Peach State Vacation Time

School will soon be out -- it's time to plan your family ventures for this summer. Here are some ideas on how to make fishing part of the fun.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

The alarm clock beeps a half-hour before first light. You reach over quickly to turn it off and slip out of bed. The rest of your family will sleep longer than normal this morning, so you move about the cabin making as little noise as possible. You are up before the sun despite it being the first day of your vacation because you are eager to do a little fishing. The truth is that while everyone in your family will find plenty of things to enjoy doing on this trip, you picked the spot with its angling opportunities in mind.

Georgia anglers do not have to choose between going fishing and taking a traditional family vacation when it comes time to set summer plans. Numerous destinations in all parts of the Peach State offer outstanding fishing prospects, including fine opportunities for youngsters to get in on the angling action, plus an abundance of other fun things to do.

We've selected three spots -- one for each month of the summer -- that offer prospects for a family vacation that includes plenty of good fishing. The areas are widespread and represent the mountains, the central part of the state and the coast. From trout streams to small lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, all types of waters are also included.

JUNE

Blue Ridge

For a fisherman, the train ride is almost unbearable. The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway line from Blue Ridge to McCaysville provides a beautiful ride and a fun family outing, but the Toccoa River, which the route runs beside, contains endless awesome-looking runs and riffles that are tough to ride past and only watch.

The key to enjoying the train ride may be to first spend a day wading or drifting the Toccoa, which is every bit as good as it looks as a fishing destination. From Blue Ridge Dam to the Tennessee border, the Toccoa offers 15 miles of trout-filled waters. Public access for wading and for beginning and ending float trips is available below the dam, at the Curtis Switch Access Area and at two parks in McCaysville. Guide services also offer wade trips at private access points and float trips in rafts or drift boats.

Fishing the Toccoa tailwater is basically a low-water proposition, so anglers have to set vacation plans around power generation schedules at Blue Ridge Dam.

The town of Blue Ridge, located in the heart of the northwest Georgia mountains, offers everything a family could want for a fishing-centered family vacation. The Toccoa River tailwater runs right beside town, and Blue Ridge Lake offers Georgia's only viable smallmouth bass fishery, plus what many anglers consider to be the best bluegill fishing in the mountains. Bream grow big in Blue Ridge Lake, and June is a favored time for Bob Borgwat of Reel Angling Adventures, who has been chasing Blue Ridge's big bluegills for the past 15 years.

Upstream of Blue Ridge Lake, the Toccoa River and several of its major tributaries offer an abundance of additional angling opportunities, mostly for trout. The last few miles of the river upstream of the lake actually offer very good smallmouth fishing, and federal Forest Service lands offer some access. However, that access is spotty, and the lower river has whitewater that is a little feistier than what most families would want to take on with a canoe full of fishing gear.

Farther upstream, the Toccoa can be waded or floated in various places. However, better opportunities for family fishing outings exist on tributaries, especially Rock Creek, in the vicinity of the Chattahoochee National Fish Hatchery, or on Cooper Creek, from the Cooper Creek Scenic Area parking lot downstream to the second of two Forest Service campgrounds. Both streams are heavily stocked with catchable-sized rainbows on a regular basis and are easy to fish from the bank.

Anglers who prefer less crowded waters and want to tangle with wild trout can go just upstream of the parking area for the Cooper Creek Scenic Area, where all access is by foot, or check out Noontootla Creek or Stanley Creek. Noontootla has Forest Service Road 58 beside it, but the creek flows through many miniature gorges, dropping away from the road. That fact, along with special regulations that allow only artificial lures and limits the harvest to trout that are more than 16 inches long, keeps fishing pressure light. Stanley Creek, another artificial-lures-only stream, runs along much of it course through the Rich Mountain Wildlife Management Area, and the only way to access its cool, clear tumbling waters and wild trout is on foot.

In addition to diverse fishing opportunities, the Blue Ridge area offers an abundance of destinations for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and boating. Campgrounds also abound in the Chattahoochee National Forest, so there are plenty of places where a family can pitch a big tent during vacation week.

An old railroad city, Blue Ridge has a wonderful downtown district full of antique, craft and gift shops and unique restaurants. The depot for the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, which runs half-day trips in old open-air train cars along the river, is in the middle of downtown. Along the edge of town, Mercier Orchards offers cider, fried pies, fresh produce and locally made crafts. One of the largest apple orchards in the South, Mercier Orchards grows more than 50 varieties of apples.

For guided fishing on the lower Toccoa, Blue Ridge Lake or various mountain streams near Blue Ridge, call Reel Angling Adventures at (866) 899-5259 or visit them online at www.reelanglingadventures.com. For more information on places to stay or things to do in and around the Blue Ridge area, you can call the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce at (800) 899-MTNS or log onto

www.blueridgemountains.com.

JULY

Callaway Gardens

When the summer heat sizzles, few things are more enjoyable than slipping into a float tube, kicking around a quiet pond, and casting flies for jumbo bluegills and abundant largemouths. And it could be argued that there is no better destination in Georgia for that style of fishing than Callaway Gardens.

Callaway Gardens actually offers two different types of fishing experience. The most popular option is to fish on Mountain Creek Lake, which is the largest lake in the gardens by far at 175 acres. The lake supports a terrific population of bass and bream. All fishing is by rental boats, which are available for $55 per day for two people. Gardens admission also must be paid, unless you are staying at Callaway Gardens.

Mountain Creek Lake is a great destination for a parent-child outing because of the combination of easy access, abundant fish and t

he opportunity to catch large fish. While most bass in the lake weigh only a pound or so, the big ones are really big. This lake has yielded many double-digit-weight largemouths over the years.

For family members who might only want to get out for an hour or two, canoes can be rented to fish the lake for $15 for the first hour and $5 for each hour after that. No fishing license is needed, because the lakes are privately owned.

Among the best things about Mountain Creek Lake is that anglers do not need any special knowledge. Bass and bream alike tend to be around treetops and other obvious visible cover along the lake's edges. Bream fishermen do well with popping bugs, with a sinking nymph fished as a dropper behind the surface fly. Spin-fishermen can toss micro-jigs or fish crickets under corks.

Bass fishermen find good success using the gamut of popular lures, including soft-plastic jerkbaits, stickbaits, plastic worms, spinnerbaits and shallow-running crankbaits. Live minnows may not be used as bait.

For anglers who want to experience Callaway's very best fishing, more than a dozen small lakes that are scattered throughout the gardens are open to fishing only on guided trips. Guides use float tubes or johnboats to access the small lakes. Traditionally, these trips have been available only to flyfishermen, but Callaway now offers spin-fishing outings as well.

Guides pick destinations according to which lakes have been hot and to suit anglers' interests. Whether you want to catch bass, bream or even big channel catfish often dictates which lake to fish, as does preferred style of fishing gear. One lake may offer ultra-fast action, while another may be more likely to yield topwater action with large bass hitting popping bugs. The lakes also are close together and easy to slip in and out of, so guides commonly begin on one lake and then move to another.

While bass fishing on these lakes can be very good, most anglers opt to spend at least part of their time targeting bluegills. The bream in Callaway's small lakes are truly gigantic and incredibly fun to catch, whether on a fly rod or an ultralight-spinning outfit. Plus, flies and small lures presented with bream in mind commonly attract more than a few feisty bass.

Callaway, of course, offers a wealth of things to do for the entire family. Highlights include the Day Butterfly Center, where folks can walk among more than 1,000 butterflies of 50 different species, a 10-mile bike trail, a network of nature trails, a birds-of-prey show, a swimming beach and the Callaway Discovery Center. Then, of course, there are the gardens, including Mr. Cason's Vegetable Garden, where Southern segments of the Victory Garden television show are filmed.

Lodging options at Callaway are extensive and range from simple motel rooms to deluxe cottages. Food options include 11 different restaurants, which range from cafés to the Plantation Room, which puts out big buffets for every meal.

Outside Callaway's gates and up on Pine Mountain, F.D. Roosevelt State Park is Georgia's largest state park, at 10,000 acres. The park offers additional fishing opportunities in Lake Delano, more than 40 miles of hiking trails, horseback trails and a stable, plus cottages and a campground. The Little White House, which president Roosevelt built, and Warm Springs, named for soothing waters that drew Roosevelt to the area, are also nearby, as are antique shops in the town of Pine Mountain.

For more information, including details on packages that include lodging, food, gardens admission and fly-fishing, call (800) CALLAWAY or check out

www.callawayonline.com.

AUGUST

Crooked River State Park

A relatively small state park at only 500 acres, Crooked River does not stand out as an obvious destination for a summer fishing vacation. However, the park's cabins and campground serve as an ideal gateway for fishing trips on the Crooked River, on Cumberland Sound, on the ocean side of Cumberland Island, and out into the Atlantic Ocean. Looked at collectively, opportunities are outstanding.

Families who seek very simple outings actually can fish or try to catch crabs from the dock by the boat ramp within the park. Pieces of shrimp or other cut bait can yield a mix of species. A small pond near the campground provides additional opportunities for folks to fish from the banks for bass, bream or catfish. Also, the park offers several miles of beautiful hiking trails, a miniature-golf course and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The park's campground has 63 sites with good facilities. Ten cottages are situated along the river.

The Crooked River, which is strictly salt water, provides opportunities to catch flounder, seatrout, red drum and a smattering of other species. However, fishing prospects get better as one moves down the river and into Cumberland Sound. The sound itself, plus a network of tidal creeks and the expansive marshes between the sound and 17 1/2-mile-long Cumberland Island, offers outstanding fishing for many of the same species. These waters are highly fertile, and fishing can be outstanding.

Many anglers fish live shrimp under corks in the creeks. However, fishermen who prefer to cast artificial lures can do well by walking topwater plugs across the surface, tossing popper-style lures, and casting spoons and bright-colored grubs on 1/4-ounce leadheads.

Flyfishermen also can do well in the marsh. However, water clarity does not tend to be very good during the summer. Therefore, surface flies and bright-colored, fairly large streamers generally offer the best prospects.

The Cumberland Island National Seashore offers seemingly limitless opportunities for surf-fishing on its Atlantic shore. Big redfish, jack crevalle, sharks and even tarpon are among the fish that might show up in the surf during mid-summer. Countless smaller species keep the action steady.

Among the better ways to spend the day as a family is to stand knee-deep in the ocean and cast out into the surf. Use simple two-hook bottom rigs baited with frozen shrimp, squid or mullet for this action

The island also has major inlets at its north and south ends, and both are funnels for sportfish. A rock jetty off the south end of the island, which is designed to maintain the channel through Cumberland Sound, holds a wide variety of fish year 'round. Anglers must consider tides and rips caused by currents and set up accordingly. All the species already mentioned, plus sheepshead and black drum, show up at the jetty.

Cumberland Island, of course, offers much more than fine fishing. Extensive shell-covered beaches are never crowded because of quotas on the number of island permits that are issued daily. High, unspoiled dunes separate the beaches from maritime forests, through which more than 50 miles of trails wind. Some trails lead to the ruins of old structures, like the historic Dungeness mansion. Wild horses and abundant shorebirds roam the beaches.

A ferry from the town of St. Marys takes explorers to the is

land, which is accessible only by boat. Private boaters can launch at Crooked River State Park or in St Marys. Day-use or camping permits are required for all island use, with a daily limit of 300 users. Cumberland Island has a terrific walk-in campground (Sea Camp) that is semi-developed, and the island's sheer size and the scope of its offerings really call for folks spending at least one night when they visit.

For information on Cumberland Island, call (912) 882-4336. For more on Crooked River State Park, call (912) 882-5256.

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