THE NATIONAL FRESHWATER FISHING HALL OF FAME

One of the proudest moments in my life was when I was the first Southern fishing guide to be inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame at Hayward, Wisconsin as a “Legendary Guide” in 1993! Instead of having me travel to Hayward at that time, however, the Hall of Fame sent one of their directors and a good friend of mine, Larry Columbo, to the awards banquet of the Red Man All American Bass Championship at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. During the ceremonies that evening, Larry made a special presentation of my plaque in front of a packed house of my fishing peers. It was an unforgettable experience.

The idea of developing an attraction and museum to collect, preserve, and display artifacts of the sport of fresh water fishing, recognize famous anglers, and keep world record catches was explored initially by Hall of Fame Founder, Bob Kutz and his wife Fannie in 1960. Thanks to donations by individuals and a long-range program started by the Jim Beam whiskey distillers of Chicago and Kentucky to raise the necessary funds, the National Fresh Water Hall of Fame became a reality in 1970.

Today, the Hall of Fame sits on six, city-donated, beautifully landscaped acres of land strategically located in the heavily traveled vacation area of Hayward, Wisconsin. It annually attracts more than 100,000 visitors through its gateway building to view the inner part of the Hall.

Of course, the highlight of any visit, especially with the younger set, is a landmark “Shrine to Anglers”, which is a structure one-half a city block long and four and one-half stories tall. Concrete, steel, and fiberglass were used to hand-sculpture the likeness of a huge leaping muskie. After climbing the stairs into the belly of the big fish, one can enjoy the museum or climb the inside stairs to its gaping jaw, which is an observation platform that can accommodate up to twenty persons.
HUGE_MUSKY_AT_HALL_OF_FAME

Across an open grassy area known as the “Sea of Fishes” that contains numerous, large fiberglass reproductions of popular fresh water gamefish is another four-building museum complex that houses thousands of antique lures, rods, reels, outboard motors, and mounted record fish. The museum also has a video theater that constantly shows educational and instructional films. Additionally, one can browse through the many pictures of those of us who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame over the years. Thank goodness that they don’t update the photos……..I looked much younger in 1993!

For more information about the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, contact them at: Box 33, Hall of Fame Drive, Hayward, WI 54843. Visiting the Hall of Fame or the gorgeous area that surrounds Hayward would be a memorable experience for anyone who loves fishing and the outdoors.

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FLYING FREELY AT LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN

As the digital altimeter indicated twenty-five hundred feet, Gucci pulled the tiny handle that released the tandem hang glider from the ultra-light tow plane, and within seconds, nothing could be heard except the wind passing over the wing. What a rush…!!!

My French instructor pilot, nicknamed Gucci by the hang gliding crowd, began teaching me the intricate differences between flying a hang glider and an airplane. Since the movement of one’s weight controls the attitude of flight in a hang glider, it is exactly opposite from the controls of an airplane. Nevertheless, most folks with good hand/eye coordination can master flying a glider quickly, and before we had descended five hundred feet, Gucci had removed his hands from the control bar and allowed me to fly.

The next one thousand feet of descent included sharp turns and stalls of my own making, but when we reached about a thousand feet from the landing zone, Gucci took control again, and really put the glider into some interesting positions. He performed radical stalls, almost spin-like turns, and a fast landing that had everyone on the ground watching. It was a perfect ending to one of the most exhilarating rides I had ever experienced!

The fantastic part is that anyone can soar like an eagle with a professional, certified instructor pilot for a bird’s eye view of beautiful Lookout Mountain and the surrounding tri-state area. Depending on air currents, these flights normally begin at two thousand feet, after a tow, and last twelve to twenty minutes.

Lookout Mountain Flight Park began in 1978, and is the largest and most successful full-time hang gliding school and resort in the United States. They teach and certify more hang glider pilots than any other school in the country, and also offer the most comprehensive training facility on a 44-acre mountain retreat with camping and lodging conveniently located in the landing zone. Other amenities include: swimming pool, volleyball court, clubhouse, bath house, bunkhouse, cabins, and shaded pavilions. They can be contacted by calling 706.398.3541 or e-mailing fly@hanglide.com.

If you’ve ever seen a modern hang glider soaring high in the air and thought, “That’s fantastic, but I could never do that,” you’re in good company…most hang glider pilots felt the same way before they learned to fly. However, with proper training and good equipment at Lookout Mountain, the exciting sport of hang gliding is possible for almost anyone, and if one only wants a one-time experience, flying tandem with an experienced instructor is the perfect answer!

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CATCHING SHARKS OFF CUMBERLAND ISLAND

It was one of those unforgettable days along the Georgia Coast with light winds and heavenly blue skies that becomes an indelible memory. The visiting angler sat back on the bench seat of the small boat and watched as Paul Proctor, an excellent Camden County angler, picked his way over the shallow sand bars as he headed southward from the northern point of Cumberland Island towards the entrance to Christmas Creek. Off to his right, he couldn’t help but watch the fluid movements of several wild horses running along the white, sandy beach with a freedom that they have enjoyed on this beautiful island for more than two-hundred years. It is simply one of many natural wonders that are seen daily on the over twenty miles of Cumberland Island’s Atlantic beaches.

The incoming tide was flowing swiftly over the intricate underwater patterns of shifting sands at the mouth of the creek, so Proctor had to carefully navigate the currents until he located the perfect spot to drop his anchor. It was a tiny channel that dropped to about 8 feet, and was completely surrounded by waters that were no more than one or two feet in depth.

More than forty years of fishing and navigating these waters had taught Paul Proctor the art of perfectly placing the anchor so that when the boat drifted back with the current, he would be in the exact position for catching sharks. The time had come to forget the scenery for awhile and produce some exciting action!

Proctor’s rigs looked more like heavy bass rod and reels than shark tackle. The rods were medium-heavy, about seven feet in length, and the small baitcasting reels were filled to capacity with fourteen pound test monofilament. He had tied a 12-inch steel leader to the end of the mono, and clipped a 4/0 circle hook at the end of the steel leader. With a sharp pocket knife, Paul cut off a 6-inch strip of meat from a dead mullet. He ran the point of the hook through the flesh twice, and made a long cast back into the churning water before setting the butt of the rod in a holder near the stern of the boat.

In less than a minute, the rod was doubled and the reel screamed as line sang through the eyes of the rod! Proctor quickly pulled the rod from the holder as an over four foot long blacktip shark exploded the water and catapulted more than six feet into the air nearly twenty yards behind the boat! The battle that ensued lasted about fifteen minutes before the beautifully marked blacktip was brought to the boat and gingerly released.

During the next couple of hours of incoming tide, Proctor landed and released more than twenty sharks and a few other species. Most of these sharks were blacktips, but a few bonnetheads and sand sharks were included in the mix.

Many beach lovers might be surprised at the number of sharks caught in this place, but records show that the area around Cumberland Island contains the largest population of sharks on the eastern Atlantic shore. Also, a depression known as the “Eighty Foot Hole”, just off the northern tip of Cumberland Island, has some of the largest sharks in the Atlantic Ocean. Despite these numbers of sharks, attacks from these huge predators are minimal.

Fishing these waters can be difficult because of the distances involved or the lack of boating facilities nearby. Probably the best way to reach the ocean-side of Cumberland is by boat from Jekyll Island, but that still requires traveling across a large expanse of open water at the mouth of St. Andrews Sound. Daily ferry boats bring visitors to Cumberland Island from the docks in St. Marys, Georgia, and if one packs light, they can hike to the ocean-side beach to fish. Nevertheless, any trip to this Peach State paradise is worth the effort. The shark fishing is fantastic, and the natural beauty is always breathtaking!

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SAVANNAH’S SALTWATER POTPOURRI

Though it couldn’t have been more than 20 miles from Savannah via U.S. Highway 80 to Tybee Island, the long ride down the palm-lined, two-lane road in the old ’48 Nash coupe seemed to take forever. Nevertheless, I was only 10 years old at the time, and the expectation of possibly hooking a huge “bull” channel bass was almost too much to fathom.

I had viewed, with admiration, some of the gigantic reddish tinted fish that my father and his friends had often brought home to eat. Their tales of battles with these finny adversaries in the pounding surf along the sandbars adjacent to Tybee had long been fodder for daydreams, and my excitement was running high!

The tide was going out fast by the time Dad parked the car near the southern tip of Tybee Island, and despite the poor visibility of predawn, I could make out a long strip of sand beginning to emerge from the pounding waves. To locals, this phantom piece of land that appeared and then disappeared with each tide was known as Pelican Island.

Because of swirling tides that passed around it when exposed, it had a history of producing great catches of huge “bull bass” on the outgoing or ebb tides, but Pelican Island had a nasty side too. The swiftness of the incoming tide formed fast currents that cut in behind those who stayed too long, and that earned this narrow spit of sand its reputation as a killer. Dad and his fishing friends were aware of this sandbar’s dangerous side, however, and used the tide tables to carefully plan each trip.

Since time was of the essence, Dad soon had the hooks baited with cut mullet, made a long cast out into the churning surf and handed me one of the heavy baitcasting outfits to mind. In less than a minute, I felt something pulling the big sinker and bait across the sandy bottom, so with my best baseball swing, I set the hook!

At 10 years old, I probably. didn’t weigh 60 pounds, and Dad had set the drag too tight. Even with my heels dug into the sand, the monster on the other end of my line was slowly pulling me toward the water’s edge. Luckily Dad got there in time and held the rod until he could back off on the drag. From then on, I played “tug-of-war” with that big channel bass for the next half-hour. I was totally exhausted when Dad helped me drag the 30-pounder up onto Pelican Island, but a boy’s dream of landing a trophy fish had been realized.

Though the road to Tybee has widened, the storms and tides have shifted the sands of Pelican Island somewhat and the Savannah area has grown tremendously since my childhood, one can still “have a shot” at a big channel bass from the southeast end of Tybee Island. With better casting reels and the popular “fish finder rig”, which consists of a 4 ounce egg-type, sliding sinker, followed by a barrel swivel, 3 feet of leader material and a #4/0 circle hook at the end, channel bass, croakers, spots, whiting and numerous other tasty saltwater species can be caught with finger mullet or shrimp from these briny waters near Savannah!

According to Capt. Judy Helmey, who is one of the most famous anglers and a lifelong resident of Savannah, Tybee Island is still one of the best places for fishermen without a boat to “wet a hook”. A virtual smorgasbord of excellent eating and fighting fish inhabit the other fertile waters of Savannah’s tidal rivers, creeks and beaches as well.

Other than the channel bass, one of the best eating and hardest fighting of Savannah’s fish is the sheepshead. These fish look and fight much like sunfish, but the big difference is that sheepshead of 3 to 5 pounds are common.

Finding a concentration of sheepshead is relatively easy. Rocks, pilings, jetties, or other structures with shell growth draw sheepshead like magnets. In the Savannah area, old bridge stubs, docks, and jetties abound.

One of the best things about fishing for sheepshead is that the bait is free. Sheepshead love to eat fiddler crabs, and anyone can catch them. A walk along any big sand flat with a plastic bucket as the tide is coming in should produce plenty of fiddlers for bait. The best ones are the lighter colored sand fiddlers or “china-backs” as the locals call them. Be careful, however, as the males have one large claw that can give a good pinch.

Usually 50 to 100 of the little crabs are enough for a family sheepshead trip, and keeping them alive only requires a little grass and water in the bottom of the bucket. It is also important to keep them cool and shaded if the weather is very warm.

Light to medium spinning or baitcasting outfits with 10 to 12 pound-test monofilament line makes a good sheepshead rig. Just slide a 1/4 to 2 ounce egg sinker (depending on the tide flow) on the line, and tie on a barrel swivel below the sinker. Then using 20 pound-test leader material, tie an 8 to 12 inch piece to the swivel with a small # I bait hook at the other end. The fiddler can then be hooked in any manner that will secure it to the hook.

Lower the rig down next to the structure until it hits the bottom, then reel it up 6 to 12 inches. Since the sheepshead is a master at stealing fiddler crabs off the hook, it requires more concentration to catch them than for other coastal fish. Hold the line with the index finger and slowly move it up and down 12 to 18 inches. If nothing feels different, then move it over or to another place, but if a slight tug is felt, set the hook sharply. Anytime the rig comes up without the bait, it’s a guaranteed sign that one of those “saltwater convicts” is present.

Like most intercoastal saltwater fish, however, the sheepshead is greatly affected by the tides. The best times for action are just prior to the low tide and as the tide is on the rise.

Probably the best eating fish available to shore fishermen in the Savannah area is the flounder. With both eyes on the same side of its head, the flounder has an odd appearance. Nevertheless, local fishermen may give friends and neighbors fillets from trout or redfish, but never from a flounder.

Flounder are found around structures near inlets to creeks, rivers, or bays, but are often caught while surf fishing from beaches. The flounder like the sheepshead has a preference for a bait that is both plentiful and free.

Mummichogs or mud minnows are easily caught by placing a small galvanized-metal minnow trap in one of the many tidal creeks on the outgoing tide. The trap should be baited with a crushed blue crab, some old shrimp heads, or a can of cat food with holes punched in it. Minnow traps are available from most hardware and sporting goods stores.

Many knowledgeable anglers prefer a sliding float rig like the one used for spotted sea trout. Instead of fishing the bait off the bottom as is done for trout, however, it should be allowed to bump the bottom for flounder. The float can be adjusted to allow the sinker to bounce along the bottom trailed by a 2 to 6 inch mud minnow hooked through the lips with a 2/0 or 3/0 circle hook on an 18 to 24 inch leader.

Always fish the downstream side of the current. Just drop the rig straight down into the water and allow the minnow to bounce slowly away with the current. If nothing happens in 20 to 30 yards, reel it up and drop it over a few feet for another drift. This action is similar to fan casting a point for largemouth bass. Flounder usually wait in ambush slightly buried in the mud or sand and will Inhale the minnow as it drifts by. The visual indication is that the float will stop or jerk and slowly disappear. When this happens, count to ten and take up the slack.

Another rig that produces many flounder is very similar to the “Do-Nothing” worm rig for bass. Use a 1 to 2 ounce sliding sinker above a bead and barrel swivel. Tie 18 to 24 inches of leader below the swivel and hook a mud minnow through the lips with a 2/0 to 3/0 circle hook that is tied to the end of the leader. Carefully make a long cast with the rig, then drag it slowly along the bottom like it was a “Do-Nothing” worm. When a flounder tugs, begin to reel.

Because of the needle sharp teeth, never try to lift a flounder out of the water or the line will be cut. Always use a net, get help, or walk the fish to the nearest shoreline and beach it.

Numerous accessible areas near Savannah are prime spots to catch flounder without hiring a charter boat. The best sources of up-to-date fishing information are the Georgia DNR Coastal Resources Office in Brunswick, Georgia, (912) 264-7218, or Capt. Judy Helmey on Wilmington Island, (912) 897-4921.

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THE SUNFISH OF THE ST. MARYS RIVER

GIDDENS_CANOES_THE_ST_marysThe paddle barely made a sound as Roger Giddens quietly propelled the canoe across the mirrored surface of quiet, black water in the upper St. Marys River. The only noise was that of the long fly line sailing through the air as the expert fly fisherman in the front of the canoe deftly landed a small popping bug slightly up-current from a fallen tree that formed a small, spinning eddy in the flowing water. The diminutive clump of painted cork and deer hair had barely made a circle on the dark water before an audible sucking sound was heard and the tiny lure disappeared from view. Quickly, the experienced angler gathered line, lifted the long rod, and began a fierce battle with some unseen aquatic warrior. The rod seemed to bend to the breaking point, and the line made a singing noise as it split the calm surface on a fast-paced run upstream. Nevertheless, the expertise of the fly fisherman soon overcame the valiant efforts of the fish, and a brilliantly colored redbreast sunfish was carefully lifted into the boat. Both Giddens and the visiting angler had to marvel at the beauty and strength of this native fish before it was lovingly returned to the pristine waters of the St. Marys River.

During the course of nearly eight hours on the river with Roger Giddens that day, the Gwinnett County fly fisherman landed and released more than fifty, beautifully marked sunfish of several species. The two men had seen numerous wading birds, ducks, birds of prey, and a couple of shy alligators, but what they had not encountered was any other humans or boats.

For those who are unfamiliar with the St. Marys River, it begins near Ellicott’s Mound as a slight current of swamp water in the Okefenokee Swamp and runs a wild, meandering, scenic route for 135 miles to the Atlantic Ocean near the southern tip of Cumberland Island. Just below its headwaters, the St. Marys is a small, very beautiful stream that is slow when the water is low and quite swift after rainy periods. The most popular fishing area is the second stage of the river, which starts at Highway 2 near St. George, Georgia, and continues for another 35 miles. Because the St. Marys River is wider and the current allows more maneuverability, fly fishing for both sunfish and bass is easier along this stretch. Nevertheless, the river still maintains the scenic beauty and intimacy it had upstream. This section of the river is also the best for canoeing, and many sand beaches are available for a picnic or campsite. Below Canoe Country Outpost, and all the way to the coastal waters of the Atlantic, high bluffs replace the sandy beaches, the fishing changes, and paddling progress is increasingly determined by the level and direction of the tides.

Giddens Canoes the St. Marys RiverCanoe Country Outpost is owned and operated by retired Lt. Col. Roger Giddens, who grew up in nearby St. Marys, Georgia, went to UGA, and spent most of his life as an infantry officer defending our country in 22 countries and 44 states. After his discharge, he decided to come back home and make his living doing some of the things he had so enjoyed as a boy, and several years ago, he opened his canoe business just across the St. Marys River in Florida. Now, he offers a multitude of opportunities for individuals and groups, and will do all that he can to customize trips to fit anyone’s needs. He can be contacted by phone at (904) 845-7224 or his web site at: www.canoecountryoutpost.com.

The breathtaking beauty of the pristine, tannic acid tinted, dark waters of the St. Marys River is highlighted by extremely contrasting ribbons of pure, white sands on either side, and surrounded by a kaleidoscope of interesting flora and fauna. Below the surface of this gorgeous river, however, is a fishery for sunfish and bass that is basically untapped, and certainly worthy of any anglers time. Add to this the solitude of rarely seeing any manmade structures, boats, or people, and any nature lover will realize that this wild, scenic river is one of the last of its kind on the planet!

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CANOEING AND CRUISING ON THE ST. MARYS RIVER

Imagine a day of canoeing one of the last remaining wild, scenic rivers in our country followed by a romantic cruise and meal aboard a spacious pontoon boat through one of the most beautiful, natural settings in the Southeast. Both of these unforgettable experiences can be accomplished during a 24-hour period on the St. Marys River near Folkston, Georgia.

CANOEING_THE_STmarysSeveral years ago, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Roger Giddens, returned to the river of his youth and opened a canoe and boat rental business that he named Canoe Country Outpost. Since that time, Giddens has expanded his simple canoe rental into an exciting business that offers numerous exhilarating boating and fishing options for groups, families, couples, or individuals. With the same innovative, hard-working attitude that made him important to the Army in 22 countries and 44 states, Roger Giddens will also customize trips to fit the needs of any client.

It is true that the physical character of the St. Marys river changes tremendously over the 135 miles that it traverses from its beginnings near Ellicott’s Mound in the Okefenokee Swamp until it empties into the Atlantic Ocean near the southern tip of Cumberland Island. Nevertheless, the beauty of this natural river, throughout its length, is too magnificent to be described with mere words.

Just below its headwaters in the Okefenokee Swamp, the St. Marys River is a small, very beautiful stream that is slow when the water is low and quite swift after rainy periods. The most popular fishing and canoeing area, however, is the second stage of the river. This section starts at Highway 2 near St. George, Georgia, and continues for 35 miles with a wider berth and slower current which allows more maneuverability for fishing and canoeing. Nevertheless, the river still maintains the scenic beauty and intimacy it had upstream and has many sand beaches that are perfect for a picnic or campsite. Below Canoe Country Outpost, and all the way to the coastal waters of the Atlantic, high bluffs replace the sandy beaches, the fishing changes, and paddling progress is increasingly determined by the level and direction of the tides. This part of the river, however, is the ultimate place for romantic, moonlight dinner cruises!

Since Canoe Country Outpost offers so many unique opportunities for individuals or groups, it is best to call Roger Giddens to discuss personal needs. He can be contacted by phone at (904) 845-7224 .

The breathtaking beauty of the pristine, tannic acid tinted, dark waters of the St. Marys River is highlighted by extremely contrasting ribbons of pure, white sands on either side, and surrounded by a kaleidoscope of interesting flora and fauna. Also, the fishery for sunfish and bass in the river is certainly worthy of any angler’s time. Add to this the solitude of rarely seeing any manmade structures, boats, or people, and any nature lover will realize that this wild, scenic river is one of the last of its kind on the planet!

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FISHING IN THE SHADOW OF FORT SUMTER

Though local Charlestonians don’t seem to take notice, most visiting fishermen are moved when fishing near the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina. The old town of Charleston, Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie, and Castle Pinckney are always visible, and they are so entwined in the history of our nation. Also, this old harbor is an excellent place to fish!

FISHING_NEAR_FT._sumterGreat record keeping and management by folks like South Carolina Marine Biologist, Robert Wiggers, have brought the redfish population near Charleston Harbor back in record numbers. In fact, it is quite common for good local anglers or experienced inshore fishing guides like native Charlestonian, Capt. Legare Leland, to catch more than a dozen 10 to 20 pound redfish per trip.

Capt. Leland is a descendant of a French family that has farmed the Lowcountry for more than a hundred years, and he has fished these waters all of his life. His methods are often slightly different than those of other local fishermen, but highly successful. Though he is an accomplished fly caster, and extremely adept with other artificial lure methods, Capt. Leland always adapts his approach to the skills and needs of his current fishing party. Therefore, when called upon, he uses live bait techniques that are more suited to family fishing, and his results are still very good. He is available for full or half day trips, night or day, by calling 843-810-0495.

Despite the extremely hot weather this summer, cool breezes off the Atlantic Ocean, great fishing, and the charm of Charleston are enough to draw any fisherman to this beautiful and historic place. It’s hard to beat catching big redfish in the shadow of Fort Sumter!

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STALKING REDFISH CHARLESTON STYLE

CAPT._leland_and_redfishCapt. Legare Leland switched off the big outboard and allowed the sleek Action Craft flats boat to slide its bow up into the grassy flat just off the Intercoastal Waterway a few miles north of Charleston Harbor on the South Carolina Coast. He quickly shoved his maneuvering pole a couple of feet deep into the mixture of sand and mud and tied the boat to it.

“We’re still about fifteen minutes until the tide will be over the grass enough to bring the redfish in to feed,” stated Capt. Leland. “We’ll prepare the fly rods, and put on our wading shoes while we wait.”

Though the anticipation of sight-fishing for big redfish in less than knee deep water made one’s heart pound, the tide continued to rise and the time passed quickly. As the warm salty water became more than ankle deep, Capt. Leland began a slow, methodical trek across the grassy flat looking for the glint of a moving tail in the afternoon sun.

No more than fifty yards into the flat, Capt. Leland stopped suddenly and pointed at something about ten yards directly in front of him. At first glance, most novice anglers would have missed the slight movement of grass and water, but on closer inspection, a tiny, triangular tip of a tail could be seen as its movement reflected rays of sunlight. It was a big, tailing redfish feeding on fiddler crabs.

Having grown up a descendant of French farmers that date back more than a hundred years in the South Carolina Lowcountry, Legare Leland has spent much of his young life outwitting redfish, and his expertise was instantly apparent. He deftly false casted the long fly line until he had just enough to allow the crab-looking fly to softly touch down right in front of the tailing red. One twitch of the lure, and the calm water exploded as the nearly ten pound channel bass exploded on the fly. Leland’s next ten minutes were spent with a doubled rod as he stumbled through the water and grass until he wore the young redfish down enough to carefully remove the hook and release him to fight another day. It was an exciting experience, but only the first of more than a dozen such occurrences that afternoon.

CAPT._leland_stalking_redfishThis thrilling type of sight fishing usually begins in August and reaches its peak during September and October, but even an excellent fisherman will need a good guide to fish these waters. Capt. Legare Leland is considered to be one of the best when it comes to producing big redfish on a fly. He is available for full or half day trips, night or day, by calling 843-810-0495 or going to his web site at: headshakercharters.com.

Also, an excellent place to stay in the Mt. Pleasant area and near the fishing action is the Long Point Inn. This gorgeous bed and breakfast is on a tidal creek, serves excellent gourmet breakfasts, and is perfectly located. For information or reservations at the Long Point Inn, call 843-849-1884.

It’s true that one might catch larger numbers of redfish with live bait from a boat in the Charleston area at certain times. Nothing, however, comes close to the excitement of stalking these big reds in the flooded grass at high tide!

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“OLD ACHES AND PAINS” LOVED LAKE LANIER

While fishing for striped bass in Six Mile Creek the other day with Atlanta Braves Traveling Secretary, Bill Acree, we couldn’t help but remember an old fishin’ buddy and great ball player that we had known well. He was Chicago White Sox, Hall of Fame shortstop, Luke Appling, and until his death a few years ago, Luke had a dock in one of the deeper coves near the mouth of Six Mile Creek.

Luke fell in love with Lake Lanier even before it was full. He fished it from when the water first started rising during the mid-1950’s, until he passed away.

“Lanier is a good fishing lake,” Luke used to say. “Everybody tells me I put my dock on the best fishing hole in the lake. In fact, I’ve sat on the dock and caught a 12 pound bass. I saw another guy catch about a 40 pound and 26 pound striper one morning In front of my dock, and I used to catch a lot of 8 to 9 pound largemouth around it.”

LATE_LUKE_APPLING__LANIER_BASSLuke was born Lucius Benjamin Appling in North Carolina on April 2, 1907, but moved to the Atlanta area by the age of three. He grew up fascinated with hunting and fishing, but saved lots of time for baseball.

When Luke first came to Atlanta, he lived on East Avenue, just off Highland Avenue. Forest Avenue School was a couple of blocks away, and he went there until the fifth grade, then moved to a 65 acre farm in Douglas County. During those years, Luke fished in Sweetwater Creek and in some of the local lakes with cane poles and live bait, but caught lots of fish.

Luke Appling and Lanier BassAppling’s first introduction to baseball came from an Uncle, who was a policeman and worked at the Atlanta Crackers ballpark. He gave Luke the first mitt he ever owned from Sy Perkins, a Cracker catcher.

The day he got the mitt, was also the first time he saw a hard ball up close. Luke was only 6 or 7 years old when his Uncle threw that first ball at him, but it made a big impression on him when it hit him in the nose.

As a youngster, Luke played on fields in Lithia Springs, Powder Springs, Austell, and Douglasville. He was a left-handed pitcher in those days.

“My Daddy was left-handed, and I was left-handed when I was little,” Luke had told me. “In fact, I was left-handed all the way to high school. Then I switched over to right-handed cause I wanted to play shortstop.”

Luke played for a lot of teams around Atlanta. At the time, many of the mills and railroads had teams. Even the Sunday school had a team league, but the mills and railroads had all the better ball players.  During the summer, Luke would always play on at least two league teams.

At Fulton High School in Atlanta, Luke played for a coach named Burt Holt, who had attended Oglethorpe College out on Peachtree Road and had been offered a contract by the Washington Senators when he was younger. He took a lot of interest in the high school team and molded them into one of the better clubs in town.
After high school, Appling also attended Oglethorpe College. They had a good ball club under Frank Anderson. In fact, all the boys on the Oglethorpe ball club signed a baseball contract when they graduated.
Young Appling had a couple of offers, including one from the Brooklyn Dodgers. Then Earl Mann got Luke a tryout with a couple of teams. He first worked out with Nashville, then was offered a contract by Atlanta. Luke Appling signed his first pro contract with the Atlanta Crackers in 1930.

Appling joined an old group of ball players that had been to the big leagues and back, and they were not nice to rookies. Luke told me about his first night with these guys.

“I never will forget when I walked out on that field for batting practice that first night, and the manager, Johnny Dobbs, told me to get in the cage to hit. I started to get in there, and one of the other players said, “Where are you going punk? Get out of there. You ain’t going to hit in front of me.”

“Later that night, I pinch hit in the 9th inning and got a base hit that won them a ball game,” recalled Appling. “You’d think the next day that it made a difference? No, I was playing, but they still didn’t want me to practice hitting. They were a good bunch of boys, but that was just the way ball players were back then. If you were part of the team, however, they’d stick by you. In fact, when were playing in Chattanooga one night, one of the guys that gave me more heck than anybody went into the stands after a spectator who was heckling me.”

Before that first year was over, Luke Appling’s contract was sold to the Chicago White Sox for around $20,000. He then played shortstop for them for twenty years from 1930 to 1950. During that time, “Old Aches and Pains”, as his teammates called him, played in 2422 games, had 2749 hits, and earned a lifetime batting average of .310. In 1964, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Luke Appling played before the days of big salaries. In fact, after leading the American League in hitting in 1948 with a .388 batting average, he had to hold out for 12 days to get Mr. Cominsky to raise his pay to $20,000. Cominsky, however, was known for being tight with the money, and that wasn’t the first time the two men had disagreed. Bill Acree, related a story of another run-in with Mr. Cominsky.

“When Luke was playing for the White Sox,” related Acree. “He sent a kid into the club house one day to ask for a ball to autograph and give to one of his friends. Mr. Cominsky sent the kid back with a message that baseballs were too expensive to give away to ball players. So, Luke sent the young man back to Mr. Cominsky with a message that he would show him how expensive baseballs really were!”

“On his first at bat that night,” continued Acree, “he fouled fifteen balls into the stands, then turned around and looked up at the owner’s box. Luke never had trouble getting a ball after that!”

Despite his lifelong involvement with baseball, Luke Appling always found time for hunting and fishing. He loved bird hunting and owned as many as fourteen bird dogs at one time. He also hunted deer and bear, and fished all over the south.

During his last years, he was the roving hitting instructor for the Atlanta Braves. Nevertheless, Luke found time to pursue his outdoors interests. In between trips to the various minor league stadiums, he would catch bass from the comfort of his dock in Six-Mile Creek. He lived a busy and fulfilling life, but Luke Appling is one hero who took the time to “smell the roses” with his friends, and now with both the baseball and fishing seasons underway, his friends remember and miss him.

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FISHING AND SEAFOOD ARE CENTRAL TO MARK PHILLIPS’ LIFE

“Watch that frigate bird,” yelled Capt. Mark Phillips! “He’s going to lead us to the fish.”

MARK_PHILLIPS_RT__MAHI_MAHIQuickly Capt. Phillips expertly maneuvered the 25-foot Contender offshore boat under the circling bird as boat owner, Kelly Bloomer, baited the unweighted trolling lines with recently-thawed ballyhoo minnows. Almost instantly, two of the rods were bent double and the reels were screaming. A pair of high-jumping mahi mahi (dolphin) could easily be seen as they fought for their lives 100 feet behind the boat.

Though it is said that eventually every seaman or angler worth his salt will spend time in Key West, which is a small island that dangles like a big toe between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. It is the capital of the “Conch Republic”, which is now and has always been more like another country.

Since the first Spanish explorers took it away from the Seminole Indians, Key West has been inhabited by people of every type and almost every nationality, including pirates, fishermen, salvagers, ecologists, writers, poets, artists, national leaders, and many great and not so great seafaring men. Many of those, in the past and today, come here to forget or run away from something or someone, and are often only known by their first name.

Though Mark Phillips grew up here with a love for the sea and the multitude of fish that live in the fertile waters near Key West, he never had anything to hide. In fact, he first distinguished himself as a charter boat captain here before doing the same in the Pacific Ocean off Costa Rica, where he met, fell in love with, and married a beautiful American writer.

They decided to return to Key West to live and work. The setting and atmosphere of Key West was an excellent place for her to write about children and for Mark to continue his fishing. His success as an offshore captain, however, eventually led to another occupation.

Rather than waste some of the tasty fish that he was bringing ashore each day, Mark started packaging them immediately and sending them to friends around the country. Soon those friends had other friends asking for the packages of fresh fish, and Mark realized that he had started a business without pay. That’s when he decided to open an online company known as www.KeyWestSeafood.com, which became an immediate success.

It’s been more than three years since KeyWestSeafood.com was launched with the goal of providing the freshest premium seafood and other tropical treats from Key West. Though many things have changed as this business has grown, the basic premise has not.

MARK_CENTER_AND_WORKERSMark (center) and WorkersToday Mark Phillips provides extraordinary seafood, hand picked from the best of the day’s catch, then packed fresh and shipped overnight. His staff also carefully selects a delicious array of local sauces, seasonings, and marinades to compliment the seafood, and their Key Lime Pie is truly unforgettable. Each order is thoughtfully packaged and festively wrapped.

The success of the online business and his desire for perfectly prepared seafood to eat, forced Mark to also open a restaurant. Luckily, he found an ideal spot in a small alley between two other businesses that is on Duvall Street in the historical section of Key West.

The wonderful imagination of Mark Phillips has tastefully transformed this tiny nook into a secret, romantic, and very beautiful open-air garden with twelve cafe tables secluded among the gorgeous greenery. It is complete with the sights and sounds of fountains, stone angels, pagodas, and a pond with fish.

Instead of using fish that have been frozen or shipped in because they are not available at certain times of year near Key West, Phillips only offers types of fish that were caught that same day. Therefore, if the Mahi-Mahi are not schooling off Key West, the menu may offer tilefish, triggerfish, or cobia prepared with special herbs and sauces that make them melt in one’s mouth. The menu is always a pleasant surprise of the freshest fish that can be caught near Key West prepared to perfection by the best chefs in the “Conch Republic”!

Like many anglers and entrepreneurs before him, Mark Phillips has found his unique niche in the history of Key West. His love of the sea, his excellent fishing skills, and his desire to provide the great taste of fresh seafood done right has made him and his services popular throughout the Keys and much of the rest of the country!

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