Satilla River Specks

Don’t let the winter months fool you. They can provide some hot crappie fishing on this south Georgia river.

Craig James | November 29, 2022

The author’s son with some nice Satilla crappie caught on a recent trip to Highway 158 boat ramp. Don’t miss the great crappie fishing in December on this south Georgia river.

As I am beginning to type this story, what seems to be the last few drops of rain from Tropical Storm Nicole can be heard as they splatter on my roof. Originally forecasted to receive huge amounts of rainfall, my old trusty rain gauge says we only got a little more than 2 inches at my place, and that’s good news for me, and anyone else who wants to cash in at the Satilla River for one of the best crappie bites you’ll find in Georgia during the month of December.

Since I was a boy, I’ve always enjoyed targeting crappie, or as we call them specks, on the river during the winter months, but this year has me extra excited to get out on the river.

Throughout the spring and summer months on the river, we have caught more and bigger fish than ever before. Perhaps this good fortune is because of two key factors. 

The first is due to high water levels in 2021 that enabled fish to feed and grow in the floodplain where they had access to an abundance of food. The second key factor that is producing a better crop of crappie is the continued invasion of flathead catfish on the river. Though their impact has been bad news for the redbreast that prefer the same swift waters as the flathead, it appears that bluegill and crappie have benefited from their presence, perhaps due to less competition for food with their red-bellied cousins. Whatever the reason is, the bottom line is that now’s the time to grab a rod and some jigs and get out on the river.

Crappie receive the most fishing pressure around the Burnt Fort portion of the river, mainly due to the river being much larger and easily accessible by larger boats. I’ve done really well fishing the sloughs, lakes and oxbows in this section of the river, but I’m still partial to the upper portion of the Satilla.

Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that this isn’t the kind of crappie fishing you read about in magazines or watch on TV. You can’t even launch a normal-sized boat in this section of the river most of the time, let alone try to troll 15 spider-rigged rods. It’s not glamorous fishing. It’s you with a rod in your hand with miles and miles of black water and white sand all to yourself. On good days on the river, it’s easy to put 25 good specks in the boat. On bad days… well, I don’t even know if they exist on this beautiful river. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect on the river this month.


As stated earlier, I’m going to focus on the section of the river down around Waycross for this story. Specifically I’ll be focusing in the Highway 158 bridge to the Highway 84 bridge. There are three public ramps anglers can use to access the river, all good options depending on current water levels on the river and depending on the size of boat you are planning to use. To help you prepare for your trip, I’ll break down each section of the river, and what you need to do to put some fish in the cooler.

2022 has been a year for big crappie on the Satilla. The author has caught numerous fish in the 13- to 14-inch range this summer.

Highway 158 Bridge

I grew up on this section of the river, and it will always be my favorite portion of the river. This stretch is small, wild and seems virtually untouched by the hands of time. You’ll find very little development on this stretch of river, with only a few cabins here and there spread over many miles of river. It’s the Satilla just the way the Good Lord left it, and I think that’s what I love the most about it.

This section of the river is perfect for kayaks and small jonboats without outboards, anything you can easily pick up over logs and drag across shallow sandbars. Before heading to this section of the river, do a quick check of the river by going to and check the Highway 158 gauge. Optimum conditions are anytime the gauge is reading below 6 feet and when the discharge is below 100 cubic foot per second. In my opinion, the lower both the gauge height and discharge, the better. 

When the river is running low and slow, a kayak really shines. It makes it easy to quietly fish the river and to maneuver a river that’s nearly impossible to fish by boat. 

When you put in at the 158 bridge, the first key to having success is to try and get some distance between you and the heavily pressured water near the boat ramp.

I always try to spend at least 30 minutes paddling before ever picking a rod up and making a cast. I have equal success fishing both up and down river of the ramp, as long as I can get to some fish that haven’t seen a lure in a while.

When packing up the kayak to fish this section of the river, it’s good to pack what you need and nothing else. In addition to my life jacket, I always bring a spare change of clothes in a dry bag in case I turn over my kayak. When you’re several miles from the boat ramp, taking a dip in the cool winter waters of the Satilla can turn from inconvenient to downright dangerous, especially if the outside air temperature is low.

As far as tackle goes, I keep things simple and light. I bring a couple of 6-foot, Lew’s light-action spinning combos spooled with 8-lb. test line and a small selection of jigs, jig heads and corks. I rarely try to bring minnows in the kayak as they tend to be a nuisance when lifting the kayak around obstacles in the river.

You won’t find many large slackwater areas in this section of the Satilla, so it’s important to fish any likely areas thoroughly as there are almost always going to be specks holding in them. Focus on sharp bends in the river where water will be deeper and areas around fallen timber where there isn’t much current. My favorite lure setup for fishing these areas is a small jig. I like any color, as long as it has some chartreuse in it. I usually fish it threaded on  a 1/16-oz. jig head about 2 feet under a cork. I pitch the jig to likely areas and fish it by twitching the cork a few inches and letting the jig settle. When a speck strikes, the cork will slowly sink. It’s important to resist setting the hook to avoid startling other fish in the school. I like to simply reel into the bite and slowly bring the fish to the boat. If you can avoid startling the other fish, it’s often possible to catch several fish out of the same spot.

It’s important to try and remember where you catch fish on the river. Usually later in the day or on your next trip, you’ll likely find fish ready to bite in the same location.

Simple tools are all that’s needed to get bit on the Satilla this month. The author says a jig with some chartreuse in it and locally made Satilla Spins are hard to beat.

Highway 84 Bridge and Jamestown Boat Ramp

I grouped these two ramps together in this section because of their similarities. Both ramps will fish best when the gauge at Waycross is reading in the 6- to 8.5-foot range. A discharge rate of 50 to 125 cubic feet per second will ensure the river isn’t running too fast to target fish effectively.

Boats with outboards up to about 25 hp can navigate the river fairly well around Waycross if the water is 7 feet or above, whereas 15 hp or smaller outboards are called for when the water is closer to the 6-foot range. Water levels any lower and you’re better of with a small trolling-motor-powered jonboat or a kayak.

Anglers who like dunking minnows under corks will do well in the stretch of river between the two boat ramps, as there are many prime locations that specks will hold. In this section of the Satilla, you will find numerous slack-water areas that will fish. Since the river runs a little bigger here than up around 158, it’s easier to toss out a couple of rods and kick back and let the minnows do the work for you.

Another prime location to try in this stretch of river is one of the many trashpiles that can be found scattered on the river. These piles of debris normally start when a tree falls and debris and trash begin to collect alongside it. An algae-type film forms on top of the water and it attracts small insects and baitfish. This in turn will attract specks and other predatory fish. With hundreds of these piles scattered along the river, it’s important to spend your efforts fishing the right ones. Focus your efforts on the piles that are in the deeper, slower, moving portions of the river to up your odds of success.

For those who are kayak fishermen, a float trip from the boat ramp in Jamestown to the Highway 84 boat ramp will take up about seven to nine hours of your life, and I can assure you they’ll be hours well spent. Start your trip out by spending some time getting away from the ramp before you begin fishing, and the effort will be rewarded. When floating the river, a locally made lure called a Satilla Spin does well for locating specks as you drift.

The Satilla Spin is a small panfish-sized spinnerbait that comes through timber and other snags remarkably well and will catch a variety of fish on the river. I like to throw a white with a gold blade most of the time for specks during winter months. When you catch a fish and determine where the school is holding, you can often toss a jig under a cork to the area and pick up a few more fish. Satilla Feed and Outdoors, located on Highway 84 about 5 miles from the boat ramp, carries a full line of Satilla Spins and crappie fishing gear. Owner Seth Carter fishes the river from his kayak regularly, and he’s usually somewhere around the store to offer up some local advice.

I wish there was more to share with you, but when it comes to crappie fishing on the Satilla, it’s about as simple as fishing can get. If you have a free day this month, it’d be well spent on the Satilla River’s black waters. Hitch up the boat or slide the kayak in the back of the truck, hit the gas, and get ready to enjoy some of the best river fishing for crappie you’ll find in Georgia this month!

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