October Saltwater Smorgasbord

Cooling waters heat up the bite for trout, reds and flounder.

Ron Brooks | October 3, 2016

The two favorite months in the year for fishing in most anglers’ opinions are April and October. In April, the cooler weather has parted, and the slightly warmer days make for comfortable fishing. The reverse is true with October, when the hot, summer days give way to fall and a hint of cooler temperatures in the air.

As it turns out, these same two months have historically been the best for saltwater fish. In April, the fish that headed offshore for the winter are coming back to the estuaries. In October, they head back offshore to escape the dropping water temperatures.

In October, big redfish have moved out into the surf in preparation for moving to offshore wrecks and reefs. Flounder are making that same migration. This is the time of year to catch big, doormat-sized flounder in and around the sounds along the coast.

We made a few trips in mid September to several locations looking for fish. October is a great time to catch a smorgasbord of fish on the same trip. We were looking for locations to put you on these fish.

The baitfish migration is on, and mullet are moving in a southerly direction down the coast. The fish tend to follow the bait, so finding bait is a key ingredient in a successful trip.

We fished in three locations on trips in September to locate as many fish as we could. We began in St. Marys looking for seatrout that should also be there in October.

Trout will be the easiest fish to find and catch this month. The big, breeder fish that roamed the beaches during the summer have moved back inshore. Smaller trout are schooling, and they can be caught both on live shrimp and artificials.

We headed out to the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) from the St. Marys River and turned north. We stayed on the east side of Drum Point Island and located some small, narrow marsh islands at high tide. These marsh islands are almost surrounded by oyster beds. Along the east side of the northern most marsh island the water drops quickly to about 12 feet deep at high tide.

On the west side, there is a large mud flat, which will be out of the water at low tide. Because Georgia’s tides can have up to an 8-foot depth difference from high to low, you really need to be careful if you venture down the west side on these marsh islands.

We like to fish the high, outgoing tide in this location, anchored along the east side of the marsh line right along the drop-off. We use a variety of baits for these seatrout, and all of them seem to work well. Just be aware that on another day, the fish may prefer only one of your bait presentations. A jig head with a 4-inch Saltwater Assassin Sea Shad is my favorite, and a variety of colors work well, including root beer/green, white/pink and my personal preference, the chartreuse/pink electric chicken.

Cast the jig behind the boat, and allow it to get to the bottom. We used 3/8-oz. jig heads, but during the full or new moon periods, the stronger current may force you to fish a 1/2-oz. jig. Work the jig back to the boat just off the bottom in an up-and-down motion. Crank the reel about two times, and then give the jig three quick vertical jerks.

For those who prefer natural bait, a live shrimp is the ticket. We use that same jig head and replace the Sea Shad with a shrimp. Shrimp normally escape predators by kicking and swimming backward, so we hook the rear of the shrimp so that as we work it back to the boat, it’s moving backward.

An alternate method with the live shrimp is just a standard bottom rig with a small egg sinker above your leader. With this method, we like to use a small hook, small enough that you may think it is too small. We take a short-shank 1/0 or 2/0 kahle hook and hook the live shrimp through the head. Be sure to avoid running the hook through the shrimp’s brain. The brain is that dark spot inside the carapace behind the eyes. If the shrimp are large, we will sometimes move to a larger kahle hook. The smaller the live shrimp, the smaller the hook we use.

As a second alternative, we used two topwater lures. Boone Lure Company has made its Spinana topwater lure since the early 1950s. It’s still available online, along with the similar Castana, also made from Boone Lure Company. Both float on top of the water, but as they are worked, they will dip and dive under the surface. The faster you work them, the deeper they run, up to a depth of about 4 feet. Our experience has been that trout will tend to strike the lure when you stop working it and allow it to float toward the surface. There are multiple color schemes available, but we like the white with a red head or the pink and white.

On another day, we launched at the public boat ramp on the Champney River next to Highway 17. On this trip, we were specifically looking for redfish. There are many locations where we have caught reds in the past, but on this trip, we headed straight to one of our favorite locations. We ran directly to the Hampton River and stopped just past marker No. 19. On the north side of the river and due east of this marker is a large creek mouth. Actually there are two creek mouths that come together, but only one of them has enough water to hold fish.

As we did with the trout, we fished a high, outgoing tide. Reds will have been up in those creeks feeding at high tide. When the water begins to move out, the baitfish move out, and the reds should be right underneath them.

There are some oyster rakes in the mouth of these creeks; fishing a jig or shrimp on the bottom will cause you to lose a few rigs. This is the type of place where we like to float a bait over the bottom. The float of choice for us here is the rattling variety. The locally produced Thunder Chicken and the Cajun Thunder are the two we use. We actually prefer the Thunder Chicken because it has a built-in weight at the bottom of its wire frame. It’s amazing how far you can cast one, even into the wind. For longer casts on the Cajun Thunder, you must add your own weight.

To the bottom of one of these floats, we tie a leader. Experience will tell you how long the leader needs to be in any particular creek. It’s determined by water depth. Here on a high tide, we began with a 3-foot fluorocarbon leader tied to a 2/0 kahle hook. Live shrimp is the preferred bait here, as well, and we hook them through the head.

We cast our float rigs as far up into the creek mouth as we can and allow them to float out with the tide. The floats have brass and plastic beads on their shaft that will rattle when the float is popped by your rod. The rattling helps attract the fish.

Redfish are peculiar in one sense. If they find a good ambush point as they move out of the creek, multiple fish will often hold in that one place together. Each time your float drifts by that point, one of them takes your bait. The fight and the ruckus caused by the hooked fish don’t seem to bother them, because on the very next cast your float will go down in the very same location.

The third trip we made in September was to Brunswick and the Golden Isles. You can launch at the public ramp at the north end of the Sidney Lanier Bridge. Or, you can do as we did and launch off the Golden Isle Parkway at the foot of the bridge on the west side of Lanier Island. We launched here because we were looking specifically for flounder and our fishing spot was only a short distance away.

We headed south out the Mackay River and made an immediate right turn to the entrance to Back River. As we moved north toward Back River, the marsh island on our right was flooded at high tide. Numerous small creeks drain the marsh on an outgoing tide here, and the flounder find the shallow mud bottom an ideal place to feed.

It was a high, outgoing tide, the usual time we fish, and there were several schools of finger mullet swimming in the area. We had purchased live shrimp, so we decided to use them rather than catch any mullet. But, if you have a small cast net, you can catch your own bait. The mullet need to be 3 to 4 inches long.

With the live shrimp on a jig head, we cast up into the mouth of these feeder creeks and slowly dragged the jig across the bottom. You can do the same thing with a bottom rig and egg sinker. This is a mud and sand bottom, so hanging up is usually not a problem. Because of the bottom structure, we were also able to use the electric-chicken colored Sea Shad on a jig head, and it worked quite well.

We caught fish in all of these places, although we didn’t stay long enough to catch a limit. We simply wanted to provide you with some locations where you might do the same as we did. This was three stops and three places where you can catch fish now. There are an unbelievable number of places that match the layout of the places we fished. Take a NOAA chart and plan to fish similar places. You will find the fish in one of them.

October is a great month to be out on the water. Unless a very early cold front comes through, the baitfish can still be found, and along with them trout, reds and flounder.

Editor’s Note: Ron Brooks is an award winning outdoor writer, having published in print and online more than 1,000 articles over the past 20 years. He has fished all over the southern U.S. He is a member and past president of the Georgia Outdoor Writers Association (GOWA) and the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA). His new book, Born with a Silver Fishhook is available on in both print and Kindle editions.

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