It's vacation time again in the Peach State, so pack up the kids and get ready for adventure. But while you're at it, why not throw in the angling gear and make it a fishing trip this year?
By Kevin Dallmier
It's that time of year again. Across Georgia, families are loading up the SUVs and mini-vans to head off on the long-awaited summer vacation. Why not plan on a little fishing during this year's annual outing?
The Peach State holds a veritable gold mine of fishing opportunities ranging from the cool trout streams in the state's northern reaches to the numerous reservoirs in middle and southern Georgia. And don't forget the 90 miles of coastline, with all the saltwater offerings. You don't have to travel far to wet a hook in Georgia!
The secret to family fishing is choosing destinations that offer more than fishing. Kids get restless, and if the fish aren't biting there needs to be something else to hold their attention. Following are a few suggestions that just might fit into your vacation schedule this summer.
JUNE If your vacation takes you to the southwest reaches of the state, then check out George T. Bagby State Park, on the shores of Lake Walter F. George. It can get hotter than the hinges down south, but June still offers some pleasant days.
Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lake Walter F. George is a 45,180-acre impoundment of the Chattahoochee River boasting 640 miles of Georgia and Alabama shoreline and 85 river miles between Columbus and Ft. Gaines. Bagby State Park is located on the south end of the lake near Fort Gaines.
In the summer months, fishing on this reservoir (which is often referred to as Lake Eufaula) switches gears to deeper water, according to David Partridge, a fisheries biologist with the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division (WRD).
"In summer, you can catch hybrid bass in the early morning and late evening. Or if you like night-fishing, then crappie can be a good species. A lot of people go down to George T. Bagby to camp and then go down with their lanterns and fish for crappie."
Family fishing outings provide a chance to get on the water -- or in it! Photo by Jim Couch, courtesy of the Georgia DNR
Fishing for catfish is another good summertime bet.
Over Bagby's 40-year history, bass fishing on this grand lake has seen many ups and downs, and the good news is that big bass are starting to show up again.
"In 1997, the bass population on Lake Walter F. George suffered a direct and immediate impact from an outbreak of largemouth bass virus that greatly reduced the number of bass larger than 16 inches," says Partridge. "However, since then the population has been in recovery, and the excellent largemouth bass spawn of 1998 continues to improve fishing on this legendary bass lake."
Look for fish around shallow weedbeds and other cover, especially during the early morning hours. Some of the best places in which to find bass on the lake are the back ends of creeks and coves, the U.S. Highway 82 causeway, areas of heavy vegetation, near Lake Point Resort on the Alabama side of the impoundment, and near the dam. Recommended tackle for bass fishing includes finesse baits, spinnerbaits and lipless crankbaits.
When the kids get bored, the park also offers 3 miles of hiking trails, a swimming beach and an 18-hole golf course. There are several other attractions nearby, including Providence Canyon State Conservation Park, the Kolomoki Mounds State Historic Park, and the Ft. Gaines 1814 Frontier Village.
The park has a marina that rents canoes, fishing boats and pontoon boats, all suitable for angling. There is also a fishing pier and dock in the marina basin that is used by many of the park's visitors. For those wishing to stay overnight, the park has a 60-room lodge, cottages and limited camping. A $2 entrance fee is required to enter the park, and a Georgia fishing license will cover you on both the Georgia and Alabama side of the lake. Children under 16 do not need a license.
For more information on George T. Bagby State Park, check out www.gastateparks.org on the Internet.
JULY Lots of families head for the beach during the summer months, and if Savannah and nearby Tybee Island are on your agenda there are a variety of family fishing spots to sample.
Matt Thomas, regional supervisor for the WRD's Richmond Hill Fisheries Office, suggests Fort McAllister Historic Park, in Richmond Hill.
"It's perfect because they have the historic aspect and there's good fishing."
The park sits on the south bank of the Ogeechee River, nestled among the live oak trees. It is home to the best-preserved earthenwork fortification of the Confederacy, which was finally captured in 1864 by General William T. Sherman on his infamous March to the Sea.
Fort McAllister is a great place to camp with the family, and there's a brand-new boat ramp located right in the camping area. In addition, there is a fishing pier and a dock on Red Bird Creek, which empties into the Intracoastal Waterway behind Ossabaw Island.
The park offers canoe and kayak rentals that are great for fishing or exploring the myriad of salt marshes surrounding the area. During the summer months, angles can catch redfish and spotted seatrout.
Even novice anglers can catch fish using a standard bottom rig with a shrimp or small fiddler crab hooked between its walking legs. Fishing with cork rigs is also a popular method during the summer months.
Fort McAllister Historic Park offers 65 tent, trailer and RV sites, as well as primitive camping. In addition, some new cabins overlooking the marsh are under construction and are expected to be available for rental this summer.
If the fishing gets slow or the sand gnats come out, check out the park's re-enactments and stargazing programs or visit the museum and earthenwork fort. Bicycle rentals are also available for a family pedal through the park. Again, a $2 entrance fee is required, but a Georgia fishing license is all you need to fish.
If the beach is on your agenda, Tybee Island is located 18 miles east of Savannah and offers terrific saltwater fishing from a boat, pier or just in the surf. Surf-fishing is allowed on the public beaches. Try fishing on the north-end beaches to avoid swimmers and sunbathers.
Another good spot is the Tybee Pier and Pavilion, located off Jones Avenue. There are almost always anglers on the pier, and you can watch to see who is catching what species and what baits they are using. Bait, tackle and a plethora of food and drinks are all available in the pier area.
Tybee also offers plenty of fishing guides and offshore excursions that are excellent for sampling saltwater fishing. Local bait and tackle shops can steer you in the right direction.
Tybee anglers are likely to encounter whiting, croaker, spots, black drum, flounder, spotted seatrout, red drum and other species in the waters surrounding the island. Mud minnows, menhaden, squid and especially shrimp make good baits on a fish finder or float rig.
Many shops on the island offer bike rentals for riding around the island or on the McQueens Island Bicycle Trail running along U.S. 80 as it approaches Tybee. Good access points for the bike trail are located just over the U.S. 80 Bridge at Bull River or at Fort Pulaski. The fort is also an excellent place for history buffs, hikers and bird watchers. The kids love exploring the bowels of the Civil War-era brick fort or looking for alligators in the moat surrounding this historic structure.
A tour of Savannah, with its beautiful squares, countless restaurants, shops and antique galleries, is also in order. Lodging options both in Savannah and on Tybee include all types of hotels, as well as house and cottage rentals and quaint bed-and-breakfasts. Camping is available at Skidaway Island State Park, and there is a private campground and RV park on Tybee Island.
AUGUST When the weather heats up in August, head for the cool waters of Georgia's in-town trout stream, the Chattahoochee River. Located in and around Atlanta, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA) consists of 15 different land units along a 48-mile stretch of river extending from Buford Dam downstream to Cobb Parkway (U.S. 41) in Cobb County.
According to John Biagi, WRD assistant chief of fisheries, the Chattahoochee is a great resource for trout anglers.
"It's different from most Georgia trout streams in the state in that folks can't just go in and catch all the trout out right after they're stocked. You're never going to catch all the trout out of the Chattahoochee."
Families can experience trout fishing on the "Hooch" by wading, boating or float-tubing. It's an ideal place to try fly casting, since the wide expanses of river are very forgiving to those still honing their casting technique. If the budget permits, hiring a guide is a great way to see all that the Chattahoochee has to offer.
"A guide can show you the secrets and beauty of the river," says Chris Martin, a WRD senior fisheries biologist. "You're drifting through areas where you won't see anybody and there's lots of wildlife along the river."
Two good guide services that offer instruction and guided trips are the River Through Atlanta Guide Service and Spring Creek Anglers. River Through Atlanta offers guided wading or boat trips using Western-style McKenzie drift boats that allow anglers to cover a lot of water in a short time. They also offer a Fly Fishing 101 class that is great for novice or rusty fly casters. For information on River Through Atlanta Guide Service, visit their Web site, at www.riverthroughatlanta.com, or call Chris Scalley at (770) 650-8630.
Spring Creek Anglers offers guided fly-fishing with or without instruction. Those looking to learn or enhance fly-fishing skills can expect to spend the morning learning to cast and the afternoon on the water putting newly learned skills to work. For more information, contact Ken Louko at (404) 644-4823 or go to www.springcreekanglers.com on the Internet.
For families who prefer a "do-it-yourself trip," there are a number of possibilities. Beginning at the Bowmans Island Unit, there is a lot of wadeable water that is very productive. The area, which is located near the Buford Trout Hatchery, has restrooms and picnic facilities. The hatchery is a great spot for kids and adults to learn how trout are raised, and the hatchery features a pond that is full of sunfish and bass, though it's mostly catch-and-release.
Moving downstream to the Jones Bridge Unit, anglers will find good shoals for wading. Both the CRNRA unit, located off Barnwell Road, and Gwinnett County's Jones Bridge Park, on the opposite side of the river, offer good access to the water. Both areas have restrooms and picnicking facilities.
Jones Bridge Park has a great riverside playground for the kids. The CRNRA unit, across the street, has a nice hiking trail that extends several miles downriver and offers a pleasant family walk, wildlife viewing and river access. There are also two boat ramps at the site.
The Chattahoochee River Park, off Riverside Drive in Roswell, offers nice bank access, as well as restrooms, a playground and numerous picnic tables. About a mile down the river off Willeo Road is the Chattahoochee Nature Center. There is no fishing access from the Nature Center, but the kids can see bald eagles, beavers and other wild animals and there are a number of hiking trails, including a neat boardwalk trail that meanders along the river.
Another good stop is at the CRNRA headquarters, at the Island Ford Unit. The island and surrounding shoals are great places in which to sample Chattahoochee angling. There are also hiking trails and huge rock outcroppings that are sure to be of interest to the kids.
The Cochran Shoals Unit is popular with hikers, joggers and trail bikers, while boasting good wading shoals and bank access. According to Martin, anglers may also encounter some shoal bass in this area that are native to the Chattahoochee drainage.
"They've always been there in low numbers, but we've started to stock them to try to build populations," he explains.
The West Pallisades Unit is a bit farther downstream and has a natural beach, lots of rocks and good wading access. If you have a float tube, this is a good area in which to begin a short trip down to the Paces Mill Unit. This lower section of the river is open under delayed-harvest fishing regulations, so check out the streamside signs for details.
Even during the summer months, the Chattahoochee waters can be cool. Water temperatures run in the 60s pretty consistently, though the river does experience periodic warm-water events that can bring the temperature up to the 70s. On really hot days, anglers are comfortable in shorts and wading boots. Most of the rocks along the river are slick, and felt-soled wading boots will definitely provide better traction.
The fish populations vary as anglers move downstream. In the upper river from Buford Dam down to Morgan Falls, anglers primarily find rainbow and brown trout. The fish are stocked regularly, but there are also plenty of holdover fish. The 18-pound, 6-ounce state-record brown trout was pulled out of this stretch of
Below Morgan Falls Dam, there are still a lot of trout, but the river takes on a more cosmopolitan population, according to Martin. In addition to trout, anglers might reel in shoal bass, largemouth bass, spotted bass, channel catfish, or even the occasional striped bass.
Anglers age 16 and older will need a Georgia fishing license and a trout stamp to fish the Hooch.
Lodging opportunities are endless in the Atlanta area, with something for every budget, or a budget-buster if that's what you want. Camping is not allowed in the CRNRA, but there are public campsites around Lake Lanier, above Buford Dam. Lake Lanier Islands and Stone Mountain also have camping areas.
For family fun, check out the water park and beaches at Lake Lanier Islands or head for Six Flags Over Georgia, Zoo Atlanta, or Centennial Olympic Park. History buffs will enjoy the Carter Center, Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site, and Kennesaw National Battlefield Park. You can even take in an Atlanta Braves baseball game.
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Wherever your family vacation takes you this summer, be sure to pack a few fishing poles and plan a day or so of family fishing. It's a great activity that gets the kids outside, away from the television, and introduces them to a sport that will last a lifetime. With luck, you'll catch some great memories and a few fish as well!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dottie Head is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Georgia Sportsman who makes her home in Alpharetta. She is also a former administrative coordinator for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division.
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