Ogeechee River Redbreast Light Up In July

The author wonders if his beloved Satilla River redbreast factory will take a back seat to a more northern river system.

Craig James | June 30, 2023

Allen Helton and his son Heath show off a few redbreast caught on a trip with the author. The water was stained from a lot of rain the night before, but Allen and his tournament partner finished second in a 40-boat tournament just the day before. They had 10 bream that weighed better than 6 pounds.

Born and raised on the banks of the Satilla River, I will admit that I’m more than a little biased when it comes to my favorite river. Heck, a week ago I’d tell you another river couldn’t come close to the Satilla in terms of a redbreast fishery. All that changed last month on my first trip to the Ogeechee River, and now I’m scratching my head as to what river is truly the best redbreast fishery in the state.

I met Allen Helton a few years back when he caught an Ogeechee shellcracker that was a near river record. After a few conversations, we quickly became friends, bonded by our love for rooster redbreasts. Allen told me on many occasions just how good the Ogeechee redbreast fishing was, but I never read into it too much, blinded by my partiality to the Satilla.

As time went on though, I began to take more and more note of Allen’s words and the pictures of coolers full of fish that I was seeing come from the Ogeechee. Finally, I decided to see for myself just what the river had to offer, and I asked Allen if he’d be willing to share his tactics for fishing the Ogeechee in July with GON readers. He was happy to oblige, and we made a trip to the river not long before going to press with this issue.

The day before we fished, Allen and his good friend Stephen Lewis fished a tournament on the river and managed to weigh in an impressive 6-plus pounds on 10 fish, which was a second-place finish competing against 40 other boats. Not bad at all in my book.

The river received a heavy rain later that night, and Allen warned me when we got to the river the next morning for our trip that the stained water would make the bite tough, but he was confident we could still put some fish in the boat.

Myself, Allen and his son Heath fished for a good three hours or so during our trip and managed to put about 20 good redbreast in the boat, despite far less than optimal conditions.

Swift current, beautiful scenery and big redbreast make the Ogeechee River a top destination this month.

Here’s a breakdown of how Allen likes to fish the river during the late summer months.

Lure Selection

Allen likes to use a variety of lures to target redbreast in the Ogeechee River, but he says that fishing a topwater bug is without a doubt his favorite way to catch them. He uses several different brands of poppers and foam spiders, and says anything chartreuse or white is hard to beat day in and day out.

“When the big roosters hit the bug on top, there ain’t nothing like it, it will about give you a heart attack,” said Allen.

When fishing a bug on top, Allen has a few tricks up his sleeve. The first is he will put a small piece of plastic worm on his hook to give the bug a little more weight to aid in casting. By adding a piece of plastic somewhere between the size of a grain of rice and a sweet pea, he’s able to throw a popping bug 30 feet or so on ultralight tackle.

“There is no right or wrong amount of plastic worm to add to the hook. Experiment with different amounts until you find what works right with the size bug and hook you’re using,” said Allen.

The trick to remember when fishing a bug on the river is less is more. I noticed when fishing with Allen that the majority of his bites occurred after he had left the bug motionless for five seconds or so. It seemed like the longer they looked at it, the more likely they were to kill it.

Allen fishes the bug primarily along bluff walls and areas where slack water meets the current. He pointed out that areas where timber is present or willow trees hang over the water both up the odds of a mature rooster exploding on your bug.

Allen’s next favorite lure of choice is a small spinnerbait or Beetle Spin type lure. He fished several different brands, and admits that they all work well, but you need a 1/8-oz. size to get your offering down to the fish in the river’s swift current.

“This river runs pretty hard, you try to fish anything less than 1/8, and you won’t catch as many fish. The 1/8-oz. gets down quick and stays in the strike zone more effectively,” said Allen.

When it comes to color, Allen throws several different color combinations, and he likes to mix it up until he can find what the fish want on a particular day. Some of his favorites are white, chartreuse, firetiger and black-and-purple combinations. He says that though he will throw a silver blade from time to time, he prefers spinnerbaits that have a gold blade.

A key addition to Allen’s spinnerbait is none other than a live cricket. He threads it on the hook and swears by it, getting bit five to one over a spinnerbait that isn’t tipped with a cricket.

He fishes the spinnerbait in the same areas he targets with a topwater bug but says that areas around logs and other wood structure produce really well when fishing a spinnerbait.

“The redbreast will suspend a few feet under the water next to a limb or log and wait for prey to come by. When they see that spinnerbait, they can’t stand it, they will light it up every single time.”

Another favorite lure that Allen likes to keep tied on is a micro crankbait. His favorite is a Strike King Bitsy Minnow.

When fishing with Allen, I was impressed by the tiny crankbait’s ability to come through heavy cover. Allen fished the lure for over an hour, often tossing it in some pretty nasty stuff with only 6-lb. line. To my surprise, he never got hung up.

“What I like about the crankbait is I feel like it gets me some of those bites from bigger fish. It’s got a good bit of wobble and a beefier profile, so it draws attention from some of the bigger roosters,” said Allen.

Though he throws several different colors, he says that firetiger is his go-to choice in the river’s often stained waters. He did say that the Ogeechee tends to get low and clear in late July, and that a more natural-looking crankbait would produce well in such conditions.

Though not his preferred method, Allen said live-bait fishermen do well on the river, especially when fishing crickets under corks in areas with slower currents.

“Folks fishing live bait do really well and catch a ton of fish. The only drawback for me is having to weed through all the smaller fish you catch,” said Allen.


Allen likes a variety of rods and reels for fishing the river and says a 4 1/2- to 5 1/2-foot ultralight rod is perfect for fishing under and around trees and in other tightly cramped areas. He says a good ultralight reel spoiled with 6-lb. mono works well for flinging all of his favorite lures. Just be sure to keep that drag loose so a big mature redbreast doesn’t send you home with broken line and your feelings hurt.


When planning a trip to fish the Ogeechee, state fishing regulations state, “No motor in excess of 9.9 hp may be operated on the Ogeechee River upstream of State Hwy 119.”

Therefore, a strong trolling motor is a must for fishing some of the more swift sections of the river. Allen has a 70-lb. thrust on the small jonboat we fished out of, and it was just enough to pull us through a few fast-moving areas. Allen also pointed out that anglers planning an all-day trip should remember to have plenty of battery power to battle the swift current.


To fish the middle section of the river like we did, Allen says that the Williams Landing and the Oliver Bridge Boat ramp on Highway 24 are the two best access points. Fishing is good both upriver and downriver from each launch point, and Allen recommends anglers spend some time exploring both locations.

As the water warms up this month across south Georgia, the Ogeechee River redbreast bite is guaranteed to fire up, as well. Has the river become the best in south Georgia for redbreast fishing? Or has it always been? I’ll always be partial to the Satilla, but I can definitely see an Ogeechee fishing trip… or two… in my near future!


Ogeechee Bonus Fish

Craig James with a nice river bass.

Back in 2021, Allen sent me pictures of a jaw-dropping shellcracker that weighed in at an impressive 2.6 pounds (pictured below), just missing the river record. He caught the massive panfish while redbreast fishing with a Strike King Bitsy Minnow.

Allen is confident there are plenty more big shellcracker like his roaming the river, and says they are a common species to catch when targeting redbreast. He said that big bluegill frequently attack his redbreast offerings, as well, and says that there are plenty of trophy-sized fish waiting to be caught.

In addition, Allen says that though he doesn’t spend much time bass fishing, this portion of the river is excellent, especially in the late summer months. To target bass, focus your efforts just outside of the areas you target redbreast, areas where slack water meets current and breaks in the current formed by trees and downed logs. Small sloughs that branch off the river should also hold fish. Standard river bass fishing techniques work well with buzzbaits, floating plugs, weightless worms and crankbaits all being local favorites.



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