Reds & Trout Limits On Georgia’s Lonely Coast
Some of the best inshore fishing of the year happens when nobody is fishing.
If there’s one thing a fisherman loves, it’s that quiet, tucked-away spot he can escape to all by his lonesome, with no competing boats buzzing by to bother his fish.
Well, how about an ocean?
The Georgia coastline, and beyond, can provide an overlooked fishing bonanza during the fall and winter months. Hunters are in the woods, their boats already prepped for cold weather, and bumper-to-bumper traffic is creeping and whizzing around and through nearby downtown Savannah. But just a handful of miles away, there’s a clear, serene saltwater setting interrupted only by the swirling of feeding redfish. That’s the kind of sound a fisherman wants to hear! And if he wants to know where to find them, he can call Miss Judy.
Judy Helmey knows fish and how to catch them. Her father Capt. Sherman Helmey started one of the first charter fishing outfits near Savannah back in 1948. These 55 years later Miss Judy Charters carries on its reputation as one of the finest full-service charter organizations on the Georgia coast.
Judy and I had been trying to set up a trip for months, only to have this date or that blown out of the water. Keep in mind that this is saltwater fishing, and whether or not you’re going to actually catch fish will be affected by myriad conditions the bass angler or cricket-pitcher never thinks about. Tide and wind are two of the main ones. They also, by the way, may well determine whether you make it back to shore by boat or slogging through a couple miles of muck after outgoing tide leaves you high and dry!
But a trip with one of Miss Judy’s many experienced pros removes that scenario—and also narrows down a vast ocean into a handful of fish-holding areas that will have you reeling in no time. The captains here want you to catch fish, and Judy encourages would-be clients to always call ahead and check on those conditions. If they’re not right, or the particular species you’re looking for happens not to be biting, she’ll tell you, taking as much hit-or-miss as is humanly possible out of the fishing game.
For her inshore trips, she can handle up to four passengers. For offshore, she can handle parties up to 10. However, for larger groups, Judy will call upon as many captains as required to provide a great day on the water.
Whether it’s big-game bottom fishing, blue-water trolling, artificial reef and wreck fishing, trophy sharks, reds, trout, flounder, tarpon… Miss Judy Charters has an outfit or three set up to handle it. Fishing license, bait, tackle and ice are all provided.
Everyone has their favorites, and I wanted to catch a few reds for the fight and speckled trout for the table. If there is a tastier fish out there, I haven’t found it. We finally came up with a date: Halloween, for better or worse.
It’s a couple hours down I-16 from Dublin to 124 Palmetto Drive, Savannah, where Judy sets up shop just off the highway on a narrow, 200-yard-long dirt lane that ends at her private dock. It’s easy to get into and out of, comfortable and secure for parking. From the truck, we walked 30 yards to an Angler 2200 Grande Bay that looked as if it just rolled out of the showroom, and I met a smiling Capt. Matt Williams. The only Georgia fishing this guy does is guiding for Miss Judy during the fall and winter. He then heads to Alaska and guides salmon fishermen in the spring and summer.
“Most folks who have never been there just don’t realize that Alaska completely shuts down during the winter,” Matt said from behind his sunglasses on this 65-degree morning.
It was the beginning of one of many stories the native Georgian and I would swap over the course of the day; Matt was like an old friend at first sight. If you go out with him, be sure to get the goods on the duck hunt from a flimsy canvas blind—with a 9-foot brown bear standing on its hind legs peering in at arms length.
I put my fishing order in, and we eased away from the dock and toward the first stop of the day. To that end, for the do-it-yourselfer, Judy had some great advice for our readers.
“Fish shallow, shallow, shallow areas,” Judy said. “Approach these areas slow, slow, slow, and always check them out on a chart before making their way to the fishing grounds.”
Consider yourself warned, and let’s move on to some spots where you may well want to drop a large popping cork with a live shrimp or paddle tail artificial underneath.
Cabbage Island, Wilmington River side: 3156.444 N, 8058.465 W.
Cabbage Island, Wassaw Sound side: 3156.860 N, 8057.035 W; 3157.220 N, 8057.048 W (Approach with extreme caution because this is very shallow water. You might want to consider fishing on an incoming tide stage or last of the outgoing. )
Tybee Cut, Wilmington River side, white oyster shell bank: 3157.090N, 8059.121W; 3157.086 N, 8059.343 W.
Sister Island Wassaw Sound: 3136.306 N, 8058.926 W; 3156.024 N, 8058.924 W.
Sister Point (submerged live oyster rakes): 3155.840 N, 8058.908 W.
From the time we left the dock until our first stop was less than 15 minutes, which included putt-putting out of the ramp area before Williams could open up the 200-hp Yamaha. En route, I jokingly mentioned that the first thing we needed was a picture fish for this article. A single cast was required for the redfish you see on page 50.
I’ve sight-fished for reds in the grass and watched them stand on their heads and bump the bottom dislodging prey, tails waving back and forth out of the water. But this was different. We eased up to a partially submerged oyster bed, tossed a live shrimp out into 6 feet of water, and the fight was on. I learned on this trip that it’s not always necessary to “pop” a popping cork; the shallow fish found the baits just fine without the pop. (If shallow seems to be a recurring theme, take note!)
There is a 14- to 23-inch slot limit for redfish. This one went 22.999 inches or thereabouts, the upper limit of a keeper. Not trusting the cooler-top measurements, Matt pulled out his cloth tape and stretched it.
“You always want to be sure,” he said with that ever-present smile. “Even down to measuring them with their mouth open as opposed to closed, so that there’s no way you’ll have one over the limit.”
We caught two quick keepers—and many more that were tossed back —before the ocean informed us it was time to go. Matt had piloted the boat in with a close eye on the depthfinder, and as the tide receded, he constantly watched as more and more of the oyster bed revealed itself. Finally, we slipped out with a swish of sand brushing the boat bottom and headed out to hunt trout. That entailed a 10-minute ride.
Early in the fall, before the cold weather fully arrives, fishermen are forced to contend with what the captain refers to as bait robbers.
“You can tell by the way they hit that it’s one of many types of smaller species that’s pecking away at your bait,” Matt remarked. “Everything in the ocean likes shrimp. But when the water temperature drops, the bait robbers are forced out into deeper areas, and all you have in here are the reds and trout.”
Trout must measure 13 inches to keep. If the redfish bite was impressive, the trout was almost unbelievable. Every place we fished was like fishing a bluegill bed in June: the cork never stopped. When Matt made an adjustment, switching from shrimp to a 3-inch, plastic paddletail artificial, the larger trout showed up.
“You see that a lot,” he said when the lures, drifting with the tide about 6 feet under the cork, attracted fish after fish. “The bait robbers seldom bother the artificials, and if the trout are hitting them like they are today, it’s a lot of fun. One of the keys to it is just enough breeze to create a little chop on the water. I always prefer that to still and calm conditions.”
In six hours on the water, we caught and tossed several 15-fish limits. As an aside, I kept a half-dozen trout and a pair of redfish, all of which were filleted, seasoned and grilled over an open pecan-wood fire a couple of days later after a cold morning’s hunt back up I-16. And yes, they were just as scrumptious as you’re thinking…
The list of what you can catch and the packages that surround it through Miss Judy Charters are far too numerous to list here. But if it’s out there, you can catch it. Contact Judy to find out how.
One thing the novice, or seasoned for that matter, saltwater fisherman won’t want to miss is the series of fishing schools Judy is offering in 2014. They include inshore in the classroom and in boats on the water, as well as offshore on the water. Dates include Feb. 8-9 and 15-16, and March 1-2. Costs are $90 per person for the inshore schools, $125 offshore. All the info is available at www.missjudycharters.com, or call the numbers listed below. She’ll hook you up!
You can reach her at (912) 897-4921 or (877) 500-3363. Also check her website at www.missjudycharters.com.
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