Fishing license sales are up in Georgia as much as 70 percent over last year.

That’s the report from Dept. of Natural Resources administrators out of the Fisheries Division office for this region.

“It’s varied from about 50-70 percent up since last year this same time,” says Capt. Bert Deener, fisheries biologist with the DNR fisheries division office in Waycross. “It’s significantly higher.”

Pierce Countians are beginning to venture out more as state shelter in place regulations due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic begin to loosen, but many are still looking for activities where they can social distance from others with their close friends and family.

What better way to do that than spending a day out on the water, casting for a bite?

“It’s a great option to be able to social distance still. You stay away from folks and fish with your family,” Deener points out.

Fishing license sales and bare shelves at bait and tackle stores are proof many are taking Deener’s advice and heading to the river, a private pond or state park with a rod and reel.

For those who don’t yet have a fishing license, next weekend is prime time to take your family fishing. DNR is not hosting fishing rodeos at wildlife management areas (WMAs) or public

fishing areas (PFAs) across the state, but free fishing days are still open this month Saturday, June 6, and Saturday, June 13. Another free fishing day will be held in the Fall, Saturday, September 26.

“No fishing license, no trout stamp needed. You can fish on our wildlife management areas or public fishing areas (on free fishing days),” Deener says.

Most Pierce County residents live within a 1-2 hour drive of five PFAs  — Evans PFA, Dodge PFA, Hugh M. Gillis PFA, Ocmulgee PFA and Paradise PFA, but there are boat ramp access points to the Satilla, Altamaha and Ocmulgee Rivers a little closer to home.

“We’re central here to about five of them (PFAs), but we’re not real near any of them,” Deener says.

The Satilla River is at a good level for fishing right now, but the Altamaha River will be better suited for a day on the water when levels drop some. The Ocmulgee is reportedly dropping out now.

“For the next two weeks it’s (Satilla) going to be primo  — that’s assuming we don’t get a bunch of rain,” Deener told The Times. “The Altamaha is fairly flooded. I wouldn’t dwell on that for the early summer, but when it (the water level) gets right, it’s going to be great.”

Of course, locals also have the option of fishing on private ponds with permission. Bass fishing at night is great summertime fishing on ponds, Deener suggests.

“Daytime, this is the time to catch a bream or bluegills in ponds,” he adds. “When the river gets right, you can expect to catch redbreast and bluegill, even bass in the rivers.”

Channel catfish are reportedly in abundance in area ponds and in the Altamaha River, too.

For those looking to make fishing a family outing, Deener offers the following tips:

Go early or go late: “You get out of the heat … and, that’s when the fish are most active.”

Target catfish and bream.

If fishing at night, make sure to carry bug repellant, a head lamp or flashlights and proper navigation lights if fishing from a boat. And, be sure to check boating regulations at gofishgeorgia.com.

Suwannee Canal and Kingfisher Landing entrances into the Okefenokee Swamp Park in Folkston are excellent fishing spots: “It’s real good fishing in the summertime. You catch bowfin, catfish and a couple different panfish species.” Check the wildlife refuge webpage, https://www.fws.gov/refuge/okefenokee, for hours of operation.

Bank fishing at a PFA in Georgia is excellent for kids.

Crickets and worms are the best bait for most native fish. Chicken liver and shrimp are great for reeling in a catfish.

Use a small, curly tail (4”-6”) plastic worm for bass fishing, a green pumpkin or black work best around here.

Stay away from treble hooks; use single hooks instead. “They’re tricky … easy to catch into people,” he says.

If fishing in a pond with lots of weeds, use a float to keep your hook and bait off the bottom.

Push button poles are better than spinning reels for children. “They don’t tangle as badly as the others,” Deener says. Cane poles are too long and cumbersome for most kids.

Bobbers are good for children  —  When it sinks, they know there’s a bite even if they didn’t feel the fish tug at their pole.

Put life jackets on small kiddos near the water, even if not fishing from a boat.

If you’re hooked after fishing free on Saturday, visit gofishgeorgia.com or georgiawildlife.com to purchase a license and access fishing and boating regulations. Licenses can also be purchased at Jot ‘Em Down in Blackshear.

Fishing licenses for Georgia residents cost $15 per year or $5 for one day access and $1 for each additional day. Youth under the age of 15 can purchase an annual youth fishing license for $10 and senior citizens (65+) can purchase a license for $4. DNR also offers hunting/fishing combo licenses.

Editor’s Note: Capt. Bert Deener is a 27-year veteran of DNR. Deener will be submitting a fishing report to be published in future editions of The Blackshear Times.