Georgia’s coast sees an encore of fish September through March.
By Rebecca McCormick
Fishing may bring to mind summer days spent on the water, but cooler weather brings another season for families to bait their lines. An all-star cast of Sea Island catches entices anglers to get on board with the sport throughout the entire year.
“The nutrient-rich environment of our saltwater marshes produces some of the best fishing on the East Coast,” says Mike Kennedy, Sea Island’s director of recreation. “For that reason, sport fishing has become a popular year-round family tradition right alongside bingo.”
Kennedy knows firsthand about fishing as a time-honored family institution. Thirty years ago, his father moved from New York to St. Simons Island to open a fly-fishing shop and become a guide. Ten years later, Kennedy’s brother also moved down to fish and recently opened his own tackle store. “I started my fishing career 16 years ago and have been at Sea Island the past 14 of those years,” Kennedy explains.
According to Kennedy, any time of year is a perfect time to fish at Sea Island, but fall and winter provide opportunities unique to cooler weather. Although redfish populate the surrounding waters year round, anglers take advantage of the time between September and March to fish for the species that commonly grow quite large. “As the water temperature drops to the mid- to low-70s, migratory fish leave, but resident species school up inshore in big numbers, which makes it prime time to catch fish,” he explains. “We cruise the sounds and tidal creeks with popping corks (corks that imitate the sound of fish feeding, attracting the attention of gamefish), live shrimp and sometimes artificial bait to attract trout, flounder, whiting and redfish.”
Dooley Miller, boat captain at Sea Island for more than a decade, echoes Kennedy’s sentiments about the popularity of family fishing at the resort. “Probably 80 percent of the guests who fish with us are families,” he says. “Half of those have never fished before, which is exciting to us, because there’s no bigger thrill than helping someone land their first catch—whether they’re 5 or 55. We especially like seeing the kids get hooked on the sport. Every year, we get cards and letters from parents who say that’s all their children talk about after they get home. We’ve even received copies of report papers and science projects produced as a result of kids having had a positive fishing experience here at Sea Island.”
Sea Island maintains a fleet of five charter boats with six full-time captains, all of whom are longtime residents of the area. “Our privilege is to collaborate with our guests to customize each trip according to their needs and skill level to produce the best experience possible in accordance with what the fisheries are doing,” Miller says. “For example, reef fishing from flat-bottomed boats is especially popular with young families. Every time you drop a bait, you’re likely to … catch a fish.
“Anglers with a little more advanced skill can enjoy casting or working a popping cork to land trout and redfish,” he adds. “Somebody else, on the other hand, just might want the excitement of pulling in a big fish like a bull red. For that, the boat will be rocking in the surf over sandbars. Occasionally, we have guests who want a sight fishing experience that requires the finesse of a fly rod to make the perfect presentation that entices the fish to eat without getting spooked. Whatever the focus or skill level, we’re happy to accommodate our guests.”
Kennedy and Miller agree a big component of every fishing expedition is the thriving ecosystem that makes it all possible. “The marshes are not only ripe with educational opportunities, but they also provide some of the most scenic beauty anywhere, especially in the golden light of sunsets,” Kennedy says. “All our fishing guides act as naturalists who are eager to share the history of the region as well as their expertise developed from having spent years observing wildlife like bottlenose dolphins and shorebirds in the area. We love pulling up crab traps to show kids hundreds of tiny animals thriving in that one little spot of this amazing habitat. … It’s easy to see why we think this is a pretty special place.”
“This is about more than fishing to us,” Miller adds. “When little ones are with us in the boat, we want to put something in their minds and hearts they can take home and remember until they come back next time.”