Peach State Doubles For The Winter


Georgia's wide range of habitats and mild winters make for some interesting hunting and fishing combinations. Here's a look at three of those for this year.



Marsh hens are very common along the Georgia shore and hunting pressure on them is low. Photo by Polly Dean.

In this day and age of specialization hunters and anglers have been led to believe that failing to maintain a laser beam focus on the pursuit of one favorite quarry is often what keeps the good among us from making that jump to truly excellent at our chosen sport. There is some truth in this, but it's also fair to say that the days of the well-rounded outdoorsman seem to be fading.

You know the type. He's the person who catches fish or bags game even when taken to unfamiliar waters or a patch of woods never seen before. Some may say those folks just have a knack for it, but a more likely explanation is they were wise enough to always keep their minds open to new possibilities.

Another reason these folks always have the best time is they don't force it to happen. They just enjoy taking the opportunities Mother Nature presented them.

The wide variety of Georgia's natural resources offers great opportunity for anyone to mix it up a little to keep things interesting. Let's take a look at some places in Georgia where you can have some action mixing fins with your feathers or casts with your blasts.

Mark Bowen of Rome shows off a good seatrout on the Peach State coast. Photo by Kevin Dallmier.

SQUIRRELS & TROUT

Beginning in North Georgia, a frosty morning spent plinking squirrels out of the tops of hardwoods with a scoped .22 rifle, followed by an afternoon of fishing for trout with the weak winter sun warming your back is a great way to enjoy the mountains. This time of year, there will be little competition from other anglers, and squirrels are generally abundant and underutilized by hunters just about everywhere. Add in the vast amounts of public land found in North Georgia and finding somewhere to go shouldn't be a problem.

Since the trout are the more difficult part of the equation to fill in, let's talk about them first. Trout stocking season is long over, so creeks that may have been easy pickings during the spring and early summer probably are not the best choices now. Instead, focus your efforts on streams that have natural reproduction and aren't dependent on the stocking truck. The fish may not be as large on average, but the quality of the experience should be better compared to standing shoulder-to-shoulder casting for newly stocked fish.

Two places that come to mind are the Jacks and Conasauga rivers, both blue-ribbon trout water by southeastern standards. Both streams flow through the hardwood mountains and valleys of the Cohutta Wilderness Area, so they are surrounded by public land.

If hiking in for wary native trout isn't your first choice, another option is to consider is one of the more accessible delayed harvest streams. These waters receive periodic stockings throughout the winter, but all fishing is on a catch-and-release basis with artificial, single hook lures only. The Chattooga River in Rabun County has a delayed harvest section and is bordered by public lands with plenty of squirrel hunting opportunities.

For fooling winter trout, remember the water is cold and the fish are reacting accordingly. Even cold-water species like trout slow down as the thermometer drops.

The Chattahoochee National Forest holds plenty of squirrels for a December or January hunt. Photo by Polly Dean.

By afternoon the sun has a chance to warm the water up some and there should be more insect activity to put the trout in a feeding mood. Working the deeper holes with a weighted nymph is a good technique for winter fly-casting for trout. You can also tie a nymph on your spinning rig and add split shots to make it heavy enough to cast.

When it comes to squirrel hunting tactics, sneaking in before daylight to stake out a good nut tree is a tried and true producer of squirrel dumplings. But, that kind of hunting takes some prior knowledge of the area to know where the best locations are.

A better choice for these remote locations may be to stalk hunt through the woods looking and listening for activity and then silently slipping in close enough for a shot. Especially in the cooler months, squirrels may choose to sleep in a little later than usual waiting for the sun to begin to thaw the night's chill. Mountainsides that face the morning sun are good places to find activity well into midmorning.

The WMAs around Seminole provide places to work a bird dog and double up on some bobwhites. Photo by Polly Dean.

MARSH HENS & SEATROUT

For another unique fins and feathers opportunity head to the Georgia coast. Marsh hens are abundant throughout Georgia's extensive coastal marsh system. While these birds are fairly easy targets as wingshooting goes, the trick is getting them to take to the air to present a shot. They much prefer to stay hidden in the thick marsh grass.

The key to a good hunt is to study a tide table and the weather forecast. The higher the tide is the better the hunting. Extreme high tides flood more water into the marsh making it more difficult for the marsh hens to hide. A 9-foot tide doesn't come around too often, but if you can coordinate your trip to match up to such a big tide, then the odds are definitely in your favor.

Even if the tide chart won't completely cooperate with your schedule, all is not lost. A stiff east wind pushes more water into the grass, mimicking a high tide and limiting the hiding places for the birds.

Most hunters do their shooting from a boat, but some marsh hen aficionados like to have their feet planted firmly on, albeit, squishy ground. When the water floods deep into the marsh, the few high points left above the water

will holds lots of birds. Using a boat to reach these small hummocks, then hopping out to stomp around to flush the birds for some quick wingshooting is the ticket. But, know your marsh before trying that. The muck around most Spartina grass can suck you deep into its clutches.

Another option is to target snipe. Yes, these birds actually do exist. A real snipe hunt doesn't involve a gullible soul straddling a ditch in the dark with an open gunny sack waiting for hunting partners -- who are off somewhere laughing hilariously -- to drive the birds down the gully toward the sack.

Rather, snipe are walked up in low marshy areas for some fast wingshooting.

Snipe breed in Canada and the northern United States and then migrate south during the winter. As a result of this journey, the birds can be found scattered throughout Georgia.

The snipes' long bill is used to feed on worms and insects, and they often are found in wet, boggy areas foraging in the soft earth. Since finding snipe in any real concentration in one area is rare, for many hunters snipe are more of an incidental thing while out after other species. Usually, by the time you figure out that the quail-sized bird that just flushed is a snipe, it is twittering away from you in an erratic flight pattern. Snipe are challenging targets, so hunting them does offer some good sport.

The Consauga River in the Cohutta Wilderness Area is off the beaten path and offers wild trout fishing. Photo by Polly Dean.

Once you've had your fill of coastal wingshooting, then it's time to pick up the fishing pole. Spotted seatrout are abundant on the Georgia coast and provide great sport for anglers as well as some fine eating.

As the water cools in the fall seatrout move into the tidal creeks and rivers for the winter. Deep holes attract a lot of fish, and the best places to find them are in channel bends and the mouths of creeks. Casting a jig-and-grub combo is a proven tactic.

Unlike marsh hen hunting, a strong tide works against you when it comes to trout fishing. Spring tides muddy the water as it sucks silt out the marshes and the strong current makes boat positioning more difficult. Strong current tests your fishing skills as well, since keeping in contact with your jig to detect light strikes becomes difficult.

To catch the trout, try to locate areas where the water is a little clearer and the current not quite so strong. Since such areas often are small, keep on the move to locate multiple sites. Hit each one and, if there aren't any takers in short order, then move on in search greener pastures.

One great thing about inshore saltwater fishing is you never know what you are going to catch. Along with trout, you may also hook some redfish, since those species often favor similar habitat.

In the winter months Lake Seminole yields plenty of largemouths like the one the author is displaying. Photo courtesy of Kevin Dallmier.

BASS & QUAIL

Our last cast and blast is targeted at two species for which Georgia is well known. Bass fishing and quail hunting both are big parts of Georgia's sporting tradition. There's no better area of the Peach State for both of these than southwest Georgia around sprawling Lake Seminole.

Lake Seminole is a bass factory and the winter season is a great time to be on the water. The heat and bugs of summer are long gone, and the fish are enjoying the brisk conditions as much as the anglers. A good area to try is Spring Creek.

Put your fish finder to work to locate breaks in the bottom contour and other sunken structure. Once you have found a likely spot, tie on a deep-diving crankbait, Carolina-rigged soft plastic, or even a dropshot worm to work the deep channels and weed edges. Bear in mind that the water is cool so keep your presentation slow and deliberate.

Although usually thought of as the favorite winter weapon of anglers who frequent deep and clear lakes, a jigging spoon can be a very productive lure even in this relatively shallow reservoir. Nothing imitates the vertical darting and fluttering of a small disoriented and dying shad better than a jigging spoon. When put to use in the right places on Seminole, the lure can be deadly. Although it's rare to catch a trophy fish on a jigging spoon, the lure excels at catching solid keepers one after another when you locate a school of them holding deep.

The Peach State has always been known for its quail hunting, and the picture of two hunters walking up on a pointer locked down on a covey of quail is a big part of our sporting history. Unfortunately, as land use patterns have changed, quail hunting is not what it used to be. But there are still opportunities out there for those who choose to look for them.

For those wanting to try it on their own, some South Georgia wildlife management areas offer decent opportunity for quail hunting. Probably the best bet is the new Silver Lake WMA situated on the north shore of Lake Seminole and to the west of the Flint River. At 9,200 acres it is fairly large, but has a good road system. It also has a number of stands of longleaf pines with a wiregrass under story. That type habitat is ideal for bobwhites.

Also around the lake there are nine sections of the Lake Seminole WMA that might be worth checking out with a pointer.

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