Our state is blessed with a great many destinations that offer family vacation fun, along with some good fishing prospects. Here's a look at several top choices for this year.
By Jeff Samsel
Who says you can't have your cake and eat it, too?
Have you ever found yourself pondering how to spend your vacation time, wanting to plan a good trip for the whole family but also wanting to spend a few days on your boat or on a dock fishing? Why not combine the two and plan a family-fun/fishing vacation?
Without even leaving Georgia, there are several destinations where a whole family can find plenty of great stuff to do that isn't limited to fishing but definitely includes fine angling opportunities. We've selected three great family-travel spots - one for each month of the summer - that are spread from one end of the Peach State to the other. So get out your calendar and map to plan some warm-weather fun for the whole clan.
JUNE With summer having set in, now is the time to head for the land "where spring spends the summer," as mountainous Rabun County is often billed. Home of the Chattooga and Tallulah rivers, Georgia's most northeasterly county offers a host of opportunities for family play in the high country.
Rabun County has three state parks - Black Rock Mountain, Tallulah Gorge and Moccasin Creek - that lie fully or partially within its borders, and more than half the county's land is within the Chattahoochee National Forest. The parks and the forest together offer hundreds of miles of trails to hike, a couple of cool swimming beaches, countless places to camp in, and fine fishing destinations of many different kinds.
The small lakes of the Tallulah River chain offer great options for small-boat angling in the summer. Photo by Jeff Samsel
Among the best places for families with young kids to play in is Moccasin Creek State Park, where only kids, senior citizens and disabled anglers get to fish in a heavily stocked section of the park's namesake creek. The trout come from the state's Burton Trout Hatchery, right next door, which is a fun place for kids to walk around in and see the trout. In addition, the hatchery operates a special catfish pond that is open to fishing by kids only and is kept loaded with usually cooperative channel cats.
Immediately across State Highway 197 from the state park, the Hemlock Falls Trail leads to a pretty waterfall on Moccasin Creek. The trail, which stays right beside the tumbling creek, climbs just enough to offer a bit of an adventure but is quite manageable, even for young hikers, and is only about a mile long
For highly predictable fishing action from a beautiful tumbling river, the Tallulah River offers a great place to spend a day. The Tallulah gets stocked heavily from spring through the end of summer, and numerous pull-offs along a Forest Service road provide good access to dozens of big, deep pools. The Tallulah also has three Forest Service campgrounds along its banks.
For anglers who would rather go after wild trout or who hope to find more solitude, the Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River supports a great population of wild and semi-wild brown trout. Beyond the main river, several Chattooga River tributaries (and tributaries of tributaries) offer fine fishing for wild browns, rainbows and brook trout and get very light fishing pressure. Well downstream of its best trout waters, the Chattooga also serves up whitewater thrills as it crashes through rapids with names like 7-Foot Falls, Soc 'Em Dog and Raven Cliff Falls.
In addition to its big rivers and the tumbling creeks that join forces to form them, half a dozen deep, clear mountain lakes - all impoundments of the Tallulah River - offer families vacationing in Rabun County great places in which to play. Lakes Burton and Rabun, the largest of the lakes, offer good fishing for a variety of species, including big brown trout on Burton. Because both lakes are also very popular pleasure-boating destinations, they lend themselves best to early-morning fishing trips this time of year.
Tallulah Falls Lake and Lake Tugalo, immediately above and below Tallulah Gorge, respectively, are both wonderful places to explore with a canoe. Tallulah Falls covers only 63 acres and has no access for bigger boats. Tugalo, which impounds 600 acres of the lower Tallulah and Chattooga River gorges, may be the most scenic lake in Georgia, with its towering cliff banks and numerous waterfalls that pour into it. Both lakes serve up super bream fishing, and Tugalo produces some giant largemouths.
Both lakes are partially bordered by Tallulah Gorge State Park, which covers 2,710 acres around the 1,000-foot-deep gorge for which the park is named. Park highlights for summer fun include the new suspension footbridge, which crosses the gorge over Hurricane Falls, family-friendly trails along both rims, "sliding rock" inside the gorge, a great interpretive center and a swimming beach on Tallulah Falls Lake. More than 20 miles of hiking and biking trails wind through the park.
Among the best places to stay in Rabun County is in the cottages at Black Rock Mountain State Park, which straddles the Blue Ridge Divide and is a wildflower-lover's paradise. The park also has a nice little fishing lake, which offers good shoreline fishing for bream or trout and makes a very good family-fishing destination.
In addition to park cottages, travelers can pick from many private cabins, motels or bed-and-breakfasts in Rabun County. For campers, all three state parks and several national forest recreation areas provide places in which to set up tents or trailers.
For more on stuff to do in Rabun County and places to stay, log onto www.gamountains.com or stop by the visitors center in Clayton.
JULY Going from the mountains to the coast, the barrier islands off the shore at Brunswick - known collectively as the Golden Isles - offer scenic beaches and a tremendous variety of opportunities for play. Fishing-trip prospects around the Golden Isles include everything from wading in the surf while the kids build sand castles on the beach to heading out on a large charter boat and trolling for "big game" fish.
For families who don't own boats or who would prefer angling from shore, bridges and piers offer great prospects for family-fishing outings. The Brunswick area easily offers the best "non-boating" fishing access along the entire Georgia coast, with a dozen different piers and docks open to the public. Most cross sounds or stretch out into other "inside" waters, which are loaded with everything from croakers to red drum.
One of the most popular fishing piers is located at the south end of St. Simons Island and another is at the north end of Jekyll Island, almost facing each other. Their respective locations at the mouth of St. Simon Sound makes both great places for hooking into a variety of fish species both from the ocean and from the sound.
For anglers who prefer fishing on the ocean side, summer is also an outstanding time to stand waist-deep in the surf and cast out into the open water.
For pier- or surf-fishing, medium to medium-heavy spinning tackle rigged with basic bottom rigs and baited with squid, shrimp or cut fish generally does the job. Out-of-town anglers are wise to get advice on specific baits and rigs when they buy their bait. Various species move in and out all the time, and bait-shop operators hear anglers' reports every day. Most folks who operate bait shops enjoy talking to fishermen, plus their businesses depend on visiting anglers enjoying their trips and coming back, so they usually make the best suggestions available.
Boating anglers have a host of options, both inside and outside of the islands. Red drum, trout and flounder are among the most popular fish in the sounds. Ocean-bound anglers, meanwhile, target everything from tarpon to sharks to amberjack to grouper.
For many anglers, the best approach to fishing unfamiliar coastal waters is to hire a charter captain. Even folks who bring boats can make their entire trip much more productive simply by hiring a guide for a day and asking a lot of questions. Numerous charter boat captains operate out of the Brunswick area and offer everything from fly-fishing trips on backwater flats to multi-day outings in the open ocean.
For many families, vacations to the coast could begin and end right at the beach, with no activities in between to detract from the sand, salt air, sun and surf. Both Jekyll and St. Simons islands offer long stretches of nice public beaches. For folks who like to get out and explore, though, the possibilities are limitless and range from going on guided dolphin-watching boat tours, to paddling sea kayaks through tidal creeks, to checking out the St. Simons lighthouse and the lighthouse museum.
A couple of extra-cool things to do with the family on Jekyll Island are exploring the Tidelands Nature Center, which has live snakes, alligators and young sea turtles, and going on "sea turtle walks" on the beach at night. The Jekyll Island Sea Turtle Projects conducts nightly walks to look for nesting loggerhead sea turtles.
Of course, for the less outdoorsy folks in the crowd, the Golden Isles also offer plenty of shops to stroll through, more seafood than someone could sample in a year, plenty of nightlife and a lot of cool historical stuff. The Historic Landmark District of Jekyll Island, which covers 240 acres, takes visitors back to the late 1800s, when folks like J.P Morgan and William Rockefeller owned the Jekyll Island Club.
Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island and Brunswick mainland all offer lodging options that range from small family motels, to bed-and-breakfasts, to full-service resorts. For folks who want to camp, the Jekyll Island Campground has 199 campsites spread over 18 wooded acres.
Sea Island and Little St. Simons Island are much more exclusive than their Golden Isle counterparts, but their offerings are outstanding. Little St. Simons, a private island accessible only by boat and open only to 30 visitors per day, offers 10,000 unspoiled acres and seven miles of pristine beach. Nightly lodging costs include all activities on the island, which range from horseback riding to fly-fishing to sea kayaking.
For more information on Golden Isles, including a free visitors guide, contact the Brunswick-Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-933-2627 or log onto www.bgivb.com on the Internet.
AUGUST One of Georgia's two original state parks, Indian Springs was officially established in 1926. The park's history actually precedes the creation of the state parks system by another century, however, because the natural mineral spring that the park is named for has been open to the public since 1825. During the mid-1800s, the mineral spring was the main attraction for several vacation resorts in the Indian Springs area.
Indian Springs Area
The resorts are long gone, but folks still come to collect "healing waters" from the spring, and the park that surrounds the water source remains a great destination for a relaxed family vacation in the central part of the state. Indian Springs has 10 cottages, nearly 100 campsites, a miniature golf course, a museum of the spring's history and a lake with a swimming beach.
The park also has a hidden gem of a hiking trail. The Overland Nature Trail, which is only 3/4 mile long, winds through a 200-year-old forest, with massive oaks, pines and one giant tulip poplar. The forest, despite its location in a part of Georgia that was almost completely cleared for farming at one time, was spared the ax because Native Americans considered some areas around the spring sacred. The loop trail through the old forest is easy to walk and has interpretive markers keyed to the most noteworthy trees and other interesting stuff.
Chief McIntosh Lake, which covers 105 acres within the park, offers good fishing for bream, bass and catfish. The banks are wooded, but the forest is plenty open to provide good access for shoreline fishing around much of the lake. In addition, the park offers inexpensive rental boats and has a boat ramp. Private boats are permitted, but no motors over 10 horsepower may be operated. A short section of creek within the park also offers good bank-fishing, primarily for catfish.
Beyond the stuff within Indian Springs State Park, the park's cabins and campsites can also serve as great base camps for doing other things in the area. Within 10 miles of the park in various directions, travelers can check out the waterfall at High Falls State Park, canoe down the Ocmulgee River or fish on Lake Jackson.
Families who like to camp when they vacation might also want to set up at High Falls, which does not have cottages but offers more than 100 sites in two campgrounds. One campground is on the banks of High Falls Lake. The other is along the Towaliga River, downstream of the waterfall. Fishing is excellent on the lake and on the river.
High Falls Lake, which covers 650 acres, offers a little bit of everything to small-boat anglers or bank fishermen. Beyond the normal small-water mix of bass, bream, crappie and channel catfish, High Falls supports a good population of big hybrid bass and yields some real heavyweight flathead catfish. In fact, High Falls Lake produced a former state-record flathead.
Catfish are the main attraction in the Towaliga River downstream of the waterfall, where the river becomes much lazier. Channels dominate the catfish population, but anglers who use live bait might just hook up with a big flathead.
The waterfall, which is clearly the park's centerpiece, riv
als many mountain cascades in beauty. It is made up of a dramatic series of Fall Line shoals that tumble more 100 feet. Trails on both sides of the river lead to several great vantages. Trails also lead to ruins of various mill and dam structures that date as far back as the early 1800s. Beyond its natural and historical attraction, High Falls State Park also has a swimming pool and a miniature golf course.
East of Indian Springs State Park, the Ocmulgee River winds mostly through forested land, alternating between modest shoals and long, lazy pools. Three access points beginning just downstream of Lake Jackson are spaced over 13 miles, making for two good day-trip possibilities or a single longer route for an overnight canoe trip. Much of the land along the river through the lower half of that stretch lies within the Oconee National Forest and is open to public camping.
Lake Jackson, which impounds the Ocmulgee, provides families who want to get out in a boat and do some reservoir fishing a place in which to spend a day or two as part of their vacation. Lake Jackson is a good lake for bream, catfish and bass. As is the case with Lake Burton in the mountains, however, this lake attracts a lot of pleasure-boating traffic, so the best time to fish it during June is early in the morning.
For more information on Indian Springs and High Falls state parks, log onto www.gastateparks.org.
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