Peach State Family Affairs

Peach State Family Affairs

Summer's on the way: time to think about a family getaway. Want to add a little fishing this year? If so, these sites can handsomely accommodate the clan! (June 2006)

With summer creeping closer like the sun before the dawn, many families have started pondering vacation possibilities. There's a lot to choose from in Georgia, which offers a veritable boatload of activities and destinations to attract a family's interest (and dollars).

Of all possible trips, however, the most enjoyable and rewarding will arguably be those that include some family fishing. Some folks may opt to restrict their fun to lounging around on the beach or getting jerked around on amusement park rides, but a getaway with angling on the agenda is apt to bring a family together in a way that promises lasting memories -- not least because the beauty of the natural world is so much a part of it.

Out of all the numerous destinations in the Peach State that would be ideal for a family fishing vacation, we've made three selections -- one for each of the lazy, hazy, crazy months of June, July and August. Each of these areas boasts its own unique characteristics and attractions and contains some fine fishing in its waters.

JUNE

When school's out, it's time to head for the beach. Georgia's several beautiful barrier islands have some gorgeous beaches, and around those coasts some great saltwater fishing awaits. The islands and beaches centrally located around Brunswick can easily serve as headquarters for a fabulous family fishing vacation.

Known as the "Golden Isles," the area around Brunswick includes Jekyll, St. Simons, and Sea islands. In the vicinity are about 10 public marinas and the same number of charter fishing services -- and you know that the area wouldn't support that many guides unless a lot of good fishing was there to be had there!

The salty waters along the Georgia shore teem with many species. Found inshore are seatrout, channel bass (a.k.a. "red drum") and flounder. Offshore bottom-fishing can yield up sea bass and several species of snappers and grouper; offshore trolling targets include king or Spanish mackerel, barracudas and jack crevalle. Marlin, sailfish, tuna, and dolphin are caught farther out by blue water trolling.

The spotted seatrout, the most popular quarry, can be caught year 'round in tidal creeks. Whiting are small but tasty fish that are easily caught, especially off St. Simons beaches. King mackerel, which can get up to 40 pounds, can be caught five miles from shore, on artificial reefs, or at Grays Reef National Marine Sanctuary. Forty miles offshore, you'll find the Brunswick Snapper Banks, where a variety of bottom-fish can be caught.

Some type of saltwater fishing can be found to fit practically any family's needs. Depending on your youngsters' ages and interests, the children can stay on the beach and fish, or go on an all-day charter far out into the blue sea, or do anything in between.

Some guide services target specific species; others go for whatever's biting. Also, certain times are better for catching one species rather than another. For instance, June's fishing for trout and red drum is good, while its action with flounder, cobia, sharks, and king and Spanish mackerel is considered excellent.

A family with the right boat, the appropriate equipment, and the necessary experience for do-it-yourself saltwater fishing may choose to take their own craft to the brine and have things their own way. Numerous marinas provide boat launching, bait, tackle, supplies, and advice. And those who prefer hiring a guide will find plenty of options. Before hiring a guide, it's important to ask some questions, such as: Does the price include bait, tackle, food and drinks? What kind of fish will you catch? Regardless of the answers, plan on bringing your own sunglasses, tubes of sunscreen, motion sickness medications, cameras, and optimistic attitudes.

Apart from sampling the fabulous fishing, the family can visit Jekyll Island's Summer Waves Water Park. The adults can tackle the golf courses of Jekyll and St. Simons; the whole group can go on a sailboat charter, rent personal watercraft, or go parasailing. For a more sedate experience, shop in Brunswick, tour the Millionaires Village on Jekyll or visit Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons.

JULY

For the middle of the summer we head to the middle of the state. One of the most celebrated fishing destinations in Georgia is Lake Lanier, which is just 45 miles to the northeast of the burgeoning metropolis that is the Peach State's capital city, Atlanta.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake created in 1957 by the impounding of the Chattahoochee and Chestatee rivers, 39,000-acre Lanier is a productive reservoir that supports healthy populations of largemouth bass, spotted bass, striped bass, and crappie. Use the right baits in the right place at the right time, and your family can enjoy an outing filled with bent poles and full livewells.

Families can launch their own boats, rent a boat, fish from the bank, or hire a guide to take them fishing. There are Corps and county parks and commercial facilities with boat ramps all around the reservoir. Public ramps are to be found at Shoal Creek, Chestnut Ridge, Old Federal, Duckett Mill, Toto Creek, Shady Grove, and Bald Ridge.

Boatless families need not despair: Lanier can also be fished from its more than 700 miles of shoreline. While not all of that's open to the public, much bank access is available for casting a line while still standing on solid ground. Some of the parks most visited for shore-fishing include Buford Dam, Little River, Keiths Bridge, Young Deer, Six Mile, and Little Hall parks.

Well reputed for its crappie and bass fishing, Lanier has largemouth, spotted, and striped bass swimming in its waters. The bass feed on threadfin shad and blueback herring, so lures mimicking those baitfish work effectively. Look for largemouths around shallow woody structure in the upper end of the lake. Spots can be found in deeper water around boat docks and riprap. Watch for stripers feeding on schools of bait near the surface early on summer days, but expect them to stay deep the rest of the time.

If you're new to the lake and would like to hire a guide, plenty of them work this impoundment. An experienced guide knows the lake and can take you to where the fish are, and show the right techniques for catching some. Guides ordinarily provide boat, tackle, bait, and expertise for a fun day of fishing; some may offer lunch -- and even tell some whopper stories.

Another fishing resource for families to sample at Lake Lanier is the Chattahoochee River tailwater, flowing out of Lanier at Buford Dam. Coming off of the bottom of the deep clear impoundment, the river's rebor

n below the dam as a clean and very cold flow that's rich enough in dissolved oxygen to serve as habitat for trout.

The Georgia Wildlife Resources Division stocks thousands of rainbow and brown trout into the Chattahoochee from spring to early fall, which makes for some outstanding action. The river's deep pools and its shoals, boulders and downed trees, along with some vegetation, combine to create a variety of habitat types just right for trout.

The numerous parks of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area that lie along the flow offer bank access for fishing and ramps for launching boats. Popular parks are located at Bowmans Island just below Buford Dam, Abbotts Bridge, Medlock Bridge, Jones Bridge, and Island Ford.

Fishing from the bank, wading during low water or float-fishing from a float tube, johnboat or canoe are all ways to access the Chattahoochee fishery. Trout can be caught by using bait or spinning lures, or by fly-fishing. You can even hire a guide for a float trip down the river in a Mackenzie drift boat.

If you have little ones in the family that aren't up to the challenge of river fishing, you can still introduce them to the sport. Just drop by the Rainbow Ranch Trout Farm on state Route 20, just downstream of Buford Dam. This pay-to-catch site has small ponds full of lunker trout that are easy to hook, guaranteeing action to novice anglers. Just be aware that you pay by the pound for what they catch!

The fishing is fantastic at Lanier, but there are also other family friendly activities to enjoy. Houseboat and personal watercraft rentals are available, along with sailing and water-skiing. Lake Lanier Islands Park features a water park, a hotel, a marina, and other facilities.

Within an hour's drive of Lake Lanier, the Atlanta metro area has whatever you can imagine for the entertainment of every member of your household: Zoo Atlanta, the Georgia Aquarium, Six Flags Over Georgia, the Mall of Georgia, and the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field, to name just a few notable possibilities.

AUGUST

When the summer sun's really bearing down, and the heat stifling, it's time to head to the North Georgia mountains, where the temperatures are little more bearable -- and wading a mountain trout stream can make it even cooler.

In and around the scenic Fannin County town of Blue Ridge, you'll find great venues for both fishing and entertainment, so the little city is a prime destination for a family fishing vacation this month.

Covering 3,290 surface-acres east of its namesake town, Blue Ridge Lake is the only reservoir in the state that currently can boast a fishery for smallmouth bass. The bronzebacks are typically caught around rocky ledges and shorelines -- 100 miles' worth -- with crankbaits and spinners.

Another distinctive characteristic of Blue Ridge Lake: walleye fishing. The toothy fish can be hooked by trolling with crankbaits, or by tossing night crawlers to rocky shores late in the evening.

The North Georgia mountains are known for their trout streams, and in the vicinity of Blue Ridge, three rivers and two creeks make available to anglers a variety of coldwater action.

The Toccoa River, which flows into and out of Blue Ridge Lake, is heavily stocked at both ends with trout; also heavily stocked are Cooper and Rock creeks, smaller mountain streams accessible by Forest Service roads with camping areas along them. Be aware that these picturesque streams are prone to crowding on weekends and holidays.

Lying within the Cohutta Wilderness Area, the Jacks and Conasauga rivers are remote, pristine trout waters that support wild populations. A serious hike or backpacking trip will be needed to fish both these streams, so visits to them are better suited to hardier families.

The Blue Ridge area features other activities to entertain the outdoor family. Several area stables cater to equestrians of all ages and abilities, for instance. Or you might try a whitewater raft trip down the nearby Ocoee River. For an easier float, choose an afternoon of tubing on the Toccoa River.

Downtown Blue Ridge has art galleries, specialty shops, antiques, craft shops, and restaurants for exploring. A special treat: a round-trip excursion from Blue Ridge to McCaysville on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, which parallels the Toccoa.

THE BOTTOM LINE

North, central or south; mountains, piedmont or saltwater: Georgia has a fun-filled fishing vacation waiting for your family. From mountain trout streams to large reservoirs to the Atlantic Ocean, the Peach State can keep your crew busy having a great time with bent rods and plenty of other diversions.

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