Okefenokee Swamp Warmouth With Basic Tackle
Inexpensive tackle and a fun day catching fish and seeing the sights.
When I read Glen Solomon’s GON Okefenokee Swamp story last summer, I knew I had to try a plastic worm out on warmouth. Glen invited me to go with him on a couple of occasions, but we could never quite get our schedules to line up. I figured we would get the chance to make a trip happen this summer, but the Lord had different plans when he called Glen home last fall.
Fast forward to this April, and I’m sitting on my couch reading Glen’s story for the hundred and fiftieth time and two things hit me.
No. 1, if there is fishing in Heaven, I bet Glen is in a swamp somewhere right now doing his best to catch supper, and No. 2, why am I not doing the same thing down here?
I spent the next few weeks, all the way up to presstime, making as many trips as possible to target warmouth with a plastic worm. I tried dozens of soft plastics in more colors than Picasso ever put on a paint brush, fished with every size and style rod and reel I own and used a variety of lines, hooks and sinkers, until I finally came up with my favorite setup for targeting strawberry perch, google eyes, aka the warmouth.
I will warn you now, I could never do justice to a Swamp story the way Glen could, but I will do my best.
Glen Solomon, this one is for you, and certainly thanks to you…
I fished both main entrances, Fargo and Folkston, while working on this story, with Folkston being the most productive due to the warmouth beginning the early stages of the spawn in the Suwannee Canal. Every year from roughly mid April to mid May, warmouth pull up on the banks of the Suwannee Canal to spawn by the millions—literally—and they are super fun to catch. As May lingers into June, expect the Fargo side to become more productive, but right now Folkston is the place to be.
To access the Folkston entrance at Okefenokee Adventures, which is a store and restaurant inside the park, take US 1 to Folkston. Then, jump on 121 south, and follow the signs 8 or 9 miles to the park. Due to recent situation with the coronavirus, it’s a good idea to call the park prior to going since the hours of operation may change. Their number is 912.496.7156. As of presstime, they were open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The entire facility is closed on Monday, so don’t go there to fish on that day.
If you want to limit out on warmouth in Folkston, the key is to get there early. For whatever reason unknown to anyone, the fish will usually only bite good until about 10 or 11 a.m., so getting started on time is crucial. I generally like to be sitting at the gate drinking coffee, waiting with rods rigged and ready to go at 7:45 just in case they open up a little early.
If you’re going to target warmouth, you need the right gear. They occasionally will bite a plastic worm like a bass with a giant thump that you can feel all the way down your line to your fingers on your rod grip, but oftentimes they just grab the bait and start swimming away. I found with too heavy of tackle that it can be hard to detect the sometimes subtle bites.
After testing everything from baitcasting gear all the way down to an ultralight trout fishing setup, I finally settled on a Lew’s Wally Marshall Speed Shooter spinning combo in a 6-0 medium-light action as my tool of choice. This combo is designed for shooting docks for crappie and has plenty of tip action for casting and detecting bites, yet enough strength to drag warmouth away from grass and cypress roots.
Line selection for fishing in the Swamp is a lot like trying to measure the curve of a line in calculus. The right answer doesn’t come easy.
Go too heavy, and you won’t detect as many bites. Go too light, and you will give hooks away to toothy mudfish faster than you can sell cotton candy at a county fair. I like to use 8-lb. Berkley Trilene XT Extra Tough for Swamp fishing. It has plenty of sensitivity to detect those lighter bites, but it’s really tough, giving you a good chance to hang on to the occasional mudfish or jackfish that grabs hold of your worm.
Like I said earlier, I literally threw every type of small soft plastic worm I could find at a warmouth for this story, and I have found that a Zoom Finesse worm is pretty darn hard to beat. My favorite colors are black, junebug, pumpkinseed, watermelon seed and my personal favorite green pumpkin. I rig the worm on a 1/0 offset bass worm hook and have found that sharpness is crucial for a good hook-up ratio.
After losing a few dozen Gamakatsu hooks to mudfish and jackfish, I found the perfect hooks for Swamp fishing at Walmart. The Ozark Trail brand hooks are chemically sharpened, and for a pack of five 1/0 hooks, they are only 88 cents. They come out of the pack super sharp, and they are super thin wired, helping to penetrate better on a hookset.
The final and perhaps most important part of my setup is my sliding sinker. I spent my first several trips using a 1/16-oz. weight before a friend pointed out that he was having better success with a 1/32-oz. After a trip or two with the tiny bullet weight, I realized that the slower fall of my worm resulted in more strikes on my initial cast, especially next to cypress trees.
Once you have the right gear, the fishing part is relatively easy. When you launch your boat into the boat basin, head to your right out toward the Suwannee Canal. Oftentimes there will be a half dozen or so boats fishing on the trail going out to the canal, and they catch a pile of warmouth. It’s tempting to stop and get in on the action.
However, by May that stretch has been hammered hard, and most fish caught will be on the smaller side. Keep on moving and get away from the crowd.
After I make my way out the 300-yard trail to the canal, I will normally paddle my kayak for the next 10 minutes or so before I start fishing.
I like to use my kayak to sneak along and fish. It seems as if I see more gators and other wildlife that way. Another big advantage of a kayak is being able to hug the grassline and fish parallel to the bank without having to worry about a trolling motor prop getting hung in the grass.
With me being a pretty good-sized boy, and there being so many toothy gators around, I like my Kaku Wahoo 10.5 kayak for its stability in the black water. Designed to handle rough saltwater surf, the Wahoo lets you fish with peace of mind in the Swamp, especially when the gators get thick in the canal. I want to point out that though there has never been a documented attack in the Okefenokee on a kayaker, gators are big, and they deserve respect. Every now and then when you are catching one warmouth after another, some gators will get brave and inch closer and closer to your kayak in hopes of stealing a meal off your line. When this happens, I will paddle on a few hundred yards to avoid any problems with the animal.
As I parallel the bank, I make long casts and let my worm fall slowly alongside grasslines and occasional cypress trees. It is important to pay attention to your line on the fall, as a majority of strikes will occur during the worm’s descent to the bottom. After five or 10 seconds, I will start hopping the worm back to me using a hop, then a three-second pause, then repeat cadence.
Once a warmouth is caught, it’s a good idea to make several more casts to the immediate area, as oftentimes you can pull three or four fish out of the same spot.
I will usually fish down one side of the canal until about 9:30, and then I turn around and work the other side back. Usually by 9:30 I already have a good mess of fish, and I will paddle my way back in slowly and hit a few good looking spots along the way. With the right gear, these fish are super easy and flat out fun to catch.
As I mentioned earlier, mudfish are a frequent occurrence when fishing the Swamp, and you will know you have one the second you set the hook. Considered a trash fish by most, they are actually quite good to eat when prepared correctly. See page 75 for how I prepare mudfish nuggets in hot grease.
Jackfish, aka chain pickerel, are also in abundance in the Swamp, as well as the occasional largemouth bass.
Fishing artificial worms for warmouth is a great way to introduce children to artificial fishing since bites are frequent and the action is constant. When I take my kids, I usually use my 10-foot Bass Hunter boat with a 30-lb. thrust trolling motor. Once the fish quit biting, it’s boat tour time, and we will troll up and down the canal counting birds and gators while we’re eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Good times, I promise you.
Keep in mind if you plan a trip to the Swamp this summer, there is a restriction on motors of 10 hp or more. Also as stated earlier, don’t forget to call and check updated hours and days of operation as they are subject to change.
I hope everyone gets the chance to fish the Swamp. There is no place like it in the world. I’m convinced as you sit still and watch the fog come off the water and the sun rise above the trees, that you can feel the Swamp legend Glen Solomon there with you. That in itself is enough to make you keep coming back.
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