Inshore Action In Small Boats
You don’t need twin engines to find great saltwater fishing.
The southeast Georgia coast is a great fishery. A string of barrier islands are home to lush marshes that spread for miles over the estuary. The variety and numbers of fish living here is impressive. The only problem for some anglers is that this area is relatively inaccessible if you don’t have a boat. Bank fisherman may find a few spots where they can wet a line, but these spots represent only a dot compared to the vast potential of the area.
There seems to be an idea that if you don’t have $50K for a boat, you’re out of luck when it comes to saltwater fishing, but that’s just not true. There are other, very affordable options that will serve you well if you get creative.
Bert Deener is a WRD Fisheries region supervisor in Waycross. He’s been fishing this area for well over 20 years, and he knows his way around the marsh better than most. I had the opportunity to fish with Bert in the middle of October, and he had a treat in store for me.
Bert and I met at Crooked River State Park, near St. Mary’s, on a Tuesday afternoon and got set to try for some trout and redfish. He had taken an exploration trip earlier in the week and caught a nice mess of spotted seatrout in the 18-inch range.
At the ramp, Bert showed me the rig we would be fishing from. The boat was a 14-foot Meyers v-hull aluminum model. It was powered by a 9.8 hp Nissan outboard and equipped with an anchoring Minn Kota i-Pilot trolling motor. A depthfinder will be added soon, but that’s about it. Bert keeps equipment and tackle to a minimum to reduce weight.
“I feel like I have come full circle with this boat,” said Bert. “I started fishing in a 14-foot jonboat in 1984 and was very happy with it for several years.”
In the early 2000s, Bert graduated to a big Mako and began taking customers on guide trips, which he did for a decade. Now he has let the Mako go and reverted back to a small boat.
Fishing in a small boat has its advantages and disadvantages.
“With a small boat like this, you need to choose your day carefully and watch the weather,” said Bert. “You can’t run long distances very easily, so you need to make a solid plan before you head out on your trip.”
On the other hand, Bert said that you can reach isolated fishing spots that you would never even consider going to with a larger traditional flats boat.
“The point of this boat is to be able to drag it over a sandbar and get to spots that for most people would be inaccessible,” said Bert.
Another obvious advantage is cost. Bert bought the boat and outboard used and added a new trolling motor. He has less than $5,000 in the whole rig. Fuel economy is also a real advantage. Bert had been on two previous trips before we went out. He decided to fuel up for our day, and the tank would only take a gallon of gas. Pretty economical way to fish.
As we motored out to the selected location, Bert told me that fishing in a small boat takes a whole different approach than the typical run-and-gun tactic used by anglers in larger flats boats and center consoles. With a bigger faster boat, you can run the tide looking for ideal water levels and current flow.
“In these little boats you have to “fish what you’ve got” rather than running to multiple spots over a large area,” said Bert.
For our trip Bert chose a section of the north prong of Crooked River near the intercoastal waterway. He had invested a good bit of time in making the selection considering factors including tide level and direction, wind direction and water clarity. In addition, he was looking for a spot where multiple feeder creeks flowed into a flat that had mounds of oyster shells spread over it. When we got to his selected spot, there were at least 10 creeks feeding into a broad flat and oysters shells were in good supply. The tide was pretty high but beginning to head out.
“My experience is that you are more likely to catch trout on the high tide as they feed along the marsh,” said Bert. “As the tide drops, the trout tend to move out and the reds begin to come out of the grass and feed along the oyster beds. After the tide turns and starts to flood the marsh and creeks again, the cycle starts over.”
We worked that area for about four hours through the outgoing tide and as it changed to the incoming tide. True to Bert’s prediction, we caught trout on the high water and redfish at low tide. We didn’t move more than a half mile all afternoon and had excellent results. Using Bert’s method, you get to know a small area of the water intimately and understand its subtleties.
It should be noted that while you should always apply safe practices while on the water, this is especially true in a boat of this size. If the tide is bucking the wind, it can get really rough. Stay in the sheltered water, and only venture out on bigger water when the days are calm. Make sure you have personal flotation devices, and someone knows the area you plan to fish. Weather can worsen quickly, so on cloudy days keep a good watch on the radar and move for a safe location if you see a storm approaching.
Bert has long been an artificial bait angler, and that is all we used on our trip. He designs, makes and markets his baits through Bert’s Jigs and Things.
On our trip we used his Flashy Jig and Satilla Spin Magnum lures all afternoon and caught fish on both. He threads a shad-like soft plastic onto the jig and fishes it either under a popping cork or tied directly to the leader. The color of the shad bait is chosen based on water clarity. In clear water, use natural colors. In dark or stained water, use bright colors.
The popping cork is an Equalizer float, and he matches the size of the float to the weight of the jig. He likes a large, 3-inch float with a 1/4-oz. jig, a medium, 2 1/2-inch float with a 3/16-oz jig and a tiny float with a 1/16-oz. jig.
The best way to fish the popping cork/jig combination is to make sure the jig rides just off the bottom. The float should be standing vertical, not lying flat.
Bert builds his own rods. For this application, he uses a 7 1/2-foot, medium-light action graphite rod (built on a Rainshadow blank). He couples the rod with Fin-Nor reels in size 25 or 30 spooled with 15-lb. test Spiderwire EZ Braid. The rig is finished out with a 17- or 20-lb. test fluorocarbon leader depending on water clarity and the amount of shells in the area. Bert starts with about a 2-foot leader, checks it regularly for frays or cuts and trims and reties until the leader gets close to a foot in length. Then he ties on a fresh leader and starts over,
Current is extremely important to this type of fishing. Moving current causes bait to get active, and this attracts feeding fish. With the tide pouring out of the small creeks, we made casts right into the seam of the current, and that is where almost every strike came from. With the popping cork rig, cast to the current seam and let the rig settle with the float standing up, make two or three sharp jerks and let the jig settle back down. Most times the strikes come on the fall.
With the jig-only rig, try different retrieves like a steady retrieve swimming action or a lift and fall action. The Satilla Spin Magnum can be fished in the same manner.
Bert said the locations we fished, and the approach we were using, will be effective right through the month of November. In addition to the reds and trout, he often catches flounder in these locations, as well. There are oyster laden flats just about everywhere you look in the marsh, so there is no shortage of spots to try.
“As the water temperature drops, the fish will move farther up the creeks looking for deep holes to lay in,” said Bert. “That is when the small boat will really come in handy.”
One added benefit from my perspective. Fishing from the small boat is slower paced and relaxing. Since you are moving around quietly, you seem to be in sync with the surroundings, closer to it somehow. We saw numerous types of waterfowl, sharks cruising the shallows, even a manatee very close to the boat. And, as you can see, there was no lack of action. I highly recommend that you give this small boat action a try. You’ll more than likely run into Bert at the back of some creek.
Bert’s baits are available in several tackle shops around south Georgia, including Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross and Googe’s in Hazlehurst. Or you can contact him at [email protected] or on 912. 288.3022 for a lure catalog.
You can also check out fishing reports and other related information on his Facebook page Bert’s Jigs and Thing.
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