May 29, 2012
By Bob Kornegay
Ah, the summer family vacation. The average American family of mom, dad and 2.5 children dutifully pack the duds and other travel paraphernalia, load the average American family car and excitedly hit the average American road. Cruising the interstates and back roads, that half-child looks a bit odd and draws stares from passing motorists. Mom and dad, however, love each offspring equally and would not remotely consider leaving the tyke at home.
Arriving at their carefully chosen destination after an all-day drive, said family exits the crowded vehicle, wearily checks into an average American lodging facility and prepares for a restful night's sleep in anticipation of waking afresh and commencing the plethora of fun and frolic promised in all the slick, colorful travel brochures.
Thus begins the average American vacation road trip of three days to a week, during which spirits are restored, rest and relaxation achieved and a fine time is had by all.
Well, maybe, but not always. Post-vacation statistics show that a large percentage of family vacation trips are not the idyllic jaunts we expect and anticipate during the planning stages. In fact, one or more family members are likely to return home disappointed.
"I didn't get to...." one complains.
"So what? I didn't see..." laments another.
"Hush up and unload the car!" snaps dad. "What's your problem? I packed the fishing rod for nothing!"
Thus, the desired effects of the traditional summer vacation trip are limited or altogether nil.
The plain truth is family vacations do often fail to live up to their something-for-everyone billing. Worse, the situation can be exacerbated if angling is on someone's desired agenda.
Georgia, fortunately, is a state that, vacation-wise, can provide a number of best-of-all-possible-worlds scenarios. Filled with ample fishing opportunities as well as more traditional family vacation attractions, it is relatively simple to find a destination that will please everyone involved. Let's take a look at the best Georgia Fishing vacations.
NORTH GEORGIA MOUNTAINS
In June there are few better places for family travel than the northeast Georgia mountains. Daytime temperatures, as a rule, are still pleasant, fishing can be very good and non-angling recreational opportunities are plentiful.
Where fishing is concerned, the mountains offer eclectic angling choices suiting a wide range of skill levels. In June, the bream and bass are active in numerous high-country reservoirs. Lakes such as Burton, Chatuge, Nottely and Blue Ridge contain good populations of various bass species, including largemouths, smallmouths, spotted and white bass. Chatuge whites, Burton spots and Blue Ridge smallmouths are of particular note.
Lake Chatuge is one of Georgia's premier white bass reservoirs from May through July. Lake Burton boasts the spotted bass state record and is currently Georgia's only reliable reservoir trout fishery. Blue Ridge Lake is the only remaining consistently producing smallmouth lake in the state.
All of the state's mountain reservoirs are home to good bream populations, with larger individual fish showing up consistently during the summer months.
With plenty of public boat-ramp access in a variety of locations, Georgia's mountain lakes are ideal destinations for the accomplished angler. Lake Chatuge also features fishing piers for the more casual or younger fisherman. Check out the pier-fishing opportunities at Chatuge Dam Reservation and Ledford Chapel Recreation Area. In addition, Lakes Burton, Chatuge and Blue Ridge are fine locations for swimming, picnicking and a variety of other outdoor activities.
Trout season is in full swing in the mountains in June and few vacationers interested in angling miss out on it. Georgia's liberal stocking program and high-country abundance of both challenging and easy-access waterways provide entertaining sport for trout fishermen of all ages and skill levels. Whether it's the challenge of fly-fishing or the bait-chunking bug that bites, one is almost assured to find a well-stocked public-access trout stream within easy reach.
Wildcat Creek and the Tallulah River in Rabun County, Fannin County's Rock Creek, and the Chattahoochee River near Helen seldom disappoint. There are also ample bank-fishing opportunities for trout in the region's smaller fishing lakes, notably the impoundment at the Lake Winfield Scott Recreation Area on Georgia Highway 180, just a few miles from U.S. Highway 129. This U.S. Forest Service facility also includes a fishing pier and the lake is generally well stocked.
Another easily accessed and easily fished stretch of trout water is Moccasin Creek, between Moccasin Creek State Park and the Lake Burton trout hatchery. From the Georgia Highway 197 bridge to the point where the stream empties into Lake Burton, anglers under the age of 12 and over 65 can enjoy a leisurely, relaxed angling outing.
For non-angling attractions, consider the many miles of scenic hiking trails, including sections of the storied Appalachian Trail; Alpine Helen with its Bavarian motif and abundance of "touristy" activities; Brasstown Bald, Georgia's highest elevation point near Blairsville; antique-shopping and dining at the Dillard House in Dillard; awesome and impressive Tallulah Gorge near Clayton; and the fascinating Foxfire Museum near Black Rock Mountain State Park in Mountain City.
Northeast Georgia trip lodging can be as bare-bones or as opulent as the vacationer desires. Camp in one of the many public or privately-owned campgrounds, relax in a mountain cabin, or rest your head at in-town lodging facilities ranging from quaint bed and breakfast inns to hotels suited to a wide range of budgets and tastes.
OCONEE RIVER LAKES
July is a good month for a family trip to Middle Georgia's Lake Country, encompassing Morgan, Putnam, Greene and Baldwin Counties. Major towns are Madison, Eatonton, Greensboro and Milledgeville. Where fishing is concerned, the area's centerpiece lakes, Oconee and Sinclair, are two of the most popular angling destinations in the state. In addition, the region features no shortage of historic, cultural and other non-angling attractions.
Lakes Sinclair and Oconee are favorite fishing destinations for good reason. As a rule, fishing is good on both reservoirs, even during the hot weather experienced during a Georgia midsummer. Bass fishermen, in particular, appreciate the willingness of Oconee's and Sinclair's largemouth populations to bite during warmer weather, when more southerly reservoirs are experiencing a summer "doldrums" period.
At Lake Oconee, July bass anglers experience success by focusing on deep-water fishing along river channels, on main-lake points and around deeper submerged structure. Summer is also a prime time to take largemouths from the Oconee and Apalachee rivers on stretches located north of Interstate 20.
Bass fishermen targeting Lake Sinclair this time of year do well fishing drop-offs, deep brush piles and docks. Lighted docks are especially good target areas at night.
Oconee is also one of the hottest catfishing reservoirs in the state and summertime is the ideal time of year to pursue the lake's bewhiskered denizens. Blue cats, white cats, channel catfish and flatheads are all active, particularly during early morning and late afternoon periods of the day. Night fishing is also a good option. Sinclair, as well, has good populations of channel, blue, white and bullhead catfish that usually prove quite cooperative during the summer months.
Striped bass and hybrid bass action is particularly good on Lake Sinclair. In July, both are caught with consistency by trolling deep-running crankbaits over main-lake points and near channel drop-offs. This time of year, especially early and late in the day, stripers and hybrids are also caught on the surface as they congregate to chase schools of baitfish at various locations around the reservoir.
Sinclair's bream species — primarily bluegills, redbreasts and shellcrackers — are also active this time of year. Individual fish, in general, run small, but numbers and a willingness to bite compensate for the lack of size, particularly for younger anglers.
Boat, bankside and pier fishermen are equally at home on these premier Middle Georgia reservoirs. Oconee features one fishing pier at Tailrace Park and bank fishing for a number of species is often reliable at Armor Bridge Boat Ramp, Granite Shoals Marina, State Highway 16 Boat Ramp, Long Shoals, Redlands U.S. Forest Service Boat Ramp, Sugar Creek Marina, Tailrace Park and Swords USFS Boat Ramp.
Sinclair's best bank fishing may be found at Dennis Station, High Grove Harbor Park, and Little River Marina. Fishing piers on Sinclair are at Cheek Recreation Area, Cosby's Landing, Dennis Station, Rocky Creek Park, and the Sinclair and Wallace Dam tailraces.
Lake country non-angling points of interest include Putnam County's Alice Walker Trail, Uncle Remus Museum and the imposing Rock Eagle effigy.
Baldwin County contains sites and artifacts from the 1807 to 1868 era when Milledgeville was Georgia's capital, the scenic and historic Bartram Forest hiking trail system, and Andalusia, the farmstead home of noted Georgia author Flannery O'Connor.
In Morgan County, Madison's antebellum and Victorian architecture is always worth a look as are similar structures and sites in Greene County's Greensboro.
There is an abundance of vacation lodging in Lake Country. Opt for camping, bed and breakfast inns, opulent resort accommodations, or one of many hotel/motel facilities.
Family vacations at the coast in August are nothing unique, but the Georgia coast around Brunswick, Saint Simons Island and Jekyll Island is truly a special destination when fishing enters the equation. The inshore waters that ebb and flow around and through Sydney Lanier's beloved "Marshes of Glynn" make a late summer stay here much more than just another trip to the beach.
In the bay waters of Saint Simons and Saint Andrew Sounds the fishing in August is often as hot as the weather. Tarpon and numerous species of sharks invade the sounds in teeming numbers and ample samplings of whiting, bluefish, tripletail, flounder, seatrout and red drum appear there as well. Offshore, it is a good time for barracuda, king and Spanish mackerel or cobia.
Where tarpon are concerned, fishing guide Captain Vernon Reynolds describes August along the Georgia Coast as a time when "temperatures run in the low hundreds and fish in the high hundreds." Many of these tarpon are of trophy size, making this month arguably the best month of all to pursue them. Sharks, from small individuals to 100-plus pounders are also abundant.
Sharks and tarpon can be taken here using the same fishing method. Both species feed heavily on menhaden this time of year and congregate in shallow waters near sandbars where large schools of the baitfish are gathered. When forage fish are located, anglers can use live menhaden fished on the bottom or drifted beneath a float to tempt both of the pelagic predatory species.
Less accomplished fishermen, boat-less anglers, or those who simply want to approach fishing in a more leisurely fashion can visit The Saint Simons Island Pier, the Gascoigne Bluff Pier on Saint Simons or the Jekyll Island Pier. These convenient fishing platforms are popular spots for both local and visiting anglers.
Both float fishing and bottom fishing, with the appropriate bait selections, work well. The Jekyll Island Fishing Pier, in particular, has become a landmark on the island. Located at the Clam Creek Picnic Area, it serves area and vacationing fishermen as a prime fishing destination.
Built in 1969, the pier extends 360 feet from shore into Saint Simon Sound. There is a 520-foot, partially shaded section at the end of the walkway. On each end of this perpendicular attachment are 95-foot "roofed" fishing platforms that allow users to escape the sun on a hot day.
The pier attracts an eclectic array of anglers, from grizzled old-timers to grinning, excited youngsters. Fish species taken from the pier are just as varied. Expect to see whiting, Atlantic croaker, sheepshead, sharks, American silver perch and flounder. Georgia's state record flounder of 15 pounds, 10 ounces was caught from the pier in 1990.
Crabbing, with string crab traps, is also good from the pier and, like the fishing, is most productive during an incoming tide.
Non-angling attractions on Jekyll Island include guided evening turtle walks from June through mid August; the Jekyll Island Historic District, called the "Millionaires' Village; more than 20 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding; an 11-acre water park; the University of Georgia Tidelands Nature Center; Jekyll Island Museum; Horton House; andd the Wanderer Memorial.
On Saint Simons Island visit the Saint Simons Lighthouse; the restaurants and specialty shops of "The Village;" miles of public beaches; Christ Church; and Fort Frederica National Monument.
Outfitters also offer interesting marshland kayak tours and the island's nightly "ghost walks" are fun.
Ample multi-budget hotel/motel lodging is available on Jekyll and Saint Simons Islands and in the nearby town of Brunswick.
Jekyll Island Campground, on the northern tip of the island, is a good option for tent camping, trailering, or recreational vehicles. A number of campgrounds may also be found in and around the Brunswick area.
Whether it's the mountains, lake country, or the coast, Georgia's summer fishing vacation options are many and varied. These three regions of the state offer practically everything a traveling vacationer requires in the way of fishing, fun and frolic. Whatever the choice, the vacationing angler shouldn't be vexed or disappointed. As for the family debate that's bound to ensue when "where" is being discussed, perhaps you'll be wise just to flip a coin.
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