The Satilla River Summer Special
This south Georgia river is fishing as good as it gets.
If you’ve ever thought about a bucket-list trip to the Satilla River, don’t put it off another summer. I’ve spent my entire life fishing the blackwater river, and in 30 years I can assure you the fishing has never been as good as it is right now. Whether you want to target redbreast, bluegill, crappie, bass or the river’s invasive flathead catfish, anything and everything is biting.
With the river spending the past year mostly blown out and in the flood plain, fish have fed and grown tremendously in size. Numerous river records have been broken this spring, including the redbreast record that fell multiple times, ending with Lester Robert’s state-record fish. The bottom line is the Satilla River is the hottest river in the state right now and quite possibly the best in the country.
The Satilla is not a difficult river to fish, with first-timers quite regularly having success despite little knowledge of the river. There are multiple access points that offer excellent fishing, depending on the primary species you wish to target. The only catch is that you’re going to have to leave the 22-foot bass boat at home. At the time of this writing, just days before going to press, the Satilla was almost sitting at rock bottom, and anything bigger than a 9.9 won’t get you more than a mile from most boat ramps.
Here’s a breakdown of the fish that call the Satilla home and the gear you’ll need to catch them this summer.
Redbreast, or roosters as many of us locals call them, are the primary target of fishermen on the river. They’re plentiful in numbers, and the river also harbors good numbers of fish that weigh more than a pound. Anywhere you can find current, timber and deep water, you’re likely going to find redbreast.
Redbreast are the peacock bass of the Satilla. They are super aggressive and willing to eat just about anything they can swallow. Anglers who like live-bait fishing will do well fishing worms on the bottom in deeper holes near bluff walls that are littered with timber. Another good option is pitching crickets under corks along the banks, especially if you see redbreast bedding on a sandy bottom.
As far as lures go, there are two primary techniques for catching roosters on the river, both equally effective in their on right.
Small spinnerbaits, such as the locally made Satilla Spin, work well on the river, as do Beetle Spins and other similar-type lures. Their weedless nature and simple technique of chunk and wind makes it easy for anglers of all ages to put fish in the boat. The best way to fish them is to keep your boat in shallow water and target the deeper water along the river’s thousands of bluff walls. An ultralight combo spooled with 6-lb. test works well for this type of fishing, and it makes for one heck of fight when you hook up with a big rooster in the current.
Buggin’ is another method locals use to target redbreast. This technique is simple, and very little is needed in the way of equipment. Only 10 feet of line is tied to a 10-foot breambuster-type pole, and a “bug” of various varieties is tied to the end. I prefer a lure I make called a Swamp Spider. It’s basically a large foam spider with extra-long legs, but just about any popping-type bug out there will catch roosters, and some really big ones at that.
When the water temp is above 75 degrees, big roosters will post up along bluff walls and in current breaks around wood, making them easy targets when armed with a buggin’ pole. Fish slowly along banks, pitching your bug to likely areas. I normally will give my spider a shake, then pause, then repeat. If nothing reacts, I pick it up and keep moving. For beginners, it can be a little awkward to learn the pitching technique at first, but with some practice, anglers new to buggin’ can become quite proficient at it fairly quickly.
The Satilla River might not get the fame of Lake Seminole, Lanier or Eufaula when it comes to bass fishing destinations, but you can bet your boat they’re in there, and you won’t have to use the latest electronics to find them.
Most of the river’s bass population falls in the 1- to 2-lb. range, but 5-plus-pound fish are frequently hooked by anglers.
Bass can be caught a variety of ways, with Trick Worms and minnow plugs being local favorites on the river. Another good option, especially for big fish, is a buzzbait.
I throw a buzzbait 99% of the time when fishing the river, and I’ve noticed that though I don’t catch as many fish, the fish I do bring in the boat seem to be of much better quality. I throw the buzzbait any time of day, and I’ve noticed that the hot, sunny part of the afternoon usually will produce just as many fish as the early morning and late-evening hours. During midday, key on any shady areas you can find, and you will likely get bit.
Bass in the river will hold both in current and slack-water areas. Pay attention to any breaks in the current, especially around isolated timber in the middle of the river. Areas where creeks and lakes feed in will also hold fish.
If you hit the rewind button and go back about 30 years, you’d be lucky to hook into more than a couple bluegill on an afternoon trip to the Satilla. In recent years, however, the bluegill population is booming, with larger fish being caught every summer. Zach Johns set the new river record earlier this spring, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another bluegill or two of record size be pulled from the black water this summer.
Unlike its redbreast cousins, bluegill don’t prefer to hold in areas with current. Focus your fishing efforts in the mouths of lakes and sloughs for the best chance to load the cooler down. Crickets fished on the bottom or under a cork will work well, as will small spinnerbaits and popping bugs.
The Satilla River isn’t known for crappie fishing, but this year it is producing more and bigger fish than I remember seeing. Summertime normally slows the crappie bite down on most lakes and reservoirs, but in the river the bite will stay red hot if you know where to look.
Anywhere anglers can find where a lake meets the river, fish will likely be found, but the very best bet to find slab crappie is to fish the trash.
Unfortunately, like many other rivers in the U.S., the Satilla is littered with trashpiles, areas where debris piles up and forms a large mat. These areas will often hold huge schools of crappie, and anglers wishing to target them can catch a good mess of fish by bouncing from pile to pile.
Minnows fished under corks right up next to the mat work great, as do jigs and other similar lures. The key is to not spend too much time in one area. If you don’t get bit in the first few minutes, move to another spot. If the fish are there, they will let you know it quick.
The flathead catfish is the evil force that lies in the Satilla’s black waters. This invasive fish is wreaking havoc on the river. Thankfully the DNR has full-time crews that work to shock and remove these fish from the river in an effort to preserve the redbreast fishery.
Flatheads prefer deep water, with swift current, which spells bad news for the native redbreast that prefer the same conditions.
Anglers do well targeting flatheads with limb lines positioned on deep bluff walls anywhere timber is present. Small redbreast or bluegill work great for bait as long as it’s alive.
For anglers who prefer to use rod and reel, the heavier the tackle the better. Due to the heavy cover in the river, plan to use heavy spinning or baitcasting gear and line in the 100-lb. test range.
An entire article could be written on access points along the Satilla, but I’ll list a few here to point you in the right direction.
Starting upriver, the Highway 158 bridge is a great area to fish, especially for anglers who plan on fishing out of kayaks or non-outboard-powered jonboats. This stretch is scenic and narrow and harbors plenty of fish for those who don’t mind dragging the boat a little. This is one of the best areas of the river to bass fish in my opinion, and large numbers of redbreast are present due to flatheads not impacting the upper section of the Satilla as much to this point.
The Highway 84 bridge between Blackshear and Waycross is also a good area to try this month. Anglers with small jonboats can get around fairly well, but you will still need to be prepared to drag the boat, especially if we don’t get much rain this month. There are plenty of fish in this stretch of the river, and anglers can target a variety of fish effectively.
The Highway 301 bridge near Hortense is another good option, especially for anglers targeting flathead catfish. This section of the river has more deep water than the upper section of the Satilla, thus holding plenty of flatheads that need to be pulled from the river. Redbreast fishing and bass fishing is excellent in this section, as well, so keep that in mind when planning a trip.
The Burnt Fort Landing is a great option, especially for anglers who enjoy bluegill and crappie fishing. This section of the river is littered with lakes that hold good populations of both species. You can run a bigger boat in this section of the river, but due to it being a tidal section, keep that in mind when going into skinny water.
For anglers planning a trip to the Satilla this summer, the Satilla Riverkeeper is a non-profit organization that helps to protect the river. They are also a great resource to check water levels and conditions when planning a trip to the Satilla. Their number is 912.462.5094.
I can honestly say there isn’t a body of water I love more than the Satilla River. The fishing is phenomenal, but it’s more than that. The Satilla River is a special place. If you’ve ever thought about making a fishing trip on the Satilla, it’s never been better than it is right now.
Record Breaking Summer
With numerous record fish of multiple species being caught from the Satilla River this spring, we wanted to know why.
“The river being up and staying out in the flood plain has enabled these fish to have an all-you-can-eat buffet this past year. They’ve been able to roam the woods and have had access to all kinds of food that they normally can’t get to. Now that the river is receding, we’re seeing some excellent catches from anglers this spring,” said Jim Page, senior fisheries biologist at the WRD Waycross Fisheries Office.
The Waycross Fisheries Office just finished up their annual shocking survey on the river. Jim said at press time he didn’t have the numbers compiled yet, but he did say the river is looking better than he’s ever seen it.
“I’ve been in Waycross about six years now, and 2022 is better than I’ve ever seen it,” said Jim. “We’re seeing lots of above-average fish, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see several more records fall this year. We’re expecting this summer to offer up some excellent fishing for anglers visiting the Satilla.”
To keep up with the latest Satilla River records, go to https://gon.com/fishing/georgia-lakes-rivers/satilla-river#satillariver-records.
Editors Note: For those who would like to contact the author with questions about planning a trip, look him up on Facebook and shoot him a message.
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