John's Journal...

Fishing with Captain Greg Hildreth on the Georgia Coast

Click to enlargeThe Tarpon Are Coming

Editor’s Note: Captain Greg Hildreth of Brunswick, Georgia, fishes Georgia’s Atlantic Coast for speckled trout, redfish, flounder and tarpon. That’s right, tarpon. Most people don’t realize that Georgia has a saltwater coast. Few people even know that this is a tarpon hotspot during the heat of the summer. It also has some tremendous marsh and beach fishing and one of the most-unusual tripletail fisheries in the nation. Boaters and sailors up the East Coast sail down to Sea Island and Jekyll Island for tennis, golf and high-dollar resort living. Most people never consider the outstanding saltwater fishing available just off the fairways. This week, we’ll look at some of the finest saltwater fishing in the nation that receives little fishing pressure.

Question: What are you using to catch tarpon?
Hildreth: As the weather gets hotter, the tarpon fishing gets better. I use the 4- and 6-inch Spike-It Shad to catch tarpon. That saltwater Spike-It Shad is deadly on tarpon.

Question: How are you using shad to catch tarpon?
Hildreth: Tarpon will congregate offshore during low tide. They’ll be holding in 20 to 30 feet of water. They’ll be in big pods, and you’ll see 100 to 300 of them in one school. The tarpon will be rolling good at this time of year. I cast out in front of them, let my bait fall to the bottom, and then I work it back slowly toward the boat. I’m working the bait faster than I generally do. I’m using a Pflueger Trion 66 Baitcasting Reel with 50-pound braided line on an All-Star medium-heavy rod. I’ll fish with 80-pound-test monofilament leader.Click to enlarge

Question: How many tarpon will you jump in one day?
Hildreth: Last year, using strictly artificial lures, we boated two out of nine fish that we jumped that day. You have to remember that when we talk about a day, we’re only talking two to three hours of fishing because that’s when the tide starts moving, and the tarpon become active. I had one cast last year where three different tarpon took my Spike-It bait. I jumped the fish, it came off, and another tarpon took my bait. I jumped that fish, and it threw the lure. I finally hooked and brought the third fish to the boat. When you can jump three fish on one cast, you’ve had an outstanding day of tarpon fishing.

Question: What colors of saltwater Spike-It Shad do you prefer?
Hildreth: I like the black back with the clear belly saltwater Spike-It Shad. I also like the blue- and clear-colored shad as well. Clear is also very deadly on the tarpon. I’m also using the chartreuse saltwater Spike-It Shad. I’m fishing these baits on jigheads. I cast the lure out in front of the fish and let it fall to the bottom, and then I’ll reel the bait back slowly, close to the bottom.

Question: How big are the tarpon in these ponds you’re fishing?
Hildreth: If you’re lucky, you’ll hook up to a 40 or a 50 pounder. Click to enlarge

Question: You said that last year on one of your best trips you hooked nine tarpon and got two in the boat. How big were the two that you hooked?
Hildreth: One weighed about 40 pounds, and the other weighed about 170 pounds.

Question: What’s the trick to hooking those fish?
Hildreth: A tarpon bite is a very different one. If you’re fishing for tarpon with live baits, the tarpon will smash the baits and pretty much hook themselves. When you’re fishing with saltwater Spike-It Shads, you get a bite that’s similar to one on a soft-plastic worm in freshwater. When the tarpon takes a saltwater Spike-It Shad, you have to point the rod at the fish like you do when you’re fishing with a plastic worm. This gives the tarpon a chance to suck the bait down. After the tarpon gulps it down, you set the hook. This way, the tarpon gets the bait inside its mouth where there’s some flesh for the hook to set. You have to remember that the mouth of the tarpon is very hard, and you can’t get the hook set on that hard mouth. You have to let the fish take the bait inside of its mouth to get some flesh to hook. Another trick to landing these fish is to set a light drag. When these tarpon hit the bait, they usually jump. When a tarpon jumps, you have to point your rod to keep it from shaking the bait. If you don’t, you’ll pull the lure out of its mouth.

Question: How long did the fight last on that 275-pound tarpon you boated last year?
Hildreth: It took about 2-1/2-hours to get the fish up to the boat.

Question: What do you tell your clients when you get a tarpon hooked?
Hildreth: Hold on, and remember to bow to the fish when it jumps.

Question: When do the numbers of available tarpon grow in your area?Click to enlarge
Hildreth: Tarpon fishing starts heating up in mid-June, with July, August and September being the prime months.

Question: Is a tarpon bite a morning one or an afternoon one?
Hildreth: It’s really an all-day bite. A tarpon bite is tide dependent. The trick to finding them is to be out on the water every day and look where they’re running. If you’re fishing artificial lures, your chances of catching fish are better on an outgoing tide. On the outgoing tide, tarpon are chasing bait out of estuaries. They usually hold on the backsides of bars. I’m finding most of my fish six to seven miles offshore as that tide is going out. Most anglers over here on the Georgia Coast use live bait when fishing for tarpon. As far as I know, I’m the only one fishing with artificial lures.

Question: Why are you using artificial lures?
Hildreth: Last year is a classic example. Ten boats moved in on a school of tarpon. Everyone on that boat was casting live pogeys, and then I pulled in there with my Spike-It lures. That’s where I jumped three fish on one cast. The Spike-It 6-inch Shad looks different from the bait the tarpon are accustomed to seeing. I think that’s the reason they strike it. All I do is cast the bait out and reel it in close to the bottom.

Question: How much time does getting a tarpon require?
Hildreth: The size of the tarpon determines the length of the fight. A 45- to 50-pound fish usually takes about 20 minutes. A tarpon weighing over 150 pounds may require two hours.

Question: What’s the biggest fish you’ve ever caught?
Hildreth: The biggest fish I’ve caught was 220 pounds. She was 86-inches long and 46 inches in girth.

Question: With that outstanding tarpon fishing, why aren’t more people fishing for tarpon on the Georgia Coast?
Hildreth: Few people seem to realize that Georgia has saltwater. Even fewer people know that there are tarpon here. When the tarpon are here, I may see 10 boats fishing for tarpon that day, and that’s when I call it crowded, although the boats may be 1- to 5-miles apart. Most days I see only one or two boats, even where there are thousands of tarpon rolling.

You can contact Captain Greg Hildreth at 912-261-1763, or visit


Check back each day this week for more about " Fishing with Captain Greg Hildreth on the Georgia Coast"

Day 1: The Mystery of the Tripletail
Day 2: Look for Trout in the Cuts
Day 3: Use Jerkbaits
Day 4: Once-a-Month Reds
Day 5: The Tarpon Are Coming


Entry 355, Day 5