In addition to the traditional wait-and-see experience, anglers at Sea Island can try their hand at sight-fishing, an exciting opportunity to target specific fish in hopes of luring them to the line.
By Sue G. Collins
Capt. Reid Williams can talk for hours on end about the challenges and excitement of sight-fishing—the sport of hunting for fish, knowing which are ready to strike, then waiting patiently to accurately cast when you’ve finally eyeballed the potential catch. The intricacies of the hunt are many, as anglers must understand when and where the fish school, spawn and feed, as well as how they startle.
Williams joined the team of experienced guides at Sea Island 10 years ago and knows the landscape like the back of his hand. The waterways that surround the resort and its barrier islands offer some of the best year-round fishing on the East Coast. The plethora of saltwater marshes (more than any other coastal state in the region) offer nutrient-rich waters that make anglers swoon. Sea Island’s guides and a fleet of customized fishing boats take members and guests along the shores and up to 80 miles offshore to fish in the Gulf Stream for a tailored experience.
Michael Kennedy, the resort’s director of recreation, promises a customized trip that will surely exceed expectations. The captains are ready to share their passion and expertise, providing all the toys, tools and tackle needed for a memorable day on or near the water, he says.
Guides know the habits of the fish, the nooks and crannies of the marshes, and the schedules and sizes of the tides along Georgia’s nuanced coastline. Artificial and natural reef structures offer action all year long at Sea Island. “We sight-fish the low water with mainly flies, but can use light spinning tackle, depending on the guest’s comfort level and skill,” says Kyle Meyer, one of the guides. “Beginners are welcome, of course, but anglers with a decent distance in their cast—40 to 60 feet, with haul and double haul confidence—will have good success. Accuracy is also important.”
The fleet consists of six Rambo-27 center console open sport fishing boats as well as a 39-foot Contender, which boasts three 350-horsepower engines that whisk anglers effortlessly offshore, up to 80 miles away. An inshore chase across the flats surrounding Sea Island can be done from an 18-foot Gordon Boatworks Waterman skiff, a classic Tom Gordon design hallowed by anyone who is serious about sight-fishing. “Guests are welcome to bring their own gear, but we have rods and we tie all the flies,” Williams says.
There are boatloads of opportunities for sight-fishing from spring through early fall, with a wide variety of fish in local waters, including tripletail, tarpon, cobia and redfish. “The redfish will be the easiest target for a beginner trying to sight-fish,” Meyer explains, adding that they live in the shallow water of rivers and flats as well as travel in large schools—two things that make them quick to spot. “The tripletail can also be seen relatively easily,” he says.
Up for more of a challenge? “I would say the tarpon is going to be the most challenging fish, as they run in the ocean and do not always present [themselves easily] for sight-fishing. They also will refuse a bait or fly if not in the right mood,” Meyer says. “However, they are an awesome catch when located and hooked.” Tarpon is a bucket-list species for many, sending anglers flocking to the shores of Mexico, Central America and coastal Georgia to catch the “silver king.”
Sea Island’s guides have a vast understanding of both marine biology and local weather, which helps them provide expert service for Sea Island visitors that are interested in sight-fishing. “The guest’s experience is our priority,” Meyer says. “We like to allow at least four hours for an excursion and are flexible, running a trip when the conditions are most favorable.”
When fishing specifically for redfish, they make sure to study the tide carefully. “We want to fish the last two to three hours of the outgoing tide and the first hour of the incoming tide,” he explains. “Bottom fishing at the reefs [that are] 7 to 40 miles out can be good all year—[we] just have to go farther in the summer with the warmer water.”
Sight-fishing is not necessarily about instant gratification, Meyer notes. “It’s a game of cat and mouse,” he says. “You really have to work for it, but that’s what makes the experience so special.”