I'd been to Savannah twice before and found it to be a marvelous destination with superb historic homes, numerous lush city squares, excellent art galleries, and gourmet restaurants. Yet I hadn't allotted the time to fish this city's vast marshes, sounds, islands and inlets.
So when I booked a vacation at Tybee Island — not far from Savannah — I made sure that lots of fishing would be a part of my stay. My usual in-depth research pointed me towards One More Cast Charters with Captain Brian Woelber and I reserved two inshore light tackle fishing days with him a good six months before our arrival date.
Planning, as Usual
I was sure to coincide the trip timing with Captain Brian to hit the peak season dates for the most diverse offering of marine game fish...and late summer looked ideal. When I spoke with Brian, he told me we could be sure-barring any severe adverse weather — to bend a rod on seatrout, redfish, flounder, bluefish, mackerel, black drum and ladyfish. A sorcerer's glance into the future would have assured me that he was spot-on right and even more!
My wife and I were able to get a one-stop flight from Fort Lauderdale to Savannah through Atlanta, which is Delta Airline's hub. We shopped at the airport for a couple hours and after a short flight we were touching down at the Savannah airport. We had a rental car waiting for us at the Enterprise counter and the ride from the airport was about an hour to Tybee Island. A bonus of that brief excursion was that it took us right through beautiful downtown historic Savannah.
We arrived at our lodgings, The Savannah Beach Inn, just in time to meet owner Craig serving the afternoon wine, cheese, and fruit. We savored the offerings and settled in to our room with private bath upstairs. The interiors at the Inn were historic and beautiful. We decided on an early dinner at the Crab Shack, which was 10 minutes back on Highway 80. We ordered their seafood platter for two, which provided us with a delicious feast of sausage, boiled potatoes, corn, crawfish, mussels, shrimp, and snow crab.
As dusk darkened the sky, the daylong electric-whining chorus of cicadas in the trees was replaced by a peep-peeping symphony of frogs greeting the night. These pleasantly droning sounds mixed with the sultry heat and light sea breeze. All of these sensations swirled around us as we rocked back and forth on the Inns' large porch swing: it wasn't long before these effects sent us upstairs to sleep deeply.
Rumble Time, Savannah-Style
Though Brian is based at Hogan's Marina on Wilmington Island, he kindly agreed to pick me up at the nearby Lazaretto Creek boat ramp, where my wife would be dropping me off. Our family plan was for me to fish while she would devote herself to spending more face time at the Inn as well as exploring the stores and sights on Tybee Island proper. We felt this would give us an excellent idea how this destination experience would be for future anglers and non-angling family members.
When we arrived at the ramp, I saw Brian waiting at the dock. When I came aboard and greeted him, I took a closer look at his vessel. It was a gleaming center console bay boat, which sported a poling tower, push pole, bow-mounted remote controlled electric motor, Power Pole, huge Mercury Verado engine and a big livewell in the bow. I could see that we'd be getting around with lots of speed as well as protection and comfort.
Brian fired up his outboard and pointed his bow towards a massive swath of marsh grass pastures interlaced with a maze of creeks. As we got up on plane, his boat sailed through the narrow passages and grassy points with ease in this southern-style jungle. As we flew along towards open water in the far distance, Brian told me that his livewell was loaded with live shrimp and finger mullet. He said this would give us all the bait we would need for any of the indigenous inshore game fish.
Our first stop was out in the shallow ocean over some bottom structure. As we idled towards our target area, Brian said we'd be sure to catch bluefish and seatrout in abundance. When he was sure of our position, he anchored his boat. He baited me up with a live finger mullet on a simple egg sinker rig and told me where to cast. Brian cautioned me to let the bait fall to the bottom quickly or else the bluefish would decimate our offerings like piranhas. Within seconds, my rod pulled down and I struck hard...moments later a big seatrout came thrashing to the surface 50 feet from the boat. As I looked to the stern, Brian was hooked up on his jigging rig to a large leaping bluefish. Within a minute or so, we had both of our fish alongside for photos and release. I'm glad to report without any exaggeration that every offering we cast out was struck by either species of these gamefish. Within an hour, I told Brian I had my "happy fill" and wanted to try another inshore venue: it's a grateful rarity for me to make these kinds of requests.
Brian knew that variety was the priority for our two days of fishing. He ran far inside the inlet and to the south until he stopped alongside a huge shell bank slowly surfacing due to a brisk falling tide. He was convinced that the live shrimp added to our finger mullet and plastic jigs would get us more species. After dropping his Power Pole, he told me to work the "sweep" of the shoreline with a shrimp under a popping cork. Though the action was less immediate and more of a buildup, we succeeded in catching numerous flounder to 5 pounds, a bunch of black drum, and a few more small redfish.
We spent our last hour of fishing working a school of very large redfish about 5 miles north of the second spot. Though these fish were playing hide and seek against a falling tide, their bulging wake betrayed their presence and we did get one shot apiece. The twin conditions of flat, shallow water kept these brutes expectably shy and we did not hook up. It was time to return to the ramp and partake of all the amenities that Craig and the Inn so graciously would offer.
Day 2 — Fishing off Tybee Island Proper
The following day Brian took us out of Lazaretto Creek the opposite way into the open ocean that fronted Tybee Island as well as to the channel that led to Savannah city. His plan was to fish the marsh grass patches that grew alongside the jetty rocks until the tide turned out. As the tide began to ebb, he would slowly work us seaward to fish a variety of channels alongside some oyster and rock bars.
One we left the creek, Brian got on plane and headed southeast into the ocean. He then took a wide swing around some flats and idled back into the edge of some marsh grass. He rigged both of our spinners with popping corks-one of which had a live finger mullet and the other, a live shrimp. As the tide was still coming in, Brian felt that the redfish and drumfish would be deep in the grass. He used his electric motor to ease us into the grass just a bit and told me to throw my offering over the grass into any opening where a fish might be lying. The prospect of reeling our terminal rigs back through the grass seemed daunting- much less, fighting a fish through it. Brian seemed to read my mind and told me to pay that concern no mind since the grass generally would give way if we reeled back briskly. He turned out to be quite right. In addition, he told me that fishing the inside of the grass was exactly the reason he spooled all of his spinning rigs with braided line which would not scratch and fray. We both caught a total of a half-dozen reds and drumfish in this fashion.
As the tide began to fall, Brian positioned his boat just outside of a tiny creek mouth off the grass. Soon, there were loads of finger mullet and minnows pouring out of the grass into the open- and with them, as well as waiting for them, were the predators. The redfish started boiling at the bait from the grass edges and in the open sections, mackerel would skyrocket through their prey as the bluefish attacked with a splash from below. Again, I found myself literally able to get a strike from a bluefish, mackerel, or redfish on every cast. After an hour of this pandemonium, the action slowed a bit and Brian asked if I wanted a shot at a large redfish — as if he didn't know!
Soon, we were fishing a rockbar edge a mile seaward of our original spot. We both hooked up on large ladyfish right away and the mackerel seemed to follow. I cast closer to the rocks per his instructions and hooked up with something huge, which ran 50 yards down the rocks and cut me off. Brian was sure this was a big redfish. The action was steady with ladies and macks in the channel, but we worked the rockbar with determination for the next few hours. Brian lost three fish to the rocks and I lost another. I had a good strike on my next bait and the fish ran out into the open. I fought it hard away from the rocks and got it close to the boat. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bonnethead shark of 25 pounds, which is large for that species. By this time all the pulsing sun exposure and the action were more than enough and I told Brian to call it a day.
After I said goodbye to Brian, I joined my wife at the Inn for more cheese and wine. After a shower and a nap, we explored some funky art galleries, went to the beach, and headed into "town" for crab cake sandwiches at Sundae Cafe.
We both reluctantly left Tybee Island the next morning. We just had another delightful toast and omelet breakfast by Craig at the Inn. I still wanted some more fishing and my wife wanted a day of reading and swimming at the beach, but our obligations forced us to leave.