Crankbaiting Rip Rap Reds
At the mouth of the St Marys River on the Florida-Georgia border, a wide dredged channel runs east into the ocean for about a mile. It is a deep channel, one that allows part of our nuclear submarine fleet access to their port at Kings Bay. On the north and south of the channel, jetties built of huge rocks and boulders jut almost a mile into the Atlantic. The jetties protect the channel to keep wave and tidal action from filling it in with sand.
These jetties play an important role for the Navy and shipping interests.
For Peach State and Sunshine State anglers, these jetties play what we personally consider a more important role. That role has nothing to do with national defense, but it has everything to do with catching fish.
The jetties are a man made habitat for almost every species of saltwater fish that thrive along the Georgia coast. At some point in the year, you can find every variety of inshore and coastal fish in or around the jetties. Water from Cumberland sound enters and leaves with the tides past the jetties, and fish move with those tidal changes.
Right now the red drum are active along the rocks, and they can be caught in a variety of ways. Anglers can use live shrimp under a deep float, or soak a blue crab bait on the bottom and catch some reds. Cut bait also works on the bottom from time to time. But the bait of choice for some of us at this time of year is artificial bait – a crankbait to be exact.
The rip rap on a dam protects the shoreline from erosion while it also provides a habitat for bass.
These jetties work the same way, protecting the channel while providing an excellent habitat for fish. In fact, the jetties provide a year-round home to many fish.
We took a trip to the St Marys jetties in late March to find some red drum and see whether they were still interested in our crankbaits. In years past we had caught a number of big reds in the spring and summer, so we thought they should be there again as spring approaches. We were right!
We launched at the St Marys city dock, a lightly used facility compared to other launch sites. The bait shop there has changed hands and can now reliably be counted on for any last minute bait or tackle needs. In the past, the shop was often closed for no apparent reason.
My partner on this day was Jim Pierce, an avid freshwater crankbait angler from Middleburg, Florida. We headed out the St Marys River and straight out the Cumberland Sound. You will need to watch the left or north edge of the channel and stay close to markers until you get about half way out the inlet. There is a large sand bar on that edge that is hidden at high tide.
We chose the north jetty on our left on the way out first, and began our fishing about five hundred yards from the end. The wind was light out of the southwest, so both north and south jetties were equally calm. Sometimes wind direction will dictate whether we fish the north or the south set of rocks.
We began chunking Bandit 300 crankbaits, one in an all red color, and one in a chartreuse/yellow color. These baits are designed to run about eight feet deep, and we were cranking them down from the rocks back to the boat.
The jetties are simply a pile of rocks, albeit huge rocks, that come up from the bottom in an almost pyramid shape. In other words, when you see the edge of the rocks on the water, you need to realize that they continue down at an angle. Right up against the rocks, the water may be three feet deep. Out a ways from the rocks, the depth has gradually increased to, in our case, about thirty feet. These depth differences are where lure selection plays a critical part – but more on that later.
We worked our way out toward the end of the jetties, passing a couple of boats that were anchored and bottom fishing on the edge of the deeper water. They were after the huge black drum that are currently coming into the inlet – but that’s a trip for another day.
At what appears to be the end of the jetties, the rock pile actually continues east – under the surface – for another several hundred yards. If you plan to go around the jetty, make sure you run east well past the visible end of the rocks.
We fished the “invisible” rip rap for another hundred yards and then crossed to the north side. As we made our way back toward the rocks, this time on the opposite side, the tide was running out. On an outgoing tide, water runs east out the mouth of the inlet and then north. So, as we fished, the water was coming across that invisible rip rap, headed right at us. We used our trolling motor to keep the boat positioned, but anchoring could have worked just as well.