Georgia's Saltwater Mayhem In May

Georgia's Saltwater Mayhem In May

The arrival of May heralds more-stable weather on the Peach State coast, so the fishing's due to heat up. Here are the species you're most likely to catch this month. (May 2006)

Each May, as water temperatures rise and the cold-weather systems stabilize, several species of fish converge on the coastal waters of Georgia. This mass migration of fish sets off a migration of its own: local anglers heading to their favorite fishing drops. Don't miss out on the action!

SPECKLED SEATROUT ON THE BEACH

Seatrout rank among the most-sought-after species along the Georgia Coast, where you are likely to hear them called "speckled trout". Their deserved reputation as delicate table fare and their large numbers make them highly desirable.

Specks move up rivers and creeks as cold weather arrives in December and January and settle themselves into the deeper holes, where the water temperatures are a little warmer and the baitfish more abundant. As water temperature rises in the spring, trout begin to move toward beaches and sounds in preparation for the annual spawn.

The spawn begins in May; a protracted affair, it runs into September. The annual spawning migration begins when water temperature reaches 68 to 70 degrees. Once the eggs are fertilized, they drift with the current inland, where they settle in sandy-bottomed areas to hatch into fry several weeks later.

Spawning trout are attracted to beach areas on sounds and creeks. The waters and sandbars associated with Christmas Creek on Cumberland Island are famous for spawning trout.

The best time to fish comes on a low tide during the early morning. Anglers should cruise the beach until they find a run-off, which is nothing more than a cut in the beach down which water runs from the beach into the ocean. Most run-offs are only 2 or 3 feet wide, but a few are 8 to 10 feet; the larger the better.

Live shrimp, mud minnows and 3- to 4-inch river menhaden are preferred baits. These can be fished under a float or on a fishfinder rig. Because most fishing is done in the rollers, a long 10-inch cork works best. This style of cork stands up high in the water and can be easily seen as waves roll on it. Smaller corks will be hidden behind the waves and are so of little use.

Artificial jigs are also effective on the beach. Three- and 4-inch plastic tails in green, opening night, chartreuse, white or smoke work well; a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce jighead works best. Simply toss the jig toward the beach and retrieve. There'll be a lot of tugging on the lure because of the rolling waves, but you'll soon learn to recognize a bite.

Baitcasting rigs with limber 7 1/2- to 9-foot rods work best for cork-fishing. I like the Pflueger President low-profile baitcasting reel mated to Fenwick's HMX 8-foot, 9-inch medium-action Salmon/Steelhead casting rod. Spinning tackle works best when throwing jigs. Try the 7-foot HMG spinning rod from Fenwick and the Triton spinning reels from Pflueger.

This is the time of the year for taking a record speck, as big roe trout, heavy with eggs, roam the beaches of the Peach State. Keep in mind that a lot of small trout are taken at this time of the year also; the minimum-size limit is 13 inches, with a creel limit of 15 fish per person.

Be sure to release the small fish unharmed. The best way to do this is to use a "fish flipper," which features a round handle about 12 to 14 inches long and a 5-inch stainless rod with a U-turn in it sticking out one end. To release a fish, all you do is slip the U on the turn of the hook, hold the line tight and flip the fish over the line. The fish will fly off the hook and into the water, untouched by human hands.

TRIPLETAILS OFF JEKYLL ISLAND

Tripletails, or "eddy fish," move into the waters surrounding the Golden Isles in May. These fish get one name from the fact that their dorsal and anal fins extend back almost as far as their tails, giving them the look of having three tails; the other reflects their habit of nosing up to a piling or other structure on the downcurrent or eddy side, from there ambushing whatever prey swims by.

These fish are shaped much like a freshwater bream, but grow to near 30 pounds. This broad shape allows them to put up a strong fighter when hooked, with the added benefit of producing several jumps before coming to boatside.

For some reason, the north end of Jekyll Island holds the biggest concentration of tripletails in the area. Fish move with the tide and can be found from a couple of hundred yards off the beach on a high tide to a couple of miles on a low one.

Tripletails also have a unique habit of floating on their sides near the surface of the water. I believe this may be a way of attracting shrimp and minnows to the shadow they cast, just as those forage species are attracted to the shadow of debris floating in the water. If you see one from a boat, and its back is to you, it'll resemble a black plastic trash bag floating in the water; if its belly is toward you, it'll look like a white plastic bag.

The best bait for tripletails is live shrimp, with the 4-inch artificial Gulp! shrimp produced by Berkley a close second; either is fished a foot below a Cajun Thunder cork. Spinning tackle works best, as long casts are sometimes necessary. I prefer a Shakespeare Ugly Stik 7 1/2-foot rod and a Pflueger President reel. For this fishing I like braided line in 30-pound-test and 30-pound test Vanish fluorocarbon line for a leader. A 3/0 circle hook is good when fishing live shrimp and a 1/16-ounce jig head on a 3/0 hook when using the Gulp!.

The tripletail is the only fish species along the Georgia coast that offers true sight-fishing. Anglers idle along looking for the black back or white belly floating on the surface. When a fish is sighted, the boat is positioned so the angler can cast a bait in front of and past it; of course, it's sometimes difficult to determine which way the fish is facing. The bait is then reeled back to the fish and stopped right in front of it (within a foot if possible).

Often the tripletail eases to and bumps the cork, backs up, and then sees and takes the bait. At that point you can see the fish just under the water, and the temptation will be to set the hook before the fish takes the bait -- but you must wait until the cork is down or you feel the fish before setting the hook.

Once hooked, a good tripletail can strip off several yards of line two or three times and go airborne several times before coming to the boat.

Tripletails represent a singular fishing experience along the Georgia Coast and provide some both serious fun and good eating. The minimum-size limit is 18 inches; the creel l

imit is five per person.

SHARKS IN THE SOUNDS

Lots of sandbars, warm ocean waters, deep holes and an abundance of baitfish combine to produce the perfect habitat for birthing shark pups. During May, these conditions all come together in Georgia's sounds from St. Andrews to Warsaw. Tiger, bull, hammerhead, blacktip, nurse, lemon and sand sharks are some of the species that visit the Georgia coast.

Whiting fishermen know when the sharks show up, because all of a sudden they begin catching pup sharks along with the whiting. Those anglers then tell the shark fishermen, and before long, sharks are ending up on the grill.

Whiting is one of the best baits for sharks. Larger whiting can be cut crosswise into three pieces; smaller ones may be fished alive. When using the tail section, I like to cut the tailfin off at the point at which it attaches to the body, thus keeping the bait from twisting in the current. A twisting bait will not only fail to catch fish but also twist your line to the point of making it useless.

Live bait can be cut near the tail section to create a blood trail -- very effective for drawing in sharks. Live menhaden also make excellent shark bait, or great chum. Menhaden can be seen popping on the surface, and it takes little effort to take large numbers of them with a cast net. These baitfish also keep well in a large round livewell. Don't put too many in the well, however, or they die quickly.

I like to hook live menhaden, whiting or mullet through the nostrils. They seem to live longer and act livelier when hooked this way. They can also be hooked through the lips from bottom to top, through the eyes or behind the dorsal fin.

Hook the bait behind the dorsal fin only during the dead stage of the current at high and low tide. Any current whatever will cause the bait to spin, and the results will be poor.

Stout tackle is a must when catching fish that can run up to 250 pounds. I like Shakespeare's 8-foot 40- to 80-pound-class baitcasting rods and the Penn 330 GTI reel, which features a smooth drag system. It holds about 300 yards of 40-pound-test mono line.

Depending on the bite, I usually set out two to four rigs, with two of the rigs on the bottom. A bottom rig consists of 6 feet of 150-pound coated 7-strand wire leader, a live-bait hook with a 7/0 to 12/0 long shank attached to one end and a large swivel to the other. Slip a 3-ounce egg sinker on the main line and tie it to the swivel. Most feeding takes place on or near the bottom, and this rig holds the bottom well.

Another possible option: Suspend a live bait 8 feet under a 6-inch float. Just replace the 3-ounce sinker with a float and tie a slipknot above it.

I often also free-line a live bait in the spread. Simply remove the sinker or float and let the bait swim freely.

All of Georgia's sounds have sandbars that can prove productive shark-fishing grounds. Current pushes shrimp and baitfish along the bars, causing sharks to congregate nearby.

Shrimp boats also attract sharks. Many baitfish hit the shrimp nets but fall stunned outside, thus becoming easy prey for waiting sharks. Keep in mind that shrimpers are working for a living, so try to stay out of their way.

The creel limit for the greater coastal sharks is two per day, with a minimum length of 48 inches. One fish over 84 inches may be boated.

The creel limit for the smaller coastal sharks is two per person; the minimum-size limit is 30 inches.

FLOUNDER IN THE CREEK MOUTHS

Just as seatrout move up Georgia rivers in late fall and early winter, flounder move to ocean reefs and wrecks for the winter. The main reason is water temperature: Offshore reefs offer deeper water, which doesn't get as cold as do inshore waters.

As water temperature rises in the spring, flounder return to their inshore haunts. These fish then move into rivers and creeks.

When fishing for flounder during May and other warm months, target creek and smaller ditch mouths during the falling tide. The last three hours of the falling tide and the first couple of the incoming are best. Often only one or two fish are found in a creek mouth, but flounder are schooling fish, and several may turn up in one location.

Flounder can be taken on live baits (which include mud minnows, finger mullet, pogy and shrimp) and artificials. Several fishing methods can be used with live baits. One is to suspend a bait under a Cajun Thunder float, positioning the boat in the mouth of the creek and cast the bait as far up the feeder as possible. The outgoing current then brings the cork back toward the boat. In the process, fan-cast the creek mouth.

On the incoming tide, flip the cork out of the boat and let the current carry it into the creek; again fan-cast the area, covering as much water as is possible. I like baitcasting gear for fishing the float rig. I can control the bait a little better, and my wrists don't get as tired after several hours of fishing. I prefer an 8-foot, 9-inch rod mated to a low-profile reel. Thirty-pound-test braid works well, as does 30-pound fluorocarbon leaders.

Live bait can also be fished with no float and a fishfinding rig, which is simply a 3/4- to 1 1/2-ounce egg sinker above a swivel, 12 inches of 30-pound-test fluorocarbon leader and a 3/0 circle hook.

Jigheads offer another way to fish live bait. When fishing these rigs, anchor the boat in the mouth of the creek and fan-cast the entire area. Most anglers don't thoroughly cover the water when fan-fishing. Start casting to one bank or the other. The next cast should be made just a foot or so to the side of the first. Continue this pattern until you reach the other bank.

Spinning gear works better when fishing without a float in order to increase casting distance. Eight-pound-test mono casts well, yet still provides enough strength to take most flounder.

One thing to keep in mind when fishing live bait is that you must wait before setting the hook. Flounder move as far as 10 yards to settle in a comfortable area, and then turn to scale a baitfish before swallowing it. After disengaging the spool at the take, some anglers wait two or three minutes before setting the hook; I generally count to 20 and let 'er rip.

Flounder can also be taken on artificial lures. A 1/4-ounce white jighead with a chartreuse tail or a 1/4-ounce gold spoon are good for attracting flounder. When you fish artificial baits, don't wait -- set the hook as soon as you feel the bite.

The minimum-size limit in Georgia for flounder is 12 inches; the creel limit is 15 per person. But there's not much meat on a 12-inch flounder, so it makes more sense to only keep those over 14 inches

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