Georgia'™s Coastal Angling Potpourri

The waters around our barrier islands hold a wide variety of species to challenge any angler. Here's a look at a few of these for the coming months. (May 2008)

Capt. Ken Doss specializes in putting his anglers on seatrout along Georgia's Golden Isles.
Photo courtesy of Polly Dean.

As temperatures rise to warm our coastal waters, the fishing too heats up. The Peach State offers saltwater fishermen a variety of angling options: casting for speckled trout and flounder just off the beach, trolling for king mackerel miles offshore -- and more. The myriad species available in our state's offshore waters are waiting to please anglers of all types throughout the upcoming spring and summer months.

Three local experts shared with me their favorite tactics for targeting several of these species -- seatrout, flounder, sharks, king mackerel, and tripletails.

SEATROUT
When it comes to tips on catching speckled trout, Captain Ken Doss comes to mind. A serious guide and angler, he definitely catches specks -- and lots of them! I had the pleasure of meeting Capt. Doss a few years ago while I was participating in the Golden Isles Red-Trout Celebrity Tournament. Doss has guided anglers every year in the two-day charity event since its inception, and in the 2007 tournament took several awards, among them "Top Rod" for the most fish caught the first day. This award was mostly attributed to the fact that Doss guided angler Vicki Raleigh to boat and release 35 seatrout, also landing the team the award for most trout caught during the event.

According to Capt. Doss, anyone can catch trout, but catching them consistently is the challenge -- that's what makes trout fishing so enjoyable for him. "There are so many ingredients that you have to consider, and any one of those can be missing and it can throw it off," he explained. "Time of year, bait, water clarity, water salinity, water temperature, stages of tides and on and on, are all factors to consider."

In the spring months, trout are full of roe, and salinity is a key factor as to when they deposit the eggs. The eggs sink in water that's too fresh and float atop water that's too salty; either means sure mortality for the next generation.

Doss said that fishing the beaches off Cumberland Island in the Christmas Creek area is a good option at this time of year. He recommended cruising the beach looking for "runouts," small streams of water flowing out from tidal pools trapped up on the beach. The runouts hold disoriented baitfish being swept back into the ocean: easy meals for trout and other predator fish such as ladyfish and jack cravalle.

For cruising the beach, a westerly wind is favorable. It can be mild or even moderate (up to 10 to 15 mph) without stirring up the surf too much. If the wind's coming out of the east any harder than a light wind breeze of 5 miles per hour the water becomes churned and stained, which kills the fishing.

Trout prefer moving water -- but on the Georgia coast, unfortunately, moving water can mean muddy water, especially on outgoing tides. And according to Capt. Doss, the ingredient that trout must have in order to feed readily is clear water! He pointed out that trout feed primarily by using the sense of sight, so keeping your bait moving makes it easier to spot than letting it sit still.

During the full or new moon, extremely high tides wash mud into the water, making these periods less-than-desirable times for fishing our state's waters. If you fishing at those times, you may want to concentrate on the top of the incoming tide or on the very bottom of the low tide. Those phases during which the water is slowing and starting to turn can be the most productive periods.

On the other hand, at neap tides the water moves too slowly around the changing phases, so fishing the tide at least halfway in or halfway out, when the water is moving faster, is better.

Schools of trout move up and down the beach, so using a trolling motor and tossing live shrimp into the breakers is a good method for finding the fish. When Capt. Doss finds some trout, he stops, drops the anchor and fishes the area hard.

The captain always keeps four different types of rigs on his boat. The one most used is the slip-cork rig. In this, the cork slides up and down the line, a knot tied to keep the float at a set distance from the bait; the knot can be adjusted up and down to change depth when needed. Doss uses live shrimp whenever they're available.

The rig that's second in Doss' esteem is the popping cork rig, a relatively new creation brought to our coast from the Louisiana area. A 5- or 6-inch section of rigid wire runs through the cork with a couple beads on either end. The cork and beads slide on the wire and make a clacking sound when jerked. The noise imitates the popping sound that a distressed shrimp makes when escaping a predator and can attract trout from several feet away. The cork is set at a fixed distance from the bait, so for fishing in 6 feet of clear water, Doss sets the depth at 3 to 4 feet.

The next rig that Capt. Doss keeps on board is a small spinning rod set up with a leadhead jig and a curlytail or paddletail grub. The color of choice for the grub is electric chicken, a chartreuse and pink combo. Other popular colors are pure white or glow-in-the-dark white. Shrimp imitations made by DOA also catch fish on this setup.

The fourth rig to have handy is another light spinning rod with a Carolina rig. This consists of a hook with 16 to 20 inches of leader, connected to a swivel, with a small egg sinker above the swivel. Doss baits this with a live shrimp or bullhead minnow and retrieves it slowly across the bottom. Trout and flounder can be picked up using this method.

If specks are what you want, call Capt. Doss. Anytime. He's made it his goal to learn how to boat a limit of trout at all times of year -- not just the best times!

SHARKS
Having by now guided customers for over a quarter-century, Captain Vernon Reynolds grew up fishing the Georgia coast. Among his favorite fish to target: sharks, various species of which that frequent our waters in May and throughout the summer months being hammerhead, bull, tiger, nurse and sandbar. Blacktip sharks also show up; Reynolds touts them as the best-eating of the varieties.

To catch sharks, Capt. Reynolds occasionally chums, although he noted that when the fish are abundant at this time of year, it's not usually necessary. He carries a few light-tackle spinning rods and, using live shrimp, catches whiting to use in turn as bait.

The captain generally ancho

rs the boat in 12 to 20 feet of water and then puts out a couple of bottom rigs using a live and a cut whiting. He also puts out a float rig or two, dropping the bait about 6 or 8 feet below the surface.

Reynolds targets the edges of the sandbars dotting our coasts. Where currents move around any of these natural structures, moving water dictates where the baitfish hold. In turn, the bigger fish are drawn to those spots by the forage.

For a novice shark angler, knowing the sandbars' whereabouts can be tricky; seeing a couple of boats anchored up at a location in a pass or sound is a helpful hint. The best suggestion; Book a guide for the first trip or two.

Tides aren't so important, even though Capt. Reynolds prefers an incoming phase. And he does catch more sharks in clear water.

As far as gear goes, Capt. Reynolds uses 8-foot rods. He spools the reels with 40-pound monofilament attached to a 6-foot 150-pound seven-strand steel leader and tipped with a 9/0 or 10/0 hook.

How, I asked the captain, should you handle these toothy creatures? His reply? "Real carefully!"

He added that with a gloved hand and the steel leader you can usually lift the shark up onto the gunnels. If you can remove the hook, go ahead and do so, but if it appears that you're going to harm the shark -- or yourself -- just cut the leader.

TRIPLETAILSThe tripletail is another species that appears in April or May and remains on our coast through the summer months. Targeting these odd-looking fish is a relatively new sport on the Georgia shore, but they're gaining popularity as a game fish and as table fare. Wide, broad fish that resemble giant freshwater bream, they're lots of fun on the end of a line. Growing to 50 pounds, they're great jumpers that put up quite a fight.

Tripletails were initially only targeted up until June, but it's now known that they do stick around through August and September. In past years, Capt. Reynolds believes, tripletails made themselves scarce in June because the shrimping season opened at that time and the large fleets of trawlers either caught the tripletails in their nets or chased them out of the area, making the fish less available to the recreational angler. Nowadays the virtual collapse of the shrimp fleet has made it more likely to see a mere six or seven trawlers in the sound rather than the dozens common in past years. And the tripletails do seem to hang around longer.

The myriad species available in our state's offshore waters are waiting to please anglers of all types throughout the upcoming spring and summer months.

The technique for catching tripletails in the spring months is unique. Sight-fishing is the common method. Basically, you either drift or cruise around slowly looking for flat, light-colored shapes that look very much like trash bags floating just beneath the surface of the water. A sunny day with a very light chop definitely makes for better sight-fishing conditions.

A great place in which to look for these fish is just off the north end of Jekyll Island. Particularly good is the area south of the shipping channel between St. Simons Island and Jekyll and just off the latter's Driftwood Beach.

When a tripletail is spotted, it usually stays on the surface as you ease the boat up to casting range. (That, of course, assumes that you see the fish before it suddenly appears floating right past the boat!) Have a live shrimp or artificial shrimp imitation such as a DOA rigged on spinning gear and ready to cast as you cruise. The trick, then, is to cast close to the fish without creating so much ruckus when your bait hits the water as to spook the tripletails.

KING MACKEREL
Captain Wendell Harper began fishing at an early age. His family owned a seafood market and Harper fished commercially on the Peach State coast for a number of years. But with nets being banned in the early 1950s and bag limits shrinking, Harper realized the value of charter fishing and got his captain's license.

Capt. Harper began fishing offshore for king mackerel more 20 years ago and has been doing it competitively for nearly the entire time. He is a member of the Southern Kingfish Association, fishing in the Open and Pro Divisions. He consistently finishes near the top in Georgia tournaments.

Capt. Harper begins the kingfish season in late April or early May, fishing for them 40 to 50 miles offshore. In late May the mackerel move to within 15 to 20 miles of the coast and from there work their way to just off the beaches in summer. The kings then stay in close until early December.

Water temperature is the key to finding the mackerel. The kings seek warmer water in the spring, with ideal temperatures being in the upper 70s to low 80s. If the water on the beaches warms too much in the summer, the fish go back offshore a bit to cool off.

Capt. Harper almost exclusively uses live bait for catching kings. He catches menhaden, cigar minnow or blue runners off the beaches and slowly trolls them live. He also uses rigged dead silver eels or ballyhoo for this trolling.

Generally, when fishing over bottom structure, Harper trolls the edges of the wreck or reef, as the barracudas drawn to such bait-rich areas can be a real problem. The 'cuda can cut a hooked kingfish in half in a heartbeat. By sticking to the edge, the captain hopes to draw the kings out and away from the barracudas.

Grays Reef, located 17 1/2 miles offshore from McIntosh County, is a National Marine Sanctuary and a well-known angling spot for kings. It is a natural hard-bottom formation that attracts many species of fish.

A number of U.S. Navy security towers are also 35 to 50 miles offshore. Those are all great spots to find king mackerel, too.

From May on into the summer months Capt. Harper boats 20- to 30-pound and even some 40-pound kings; his largest off the Georgia coast weighed more than 50 pounds. June and July are often the best times for the bigger fish.

Capt. Harper uses double-hook rigs for his bait. He uses a No. 4 treble hook at the nose end of the bait; a No. 4 or No. 6 hook follows about 4 1/2 inches behind. The captain prefers a 20- to 22-inch leader of 40- or 50-pound wire, attached to 20- to 25-pound line. Harper drops his rigs to various depths covering the water column.

SUMMING IT UP
The selection of sportfish converging in our waters in May is at a peak of variety and abundance. It's a great month for sampling that selection -- and perhaps even tangling with new, unfamiliar quarry -- around our Golden Isles.

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