Fall 2021 Fishing Report Coastal Georgia

Scott OwensGeorgia Fishing Reports

Fall 2021 Fishing Report

First and foremost, I would like to thank all of our loyal and wonderful clients who have stuck with us over the years through great fishing days and even some not so great fishing days every now and then. We truly appreciate you. We cannot thank you enough for your continued support and we look forward to many more days and memories made with you on the water. Now ,on to what will be a broad report about the area, fishery, and what is to possibly come of all of it.

Fishing in 2021 has been a roller coaster. Like most years it’s had its ups and it’s downs. Mother Nature continued to remind us that she is in charge with some crazy weather patterns this year which included loads of rain, flooded rivers, cooler than average temperatures, and winds that would not let up. We fought through it though and had some pretty epic days but they were shadowed this year by a lot of tough ones. 

Just got to get it out

One thing I have learned over my 45 years on this planet we call home is that humans can fuck up, trash, and pollute anything beautiful and great for the almighty dollar or just because of laziness. I’m really coming to the conclusions that it’s our responsibility as individuals to take up the slack of lazy government, sorry people, and even ourselves sometimes to protect and cleanup the habitats, ecosystems, and waterways that fish and wildlife live in.  So, remember to try and do more is my goal and promise to myself and my clients.

The reasoning

So, that last paragraph seemed kind of negative and I didn’t mean it to at all, it’s just the truth. Let me tell you where it’s coming from. In the last decade, fishermen and women have watched their Inshore, Nearshore, and Offshore fishing decline. Not just here but in almost every body of water up and down the East Coast, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific Coast. In my backyard it’s been redfish, trout, flounder, black drum, hell you name it and the old timers will tell you “how good it use to be”. This goes for the offshore and nearshore species as well with the exception of Red Snapper which have flourished in numbers due to almost a decade-long closure.

Possible Causes of more recent issues here in Georgia

Since Sep  2019 we have watched St. Simons Sound be polluted day in and day out by an almost 700 ft  car carrier that rolled over and sank in the inlet, which is the artery of clean ocean water that feeds St  Simons Sound. There were so many different oils and chemicals leaching out of the scuttled ship, it would take me a page just to name them all.

Cleanup has taken a staggering 2 years and 3 months and as I type…..it is still ongoing!  Several fires onboard the ship polluted the air so badly that the beach and pier on Jekyll were closed down temporarily and oils inundated marshes and beaches. I mean it was and is a mess.

The 27 month process saw the ship cut into 8 separate pieces and lifted onto barges to be hauled off for salvage.  The last piece of the ship was removed about a month ago and now they are working to clean all the extra debris off the sea floor such as the cars, trucks, and SUVs along with car parts and parts of the ship that fell to the bottom while salvage efforts were under way.   The great news is that they have after all this time come so much closer to the full removal of the ship the Golden Ray. I can only pray we have learned from this human error caused accident and move forward with plans and preparations for future accidents that may happen.  I guess time will tell……I know Many of us cannot wait to cross St Simons Sound on a crisp calm morning and not see the mess that’s plagued and disturbed our fishing and estuary for over 2 years.

Golden Ray Golden Ray St. Simons Island Golden Ray

Water Quality has been a challenge on the Georgia Coast with many many Super Fund Sites some of which have been cleaned up and some not. Development on the Georgia Coast is booming and as we have seen from our neighbors to the south in Florida, this development can have some really awful effects.

Limits on both size and numbers, know as creel limits are out dated and need to be updated by our State’s Department of Natural Resources, Coastal Resource Division. Some Changes over the years have happened; such as the change in Triple Tail size and creel limits and the change of the minimum size of trout from 13 to 14. But, there needs to be more done to protect this fragile ecosystem.  Here is where we stand:

Speckled Sea Trout
  • Georgia Limit: 14 inches – 15 Per Person with no boat limit and captain and crew can keep their limit as well.
  • Florida (Northeast Region) Limit:  5 Per Person with a slot of 15-19 inches 1 per vessel over 19. Zero captain and crew limit when “for hire” trip.
  • South Caroline Limit: 14 inches- 10 Per Person
Red drum
  • Georgia Limit: 5 Per Person with a slot of 14-23 inches with no boat limit and captain and crew can keep their limit as well.
  • Florida Limit: 2 Per person 8 per vessel max with a slot of 18-27 inches Zero captain and crew limit when “for hire” trip.
  • South Carolina Limit: 2 per person not to exceed 6 per boat with a slot of 15-23
Flounder
  • Georgia Limit: 15 Per Person minimum size 12 inches with no boat limit and captain and crew can keep their limit as well.
  • Florida Limit: 5 Per person minimum size 14 inches Closed to harvest annually Oct. 15 – Nov. 30th. Zero captain and crew limit when “for hire” trip.
  • South Carolina Limit: 16 inches – 5 per person not to exceed 10 per boat
Black Drum
  • Georgia Limit: 15 Per Person minimum size 14 inches with no boat limit and captain and crew can keep their limit as well.
  • Florida Limit: 5 Per person. with a slot of  14 – 24 inches with 1 fish allowed over 24 inches. Zero captain and crew limit when “for hire” trip.
  • South Carolina Limit: 5 per person with a slot of 14 to 27 inches
Sheepshead
  • Georgia Limit: 15 Per Person minimum size 10 inches with no boat limit and captain and crew can keep their limit as well.
  • Florida Limit: 8 Per person. minimum 12 inches. Note there is a 50 per trip per vessel March and April. Zero captain and crew limit when “for hire” trip.
  • South Carolina Limit: 10 per person not to exceed 30 per boat with a minimum size of 14 inches

As you can see, Georgia is a good bit behind the times and needs to get with the program. Go to any marina, boat ramp, or local fishing pier and talk to any local fisherman who has been fishing here more than a few years and fishes more than a day a month and I bet they will tell you they have never seen the fishing so poor!  As guides, we have watched flat after flat become a desert up and down the entire coast.  Redfish schools have all but disappeared on shallow flats in the last 25 years and the Department Of Natural Resources’ own data shows a 20 year decline with its worst data year as 2020. Yet, recreational fishermen and women as well as the majority of guides are met time and time again with resistance when the questions about the state of our fishery are asked. Ask about creel and size limit reductions on key species and the door gets slammed.  I, myself, have been preaching this for some 15 + years and have tried to even work with them to educate and share what I have seen with thousands of days on the water for over 25 years here in Georgia.  I, as many, don’t understand it. I ask, plead, pray, and even beg them to see the light.  Just look at our 2 neighboring coastal states to the north and south.  Our limits are just a slap in the face to states trying to do the right thing and manage their fisheries better for future generations to come.  At any rate, if you have fished this coast long enough…..with or without a guide….. you have seen the decline.  I think most of us just want to see a healthy sustainable fishery for years to come.

DNR Survey HERE

The Hunt and the Bite we all love.

Fall has somehow come and gone although it’s 80 degrees today!  It’s 12 days to Christmas and we are coming off a new moon and the last of our guided Marsh Hen (Clapper Rails) hunts of the year.  It was a great season with more birds than I remember in past seasons.  Mother Nature helped make it quite interesting for several hunts with 20-30mph winds and even higher gusts.  It flooded so high a couple weekends that we could push the skiffs through the parking lots of the boat ramps to our trucks to load them instead of backing the trailer down the ramp to the boat!! It was incredible and so much fun hunting in those conditions.  I know that sounds crazy but when it comes to hunting rails…..the higher the tide, the better and the harder the wind blows  and the faster they fly! It was a blast and 2021 will be remembered by a lots of guides and their clients as “one for the books”.

Marsh Hen Hunting Marsh Hen Hunting Marsh Hen Hunting

Fishing this fall has been decent. We have had to work for it but it’s been good. The Bull reds showed up in their usual spot along the beaches on sand bars, cuts, and in the rivers but didn’t seem to be in great numbers this year as some years past. It’s like that with them.  For some reason its an ebb and flow with great years at times and so so years like this one at others.  Don’t get me wrong.  We had some stellar days, as did a few of my other peers, but it wasn’t one of those years that makes you go “wow”!!! This year was more of one that made me say “man, did we have to work for them!”.  It was warm and water temps stayed warm through Nov. so that had something to do with it, I’m sure.  Cut Mullet on bottom rigs was as always the “go to” bait. Click HERE for Near Shore trip info

Fall 2021 Fishing Report Coastal Georgia Fall 2021 Fishing Report Coastal Georgia Fall 2021 Fishing Report Coastal Georgia Fall 2021 Fishing Report Coastal Georgia St Simons Island Fall 2021 Fishing Report Coastal Georgia St Simons Island Fall 2021 Fishing Report Coastal Georgia St Simons Island Fall 2021 Fishing Report Coastal Georgia Sea Island Fall 2021 Fishing Report Coastal Georgia Sea Island Fall 2021 Fishing Report Coastal Georgia Sea Island st Simons island fishing report 2021 st Simons island fishing report 2021 st Simons island fishing report 2021

Inshore was somewhat of the same but when the tides and weather have cooperated it was great. There have been plenty of trout, black drum, and some juvenile red drum around and keeping rods bent hasn’t been a problem.  It’s been nice to see but we have some work to do as individuals to make it better.  I don’t know if we will ever see it like it was years past but, who knows? More people are fishing now than ever and more people are vocal about the fishery.  The people that hunt and read this will understand this analogy but if you’re hunting private lands and shooting every 2 1/2 year old eight point you see then you will more than likely run out of eight points and never see a 10 or 12pt. You have to let some go to ensure a better experience the following year and I feel that same mentality should go towards fishing. Don’t fill that cooler every time you go….maybe just take enough fish for dinner. I was just talking to a friend of mine last night who is an avid hunter and fisherman and who probably spends as many days or more on the water and in the woods than most guides . He told me that every time he releases a really nice fish it just makes him smile and what he gets is much better “happy” than if he put it in the cooler. He keeps his share of fish and harvests his share of deer, hog, and turkey but says he has seen the decline and doesn’t see it getting better with current regulations.
If we want to be honest with ourselves, I think we can all agree that memories in the past seem to be greater than memories of current both in quality and quantity of the inshore fish we bring boat side.

One thing I have noticed is that the trout this fall season have been more likely to eat artificial lures than live shrimp under a popping cork.  Many days we would stop at a great spot to cast a shrimp and piping cork and nothing….. So I’d suggest trying an artificial and fish on! My go to this season has been a D.O.A. Paddle tail in white with a chartreuse tail on a 1/4 oz jig head.. They have not only out fished live shrimp but seem to produce better quality trout as well.

The redfish debate.

Well, the debate on the state of Redfish population in Georgia is still ongoing.  This is  something that I personally have been preaching for over 15 years and seems to be a very hot topic with more and more recreational fisherman and guides on our coast.  I think most are in agreement that we are at a point where something needs to change. That “something” is what everyone is debating since there is no commercial red drum fishery.  Most, if not all, of the pressure that is put on these fish is the direct result of recreational fishing, water quality, and habitat loss. Keep in mind, guides fall under recreational fishermen. Numbers of Redfish in Coastal Georgia hit an all time low in 2020 as I mentioned above according to the Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resource Division. They do a gillnet survey as well as a tagging program using recreational fisherman and guides. The outcome in 2020 was alarming but, for some reason nothing has been done. Redfish stocks are cyclical….meaning they have up and down years….but, the overall trend in the last 20 years of data collection by the Coastal Resources Division has been predominantly negative. The data shows a 20 year decline overall of a substantial amount. It’s disturbing that nothing has been done and that there is so much resistance on their end and unwillingness to talk about it.

All of the guides here at Southeastern Angling have practiced “catch and release” on red drum for over 10 years.  Being shallow water fisherman and spending a lot of time in water less than a foot deep on a polling platform, we saw the decline coming and I feel we saw it first. When entire flats holding large populations of red drum were emptied by overfishing, red flags flew but heads turned and no one cared.  I watched flat after flat and school after school just disappear and the result is that it’s almost embarrassing some days to charge a client.  There are fish but unlike years ago, the fish have to be happy, Mother Nature has to be nice, and guide and client teams have to be on their “A” game.

Don’t get me wrong…… there are still a few fish around to catch but it’s nothing like it was just 6,7,8,9,10 years ago.  From what I witnessed, it all started to go down hill fast in 2011/12 after we had an incredibly cold winter.  If you all remember, south Florida was devastated and the state took drastic measures and shut down the harvest of snook, trout, and more. The freezes killed all species of fish, dolphins, manatees, alligators, the American crocodile and so much more in Florida.  Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina we all met with water temps that killed Speckled Sea Trout and more and NC and SC closed the harvest of Trout down.  Georgia, on the other hand, did as always and was “business as usual” unwilling to recognize what was right there in front of them.

HOPE

I think there is hope.  I let it all out on this report because it needs to be said and repeated.  There are more people who are involved in the outdoors than ever and there are a lot of them who have seen just enough to worry them that it is going in a bad direction.  The problem for a lot of people is something called Shifting Baseline. A great quote and example for Shifting Baseline is “Why is it that a young fisherman views his catch of a few scrawny trout or redfish as natural, while an old-timer sees it as the sad scraps of an ecosystem that once brimmed with abundant wildlife?” 

Basically, a young fisherman or women only knows what they have experienced. If the first day they go fishing they only catch a few fish and have a great time, that’s what they expect from the fishery and that is considered their baseline. An older fishermen or women who has been fishing an area for many decades and saw the fishery wild and full of fish looks at the current catch of today only to think back to how good it was in his or her early years. That is a shifting baseline and more people need to understand that.

Bottom Line…….. fishing is a great past time.  It is a way for families, friends, and perfect strangers to make memories, experience the outdoors, put food on the table and so much more.  I have some of my best memories on the water. Friendships between perfect strangers are born through just a day on the water whether from boat, beach, dock, or pier and that’s worth protecting.

Tight Lines

Capt. Scott