October 04, 2010
Those much-anticipated days of summer vacation are quickly approaching. With today's economy, staying close to home may be a good idea. These destinations can provide some in-state family fishing fun this year! (June 2009)
By Jeff Samsel
Summer -- those letters bring different thoughts to different peoples' minds: a break from the daily school routines; a chance to explore somewhere fun and new on vacation; a time to seek a cooler spot (literally); or the best season for certain styles of fishing. Unfortunately, differing ideas of what summer means has the potential to create family strife.
What if there was a plan that blended those ideas, with a summer vacation that included, but was not limited to, fine fishing opportunities? Such plans really can exist, and even without straying far from home. With that very thing in mind, we have scoured Georgia and picked out three fabulous destinations, one per summer month, for family vacations with fishing as a major part of the plan.
Red Top Mountain State Park
For many Georgia sportsmen, Red Top Mountain offers a great family getaway that's surprisingly close to home. Located on the banks of Allatoona Lake, Red Top Mountain sits right off Interstate 75, tucked between the northern Atlanta area suburbs of Kennesaw and Cartersville. Because it is situated on a forested peninsula and is fairly large at 1,950 acres, the park offers surprising respite from the nearby hustle and bustle.
Most importantly, Red Top Mountain provides access to an abundance of fine summer fishing, with some very good opportunities only footsteps away from the park's campsites, cabins and lodge rooms. Allatoona Lake offers a diverse fishery, and anglers can target a variety of species without ever leaving the park or even launching a boat.
Bluegills are the easiest and most obvious targets for family fishermen working from the banks. However, anglers can also catch catfish by presenting chicken livers on the bottom and spotted bass by walking the shores and working brush or rockpiles with artificial lures. Even the lake's hybrid and striped bass sometimes push baitfish to the surface over a point or a flat near shore. Anglers who are prepared with topwater lures or bucktail jigs can get in on very exciting action from the bank.
Even more opportunities exist for anglers who want to launch a boat at the park's boat ramp or travel around the lake by car, utilizing the many U.S. Army Corps of Engineers access areas.
Allatoona Lake spreads over more than 11,000 acres, so anglers have plenty of water to explore. The upper parts of the rivers and creeks feature broad flats adjacent to the channels and offer more cover and stained water than other parts of the lake. The lower end of the lake is steeper, deeper and most likely to be clear.
Allatoona stands out as a good family bass lake because catch rates tend to be high. The bass, most of which are spots, are not very large on average, but they are abundant and can serve up fast action. Among the best approaches during the summer is to begin at first light with topwater lures. Then switch to soft-plastic jerkbaits as soon as the topwater bite wanes and eventually change to plastic worms or jigs fished around shade-producing cover in 10 to 15 feet of water.
Making an early start is a very good idea during the summer because the fish bite well at that time. Also, Allatoona is very popular with pleasure boaters during the summer.
Folks who want to add a little variety to their summer angling adventures might also consider exploring the Etowah River, downstream of Allatoona Dam. The river offers close to 50 miles of fishable waters below Allatoona, and fishing can be good for everything from panfish to jumbo-sized catfish to striped bass.
The nearest access to the river is just below the dam at an area maintained by the Corps of Engineers. Fishing for bluegills, shellcrackers and small but abundant spotted bass is especially good in this area. The shoals here are suitable for wading when the water level is down. It's important to note, however, that the river level rises up to 4 feet very quickly when the water is released from the dam.
There is also a boat ramp here, but boaters who launch there are limited to a three-mile section of river because of a second smaller dam downstream. Farther down the river, access is mostly by bridge crossing rights-of-way. Scattered shoals make canoes or kayaks the best watercraft for fishing the river by boat.
Returning to the state park, families find plenty to do besides fishing. Twelve miles of hiking trails wind through the woods, with deer and other wildlife common. In addition, the park offers a swimming beach, biking trail, nature center, miniature golf course, swimming pool (for lodge and cabin guests) and tennis courts. Various interpretive programs also provide plenty of opportunities for family fun and education within the park.
A few other places worth visiting in the area are the Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site, the Bartow History Center in historic downtown Cartersville and the Booth Western Art Museum. And since the park lies amid Atlanta suburbs, there are plenty of places to eat, shop and enjoy other forms of less rural play without traveling very far.
For more information about Red Top Mountain State Park, visit www.gastateparks.org. For more on other area opportunities, visit www.notatlanta.org.
Midsummer days call for a trip to the coast, where a splash in the surf is never too far away. In fact, anglers can stand waist deep in the water to cast into the Atlantic, blending the ocean's refreshment with hot summer fishing.
Surf-fishing, however, is just one of many ways to tap into the fishing bounties that surround Tybee Island, a barrier island that lies directly east of Savannah. Bounded by tidal creeks and adjacent marshes, the South Channel of the Savannah River and the open Atlantic Ocean, Tybee offers a rich variety of summer fishing opportunities.
One of the best options for a family trip is to the coast is to spend time fishing from one of the island's three fishing piers -- Tybee Island, Back River or Lazaretto Creek piers. The Tybee Island Pier, originally built in the early 1900s and rebuilt in 1996 after having been lost to a fire, is located at the south end of the island and stands out as the only ocean pier along the Georgia coast. It's a long structure with a T at the end, and there is no admission charge.
During June, anglers can catch speckled trout, flounder, black drum, whiting, bluefish, spadefish and possibly cobia or king and Spanish mackerel, according to Capt. Ray Golden of Tybee Island Bait and Tackle.
Golden suggested bottom rigs and cut bait for whiting and black drum, and cut bait fished on "bluefish rigs" for bluefish. He also noted that shrimp or minnows fished under popping corks can work well for trout and redfish. He suggested live bait, such as pinfish for kings and cobia, when conditions are right for these big game fish. Bluefish rigs or Gotcha plugs are best for Spanish mackerel.
The creek piers offer great fishing for the mixed bag bottom-fishing approach or for redfish and trout.
Tybee has about two miles of beach, but certain areas are closed to fishing to accommodate swimming. For anglers who choose to step out into the surf, the northern end of Tybee offers good prospects. The area is lightly used by swimmers and it accesses the mouth of the Savannah River. Plus, for anglers who don't mind walking about 20 minutes to reach a really good area, the north beach jetties offer some of the most consistent action available.
The species most often taken in the surf are whiting, black drum and speckled trout. A good approach for catching trout from the ocean is to walk the beach in the morning and cast soft-plastic lures into the surf.
For families who want to hit the ocean, but who don't own a boat or don't want to pull one to the beach, several charter services offer everything from deep-sea bottom-fishing trips to offshore trolling trips for bigger game.
Golden stressed that Tybee Island visitors should do their homework in order to get the most out of their angling outings, noting that different species hit well at different times, according to winds and tides and such.
"We always tell people what they should be doing that day," he said of folks who stop by the store. "And stop back tomorrow for new advice if the conditions change, because so will the fishing."
Between fishing trips, opportunities for family play on Tybee are endless and range from guided activities like taking dolphin tours to renting sea kayaks to simply relaxing on the beach or strolling through shops. A couple of favorite stops are the Tybee Island Lighthouse and the Marine Science Center on Tybee Island.
Tybee Island is only 20 minutes from historic Savannah. Families who want to venture off the island for a change of flavor also find plenty of interesting places to explore there.
To learn much more about food lodging, charter fishing, recreation and other opportunities for the family on Tybee Island, check out www.tybeevisit.com. For updated fishing reports and information on the best rigs and baits, visit www.tybeeislandbaitandtackle.com, or call (912) 786-7472.
When summer turns really hot, it's time to look for a place that's just a little bit cooler, and in Georgia, that means heading for the mountains. The Tallulah River, which rises high in the mountains of North Carolina. It enters Georgia as a tumbling stream and runs the bulk of its relatively short course through the northeastern corner of the state before merging with the Chattooga River beneath the impounded waters of Lake Tugalo.
Along its route, the Tallulah goes through several transitions and much of its channel lies beneath a chain of small lakes. The free-flowing portion and the lakes collectively offer a tremendous array of opportunities for numerous species of game fish, and the river corridor is loaded with places to hike, camp, explore and eat and otherwise enjoy the Georgia mountains.
The first practical access to the Tallulah begins a few miles south of the border, just downstream of private holdings around the hamlet of Tate City. Roughly, five miles of the Tallulah tumble through national forest land, and access is excellent throughout this section of heavily stocked trout waters.
The river is rugged in places, pouring over falls and through boulder labyrinths. In other spots, it flows lazily over gravel bars. A forest service road parallels the entire section and is never very far away. Well-worn "fishermen's trails" from parking pull-offs lead to all the best places to get to the river.
The Tallulah supports some wild rainbows and browns and produces an occasional big fish. Freshly stocked rainbow trout dominate catches, though, and it's hard to beat fishing pools with bait or hitting spots all along the river with an in-line spinner for dependable action.
The upper half of the public section is a little smaller and not quite as steep overall, lending itself better to wading than the lower end. The far lower end of the free-flowing Tallulah runs though posted private land before the river begins backing up in the headwaters of Lake Burton. There, opportunities take on a new face.
Lake Burton, which covers 2,775 acres, is the largest of the Tallulah lakes and is the best known in the chain because of the jumbo-sized spotted bass (including an 8-pound, 2-ounce state record fish) and brown trout that it has produced in recent years. For midsummer family outings, though, a few other species arguably offer even better prospects. Yellow perch, chain pickerel and bluegills all abound in Lake Burton, and all three species lend themselves to simple tactics and serve up fast action.
Next largest in the chain is Lake Rabun with 834 acres, which offers mostly small but abundant largemouth and spotted bass. It also features good summer fishing for bluegills and shellcrackers.
.The main attraction on Lake Rabun, though, is a big population of walleyes, which have been stocked annually since 2001. During late summer, the walleyes congregate over bottom structure in 30 to 50 feet of water, and anglers can do well by fishing near the bottom with night crawlers in the cove directly across the lake from Halls Marine. Biologists have sunk abundant structure at prime depths for walleyes in that location.
At the lower end the of the Tallulah River chain, 600-acre Lake Tugalo offers good mixed-bag fishing for bass, walleyes and bluegills, as well as spectacular scenery. The lake's upper Tallulah River arm is in the extreme lower end of Tallulah Gorge. However, the road to the only access point on the Georgia side is steep, rough and winding, and four-wheel-drive is recommended.
Tucked between the larger lakes in the chain are 240-acre Lake Seed and 63-acre Tallulah Falls Lake, both of which are well suited for small-boat fishing. Seed, which supports a very good bass fishery and gets fairly light pressure because of its remote location, actually has a small boat ramp. Car-top boats, meanwhile, can be hand-launched into Tallulah Falls Lake at the edge of the town of Tallulah Falls. There is also good foot access for bream fishing on this lake via a boardwalk in the day-use area of Tallulah Gorge State Park.
Speaking of Tallul
ah Gorge, no discussion of family vacations along the river would be complete without some mention of this spectacular 1,000-foot-deep river gorge, the trails that lead to overlooks along its rims, the suspension bridge that spans the gorge to connect the rim trails, the waterfalls within the gorge or the outstanding visitor center.
Another cool family stop, just up U.S. Highway 441 from Tallulah Gorge, is Goats on a Roof, a gift store that is aptly named. It has live goats actually living on the roof!
Of course, there are trails leading to waterfalls, trout in tributary streams, cool gift and antique shops and many other fine family stops throughout the Tallulah River corridor.
Regarding places to stay, the Tallulah corridor offers everything from camping in national forest campgrounds along the upper river and in Tallulah Gorge State Park to staying at the beautiful new Lodge at Tallulah Falls. Check out the latter at www.thelodgeattallulahfalls.com.
Other options include rental cabins, bed and breakfasts, and historic lodges along the lakes. A good resource for more information about the lakes is www.gamountains.com.