Red Drum & Trout At Saint Simons

Red Drum & Trout At Saint Simons

The waters around this Golden Isle teem with trout and reds in the summertime. Listen in as a local expert tells you how to put a few in the boat. (July 2007)

Capt. Mark Noble hoists a redfish of the kind that you'll find year 'round in the Georgia marshes.
Photo by Ron Brooks.

Georgia is fortunate to have one of the best estuary fisheries along the Atlantic coast. Its myriad creeks, rivers, marshes and mudflats are home to an almost unbelievable variety of crustaceans and baitfish, making the estuaries home to large numbers of predatory fish.

According to the Department of Natural Resources' Coastal Resources Division, seatrout and red drum are the two most popular fish pursued by Georgia saltwater anglers. They roam these estuaries in the summer months, foraging for food when the weather, although hot, is relatively calm. That allows anglers in almost any size of craft to ply the inlets, sounds and backwaters for these two prized fish.

St. Simons Island sits right in the middle of the Golden Isles of Georgia. In July, the area's waters abound with seatrout and red drum, and those anglers who know the right patterns and typical haunts easily bring home limits of good eating fish.

Looking for some expert advice on catching reds and trout around St. Simons in July, we went to Captain Mark Noble. Capt Noble, who operates the Golden Isles Charter Fishing Association out of Golden Isle Marina on the causeway to St. Simons, is arguably one of the best guides and charter captains on the coast, and is absolutely an expert on inshore fishing for red drum and seatrout. His Outdoor Journal television show is seen weekly across Georgia on area cable channels.

There are two patterns when it comes to trout and red drum: winter and summer. According to Capt. Noble, the summer pattern has these fish out in the big sounds or on the beaches. He fishes the creeks and backwaters in the winter and moves with the fish to the sounds and beaches in the summer.

Trout and red drum inhabit the same areas and generally feed on the same forage, whether it's shrimp or baitfish.

On a typical July trip, Capt. Noble begins by fishing what the tide offers. He understands that moving water and tidal currents are the keys to catching fish. "Regardless of where you fish on the coast," he said, "you have to have moving water to catch any fish."

In the summer months, like July, Capt. Noble fishes an outgoing tide in the sounds. He looks for creeks or sloughs that empty water onto a flat.

Easing up toward the mouth of a creek, he anchors his 24-foot Mako Bay Boat so that the tidal flow out of the creek is within easy casting distance. Other anglers often make the mistake of anchoring right in the mouth of the creek or in the middle of the flow. These fish will spook at the least little thing, and a big boat sitting in a relatively shallow run definitely takes its toll on the bite.

When moving into position, Noble usually cuts the engine as he approaches and allows the boat to continue quietly for a few yards. He then slips an anchor over the bow to secure the boat in just the right place: just in casting range.

"Casting distance" is a relative term, and in Capt. Noble's world, that can be considerable. He uses his own special terminal tackle to achieve some very long casts, which are necessary to enable the boat to be positioned away from the school of fish.

Several newly designed floats captured the attention of Louisiana fishermen when they came on the market a number of years ago. These wire and glass bead-rattling floats took hold and made their way to Georgia. Capt. Noble began using them, but found that they didn't cast as far as he needed. So he sat down and designed his own float, which he called the "Thunder Chicken." Built like others in this class, his is the only one that has a weight molded onto the wire. The weight allows the whole rig to be cast far from the boat, giving him an advantage by reaching fish that are unaware of the boat's presence. This float rig is an important reason for the Captain's success at catching red drum and seatrout.

Under the float, Capt. Noble ties a monofilament leader and attaches to that leader a small Kahle hook. The length of the leader is dictated by the depth of the water he fishes. As an example: Back in a creek on a deep bend, he may use a leader 5 or 6 feet in length. Up on a flat in the sound, he shortens that leader to as little as 2 feet. He matches the water depth in order to allow the bait to move freely at the same depth as the fish.

As far as bait goes, Capt. Noble is a guide and charter captain, so has to put his clients at the best advantage to catch fish or he stands to lose their business. For trout and reds he uses live shrimp almost exclusively. That should tell the average angler something. If he really gets into a hot bite, he breaks out some artificial lures like jigs or screwtails, but his mainstay is live shrimp.

He also uses as small a hook as possible -- one large enough to handle the fish but small enough to hook into shrimp and not be seen. A 2/0 gold Kahle hook does just that. It also is small and light enough to allow the shrimp to swim freely under the float. He hooks the shrimp just behind the horns on the head, taking care not to go through the black spot in the head -- the shrimp's brain.

The shrimp's swimming freely under that float is a key to Captain Noble's success. He believes that a live bait presentation should be as natural as possible. The small hook and long leader allow the shrimp to swim and kick. On some occasions, even with a 6-foot leader, live shrimp can be seen kicking and jumping on the surface around the float -- which usually means that a fish is chasing the bait!

On an outgoing tide, Capt. Noble chooses one of the many creeks that flow out of the marsh and onto a flat in the sound. "Fish will be moving out of those tidal creeks and onto the flat on an outgoing tide," he asserted. "The trick is to set up and cast to that flow as the tide runs out."

Sometimes it takes a stop at two or more creeks to find the active fish, but he usually manages to find them. Fishing every day keeps him informed on fish movement. For those anglers fishing only occasionally, his advice is to move until they find the trout or reds.

If you fish a creek outflow and get no bites in the first 15 minutes, you need to move. Sometimes the fish use one creek, stay there a while, and then move to another. Give the fish a chance to bite, but don't spend all day waiting for that bite.

Both trout and red drum can be found at al

most any creek or flat. The flats that offer the best shot at a substantial amount of fish are those that still have water on them at low tide.

Speaking of tides: You need to be aware of some basics concerning tides and flats. Water depth differences between high and low tide can average 5 or 6 feet in most areas along the Georgia coast. On a full or new moon, that depth difference can be as much as 9 feet. That huge difference results from the sun and moon lining up together in new and full moon phases and providing an extra gravitational pull on the earth's water. That means higher high tides and lower low tides during those phases.

You may be sitting in 7 feet of water, thinking everything is fine, only to find yourself high and dry when the water ran out from under you toward the low tide!

Georgia's sounds all hold trout and red drum during July. One of the places Capt. Noble suggests you try around St. Simons is the south end of St. Simons Sound, to the west of Jekyll Island. Several creeks feed the flats on either side of the Brunswick shipping lanes, and all of them have fish coming off them at some point. It is a matter of moving until you find them.

A little farther south, Jekyll Creek runs along the west side of Jekyll Island. This is a wide creek that has been dredged for the Intracoastal Waterway. As the tide drops, both banks of the creek reveal large mud flats on both sides of the bridge connecting the mainland to the island. Fish these flats on an outgoing tide with live shrimp under a Thunder Chicken float rig. That float rig will allow you to station the boat in water deep enough to float the boat at low tide, and yet still make long casts up onto the flat. A 2- or 3-foot leader is all that is needed to allow the shrimp to swim on these shallow flats.

Even farther south, St.. Andrews Sound offers Umbrella Creek and Dover Creek feeding in from the west side. On an outgoing tide, they offer an excellent opportunity to find fish coming out of the creeks.

To the north from Golden Isle Marina, the Altamaha Sound offers even more opportunities to find redfish and trout on an outgoing tide.

The Hampton River that separates Little St. Simons Island from St. Simons Island is also loaded with small creeks and outflows that hold fish.

Capt. Noble also catches seatrout, in particular, with another totally different approach than that used in the sounds. All during the summer months you find him fishing the surf from his boat during some part of the day. In the summer, trout spawn up and down the beaches along the coast. Big female roe trout are schooled with the males for their spawning ritual.

Capt. Noble runs out of St. Simons Sound on calm days and heads north or south along the beaches to find a school of trout.

To the south, he heads for the beach on Cumberland Island. That seems like a long run, but he has a reason. Jekyll, St. Simons, and Little St. Simons islands don't allow fishing vessels within 1000 feet of their beaches. That is too far out to find the trout that Capt. Noble targets. So, Cumberland is his destination to the south.

To the north, Capt. Noble can fish the beach and surf around Big and Little Egg islands or Wolf Island. Whichever beach he chooses, his tactics are the same.

"These big roe trout are here spawning along the beaches almost the entire summer," he said, "and they can be caught if you approach them right."

Approaching them right is crucial to your fishing success. If you run down the beach close to the back of the surf, you run every fish off. These fish are holding in the color break just behind the breakers. They are sensitive to and wary of any boat noise.

Capt. Noble advises that you run well off the beach until you find an area you want to fish. Then idle perpendicular to the shore. Cut the engine and allow the boat to coast to the position from which you plan to fish. Then very quietly lower the anchor.

If you have an east wind, the back of the boat should be within casting distance to the actual shoreline. If you have a west wind, the bow of the boat should be in that casting range. Too close and you spook the fish. Too far off and you can't cast to them. Once again Capt. Noble's float rig provides the casting distance needed to reach those fish.

The key to locating trout along the beach is obviously to look for birds diving and feeding or obvious schools of baitfish. In addition, you need to look for that break in color between the grayish brown beach water and the clear green seawater. That break line is usually right about where a wave breaks next to the shore.

These fish tend to run in and out of that color break, feeding on baitfish and crustaceans washed about by the surf. We are talking about water that is sometimes only 2 feet or less in depth.

Cast a float rig baited with a live shrimp on a short leader right up to the color break. These floats have glass and brass clicking beads that act to draw the fish when popped by your rod tip. Simply jerk the line from time to time and watch for the float to disappear.

Remember that you are using small Kahle hooks, a close cousin to a circle hook. When the float goes under start reeling slowly until the line tightens before trying to set the hook. That gives the fish time to get the entire bait into its mouth. More often than not, they set the hook on themselves.

On the beach, you never know what you might catch. While the trout are there, a variety of other fish are there as well, all feeding on the same bait. In the summer tarpon, ladyfish, and others are frequently encountered on the beach. On more than one occasion, a tarpon has taken a hooked trout off Capt. Noble's line. One even inhaled his Thunder Chicken float, and because the float got wedged in the fish's throat, it provided quite a fight on light tackle. The float came loose at boat side, and the fish swam free!

Summer is red drum and seatrout time on the Georgia Coast, and St. Simons Island is right in the thick of the action. Whether you fish the sounds or the beaches, the fish are there waiting for you.

Plan a trip to the coast this month. If you want an expert guide to take you, call Captain Mark Noble at Golden Isle Marina. He can be reached at (912) 638-7673 or through his Web site, the address for which is www.goldenislesfishing.com

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