April 19, 2016
Summer hasn't quite yet arrived, but it is right around the corner. Soon school will be out, providing more opportunities to get out with the family. If days off from work are precious, with a choice having to be made between fishing and family vacation, why not combine the two? There are lots of great locations across the Peach State where families can fish and have fun.
MOCCASIN CREEK STATE PARK
Moccasin Creek is a small state park with no striking natural features, but it's huge in opportunities for family fishing trips. A host of different fishing possibilities are within footsteps of one another at this park, which is located on the banks of Lake Burton in the mountains of Northeast Georgia.
Opportunities begin with the lower reaches of namesake Moccasin Creek, which runs along the edge of the park and right behind several campsites. This fairly flat section of creek is open only to children 11 and younger and seniors 65 and older. Access is simple from the bank and fishing platforms, and the creek stays well stocked from the adjacent Lake Burton Fish Hatchery. Outflows from the hatchery, which borrows water from Moccasin Creek to maintain a constant cold flow, position the trout predictably.
Moccasin Creek trout get plenty of pressure, and they can see you as well as you can see them. Therefore, they can be fussy. Nevertheless, they usually can't resist a live worm or a couple of kernels of corn presented on a simple split shot rig.
If the trout won't cooperate or children want variety, channel catfish and bullheads in a "family fishing pond" on the fish hatchery property are almost always willing to bite. Cross the creek by the footbridge, follow the path and look for signs. The pond is a former warm-water fish-rearing pond that the WRD keeps well-stocked with cats. They aren't big, but they are plentiful, and they'll readily grab a little piece of hot dog fished on the bottom.
Back in the park, the mouth of the creek (below signs marking a restricted area) is
open to all anglers and usually holds plentiful bluegills, some fat spotted bass and a few trout. Again, these fish can be fussy in the clear water, but they are typically there and access is good. The access continues into a Lake Burton cove just outside of the creek mouth. Fish in the cove will readily grab a small jig or redworm fished under a float.
Along The Way
The Lake Burton Fish Hatchery is open to the public from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and definitely warrants a stop. Walking beside the raceways and seeing thousands of trout that will eventually be stocked into North Georgia streams is big fun for anglers of all ages. Across Highway 197 from the state park entrance, a gravel road leads to the parking area for an easy trail that leads to beautiful Hemlock Falls.
PFA stands for Public Fishing Area, but WRD fisheries folks like to point out that it could stand for "Perfect Family Area." These areas are intensively managed not only to maximize the quality of fishing but also to provide the best possible fishing access. The Marben PFA, which is part of the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center complex, epitomizes these areas' offerings, with 20 different ponds that cover a combined 295 acres and offer an enormous amount of access to excellent fishing.
The ponds, which range in size from 1 to 95 acres, are mostly within a few minutes' drive of each other and some are side-by-side, which means it's easy to move from one pond to another to find the best bite or simply to mix up the experience. All the ponds have at least some shoreline access, with parking nearby, and in many cases, long sections of bank are cleared and well suited for a family to set up and fish. Four of the ponds, Clubhouse, Margery, Shepherd and Fox, have fishing piers. Facilities that add value for family outings include four restrooms and several picnic areas.
For a boating approach, half a dozen ponds have boat ramps. Some others can be accessed with a johnboat or other hand-launched craft. Neither pleasure craft nor swimming are permitted, as the ponds are operated for fishing.
Only anglers less than 16 years old may fish in two small ponds, Dove and Teal, and both stay well stocked with catfish. Dove pond is open during June, July and August only, and the catfish limit is five fish per child. Teal pond is open year 'round for catch-and-release fishing only.
All the ponds are intensively managed to maximize opportunities, with the WRD utilizing techniques that include stocking gamefish or forage, fertilizing and liming ponds, adding cover, instituting special limits and more. All the ponds except Dove and Teal support populations of largemouth bass, bluegill and redear sunfish (shellcrackers). Six also have channel catfish and five have crappie.
Bluegills and shellcrackers offer the easiest fishing that is likely to deliver action. Rig young anglers with simple float rigs and crickets for bluegills and split-shot rigs and redworms for shellcrackers. With either, kids are apt to catch both species and could also catch a few catfish or bass. To target channel catfish in the lakes that are stocked with cats, use bottom rigs, small treble hooks and chicken livers. For any approach, anglers might have to move a few times, but should eventually find fish.
Of course, older anglers in your group who favor a more active approach can walk the banks and cast for bass, crappie or bluegills. Margery, Bennet and Fox, the three largest ponds, all have good shoreline access and areas where flooded timber and other good cover are within casting distance of the bank.
Special regulations can vary by lake and sometimes change to aid management objectives. Check information boards or the visitor center for current rules and closures before fishing. Also note that anglers 16 to 65 years old need a WMA Stamp, GORP permit, a sportsman's, lifetime or honorary license, or 3-day license to access all PFAs except for Rocky Mountain.
Along The Way
The visitor center at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center definitely warrants exploration, and more than 10 miles of multi-use trails provide good opportunities for exploring landscapes. Approximately 20 miles north of Marben PFA, Hard Labor Creek State Park offers nearly 25 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails, a golf course, a lake swimming area and more. The park also has a cabins and a campground.
GOLDEN ISLES PIERS
For most families, the idea of a beach vacation doesn't take too much selling. Fortunately, the Atlantic Ocean provides a host of angling opportunities, which can be accessed in a bunch of different ways. For family groups, it's hard to top spending an afternoon on the St. Simons or Jekyll Island Pier for a mix of species.
Piers provide the obvious advantage of getting away from the shore without need for a boat or a willingness and ability to wade way out into the surf. Beyond that, piers provide structure for the fish. Piers also congregate pier fishermen, so there's virtually always someone nearby who could provide good advice, and most pier veterans would love to help others succeed.
The species most commonly caught and most easily targeted include whiting, spots and croakers, but one fun aspect of pier fishing is that anglers really don't know what might be at the end of the line when a fish bites. Bull reds, stingrays and sharks are just a few of the big fish that sometimes get hooked off piers, which stretch out into the mouth of the St. Simon Sound from opposite sides. Other popular species include seatrout and flounder,
The simplest and most consistently effective approach is to use a two-hook rig (available from any coastal bait store) anchored with a 2- or 3-ounce pyramid weight, bait it with a piece of frozen shrimp, cast it out and wait for a bite. Put out a few lines, and it usually won't be take long for at least one of the rod tips to start jiggling.
It's worth noting that not all pier spots are created equal and that the end of the pier isn't always the best spot. Sometimes it is, but sometimes fish relate to a sandbar, a particular pier support or a little trough partway out. Watch for clues, such as where the waves break, baitfish are visible or birds congregate, and be willing to move from time to time.
If children are older and seek bigger game or more active types of fishing, a host of approaches can work well at times. Casting big chunks of cut mullet off the end of the dock typically won't produce the same fast action, but the fish that will bite are likely to be much large. Casting a metal jig or a jighead rigged with a plastic trailer can be effective for various game fish species.
Along The Way
Miles of white sand beach, surf, historic sites dating back to the 1500s and cool shopping villages are just a few of the draws of the four islands that are together known as the Golden Isles (goldenisles.com). Non-fishing activity options are pretty well limitless, and the best picks really depend on the preferences of the crew. One specific stop that shouldn't be overlooked is the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which is located on Jekyll Island.
F.D. ROOSEVELT STATE PARK
Georgia's largest state park offers a wonderful setting for a family vacation, with fine fishing opportunities for anglers of all ages both in the park and at nearby Callaway Gardens.
Within the park, fishing is available in 15-acre Lake Delano. Though small in size, this lake is big in the right kinds of opportunities for family fishing. Species include bluegills, bass and channel catfish, and shorelines access is very good. It's easy therefore to pick a spot on the bank, sit together as a family and cast crickets under bobbers for bluegills or chicken livers on the bottom for catfish. Meanwhile, any family member who gets restless watching a bobber or rod tip can walk the banks and cast for bass. The lake can also be fished from the park's rental boats; private boats are not permitted.
Those wanting to target catfish should consider camping in the park. The lake is located beside the campground, and campers may fish as late as they want, while day-use visitors must be gone by 10:00 p.m. Channel catfish bite best after the sun goes down, and sitting on the bank watching for bites by moonlight makes a fun family activity.
Just down the mountain from the state park, 175- acre Mountain Creek Lake in Callaway Gardens (callawaygardens.com) supports a fine population of jumbo bluegill and high numbers of bass, including some absolute giants. Fishing in Callaway involves costs, including gardens admission and boat rentals (no bank-fishing permitted), but it's easy fishing, casting little jigs or spinners toward obvious shoreline cover from small boats, with serious potential for big reward.
Along The Way
F.D. Roosevelt State Park spreads more than 10,000 acres atop Pine Mountain and offers steeper terrain than expected so far south in Georgia. Park features include more than 40 miles of hiking trails, separate equestrian trails, a stable run by a private concessionaire,and a dramatic overlook that was President Roosevelt's favorite place to spend time. Callaway, of course, offers near-endless gardens, its butterfly center, a birds of prey exhibit and much more.