Capt. Judy Helmey offers her spring fishing report for the region, inshore and off
Well, it’s finally happened. The water temperature is now hovering over 65 degrees in the southeast. And like I say, “when it’s 65 everything comes alive!” All this boils down to is that we are catching fish while bottom-fishing in the sounds and the rivers connected to them. For those fishermen that just want to go fishing while leaving the technical stuff out of it, now is the time!
The recipe for catching whiting is to just fish on the bottom in around 15-18 feet of water. I suggest that you anchor near a sand- or mud-bar, which seems to always get this fish’s attention. In the whiting world we have small – sometimes referred to as juveniles – and mediums – which we call ladies and gentlemen. When a whiting is larger than most it’s called a ‘bull’! Over this past week while just fishing in the sound we caught juveniles, ladies and gentlemen, and a few bulls. Kind of sounds like some sort of secret code doesn’t it? The bottom line is that these fish aren’t what we call ‘big boys’, but it certainly is a lot of fun catching them on light tackle.
Small pieces of peeled shrimp, pieces of not-peeled shrimp, shrimp heads and small pieces of cut whiting work well as bait when targeting whiting. But here’s the thing – when fishing these areas for whiting, I suggest putting one of those whiting out for bait. It’s best you use whiting as bait when they are alive. As far as hooking the bait up, I suggest doing so behind the dorsal fin. This set-up allows the whiting to swim freely, but while doing so, distress signals are sent out, bringing in the attention of larger fish. While using this technique you could find yourself catching some interesting fish. As far as what we caught this past week – spinners, bulls, and black tip sharks! Our crazy spring bite is on!!
THE BIG RED-FISH SNUB
I think that it’s time that we fishermen understand that just maybe the old red fish has had enough of us chasing and spying on him. Even if they can’t talk, the signs are there. For instance, on some days – especially the sunny ones – the old red fish will pick up your bait, but won’t try to eat it. And here’s the thing: if you set the hook too soon, your almost hooked-up fish will be gone. So with this scenario in mind, I suggest casting into place and putting your rod into the holder or just laying it down. The best thing then is not to watch your cork, but the end of your rod only!
During this time of year, the finding and purchasing of different kinds of bait can be a problem, because sometimes there isn’t a bunch of availability. Here’s what I do know will work now, but not all of the time. Mud minnows work lip-hooked under popping or adjustable corks. They will also work when used without a cork. Another bait that works like a charm is ‘old smelly’ – last season’s frozen shrimp, which hopefully were packaged with the heads on. Fresh dead, live, or frozen mullet and fresh flash frozen shrimp purchased at the seafood section of your grocery store are also good.
SAVANNAH SNAPPER BANKS
There is good news…vermilion snapper – also known as ‘b-liners’ – season opens April 1, circle hook only!
The requirement to use non-stainless circle hooks north of 28ºN latitude went into effect March 3, 2011. You can use regular “J” hooks at the Savannah River Jetties, the inshore waters, and beachfronts, but when you move to the offshore waters all hooks when targeting fish listed in the snapper-grouper complex must use circle hooks.
Best bait to use when targeting the vermilion snapper is cut squid, cut fish, fresh frozen cigar minnows, and / or Spanish sardines. If you want to target the larger vermilion over the smaller ones I have come up with ‘Capt. Judy’s Vermilion Catching Formula.’ Read on.
When there is a school of vermilion hovering over the ledge, it seems that the larger ones can be found on the top layer. This means the larger vermilion suspend over the smaller ones. I am always suggesting to my customers to drop to the bottom and then to reel up about 10-15 times. On my reels (4/0 Penn reels), every time you complete one turn on the reel you have retrieved about one foot of line. Once situated about 10-15 feet off the bottom, I usually suggest setting the hook every time you get a bite. However, since we are now using circle hooks, in this same scenario I would suggest instead slowly dropping your rod when you receive a bite. Believe me, with the circle hooks our customers are going to have great time catching more and missing less fish!
THE TOWER OF POWER
I am always talking about fishing around, over, and on the outskirts of ‘structures’. Well, think of the old Navy towers as one of those very good ‘structures’ that hold fish, it just happens to stick out of the water. Here are a few tips.
The legs that hold the towers up are great places for small fish to feed and feel safe. All larger fish know this. So therefore, snacking around the legs is always a good place to find something to eat. It’s also a good place to run around in the event that you are a big fish when hooked up. The fish might not understand what the pressure is that they are feeling when hooked, but they do know and learn that running through the legs of the tower some times offers a bit of relief. So as far as you can see down into the water the tower’s supports (legs) are holding the attentions of fish.
The towers also offer shade on the water at different times in different places. The sun as it rises or falls, causes the shade coverings to move around the towers. You know this and the fish know this. So therefore working the shaded areas around the tower is a good thing, because the fish are going to do the exact same thing.
All towers have what I called “make up”. This is a pattern where the fish normally hold. Take for instance the M2R6 Navy tower, also known as the ‘middle snapper banks tower’. It has quite a bit of “make up”. I know for a fact that if I troll 160 degrees out from the leg facing southeast, I most likely will catch king mackerel. It seems that the kings hold out and away from the tower to keep away from the toothy monsters (barracuda). The hits I have received working this area have mostly been while heading away from the tower. I know all this sounds crazy, but over the years “make ups” happen.
INTO THE GULF STREAM
It’s now time to make your plan to go bluewater fishing! Believe me, it doesn’t matter whether it’s for bottom fishing or trolling, it’s happening right now! All that’s left to do is to take that blue water ride!
Thanks for reading and hope to catch you next month!
Captain Judy Helmey operates Miss Judy Charters out of Savannah Georgia. She puts out a regular fishing report online, and will be contributing regularly to All at Sea SOUTHEAST. Capt. Judy has been “kicking fish tail since 1956.” Check her out online at www.missjudycharters.com