Are you ready for a little summer fishing adventure? In South Georgia the red breast sunfish is one of the greatest fishing prizes available. You will be rewarded with one of the tastiest fish on the planet and treated to some glorious scenery along the way. These fish are typically called red bellies by the locals and the goal is to catch a “rooster” which is a fish over a pound. All summer long you can count on this being a great trip to go on because the water levels are at their lowest and that’s the time to catch a big batch of these feisty fish.
Several South Georgia rivers have large populations of red breasts. The very best of these is the Satilla River which flows from around Fitzgerald all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Your bonus on this river will be the dozens and dozens of sugar white sand bars that dot the way on your journey. Although difficult to navigate above Waycross, this river is the best one in the country for catching red bellies over a pound. There are others that offer similar opportunities such as the Withlacoochee between Tifton and Valdosta, the Alapaha between Vienna and Statenville, Little River below Lenox, the Saint Marys on the Georgia – Florida border and the Ochlocknee that flows from Sylvester into Apalachee Bay in Florida. Red bellies are not the only thing you will catch. You can expect to catch shell crackers, spotted sunfish, bluegills, bullhead catfish and flathead catfish.
The best bet for bait is to use live crickets fished no more than two feet under a cork. This time of year you can also catch these fish with small beetle spins (about an eighth of an ounce) in the dark colors with light stripes. You can also do well with worms, and small rooster tails. Light line (six or eight pound test), very small hooks (number six or eight), and small split shot are all the order of the day.
The requirements for the trip are fairly simple. A small boat with about a ten horsepower gasoline motor, a trolling motor, and most any kind of light or ultra light rod and reels are the basics. Additionally I would suggest the following items: bottled water, sunscreen, insect repellent, a boat paddle and a small anchor. It’s also smart to wear some old tennis shoes because you may encounter situations that require getting out of the boat to get around blow downs or shallow areas. All of these will be put to good use on your excursion down the river. Don’t forget Coast Guard approved life jackets and registration numbers on your boat in case you are checked by a ranger. It is worth mentioning that a lot of the boat ramps and places where you launch can be primitive. Take a boat that two people can handle manually unless you are familiar with the place where you plan to put your boat in.
As you move down the river target woody cover in the main flow as well as oxbow lakes. Another good place is the downstream side of the sandbars and slack water just off the current line. Once you hook up a few of these little fighters you’ll realize that their reputation as a gallant game fish is well earned. They will make your drag sing and once landed you will get to see a fish of striking beauty.
Be sure to pack a lunch and take a restful break on one of the sandbars. It’s hard to beat the shade of a riverbank, the sounds of the river as it gurgles past and a sandwich (with a beverage of your choice) to enhance the day and your experience. It is just one of the many highlights of your voyage.
One other thing that might be helpful is to check the water level before you leave. This can be done via the Internet. Go to www.waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv?02226500 and look at the gauge for Waycross. If the water level at Waycross is less than eight feet you should be good to go (for the Satilla River.) The level will go up and down depending on recent rainfall but usually falls pretty quickly this time of year.
I must stress in closing that the heat and insects this time of year can be aggravating if you don’t prepare properly. Pack that sunscreen, water, and insect repellent.
I’ve been on the Satilla trip a few times so if you need some help just send me a message. Good fishing.