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October 14, 2013

Georgia Coastal Tarpon

In southern Georgia, giant-tarpon fishing is outstanding in early fall.

Follow the Rip

Quickly we readied rods and baits and maneuvered the skiff farther offshore beyond the east-moving tide rip. A few hundred yards from the water-color change, we set out our baits and waited for the rip to creep our way.

We did this several times, and occasionally we’d see tarpon crashing bait on the rip line to one side of our boat or the other. When that occurred we pulled in lines, cranked the motor, worked well out and around where we’d spotted the tarpon, and set up another drift with bait to intersect tarpon feeding on that portion of the rip.

Three drifts through the rip and a ­half-hour later, ­another tarpon hit but threw the hook. Then a third fish struck, and Alex stepped up. This tarpon was bigger than the ­120-pounder, because we saw it clearly when it leaped high twice. The fight was short, however, as 10 minutes into it, the hook pulled.

After that, the pace slowed.

 Shark Attack

Hildreth suggested we liven things up by catching a few sharks, so we ran north to several shrimp boats dragging their nets in the ocean just off a deserted beach. We pulled up and drifted a short distance behind a shrimper, tossed out a couple of menhaden baits as we’d done for tarpon, and found ourselves immediately into blacktip and spinner sharks. 

Usually sandbar, dusky and bull sharks are among the species that hang behind the shrimp boats and offer reliable sport. But that day, high-leaping and hard-fighting spinners and ­blacktips were all we caught, and they quickly wore out the girls. So early that afternoon, we headed back into the ­Altamaha, spotting two big gators sunning on a marsh bank as we came within sight of the boat ramp.

Abundant Sport

“Just another day in paradise,” Hildreth said as we loaded the boat and headed for home. “That’s pretty much how a day of our tarpon fishing goes. It’s often great at dawn, or when a tide rip is just right and there’s plenty of bait around. And we can always load up on sharks if people still want a tough fight. Those blacktips and spinners are plenty game, and they sure are fast, and can jump too.”

While we hooked only four tarpon that day, I’ve had days on that stretch of the Georgia southeast coast when we’ve hooked a dozen fish, and landed four tarpon from 80 to 130 pounds.

In truth, the Georgia coast has some of the best overlooked tarpon ­fishing in America. It peaks in late summer, and in recent years, the catches have been remarkable.

During a recent two-day tarpon-fishing tournament, 41 ­anglers in 11 tournament boats hooked an estimated 195 ­tarpon. They caught and released 61 fish weighing from 40 to 180 pounds. The winning boat landed a dozen silver kings. Second place had 10 legal tarpon releases.

That’s great tarpon fishing anywhere, yet most anglers are unaware that Georgia has such superb fishing for such ­an oversize, world-class hard-fighting fish.