According to Captain Davis "The Savannah has an excellent population of striped bass in many different size categories...the back river is a fertile area and supports a large population of stripers throughout the winter months, September through April." Captain Davis (on right side of photo - left, Greg Davis photo) says stripers to 28 pounds are not uncommon. Although there are many species present in the Savannah, this article focuses on Savannah River stripers.
SAVANNAH RIVER HISTORY
An indigenous population of Savannah River strain striped bass has existed in the Savannah River for years. In the early 1970s when stocking programs were designed to build striped bass populations in Georgia's suitable rivers and reservoirs, the striper fingerlings stocked into these project waters came from Richmond Hill hatchery, and were direct offspring of Savannah River strain striped bass from the Savannah. These are not sea run striped bass. Savannah River strain stripers spend their entire lives in the Savannah River system from the Savannah bluff lock and dam below Augusta into estuary areas at the mouth of the river. Steeped in history just as the city of Savannah, this river's striped bass population has long been the backbone of Georgia DNR's striper stocking programs that have been so successful statewide over the last almost 30 years.
T A C K L E
If you are fishing for spotted seatrout, largemouth black bass, or other smaller fish species, you can use a 4- to 6-weight fly system. To fish the river for stripers and hybrids, Captain Davis recommends "a minimum 8 or 9 weight rod" strong reel with line and storage for lots of backing, and a good drag. There are strong fish and strong current to deal with in the Savannah. According to Captain Davis, "We're fishing with a very heavy sinking line, 300 to 600 grain depending on the tide, to get on the bottom." He continued "we use a short leader with 5 or 6 inch fly." In fact a 300 grain line is suitable for an 8- or 9-weight rod; if you use a 500 grain line, a 10- or 12-weight rod is recommended. You won't be making long casts, in fact you'll be lobbing the sinking line with fly down and across the current. Then you'll let the current sweep and sink your line and fly into stripers located deep facing upcurrent in the river. When you feel the strike, you should quickly strip set, and the fight is on!
F L I E S
Flies emulating full sized shrimp, Menhaden, grass shrimp, and small minnows will be productive for most species available in the Savannah River system. Fish four to six inch Lefty's Deceiver patterns heavily dressed in yellow, white, white and chartreuse. Also Dan Blanton's whistler works well in the Savannah.
M E T H O D
From your boat, position upstream and upcurrent of structure (like this railroad trestle left - ęByrd photo) which you will fish, and anchor with marker buoy and quick release system. If you hook a big fish, you may have to throw the anchor rope overboard and chase the fish. Notice the buoy line (below right - ęByrd photo)with anchor hooked on its cable. The anchor rope has a marker buoy large enough to be seen easily and float the anchor rope in even fast current. On strong outgoing tides, the current in the Savannah can be STRONG!
Once anchored and in position, lob a cast into the current down and across, and let the strong current sweep your fly to the strike zone. You can strip the fly on its downstream swing, and once the fly has stopped swinging around behind the boat, short strips back to the boat may get big strikes. That's a very effective presentation. In the strong current, even small schoolie stripers feel strong, and larger fish are a load. According to Davis, "when the fish are feeding, they aren't spooky. We catch stripers right behind the boat."
During winter months, there are warm days and wonderful fly fishing opportunities on the Savannah River system. Savannah, Georgia offers a tremendous variety of food, hotels, courtyards, squares and a beautiful city just oozing history. (Below left - ęByrd photo), Captain Matt Williams, a guide and at the time this article was written, a partner at Light Tackle Fishing Company, poses with a 5 pound striper that I caught on one trip to the Savannah. Even a 5 pounder in that strong current is amazingly strong on an 8-weight!
Update: Since this article was written, Oakbluff Outfitters has closed. Captain Greg Davis is still an active guide in Savannah. Call him to fish for Savannah River stripers, spotted sea trout, red drum, cobia, and several salt species. Contact Captain Greg Davis at 912-398-8134.
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