By: Bert Deener, GA DNR Fisheries Biologist

(Deener’s reports can also be found in the Waycross Journal Herald on Thursdays)

Timothy Deener (left) holds one of the nice fliers that Nathanael Johnson (right) caught in the Okefenokee on Monday.
Timothy Deener (left) holds one of the nice fliers that Nathanael Johnson (right) caught in the Okefenokee on Monday.

The reports were pretty good from ponds and the swamp this week. Crappie and fliers were tops this week in freshwater. In saltwater, trout and sheepshead are in their winter pattern and are biting.  New moon is Jan. 30, the second new moon this month. To monitor all the Georgia river levels, visit the USGS website.

Altamaha River – The river level is headed back up after another round of mid-state rains.  Connie at Jaycee Landing Bait and Tackle reported that some long-time shad fishermen caught the most catfish they had seen in years in their mid-river nets.  When the river drops out this spring, catfish catches by rod and reel should be excellent. The Darien area could produce some channel catfish by fishing cut shad or other baitfish, worms, shrimp or chicken livers on the bottom in deep holes. Expect to catch quite a few white catfish too. Channel cats have deeply-forked tails and spots, while white cats don’t have spots and have a less deeply-forked tail. The river level was 14.8 feet (well-over flood stage and 47 degrees) and rising at the Baxley gage, and 11.0 feet and rising (50 degrees) at the Doctortown gage on Jan. 21.

Satilla River – At the current rate of drop, the river should be within the banks by the weekend if we don’t get any more rain.  It’s still too high and cold for good chances of success, except for crappie.  Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle in Waycross said some crappie bit in the oxbows and mouths of sloughs, especially in the upriver areas (Jamestown and above) this week. Minnows were the best bait. The river level at the Waycross gage was 10.8 feet and falling (49 degrees) and at the Atkinson gage was 10.8 feet and falling (49 degrees) on Jan. 21.

Local Ponds – Michael Winge of Winge’s Bait and Tackle said that crappie in Waycross area ponds were tops.  Some slabs were caught this week on minnows, especially on sunny, warm afternoons. Jigs (mostly curly-tail grubs) also fooled some crappie. With the cold forecasted for late in the week, trolling curly-tail grubs in the deepest part of the pond will likely produce the most because the technique covers lots of water to help you find active fish.

Okefenokee Swamp – I’ve been forecasting good swamp fishing, but no one has reported since before Christmas.  I quit waiting for others to report back and took my son (Timothy) and brother-in-law and nephew (Ron and Nathanael Johnson) to the east side on Monday afternoon. We fished a little less than two hours and caught 46 fliers in 48-degree water temperatures. Our biggest was 8 inches. It was a great bite on the sunny afternoon, and the fliers ate sallies up even in the cold water. Ron and Nathanael caught some on Ellie’s super worms (red wigglers grown by my daughter), but most ate pink Okefenokee Sallies. We tried yellow sallies and had to work hard to get 2 fish to eat them, so we switched back to pink and started catching them again. The water clarity was good, and the level was high enough so that getting around was easy. You could tell that the trail cutter was used last year and that we’ve had some hard freezes, as the vegetation was knocked back significantly.  Some additional hard freezes this week should do nothing but continue to improve the weed situation.  The canals should stay relatively clear of weeds through mid-summer.

Saltwater (Georgia Coast) – Capt. Andy Gowen has been putting it on the trout, redfish and black drum in the St. Marys area. The fish are upriver in their typical wintertime haunts. He caught several redfish and black drum this week on Elaztec lures skewered on a jighead and bounced along bottom. The pogy oil in the lures must be strong if black drum ate them. Anglers fishing the Brunswick area reported catching a few redfish and black drum and good numbers of sheepshead by fishing pilings and rocks. Mike and Trish Wooten of St. Simons Bait & Tackle said that pier fishing has been slow, as few anglers were fishing. A few croakers were caught over the weekend. They said the better bet was to fish for trout and redfish under the pilings and bridges along the causeway. Lots of both species were caught this week.

Best Bet – Another cold snap is headed our way late in the week, but temperatures are forecasted as moderate by the weekend. Expect the morning bites to be slow, but the afternoons should have some fish looking for a meal. In freshwater, fliers in the Okefenokee would be a good bet on sunny afternoons. Pink sallies worked last weekend in the cold water, so I would start with them and switch colors if need be. Crappie in ponds is a good bet this weekend. Fish the deepest water, trolling with curly-tail grubs or fishing minnows deep. Sheepshead and trout fishing will likely be your best bet in saltwater.

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