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> Sharks and Whiting, A Family Affair on the Georgia Coast, By Captain Vernon Reynolds
post Jan 14 2006, 10:38 PM
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Inshore Fishing the South Coast
Sharks and Whiting, A Family Affair on the Georgia Coast
By Captain Vernon Reynolds
Published June 2000

It was a warm spring morning as Captain Adam Burgstiner and I motored my Sundance center console behind Jekyll Island. As we neared the south end of Jekyll, Cumberland Island loomed into view. The water in St. Andrews Sound had only a ripple caused by a gently blowing west wind. We we looking for sharks and whiting, both easily found in area sounds this time of the year.

We continued on about nine miles, sighting the "North Breakers", a large sand bar at the end of St. Andrews Sound. The Breakers is a unique area holding sharks, whiting, tarpon, trout, Red bass and Spanish mackerel at any given time. As Adam set the anchor, I baited a hook with a small piece of shrimp and cast out. The bait had hardly hit the bottom when I felt the tap-tap of a whiting inhaling it. I set the hook forcefully and felt the strength of a good "bull" whiting on the business end of my outfit. As I removed the fish from the hook and tossed it into the cooler, I felt fairly confident there was a whiting dinner in the making.

Whiting move into South Georgia coastal waters as early as February and remain through the warm months. These fish spawn in the spring and good numbers can be taken with little effort. The fishing technique is simple: bottom fishing. Cast the bait out and let it settle to the bottom, reel in the slack and wait for the bite. I like to let the bait set for a few minutes. If no strikes come, move the bait a few feet and wait a minute or two more, repeating the process until the bait is back at the boat.

Spinning gear is the tackle of choice for whiting fishing. A medium action spinning rod, six to seven feet in length, works best. A premium spinning reel capable of spooling 100 to 150 yards of 12 to 15 pound monofilament line is preferred. Whiting will not peel off 80 yards of line, but when fishing in the ocean, you never know what will hit next.

Terminal tackle consists of an egg sinker placed on the main line above a small swivel, a one to two foot length of leader, and a 2/0 wire hook. The sinker must be heavy enough to remain on the bottom. Depending on the speed of the current, sinkers in the one to three ounce range work well. Leaders should be 20 to 30 pound mono line. The heavier leader protects against fraying. I have found that fluorocarbon line used for leader material produces a few more strikes, being, evidently, more difficult for fish to see. A small wire hook must be used because whiting have small mouths. Shrimp is the best bait, but only a piece about an inch long should be threaded on the hook. Anything larger will be nibble off without the fish being hooked.

The creel limit on whiting is 35 fish per person per day. During the spring it often only takes a few hours for everyone in the boat to have a limit of fish. With the anchor set, Adam moved to the stern of the boat with me. He removed the shark rig from the rod holder and held the hook in hand, looking to me to produce a fresh whiting for the offering. I set the hook and grinned before he could verbally ask for a bait. In a matter of minutes Adam had a small whiting hooked through the snout and cast out behind the boat, and the rod in a T-Top rod holder.

Soon the reel clicker began a slow and methodical chirp as line moved steadily off the reel. Adam grabbed the rod and pointed the tip at the water. The chirping increased to a smooth hum as the fish sped up. Adam reached over and engaged the reel drag, waited for everything to tighten up, and reared back on the pole. The rod bowed deeply as the fish realized it was hooked. Suddenly a 100 plus pound Blacktip went airborne off the starboard, causing a huge splash and circle of foaming water upon re-entry. The big fish spooled off a hundred yards of line before Adam could get him stopped. Forty minutes later, Adam had the shark at boat-side. After admiring the catch, we cut the leader and released our prize, none the worse for his ordeal.

The waters around Cumberland Island are reputed to be the biggest shark breeding grounds on the East Coast. Blacktip, Tiger, Hammerhead, and Lemon sharks, among others, move into these waters as they warm during the spring. Catching a lare fish during this time is relatively easy.

There are several reasons this area is so popular with sharks. The area has an ocean sand bar chain extending 10 to 12 miles out to sea. This chain provides protected waters for breeding and birthing activities. Water depth along the chain varies from a couple of feet to over 80 feet, thus providing sharks with deep water sanctuary and safety. Current pushes baitfish such as whiting, mullet and pogie near the chain, making them easy prey to hungry sharks.

Sharks feed throughout the water column and therefore can be taken from the surface to the bottom, although I find that more are taken near the bottom. Sharks will strike live or dead bait. Pogie and mullet can be easily taken with a cast net. Any cut fish will work, but barracuda performs best.

Medium heavy action boat rods coupled with high quality level wind reels are a must for shark fishing. Reels should be capable of spooling 350 yards of 40 pound mono line. Reels should also feature a strong and smooth drag system. Anything less will not stand up to the rigors that 100 plus pound fish places on it.

Terminal tackle consists of a two to four ounce trout sinker attached to the main line, a six foot length of 200 pound monofilament attached to the swivel end of the trout sinker, and a 6/0 to 9/0 short shank live bait hook attached to the other end of the leader. Sometimes sharks will cut the mono leader. Coasted wire leader can be substituted, but often the heavier leader will reduce the number of strikes.

Shark numbers have fallen dangerously low over the past several years. Sharks are also one of the few species that birth live pups, thus producing only small numbers of young fish to repopulate. Because of these facts, I urge anglers to release all sharks taken.

A shark and whiting fishing trip along the Georgia Coast provides fun and entertainment for the entire family. Whiting offer plenty of action to keep children and adults alike entertained. And there is nothing like catching a big fish for adults, or seeing a child's eyes light up when they see a shark close up for the first time.


About the author: Captain Vernon Reynolds has been guiding fishermen and their families to exciting and rewarding fishing trips on the Georgia coast for many years His articles have been featured in several outdoor magazines and he has been featured on saltwater fishing TV shows. To experience an adventure such as the one above, contact Captain Reynolds at (912) 265-0392 or email our staff at booking@coastaloutdoors.com.
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