Floating the Ogeechee river can be a very productive method for redbreast fishing. We put in at the Steel bridge on the 119 just outside of Guyton, Georgia. Above the Steel bridge, there is a 9.9 horsepower limit on engines. Since we were running a 25 HP on a 16-foot skiff we had to go downstream from the bridge.
Without a trolling motor, we had to float the river the best we could using the motor. Straight sections of the river were the best and most relaxed fishing. Heading downstream there were plenty of places to cast easily. Drifting the boat downstream was easy and you just have to stay away from stumps, trees, and snags. Running an outboard upstream takes a lot of delicate balancing. Casting, retrieving, turning the motor, going in and out of gear, and more can be a lot of stress but it is worth it.
Redbreast are limited to the east coast from northern Florida to Canada. As one of my favorite fish panfish species I have targeted them from the Ogeechee River, the Ohoopee, Canoochee, and Alapaha rivers in Georgia mostly. Their coloration varies from the bright orange and blue here in Georgia to dark hues against the orange fire underside. Regardless of where they come from they are beautiful fish.
Liking cooler water and shade redbreast will form schools in the cooler months of the year. Finding them is the hard part as drifting along the river casting will not produce fish steadily. Deeper holes will more likely produce small groups of nice redbreasts. During the cooler months, smaller baits presented more slowly will likely have better results than a cricket drifted along in the current. Try half a red wiggler the same manner with a splitshot and hook, or under a small float.
In the warmer months when the river levels are down into the banks redbreast are most actively caught. Cast your line into edges of slower water where it meets up with faster main river current. Eddies can provide a fish or three but don’t dwell on eddies and ‘fishy’ looking spots unless you are catching fish every few casts. Coming from moving water, often swift, think like you might for rainbow trout.
Hugging structure and the bottom they try to avoid the current but look for places that can provide an easy food source they can pluck out or ambush. Redbreast sunfish like to hang out at the edge of willows where there is slack current. I personally try to target where there might be an ambush for feeding on minnows, terrestrial insects, or waterborne insects. Dragonfly and damselfly larvae can produce food for redbreast when feeding so keeping that in mind when looking for small lures.
Big male redbreast, or roosters as they are called locally here in southeastern Georgia, are not usually grouped up into schools. Large colorful males, called roosters, are many times caught in deeper water or further out away from the bank.
Targetting large redbreast can be difficult because you cannot usually see the structure they are holding to. They are caught in hotspots in the river that provide exceptional feeding stations. Casting a lot and paying attention to your line is key. Fish do not get big and old by being stupid. Once you catch a couple roosters or big females you will have a better idea of where to target to find where their holding patterns are producing.
I personally prefer fishing with 6 or 8-pound monofilament for redbreast. I use a number 6 Aberdeen hook and a small split-shot tipped with a cricket for best results. I move the split-shot about 12 to 18 inches from the hook. Using an Aberdeen hook can have a significant impact on your fishing time as the hook can be pulled straight out of a snag. A quick adjustment with forceps and you are again fishing!
Drifting a cricket in the current can get you hung up quite a lot. Make sure that you match your splitshot size with the current. You want a bait that you can cast easily and accurately but yet drift naturally. If you are getting snagged on the bottom regularly you should switch to a smaller split shot. Occasionally you should feel your weight and line bumping the sandy bottom of the river.
The ideal cast would be slightly upstream, like a 45-degree angle. Try to get close to structure, like a submerged log, trees, or under overhanging trees. As soon as the bait hits the water close the bail and pay attention to the line, if it twitches set the hook. It is very common for fish to strike immediately and if not prepared you will lose many fish.
Once the line hits the water allow the line to sink. Once it stops sinking let it drift or start retrieving slowly. If the lone stops moving in the current reel slack out or set the hook. Often, fish will take the bait and the line will quit moving in the current without you feeling or seeing the strike. Reel the slack out and gently tighten the line to set the hook.
A cricket and split shot on 6 or 8 lb line will usually glide over most obstructions if you set the hook gently. It will not be a fish a lot of the time but many times it will be. It is hard to tell so avoid yanking the hook too hard as you can snag deep into limbs or other obstacles.
When snagged, light wire hooks will often pull free if steady pressure is applied in a straight line. I like to use gold Aberdeen hooks mostly because of this reason. Try to pull the line tight and bounce it a couple of times. If the hook doesn’t straighten and come loose break it off and retie using a modified clinch knot or a snell knot. Just think of it as par for the course. If you aren’t getting snagged some you aren’t fishing in the right places.
Fishing rivers with current can be an exciting way to spend the day. Catching redbreast and drifting along a beautiful river is even better. Drifting crickets or worms for redbreast can be very productive and it works for big bluegill on other rivers too. At first, it may take some time to get the hang of it. Once you get the technique down you might want to take some Beetle Spins or Rooster Tails with you when you run out of your 100 crickets.