Are you looking for a different sort of fishing trip where the scenery is spectacular, the boat traffic is minimal and the action is hot? You can’t do much better than a trip down the Satilla River in South Georgia going after redbreasts, otherwise known as “red bellies” to the locals. The Satilla is your best chance in the southeastern United States to catch a red breast over a pound.
Those who fish the river on a regular basis call these trophies “roosters.” If you take on this challenge your reward will be a feisty pull on the end of your line, lots of action and the best tasting fish to ever grace a frying pan. As a bonus you will see some of the most spectacular sugar white sandbars and glorious river country found on the planet.
The Satilla River begins in Ben Hill County close to Fitzgerald and winds about 260 miles east and southeast until it empties into the Atlantic Ocean about 10 miles south of Brunswick. The water is full of tannins making it the color of iced tea as is typical in many of the streams and rivers of South Georgia. It is a free flowing river, unimpeded by dams and at summer flows can be difficult to navigate above Waycross unless you have the right boat and equipment. Some would say that the area below Waycross is better for anglers but that is not to say that the fishing is necessarily better, but rather is a statement about the ease of movement.
Here are a few things you need to know to have a memorable trip.
The peak months are typically late spring right on up through the summer when the river flows are lower. If you are looking for a fall trip October and November will be best. The proper water level is one of the biggest keys to success. There are two river gauges (Waycross and Atkinson) that can be consulted by getting on the internet at www.waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv?02226500. The information there will tell you the present readings at those two places. It will also tell you that the best fishing is when the gauges read four to eight feet at Waycross and three to seven feet at Atkinson. I don’t believe that is completely correct. The top ends of those measurements indicate that the river is full, so try to time your trip when the gauges read at least a couple of feet below those levels. If you go when the water is at eight feet on the Waycross gauge you are going to find a swifter current and encounter more difficulty locating fish.
Your choice of boat is going to be another key to a successful and enjoyable trip. It’s best to use a smaller craft. Best case scenario here is a small gas motor (10 HP or less) and a bow mounted trolling motor. You need a boat that is stable, easy to navigate, has a built in live well and is roomy enough to carry the equipment you will need. It is also easier to put in and take out at some of the boat ramps you will encounter. Many of these ramps are in poor condition.
As far as tackle is concerned, light spinning reels on short poles loaded with six to eight pound test line are the best. They are easier to throw to the target areas you will encounter and also give you the maximum enjoyment when the fight is on. Nothing wrong with spin casting outfits either like Zebco 33’s. Don’t take your bait casting outfits on this trip. They are a waste of space.
The best live bait to use is crickets under a cork and the best lures are small beetle spins (about one-eighth ounce) in the dark colors with small light stripes. When fishing with live bait a small number six or eight hook is probably best with just a very small split shot to weight it down. Put on an additional split shot if the current seems to be keeping your bait from hanging straight down. The depth to fish is going to vary a little but most of the time it is no more than two feet. Worms of different kinds can be successful as can small rooster tails. The beetle spins are most effective when the water temperatures rise into the 70s.
When targeting redbreasts look for woody cover in the mainstream of the river channel as well as in oxbow lakes in lower areas of the river. If the water is a little higher than the optimal level, look for slack water just off the current line, back eddies, and the downstream side of sandbars. You may catch other types of fish as well because shell crackers, spotted sunfish, bluegills, bullhead catfish and flathead catfish abound.
There is a nice boat ramp outside Blackshear, which is about nine miles from Waycross. To get there, take Highway 84 from Waycross to Blackshear. On your right in town you will see a store called Do It Best Hardware. You can pick up live bait, lures and light tackle there. Once you leave there proceed a couple more blocks until you reach Highway 121 South and turn right. It is about six miles out to the river and ramp.
Richardson writes for the Statesboro Herald.