 1-foot and 3-feet up the line, 8-inch droppers of 30-lb. test were tied in, with 2/0 hooks. Each hook was baited with cut squid.

“There are fish right on the bottom and bigger fish seven to 10 feet up,” said Capt. Judy.

When your weight hits bottom, you rapidly reel up a turn or two and prepare for the bite. When your bait is on live bottom, the bite usually comes immediately. Within seconds, Steve was cranking up the first fish of the day, a vermillion snapper.

For the next five minutes we caught fish left and right. We boated several vermillion snapper, a black sea bass or two, a triggerfish and a few small sand perch that went into a bucket to be used later for live-bait.
Then as the boat drifted away from the live-bottom, the bite stopped.

“Reel them up,” said Capt. Judy. “I’m going to reposition the boat.”
After the boat was repositioned for another fish-catching drift, Capt. Ali rigged a live-bait line. The live-bait rod had an 8-oz. streamlined weight designed by Capt. Judy above a 4-foot leader and an 8/0 Gamakatsu hook. A sand-perch was hooked through the lips and lowered to the bottom with strict orders from Capt. Ali to come back with big grouper or snapper. The line was hit, but only half the sand-perch came back — the rest slashed off by some big, toothy fish.

On every drift we made, the number of fish in the fish box grew.
The first fish on the live line was caught by Brad Bailey. As soon as a live sand perch hit the bottom, something struck and was hooked.

“Amberjack,” Capt. Judy predicted as she watched the fight. “They are one of the most aggressive fish out here.”

Amberjack are a schooling fish and as the fish came to the boat, Capt. Judy directed the others to follow it up with their lines, hoping for a second hookup — and got it when Daryl Kirby’s rod suddenly arched over.
Amberjack must measure 28 inches from nose to the fork of the tail and both the fish were undersized — Brad’s by only 1/4 inch. Both fish went back into the ocean.

By 1:30 p.m. we were within 10 fish of our limit of vermillion snapper, and we opted to target more amberjack. We cruised about eight miles toward shore to a specific area of live bottom where Capt. Judy expects to find amberjack this time of year. Capt. Ali, meanwhile, had rigged three live-bait lines.

“The fish are here,” said Capt. Judy as we began a drift. “Bring your lines up, they are at 30 feet — you ought to be able to see them.”

Below the boat dozens of silvery amberjack three and four feet long swirled in the blue water. Lindsay hooked up immediately, and the fish peeled line off his reel as it tried to pull him overboard.
“This ain’t no shellcracker!’ he said, bracing his legs against the gunnel as the fish pulled.

Then Brad Gill hooked up with a big fish, too. It was pandelirium as both fish were fought to the boat, gaffed and brought aboard. This time both fish were keepers — with Brad’s fish going in the 30-lb. range.

Counting the fish we threw back or used for bait, we caught more than 100 fish. We kept a grand total of 76 fish that would later translate into a cooler of filets — another attraction to a day of bottom-fishing on the Savannah Snapper Banks — and they were delicious fried, broiled and grilled.

To contact Miss Judy Charters, call (912) 897-4921 or (912) 897-2478, or check out the website at

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