The Golden Isles is a world-class saltwater fishing destination but it’s still a “secret” compared to other coastal locations in the Southeast. That means wide open waters and plenty of fish to challenge even the most skilled anglers. Whether the goal is to catch fish offshore, in-shore and near shore, the deep water, surf, marshes and rivers are home to a plethora of poisson – most of which make “good eatin’,” as my dad used to say, and can be prepared in a variety of ways.

We talked to two recreational anglers and a charter captain to get the low-down on fishing in the Golden Isles, no matter where you’re fishing locally or what you’ve got in mind to catch.

Missy + Marc Neu

What types of fish do you most frequently see?

The couple competes, along with their team in kingfish and wahoo tournaments along the southeastern coast, from Savannah to Fort Pierce, Fla.

“We are somewhat unique in that we do not really fish in-shore unless we are throwing a crab trap off our dock or fun fishing with some family off our dock where they mostly catch stingrays.”

What are your favorites to fish for?

In addition to pursuing kingfish and wahoo during competitions, the Neus like to bottom fish for anything from black sea bass to red snapper.

“It is also always a good day when you can sight cast to a cobia that follows another fish up from the bottom,” Missy said. “We also enjoy heading further offshore to the ledge and Gulfstream to catch mahi, tuna and other species.”

How long have you been fishing?

Missy began in 2007 when she began dating Marc.

“(I) quickly fell in love with the peacefulness and serenity of being so far off-shore that you don’t see land, your cell phone doesn’t work and there are no other boats around,” she said. “I also love the competitiveness of participating in tournaments. It is hard to find a better way to spend a day than a crystal clear calm day 50 miles off-shore. Marc has been fishing since childhood and … competitively since his early 20s.”

When is the best time to go fishing?

The type of fishing the couple does usually involves leaving the dock in the wee hours of the morning and lasts all day, depending on how far off-shore they travel.

“We fish for wahoo a good amount late in the year into March and king-fishing usually picks up in May and goes through August; and we make trips to the Gulfstream in the fall and spring,” she said.

Favorite fishing spots?

“Marc’s favorite spot used to be ‘40-mile bottom’, but now he has lots of different favorite spots up and down the coast,” Missy said. “I never pick the spots we fish … too much responsibility for me.”

Before heading out, Marc researches water temps and other weather conditions and, Missy said, “seems to spend a lot of time on the phone talking to other fishermen sharing current fishing conditions to try to pick the best spot.”

Favorite rods and reels?

The Neus just recently switched back to Speedmaster reels, which had been a longtime favorite of Marc’s for years. He switched for several years, but the Speedmasters were revamped a few years ago and Missy said they are “awesome.”

Their favorite place to get fishing equipment advice is The Strike Zone in Jacksonville.

And, they’re fans of live bait like poggies, blue runners and goggle eyes, but also use ballyhoo, ribbon fish and squid.

“Our favorite bait is the free kind, so when the fish are biting on Poggies, that is our favorite, as they are easy to get with a few skillful casts of the cast net off the beaches in our area,” she said.

Mi Paul Thompson

What types of fish do you most frequently see?

Paul says the in-shore estuaries and near-shore waters of the Golden Isles provide for a variety of target species for recreational fishing, including spotted sea trout, red drum (redfish), flounder, black drum, sheepshead, whiting, triple tail and tarpon. Once fishermen get further off-shore, in the vicinity of artificial reefs, wrecks, ledges and live bottom, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, cobia, red snapper, vermillion snapper, porgy, triggerfish, grouper and black sea bass are found.

“For those anglers venturing well off-shore into the Gulf Stream waters off our coast the sought-after species are the pelagic fish, including tuna, dolphin (mahi), wahoo, sailfish and blue marlin,” he said.

What are your favorites to fish for?

It’s hard to pick a favorite species to fish for, he said. “I love them all.”

“There are so many different techniques used in targeting the different types of fish and they are all challenging, exciting and rewarding, especially when the fish are cooperating,” Paul explained. “From chasing trout and reds in-shore to tarpon and triple tail off the beaches to trolling the Gulfstream for pelagic fish, it’s all just a blessing to be able to get out there and pursue a hobby you are passionate about.

Simply put, my favorite fish to fish for are the ones that are biting the best!”

How long have you been fishing?

“I caught my first fish when I was two years old,” he said, adding that it was a small bream caught with a cane pole and a bread ball for bait. “My dad was teaching me to fish and we were fishing from the bank at my grandparents house on the lake. That was 52 years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since!”

Paul’s dad introduced him to fishing and instilled in him a love and appreciation for the outdoors and the fish he still loves to pursue.

“I have passed this tradition on to my three sons and they have all grown to become avid fishermen,” he said. “The times I have shared fishing with my dad and with my boys are some of my greatest memories.”

When is the best time to go fishing?

“To tell you the truth, there is not a bad time to go fishing,” Paul said. “There may be better times than others to catch certain fish but anytime you can get out and enjoy being on the water with family and friends is a good time.”

As the saying goes, he said, “’A bad day of fishing is better than a good day doing just about anything else.’”

There are a lot of variables that determine the optimum conditions to fish for various species, including the time of year, the tides, the moon phase and water temperatures, clarity and salinity, along with other environmental factors.

“Perhaps the most important factor in determining the best time to fish is whether or not the fish are actually feeding at the time you are fishing,” he said. “If not, your chances of success will be slim. Sometimes you just don’t know until you go.”

A large circle of fishing friends that include both recreational fishermen and professional guides talk regularly and exchange reports on what’s biting and what’s not.

“When planning a fish day I use the feedback from these reports as well as my own knowledge on what fish species should be best to target at that particular time in order to maximize my success,” he said.

Favorite fishing spots?

It depends on what particular species the angler is trying to catch. “Different kinds of fish inhabit different areas and have different habits, so to find the fish sometimes you have to think like a fish,” Paul said.

For in-shore fishing, check out creek mouths, drop offs, shell beds, dock pilings, channel markers, bulkheads, sand flats and mud flats. Water conditions and the presence of forage bait are key factors in whether or not fish will be in a particular spot. Tarpon and bull redfish can be found in the inland rivers and sounds as well as in the mouths of inlets and around the sandbars lining the beaches and channels.

Further offshore, target species inhabit the artificial reefs, wrecks, limestone ledges and natural reefs of soft coral and rocky outcroppings, he said. Tidal rips and water color changes can also hold certain game fish.

“The warm waters of the Gulf Stream some 65-plus miles off our coast is where to find the pelagic fish. You can typically begin targeting these fish on the slopes and ledges along the 30 fathom curve of the Continental Shelf and the deeper water humps and plateaus beyond shelf,” Paul explained. “Weed lines, temperature breaks, rip lines and warm water fingers and eddies are something to look for when pursuing these fish. Another good sign to look for is birds diving and feeding on schooling baitfish. There are often times hungry predator fish feeding below on these same baitfish.

It is a long run to get to the stream off the Georgia coast but the action will make it worth the ride when the bite is on!”

Favorite rods and reels?

Again, it all depends. Paul says his choice of rods and reels depend on the type and size of fish he is targeting and what techniques he is using to maximize his success.

“Inshore fishing I prefer a 7 ft. medium-weight spinning rod paired with a light weight spinning reel for casting artificial jigs with soft plastic trailers and popping cork rigs and 7-8 ft. medium/heavy weight bait-casting rod with a lightweight bait casting reel for float fishing with live shrimp.

• Tarpon and bottom fishing offshore and whether using live, dead or artificial bait – Medium/heavy and heavyweight spinning rods in the 7 ft. range with mid- and heavyweight spinning reels.

• Slow trolling offshore with live bait – 7 ft medium/lightweight live bait rods paired with medium weight bait-casting/trolling reels.

Trolling the Gulfstream for pelagic species requires heavier tackle due to the size of the bait and lures used, the speed at which you troll and the size and power of the fish.

“For fast trolling the blue water I prefer 5-6 ft. stand-up rods with heavyweight lever drag trolling reels,” he said. “Rod and reel selection boils down to personal preference and there are many combinations that will get the job done. You just have to find out what works best in your hands.”

Tim Cutting

How long have you been fishing?

Tim said he’s been fishing since he was in diapers, but professionally since 1990.

When is the best time to go fishing?

Fall – October through December – is probably the best, he said, especially for the spotted sea trout, also known as speckled trout. “Fortunately, Georgia is home to excellent fishing 365 days a year,” he said.

Favorite fishing spots?

Tim recommends the surrounding tributaries on the south, west and north sides of St. Simons Island, calling them all excellent.

“St. Simons Sound, East River, Intracoastal Waterway, Frederica River and Hampton River are all good inshore,” he said. “Near-shore, ALT and F Reef have good fishing, and off-shore, the area around Grey’s Reef is very good.”

Favorite rods and reels?

“I am a huge Shimano fan as both rods and reels are excellent quality, with price points for nearly any budget,” he said.

What are some steps people can take to be safe aboard a boat?

“Speed kills. Alcohol kills. Use a designated driver!” Tim said. “If you are unsure of anything in the water, slow down. Highly recommend boater safety classes and getting instruction from an experienced individual.”

Georgia Fishing License Information+Regulations

Georgia fishing regulations require all anglers over the age of 16 to have a fishing license. Georgia’s annual fishing licenses cost $15 for residents and $50 for non-residents. Discounted day licenses are also available. For saltwater fishing, a free Saltwater Information Permit is also required. You can purchase a Georgia fishing license online, in person or by phone.

View up-to-date information about area freshwater and saltwater fishing in Georgia at www.georgiawildlife.com/fishing/angler-resources. And don’t forget to consult fishing regulations carefully before you head out since regulations may vary on different bodies of water.

In addition to the state rules, there might be different rules in federal waters (3-200 miles offshore). Please visit the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council website at www.safmc.net for the latest federal fishing regulations if you plan to fish more than 3 miles offshore.

For additional information on fishing along coastal Georgia, visit www.georgiawildlife.com/fishing.