Georgia's Fishing Getaways

Summer's approaching, so it's time to plan those family vacations. If you want to include some angling, these destinations should keep the entire clan happy! (June 2007)

Float-tubing on one of the ponds at Callaway Gardens, the author hooked this bluegill.
Photo courtesy of Dottie Head.

School's out, and it's time for the family vacation. No matter where your travels take you, why not plan a little fishing along the way? The kids will love it, and it'll give you a chance to introduce them to a sport that your family can enjoy for years to come.

There are some great reasons to go fishing. It's cheap -- or at least you can keep it that way! You don't have to have a state-of-the-art boat and gear to catch fish; a cane pole or simple spinning rig will catch fish just as reliably. And it's a great way to disconnect your kids from television, video games and iPods long enough to have a real conversation with them.

Children under the age of 16 can fish without a license; however, anglers age 16 and older do need to have one to fish in any fresh or saltwater in the state. Fishing licenses are readily available at bait and tackle shops, some convenience stores and the sporting goods departments of most big-box stores, like Wal-Mart.

There are a few tips to keep in mind when fishing with kids. First, keep it simple. Choose easy-to-use tackle and bait, and target fish that you can reel in a lot of in a short time. The fun lies in "catching" when you're a kid.

Also, keep the trip short and go to an area that offers other entertainment, like a playground or park. Be sure to take along plenty of snacks, sunscreen and bug spray to keep the little ones safe and happy.

Finally, keep your cool. Depending on the age of your kids, you may spend a lot of time untangling lines, baiting hooks and teaching casting skills. The quickest way to spoil the day is to lose your temper. And, if the kids lose interest in fishing, let them explore the shoreline or stream and get muddy. Follow these tips and you're virtually guaranteed a fun day.

Regardless of your travel plans, you're sure to have a great fishing spot just around the corner. With 12,000 miles of warm water streams, 4,000 miles of trout streams, the Georgia coastline and thousands of acres of reservoirs and ponds, there's sure to be a place to fish nearby. Let's take a closer look at three of Georgia's more popular travel destinations and the nearby fishing opportunities.

St. Simons Island

Located an hour south of Savannah, St. Simons Island is a popular family vacation spot. Visitors can enjoy miles of beaches, 216 holes of golf, historic sites, museums, nature programs, shops and galleries and don't forget the fabulous seafood!

St. Simons Island is an angler's paradise as well, from surf fishing on the beach to pier fishing to family-oriented offshore adventures. A great new fishing spot is the recently constructed fishing pier on the Frederica River. The pier was funded by the Sea Island Company following the closing of the Sea Island Causeway to public fishing. As soon as you cross the bridge onto St. Simons Island, the fishing pier is immediately to the left. Access it by going through Gascoigne Park.

The pier features six floating docks that are great for fishing or crabbing. Portions of the pier are covered so that anglers can get out of the sun and the county plans to have restrooms completed by this summer.

According to Spud Woodward, Assistant Director for Marine Fisheries with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Coastal Resources Division the pier became popular with locals and visitors alike as soon as there was enough structure for people to stand on.

The main St. Simons Island pier in the village area of the island is also a good bet. While this pier is more crowded than the new one, family members can find a host of activities (and public restrooms) nearby in the area. There are the St. Simons Island lighthouse and the Neptune Park playground and miniature golf at the pier. Take a short walk down to the Village and you'll find St. Simons Bait and Tackle, shopping and an array of eating establishments.

Casting a line from either of the two piers can yield anything from sharks and spotted sea trout to red drum, spots and croakers.

Crabbing is another excellent activity for kids and both piers offer good crabbing.

"Crabbing is a great family activity because it's active," Woodward said. "There's always something going on."

A simple crabbing rig consists of a length of string tied to a stick on one end and a chicken neck on the other. Or\ you find ready-made crabbing rigs at most coastal bait and tackle stores. A net is also a good thing to have to avoid getting little fingers pinched by hungry crabs.

If surf-fishing is more your style, head down to East Beach at the old Coast Guard station. This area has good surf fishing all the way down to Goulds Inlet. Restrooms are available along with outside showers, which come in handy for washing your gear and your kids off when the trip is done.

When fishing East Beach, take everything you need, as there are no bait shops or food vendors in the area. Beach anglers are likely to catch flounder, trout or red drum. Woodward recommended using a fish finder rig with a small, thin wire circle hook. These hooks are very forgiving to novice anglers and hook up easily.

Shrimp make good bait for surf- or pier-fishing, as do the new Berkley GULP! Baits. "The GULP! Baits are the ticket when fishing with kids," Woodward emphasized. "It comes in pre-cut strips and you don't have to worry about keeping shrimp or other perishable baits alive. When you're done fishing, you just zip up the bag and you're done."

For the more adventuresome, St. Simons Island offers outstanding charter fishing. The most important thing when booking a charter is to find a captain who offers child-friendly trips and who has experience taking children out. The Internet is one of the best sources for finding reputable charter services, but it is also important to pick up the phone and talk to the people who will be taking you fishing.

Woodward recommended going out for a short, two- to three-hour trip fishing for whiting.

"You want to find a guide who has experience taking children and knows what is reasonable to expect out of kids. Taking them out to catch whiting and little bonnethead sharks is easy and lots of fun," he said. "You don't want advanced angling

for kids. They want to hold that rod and reel and get something on there!"

Unless it's a flat day on the ocean and your kids are skilled anglers, don't take them offshore. Keep them close to the beach and inside the estuary.

When you're done with your fishing adventure, enjoy some of the island's other offerings including Fort Frederica historic monument, a shrimp boat tour on the Lady Jane, the Maritime History Museum, bike riding, horseback riding or just relaxing on the beach.

Hiawassee

If you're more mountain man than beach bum, perhaps your summer travels will take you to Hiawassee in the beautiful North Georgia mountains. About two hours north of Atlanta, Hiawassee and nearby Young Harris offer a host of outdoor-oriented activities to suit any taste and budget.

Check out the recently renovated Brasstown Valley Resort. This 503-acre resort offers outstanding accommodations, golf, horseback riding, hiking trails and a host of other activities. Check the resort out online at BrasstownValley.com

If that is out of your price range, there are plenty of other lodging options nearby as well as camping galore.

When you're ready to fish, Lake Chatuge beckons. Named after a nearby Cherokee Indian settlement, Lake Chatuge is 13 miles long and is an impoundment of the Hiawassee River that lies in both Georgia and North Carolina.

According to Reggie Weaver, a fisheries biologist with the Wildlife Resources Division in Gainesville, Lake Chatuge has good catfish and white bass fisheries, which make for good family fishing. There are also a lot of panfish in the lake, such as bluegill and crappie that are easy and fun for the family to catch.

If you are interested in bank fishing, Weaver recommended trying Towns County Park on U.S. Highway 76. Over the winter, the WRD placed fish attractors made of Christmas trees, PVC pipe and other items in the lake at this site to provide cover and forage for fish. Casting a line nearby is always a great bet for some family fishing action. There is a boat ramp for those who have a boat and Weaver suggested contacting the Gainesville Fisheries Office at (770) 535-5498 for information and maps on where to find the fish attractors.

Another good area is the U.S. Forest Service Day-Use Area located on State Route 288, which runs off of U.S. 76. This area also has good bank access and fish attractors. For information on this park, contact the local Forest Service office at (706) 745-6928.

If you have a half-day or more to spare, there are several places that rent pontoon boats on Lake Chatuge. On a recent visit, we rented a pontoon boat from Boundary Waters Resort & Marina We picked up a picnic and carried along fishing tackle for a great day on the water. The boats were clean and well-equipped, and the staff gave us a thorough run-down on how to operate the boat before letting us embark on our excursion. More details are available online at BoundaryWatersResort.com, or by calling 1-800-323-3562.

Lake Chatuge is a beautiful lake and when the kids lose interest in fishing there is plenty to see and do. Swimming off the boat or a beach should be a fun thing for kids during the summer months.

If targeting catfish, use anything from a cane pole to a spin-casting combination with a hook, weight and bobber. Beginning anglers should use a size 1/0 to 4/0 hook and small weight. Worms, cut fish, liver, stink baits and even cut up hot dogs may work for catfish.

A spinning rig or cane pole also catches crappie and bluegill. Just rig it up with a size No. 6 or 8 hook, a small weight and a bobber. You probably can have the best luck with crickets or worms, which are readily available at nearby tackle stores.

You can also target bass using any artificial lure that imitates a minnow or soft baits like rubber worms. Bass tend to congregate in shallow areas when the weather is cool and move into deeper waters during the hot summer months. Target bass from the bank or boat near woody debris and around edges of aquatic vegetation.

If trout fishing is more to your liking, the nearby Toccoa, Tallulah and Chattooga rivers make good destinations. The WRD stocks trout from late March through August, and these stockers are usually pretty easy to catch. Try a lightweight 5-foot spinning reel with 4- to 6-pound line, a size 10 hook and one or two split shot weights. Corn kernels work well, or you can purchase red worms, night crawlers or salmon eggs.

Another option for avid trout anglers is to book a cabin at the Hiawassee River Trout Lodge. They offer a variety of cabins situated right on the banks of the Hiawassee River. The lodge maintains a specially stocked fishery just for their guests and, according to their Web site, 18- to 24-inch fish are found in this stretch of river. For more information, check out their website at HiawasseeCabins.com

After your fishing excursion, you may want to check out Brasstown Bald, the highest peak in Georgia at 4,784 feet above sea level. Fortunately, there is a road that runs nearly to the top of the mountain and it's a short, but fairly steep hike from the parking lot to the rooftop of Georgia. On a clear day, you see Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina from the observation platform. Take a jacket, as the climate atop the mountain is entirely different from that at lower altitudes.

Depending on your travel dates, you can also check out the North Georgia Mountain Fair, scheduled for July 18-29, 2007, at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds. The usual carnival rides and attractions await visitors, as well as a host of musical performances, including the Bellamy Brothers, Bill Anderson, and Pam Tillis.

Callaway Gardens

A destination in itself, Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain is a popular family vacation spot. With accommodations ranging from well-appointed cottages to hotel-style lodge rooms, the resort offers something for just about any budget.

Bikes are the best way to see Callaway. Just hop on and pedal around the gardens checking out all the sites along the way. The Day Butterfly Center is a favorite with the children, but the Robin Lake Beach complex with train ride and miniature golf runs a close second. Plant enthusiasts and kids alike will enjoy the Sibley Horticultural center, vegetable patch and other gardens. However, one of the best things to do at Callaway, which features 14 small lakes, is to fish!

According to Carl Warmouth, Callaway Gardens' manager of fisheries operations, anglers can catch largemouth bass, world-class-sized bluegills, and shellcrackers during the summer months.

The only "public fishing" here is in Mountain Creek Lake. You can rent a boat and tackle if needed. For bait, you can use crickets or minnows, but no live minnows. Callaway also

offers guided trips on the lake. According to Warmouth, the lake was stocked with shad and re-stocked with bluegill in 2004.

"If you haven't fished Mountain Creek since then, it is a much better fishery than it has been in many years," he pointed out.

For even better fishing, book a trip with the guides at the Kingfisher Outfitters. We recently went out with a guide in float tubes and had the time or our lives. We caught fish galore and had the best fun watching one of our buddies get towed around the lake in his float tube by a really big bass.

Kingfisher Outfitters also has a fly-fishing school. The minimum age for both the school and guided fly fishing trips is 12, due to the learning curve for fly-fishing. There is no minimum age for fishing trips using conventional tackle.

Throughout the summer, Callaway Gardens offers a Summer Adventure Program. Among its features are discounted guided fly-fishing trips and lessons. There is a fishing tournament each Friday during the summer months. For more information on fishing, lodging or the wealth of other summer fun available at Callaway, check out their Web site at CallawayGardens.com

No matter where your family vacation takes you this summer, plan to pack the fishing poles and spend at least part of your trip introducing your children to the great sport of fishing!

Find more about Georgia fishing and hunting at: GeorgiaSportsmanMag.com

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