Upper Satilla River Floats For Late Summer Redbellies

No need for a boat. Kayaks and canoes will get you to plenty of fish.

Craig James | August 4, 2020

The Satilla River is without doubt or question one of the world’s greatest redbreast fisheries. With a strong population of eating-size fish, and plenty of big roosters that break the 1-lb. mark, it’s easy to see why this south Georgia fishery is on many a Georgia anglers’ bucket list.

Normally when I work on a Satilla River story for GON, fishing strategy is the main objective, with fishing location taking a backseat. I began to notice that most of the questions I get when I work on a Satilla article don’t pertain to strategy, they pertain to accessing the river.

I grew up just through the woods from this famed river, and I’m here to tell you that if you get off the beaten path and away from the boat ramps, you will get to see one of the most beautiful rivers that God ever cut out of this earth.

For those of y’all who have ever wanted to plan a trip down to south Georgia, now is the time. This time of year is the time for a wide variety of redbreast options, whether you would like to go on an overnight float trip and sleep under the stars on a Satilla sandbar, float for an eight-hour day trip from ramp to ramp, or just run upriver and catch some good fish. The only catch? Leave the big boat behind. Kayaks, canoes and small jonboats are the ticket during late summer on the river. Read on. This is unlike any Satilla story I have written before.

Water Level

Before you plan a float trip down the Satilla, checking the water level is crucial. Six feet or below at the Waycross gauge is ideal, with 5 feet or less being phenomenal. At these levels, larger boats have a nearly impossible time navigating the river. You can check the Satilla water levels at Waycross by going online to

The Satilla stretches across a large portion of southeastern Georgia, but it’s hard to beat the portion around Waycross for fishing when water levels are low during late summer and fall months. You could literally float the Satilla for weeks from one end of the river to the other, but Waycross is hard to beat for some jam-up Satilla River fishing. Here are a few places I like to fish the river that I hope will be helpful for those planning their first-time trip.

Jamestown Boat Ramp Upriver

This is a great option for fishing the river for the day. If you’re more adventurous, you can paddle miles and miles upstream and find a sandbar to spend the night on and fish your way back the next morning. Be prepared to drag your kayak or canoe, since the water gets skinnier every mile you go upriver from this boat ramp. The key is getting as far upriver from the ramp for optimal fishing. Current is very slow when water is at 5.5 feet or less, and it’s easy to spend a day fishing your way up river.

Redbreast fishing is excellent in this stretch of the river, and catching 50 to 100 fish a day is an achievable goal. Worms, crickets, small panfish spinnerbaits and topwater bugs all work well in this stretch of the river. Key on areas that hold the deepest water along bluff walls, especially those that are shaded by trees from the sun.

Jamestown Boat Ramp Downriver To Highway 84 Bridge

If you have a fishing partner and are down for an all-day float trip, this one is hard to beat. Start out by leaving a truck at the Highway 84 boat ramp between Waycross and Blackshear, and head to the Jamestown Ramp to drop your kayaks or canoe in the water. A small jonboat will also work, but I would recommend not bringing a trolling motor or battery. There are several stretches and often some downed trees where you will have to drag the boat. The key when doing this float is to put in at first light and paddle until you go under the powerlines. I’ve never measured the distance, but it’s roughly 30 minutes to an hour depending on your paddling speed. Jamestown receives a pile of fishing pressure, and this will put you far enough away from it to catch plenty of fish. This is a unique stretch of river, as there are plenty of deep stretches mixed in with some shallow, narrow areas you could nearly walk across without wetting your feet.

It seems this stretch of the river has a large population of big roosters due in part to the deeper water, so if you are looking for big fish, this is the float trip for you.

If you’re looking for the best numbers of big rooster redbreast, the author said he believes Jamestown Boat Ramp downriver to the Highway 84 Bridge is the best stretch for you to try.

One of my favorite strategies for kayaking this stretch with a buddy is to fish two different ways. Oftentimes I will pitch a topwater bug on a bream buster and have my fishing partner come behind me fishing a Beetle Spin or other similar lure. This seems to be an effective way to fish the entire water column.

This float normally takes between seven and 10 hours depending on how fast or slow you like to fish. For this reason I rely on Google Earth to keep track of my progress throughout the day. If time permits, I highly recommend taking a long lunch break and enjoying a sandwich in the shade on a sandbar. Taking a cool dip in the river’s blackwater also helps to beat the summer heat.

You will know you are near the end of your float when you pass under another set of powerlines. At this point you are 30 or so minutes to the Highway 84 bridge. I normally don’t waste any casts in this area due to the large amount of fishing pressure.

For those who want to spend the night on this stretch of the river, there are numerous sandbars perfect for camping. Be sure to pick a spot adjacent to a deep bluff wall, and bring some shrimp or chicken livers to fish for the good population of catfish in this stretch.

Highway 84 Bridge To Highway 121 Bridge

If you want to see one of the most remote stretches of the Satilla, this is the stretch for you. Nearly 20 miles of river separate these two bridges, and there is no other public access point in between. I spend a large amount of my fishing time in this stretch of the river and believe it offers the very best Satilla fishing you will find.

It’s the float trip of a lifetime, but it’s not for the faint of heart. There are numerous log jams throughout this stretch of the river that will require you to drag your kayak 100 yards around a fallen tree and lift it over logs while standing in chest deep water. It’s work, but the work is worth it. Numerous roosters inhabit these waters in excess of a pound, and I believe this stretch harbors the next state-record fish. The key for this trip is to pack smart and light.

As you prep your gear for this float trip, I recommend loading it in your kayak. Then drag it around the yard for 10 minutes. If it seems too heavy in the yard, I promise it will be too heavy on the river.

I keep my camping gear to a minimum. Tent, sleeping bag, small axe for firewood, two head lamps in case one goes out, and a cast iron pan are all you need. I don’t bother with ice, instead opting to freeze a 24 pack of water before putting it in a cooler. Be sure to throw in a stick of butter because you’re going to want fish for dinner. I pack one change of clothes in a dry bag and a portable cell phone charger.

The best plan for floating this stretch is to paddle for a good hour or two your first morning at daylight to get away from the ramp and cover some miles. Normally I check my progress around 2:30 or so on Google Earth and evaluate how far I’ve made it down river. I like to be a little over halfway before setting up camp for the night.

Be sure to stick back a few fish for dinner, as it’s hard to beat a meal out on the Satilla sand. I’m known to also pack a small pot and some instant cheese grits to complement my meal of fresh redbreast.

Day No. 2 is pretty tough as there are several downed trees the last 5 or so miles to the 121 bridge. That said, the fishing is phenomenal. As you fish, it’s important to keep track of your progress so as not to spend an unplanned night on the river.

Whether you decide to fish the Satilla for a morning, go on an all-day float trip, or venture on one of the most rugged overnight trips any south Georgia river has to offer, it’s sure to be the trip of a lifetime.

What a view to wake up to on the Satilla River. If you’d like to try an overnight adventure, this article details a long, adventurous stretch.


Fish On A Satilla Sandbar

Fresh redbreast is as good as it gets, and this recipe is as simple as you will find.

Build a small fire and let it burn down to a bed of coals. Clean and scale the fish, and be sure to cut away fins and tail. This helps the taste be not so fishy. Season with salt and pepper.

Put a few slices of butter in the pan, and let it coat cast iron. Drop redbreast in the pan, and cook for approximately three to four minutes on each side until meat is white and flaky.

A few packs of instant cheese grits and some water heated on the fire make for a simple side dish.

Give this easy riverside meal a try. It’s one you won’t forget as you eat surrounded by the Satilla’s beauty.

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