UPPER END OF LAKE LANIER HAS COMES ALIVE

MARCH STRIPER FROM LANIERFor those who love fishing rivers, this is the beginning of a memorable spring season! Stripers and white bass are in the beginning stages of their annual spawning migration up into the Chattahoochee and Chestatee Rivers above Lake Lanier,  the walleyes are already on their spawning run, crappie are moving shallow, and a “Chattahoochee Grand Slam” (a shoal bass, largemouth bass, and a spotted bass on the same day) is now possible in the upper reaches of the lake above Belton Bridge.

A few days of extra-warm weather has triggered the mating instinct in the white bass and striped bass, and the run is on in the northernmost waters of the Chattahoochee and Chestatee Rivers. The excitement began as soon as the temperature crept above the 50 degree mark, and all the muddy water from recent rains had cleared.

Many of the migrating white bass and stripers travel up into the Chestatee River as far as the shoals above Highway 400 or on the Chattahoochee River to the rocky runs above Belton Bridge. Without proper knowledge or the right type of boat, however,  anglers often find themselves in life threatening situations in the upper rivers. Therefore, so that my clients can sample the great white bass and striper fishing, the walleye spawn, and have a chance at the “Slam” in these areas in safety, I use a specially-designed, jet-powered, aluminum river boat.
Though not in as large numbers, white bass and striped bass are also found in areas south of the river shoals where they are more accessible to conventional craft.  These fish seem to prefer sandy flats near the moving water of one of the main river channels.

The area from White Sulphur Access Point north to Lula Bridge on the Chattahoochee and from Wilkie Bridge to just north of Lumpkin County Park on the Chestatee side is excellent.  Especially productive spots are the mouth of Yellow Creek and the big bend in the river near Lumpkin County Park.
Casting the edge of these flats with my 1/8th or 1/4 ounce Swirleybirds,  Blakemore Roadrunners, or 1/8th ounce jig and curlytail grubs can be effective as a means of locating the schools. White or chartreuse are always excellent color choices.
Other white bass and stripers make their spawning runs into major tributaries around the lake. Flowery Branch, Bald Ridge, Six-Mile, Four-Mile, and Flat Creeks are good spawning areas for these fish.

The striped bass and their cousins, the white bass, are headed north again, and for those lucky enough to locate a large school of either species, it can be an explosive experience. Also, a chance at catching a “Chattahoochee Grand Slam” is possible for the next two months. So, if you need more information, guide service, or Swirleybird spinners, check www.georgiafishing.com.

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LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE JET

With no more than six inches of crystal-clear water separating us from the rocks on the bottom of the tiny stream, I marveled at how easily our guide drove the big, jet-powered aluminum boat up the fast flowing tributary to a secret spot that teemed with Arctic grayling. We were in Alaska, but the wheels in my head were already working overtime, because I could easily see this principle applied in our part of the country.

FISHING_FROM_THE_JET_BOATUpon my return to Atlanta, I immediately started questioning manufacturers about the possibility of building a 16 to 18 foot aluminum boat with a tunnel hull to keep the motor above the rocks when powered by a jet outboard. I was quite surprised to find that most of these larger companies had little or no experience with tunnel hulls or jet drives, and basically advised me that such a configuration wouldn’t be feasible.

Fishing From The Jet BoatThanks, however, to my connection with the Sports Center in Perry, Georgia, they put me in touch with a small company in Carrabelle, Florida that made Weldbilt aluminum boats. The owner, Tommy Bevis, had spent years perfecting a design that incorporated both the tunnel hull and the jet outboards, so I contracted him to build me a “dream machine” that would “do-it-all”!

The finished product is an 18-foot aluminum boat with an 82-inch beam made of 1/8th inch thick welded aluminum. It has a double hull with two 4-inch aluminum beams welded the length of the boat on the inside, and four 2-inch beams or runners welded on the outside. In other words, the boat is built like a Sherman tank, but is considerably lighter. Every compartment and the center console is fabricated from the same top quality aluminum and covered with a high-grade outdoor carpet.

Despite the obvious strength of the boat, it has enough internal flotation in sealed compartments to keep it afloat if a puncture occurs and it fills with water. The design is a masterpiece of engineering, and the welding throughout is like artwork.

The power for this ultimate fishing machine comes from a specially designed 80 horsepower, jet outboard, which when trimmed all the way down is still 3 inches above the bottom of the boat. This configuration is possible because of the Ventura effect of the tunnel that forces water up to the intake on the bottom of the motor faster than water is actually passing the outer sides of the boat. Therefore, it is impossible for the foot of the motor to ever come into contact with rocks or other unseen debris.

The overall width and length of the boat allows it to float easily in less than six inches of water with three people and all their equipment aboard, and when running on a plane, it easily glides over obstacles that are 2 to 3 inches below the bottom. This extremely shallow draft and freedom of movement, without fear of destruction, has allowed me and my clients to enjoy fishing that we would have never imagined in the past.

I usually begin each year by catching walleyes in the upper shoals of the Chattahoochee River above Lake Lanier in January. During the early spring, we catch plenty of white bass and striped bass in the upper Chattahoochee River, and when the water is clear enough between rain storms, we land quite a few spunky spotted and shoal bass. I’ve even utilized the jet to allow wide-eyed nature lovers to observe our bald eagle family that lives in an area of fast water above Lake Lanier.

I have used the boat to land numerous world record-sized fish on a fly rod from Lake Lanier to the Florida Keys. The freedom provided by the jet boat has allowed me to catch snook around the mangrove islands of Marco Island, big bonefish in the Florida Keys, colorful oscars and peacock bass in the canals of Miami, bass and bream in the Everglades, rare Suwanee bass in the shallow, swift, crystal clear waters of the Sante Fe River in Central Florida, redfish, trout, and ladyfish around the sugar-white sandy flats off the panhandle of Northern Florida, and now I’m taking clients to enjoy the great trout fishing in the cool waters of the “Hooch” below Buford Dam.

My love affair with this jet boat, however, has just begun. I’ll probably continue lovin’ my new found freedom with this marvel of technology for a long time to come!

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CHECK LINES BEFORE FISHING IN THE COLD

GOOD_LINE_IS_IMPORTANT_IN_COLloresDThe winds of winter have started in earnest and local lake temperatures are diving toward the freezing point. This annual phenomenon usually halts the appetites of smaller fish, but often increases the feeding urge in larger aquatic predators. Therefore, one should prepare for catching these bigger fish that become more aggressive in these cooler conditions. The first step toward winter angling success, however, should be replacement of old fishing lines, which are generally the weakest link in one’s terminal tackle. Even the best-quality, premium fishing lines eventually wear out, so don’t risk losing a trophy fish by using old, worn-out, or questionable fishing line. Professional anglers check their lines before every tournament and change them whenever they begin to show signs of wear. Casual anglers would be safest to spool up with new line at least twice every fishing season. More frequent anglers should consider changing lines after every few fishing trips.

Some of the principal enemies of monofilament fishing line are UV degradation and damage from heat. Ultraviolet radiation can deteriorate the molecular structure of nylon monofilament fishing line, especially if it’s exposed to sunlight over a long period of time. Overexposure to heat can also damage fishing line. As a general rule, never store rod or reels outdoors, in direct sunlight, or in the hot trunk of a car between fishing trips.

Rocks, sticks, hooks, fish scales, and spines can all cause microscopic nicks in the surface of the line, which can reduce its strength by fifty percent or more. Whenever there’s a pause in the fishing action, after landing a fish, dragging the line over a rocks or stumps, or just a premonition that something might be wrong, most fishing pros check their line by running the first ten feet through their thumb and forefinger while pressing against the line with their thumbnail. If any roughness or irregularities are felt, the worn section is immediately cut off.

When line starts to break mysteriously, the reel and line guides should be checked for sharp spots or other problems that might be damaging the line. Sometimes the ceramic rings in line guides will crack or chip, leaving razor-sharp edges. Check for abrasive scratches and chips by running a piece of nylon stocking or a ball of cotton through the ring or across the surface. Any rough spots will instantly snag the fibers when they pass through.

Always store fishing reels and extra line in a cool, dark place like a cabinet or closet. Keep monofilament line away from continuous exposure to sunlight or excessive heat.

When changing fishing line, take extra precautions about disposing of the old line in a safe, responsible manner. Most fishing lines degrade so slowly that they create lethal traps for fish and wildlife if carelessly discarded in the wild. Also, never let any companions throw old fishing line overboard. Consider setting an example for children and friends by taking a few moments to gather up snarls of discarded fishing line that have been left by others.

With all the new second generation “super lines available, fishermen seem to be confused as to which brand to use when replacing old line. Stren has always produced a monofilament fishing line that combines flexible, easy-handling characteristics with improved abrasion resistance and overall toughness.

Regardless of which line is chosen, however, the important aspect to remember is that this tiny length is the weakest point between the angler and the fish. So, instead of having to relate the familiar story of “The One That Got Away”, now is the time to check those weak links before going out in the cold to do battle with a trophy fish!

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A LIFE OR DEATH SITUATION

The bright-eyed and exited young boy watched as his dad battled a small bass then lifted it into the boat. Since the fish certainly wasn’t a “lunker”, the father decided to teach his young son about “catch and release”. As soon as the bass quit flopping around at the end of the line, the older angler grasped the fish around its mid-section, carefully removed the hooks, and pitched the bass back into the water.

PROPERLY_HANDLING_A_BASSThe youngster seemed disappointed and somewhat puzzled by this action, so the father explained, “Son, that bass was pretty small, and it’s a lot better to release him now so that he can grow up. We might even catch him again when he’s a lot bigger.”

Having appeared to satisfy the boy, the father was sure that he had done the proper thing by teaching his son about “catch-and-release”, but was he correct? The answer is definitely ……….NO!

What the father didn’t know about fish probably contributed to the eventual death of the one he caught. Considering the rough handling the small fish received before being released, it would have been more humane to have kept the bass to eat.

Though many anglers seem to view the fish’s scales as some sort of armor coating, what they don’t realize is that the actual protective barrier is an almost invisible screen of slime on the exterior of the scales. This slime shield is the equivalent of the skin on human bodies. Without this mucus coating, the fish will die.

Since the father in the opening scenario had grasped the small bass around the midsection, he had certainly removed or damaged much of the fish’s slime coat. So, rather than doing a good deed, he had actually sentenced the bass to a slow death by infection, which happens consistently during most bass tournaments.
The proper way to handle a bass or other fish with fine teeth is by firmly grasping the lower jaw. This can be greatly enhanced by placing the thumb slightly into the mouth, pointing the index finger of the same hand upwards under the jaw and forcing the fish’s jaw downward. When done properly, this practically paralyzes the fish and allows easy handling or hook removal.

Handling a fish in this manner eliminates trying to hold a slimy, squirming fish by the body. It also takes away the possibility of damaging the mucus or squeezing the fish enough to hurt it internally.

Some dangers, however, are always present when holding a bass by the lower lip, especially if it has a crankbait with several treble hooks hanging from the lure. Extreme care must be exercised when attempting to grasp a hooked fish. First wait until the fish has ceased to fight, then insert the thumb into its mouth on the opposite side from the lure.

Other practices that are detrimental to fish would have to include nylon or wire nets. These tend to scrape off the fish’s protective coating as well. Soft rubber nets may not be as strong or last as long, but they are are much better for the fish.

Though fish fight valiantly and appear to be strong and hardy creatures, a slight action like rubbing one’s hand down its side might spell death. “Catch-and-release” is great, but sentencing a fish to a slow death by mishandling is inhumane!

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BE CAREFUL WHEN EATING FISH FROM GEORGIA WATERS

loDNR_BIOLOGISTS_SAMPLE_FISHCatching, cooking, and eating fish can be a wonderful experience, but due to pollution being added to our waters daily, one must become educated as to which ones are safe. Therefore, it is quite important to keep abreast of the latest findings of the diligent biologists of the Wildlife Resources Division (WRD).

Additional lakes and river segments are continually being added to the list of sites that have fish consumption guidelines in Georgia. The primary contaminant found in fish from listed waterways is mercury, and guidelines range from no restrictions to a restriction of one meal per month, depending on the size and species of the fish.
Following the introduction of fish consumption guidelines in 1995, a five year rotating schedule to track trends in fish contaminant levels was begun. Priority for testing fish was based on rivers and streams downstream of urban and/or industrial areas as well as areas frequented by a large number of anglers.

Each year, WRD fisheries biologists provide fish from waterways throughout the state to the DNR’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) for contaminant testing. Each year, the EPD tests more waterways, which leads to new fish consumption advisories.

Though mercury is found in low concentrations in many species of fish throughout the country, the level set for mercury by the EPA is extremely low. Since the EPA lowered the level for mercury in 1995, fish consumption guidelines for mercury have been added to waterways where they were not needed under earlier testing levels. In the past, fish consumption guidelines in Georgia were driven primarily by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) and chlordane. Both of these contaminants were traced to industrial materials in the 1970’s and 1980’s, which have since been banned. Their levels are slowly decreasing in the fish that are tested. The source of mercury is much harder to trace.

loLANDING_A_LANIER_STRIPERLanding a Lanier StriperMercury is a naturally occurring metal that recycles between land, water, and air, and is also produced from municipal and industrial sources and from fossil fuels. Unlike many contaminants that can be traced to industrial and municipal discharges, agricultural practices, and storm water runoff, mercury contamination is related to global atmospheric transport. In this way, mercury found in fish in this state could be a byproduct, not only from fossil fuel use and industrial activities in Georgia, but also from these kinds of causes initiated far beyond the state’s borders.

Global atmospheric transport is a difficult concept for most people to understand, but citizens need to realize that industrial activities in other states, or even on other continents can, in fact, impact them in their own backyards. Georgia is not the only state that has increased fish consumption guidelines driven by mercury levels. Florida has also found high levels of mercury in fish in the Everglades that has lead to strict fish consumption guidelines in that state.

A variety of different fish species are tested each year for 43 separate contaminants, including metals, organic chemicals, and pesticides. The only three contaminants that show up in significant levels are PCB’s, chlordane, and mercury.

Fish consumption guidelines are designed to protect public health and provide the public with more useful information on eating fish from Georgia waters. It is important to keep in mind that these guidelines are based on eating fish with similar contamination from the same waterway over a period of 30 years or more. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children may wish to limit fish consumption to a greater extent than the level listed in the fish consumption guidelines.

One can view the fish consumption guidelines in the Freshwater and Saltwater Sport Fishing Regulations, which can be found at all WRD offices and wherever fishing licenses are sold, or contact the Wildlife Resources Division at (770) 918-6418.

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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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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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MORNING DISCOVERY

I am not a morning person so why, I asked myself, was I awake before the sun? This was the hour reserved only for early birds wanting their wretched worms, intense fitness enthusiasts needing to sweat outside of the crowd and fishing enthusiasts who always seem to arrive at the mid-morning breakfast table drenched in overpowering odors of rotting marine life. I shudder at the thought and, clutching my mug of Curacao
Blend closer, I gulp its sweet coffee aroma. This is not the hour for fish. Yet, what I am watching is curiously hypnotic.

BILL_V._instructs_chris_mcbeathHe’s perched on top of the balcony railing of the room below, crouched and perfectly still for the most part, save for his arm that leaves the shadows every now and then, to cast his line into the pounding surf.  Sometimes, it seems as it’s a lifeline to some meditative ritual as he stares towards the horizon, waiting for the sun to break across the water. Then, at no apparent cue, the calm breaks abruptly, he whirs the reel, arches the rod gracefully backwards and forwards, as one continuous, flowing movement that’s more akin to Tai Chi, and brings home the sea’s offering. A yellowtail snapper here; a grunt there. Each one a prize that he holds for a moment – almost reverently –  while nimble fingers free the hook; before releasing his trophy to swim the
surf once more.

“Mornin’ lil lady” he calls in a thick Georgian drawl that is quite unexpected. I lift my mug and smile. Too early to speak. Besides, we English girls were raised not to talk to strangers. “You wanna give this a try. It’s one hellava way to greet the mornin'” he chirps about five decibels louder than my tranquil mind can take at the hour. I shake my head vigorously. “Aw, cumon honey, the name’s Bill Vanderford and there
ain’t nothing I don’t know about fishing. I’m in the fishin’ hall of fame back home.”

“Oh God, a fishing bore” I grimace under my breath.

“And there sure as hell ain’t nothing I can’t show you about how to catch these lil’ beauties. I’ve caught fish in every water of the world, and these are no diff’rent”.

“And an obnoxious know it all, to boot”, I conclude silently.

But as I start to move away from his stream of consciousness, the sun suddenly streaks across water like lightening rods, sparking off the slippery rocks, instantly evaporating the shadows and making the light in his Cherokee brown eyes strangely compelling. “I’ll show you how” he promises, in a gentler – almost playful – tone. I’m somewhat dubious.  But what the heck?  Where else can you get a private fishing lesson from a self-proclaimed guru right off the deck of your bedroom?

We’re staying at the Avila Beach Hotel in Curacao, a European-style resort on the edge of the Caribbean Sea. It echoes the charm of yesterday and exudes the welcome of a family-run inn. While the main building is an unassuming 1871 Dutch Colonial mansion reflects the architecture seen in nearby Willemstad, Curacao’s capital, two additions up the chic factor and offer choices of accommodations which include
roomy guest rooms and suites, with private balcony, kitchenettes, Jacuzzi baths and deluxe furnishings. The hotel’s open-air Belle Terrace restaurant sits in the shade of an extravagantly spread flamboyant tree and by night, The Blues, spices the starry skies with live jazz and salsa dancing on the sand.  The Avila is even the unofficial custodian
of an unexpected historical treasure, the 1812 home of the famous Venezueland “Libertador” Simon Bolivar which serves to add to the character and magnetism of the place.

It’s an appeal that is highly prized throughout Curacao, and wandering around the island you’ll find a rich multi-cultural heritage.  Willemstad is postcard-pretty with its sea-shore lined with brightly-painted homes topped with curlicued gables and arched
galleries, churches and Dutch-perfect courtyards. Twice a week, the streets swell with passengers off visiting cruise ships, but on other days, the prices plummet and you can stroll through the open air markets, filled with the diverse produce of Venezuela, and barter for fish off the boats.  Galleries abound, and at the Kura Hulanda Museum,
you’ll find one of the most dynamic private collections in the world of black history and culture. There’s plenty to do further afield too. With more than 50 white-sand beaches, Curacao offers some of the finest diving and snorkeling waters in the Caribbean; hiking the lava plateaus promise windswept views of crashing waves against a craggy shoreline, and for the young and old alike, swimming with the dolphins at the Curacao Sea Aquarium is not to be missed.

Which brings me back to fish .. only this one was squirming in my hand, eyes bulging with accusation, as I struggled to extract the hook. “Now you gotta understand something here,” Bill instructs, his patience remarkably in tact at my fumblings, “the tighter you hold this here rainbow runner, the more skin you’re removing – jes like if you yourself got badly burned .. so you gotta work quick”. I shudder at my unintended
cruelty and thrust the poor creature into his hands. The thought of stripping its iridescent beauty was too hard to bear. “Weel, you did good on the casting” he says, as if to console my failure. “Hmm, yes I rather think I did”, I thought to myself.  In fact, to my surprise, I had rather enjoyed the entire experience ..tieing spinners, threading
weights, cutting bait, and casting .. arching the line into the surf and hearing Bill coach “now jes feel the fish honey, use your intuition and watch for the movement”, at which point I noticed his eyes would glaze in a kind of fisherman’s bliss at the thought of what might be…

Only this morning, I was his reality and for me, “it” was not to be. Although I must admit, this Bill Vanderford had given me an insight to a side of fishing that outsiders rarely see, a taste of the sacrament that all fishing folk seem to share and which, at the break of day, is at its most precious.  After all, I did feel a kind of magic with that rod, the sort that Harry Potter must have felt when he held his first wand.  And I did feel a twinge of excitement of what might be …

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TROUT IN THE “HOOCH” OFFERS GREAT SUMMER ACTION

OSPREY_WITH_CATCH_smallThe heat of summer often makes it very uncomfortable to remain out on any area lake in a fishing boat for an entire day, and the bass fishing slows appreciably. For those who still love to fish, however, the cool, summer waters of the “Hooch” below Lake Lanier beckon. The water is considerably cooler than on any lake, and the scenery is breathtaking! One might even catch a glimpse of redtail hawks, ospreys, or an occasional eagle overhead, and the lower Chattahoochee River is teeming with explosive brown and rainbow trout to catch.

With adequate ramps available near Abbott’s Bridge and Medlock Bridge, anyone with a canoe or small, aluminum jon boat can carefully fish the river. Nevertheless, a few of the rapids and other shallow places can be rather difficult for any novice.

HOOCHBROWNTROUTHooch Brown TroutThe trout, however, can be found almost anywhere in the river. They are in both the fast and slower water areas as well as both the deep and shallow parts. They utilize rocks or fallen trees as cover from which to attack any edible creature that might be swept by with the current, and many of these hiding places are right down the middle of the river.

Though these river predators will hit a multitude of tiny lures, the most productive artificial offerings seem to be the smaller floating or sinking Rapalas, or Swirleybird spinners. When using Rapalas, the floaters usually work better in shallower water that often has underwater vegetation or other obstructions. In deeper, slower sections of the river, the sinking version of the Rapala is better for attracting the hungry trout. Gold is normally the most popular color, but many other brighter shades of lures have been successful.

Since the river teems with crawfish and stone flies, dark colored Swirleybirds are great lure choices. Small plastic worms in red or other bright colors are also deadly if the river becomes slightly stained from rain or other runoff, and artificial insects cast with a fly rod are always good.

GARYMERRIMANLANDSTROUTThe early morning or late evening hours provide a darker, foggy atmosphere that makes trout quite active in the clear waters of the “Hooch”. Overcast days can also be excellent, but during the heat of summer, morning seems to be the best time.

The logistics of fishing a fast river with all the currents, obstacles, and rapids can be a chore. Neophyte river fishermen have trouble “reading” the river and often cast indiscriminately, instead of fishing specific targets. Nevertheless, the Chattahoochee River has a healthy population of trout that are fairly easy to catch. So, instead of running off to some exotic waters this summer, enjoy the beauty and coolness of the “Hooch” and experience some of the best summer trout fishing available anywhere!

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TEN INTERESTING PLACES TO VISIT DURING THE FALL

As the summer sun begins to drift more to the south, a change in the morning and evening air temperatures will be evident. This cooler air will slow the flow of sap in the trees and more pine needles and leaves will be seen on the ground. The changing seasons and the kaleidoscope of gorgeous colors that go with this natural metamorphosis is a special gift for those who love to explore the North Georgia Mountains and foothills. Therefore, I have put together an eclectic list of ten interesting places to visit that would enhance anyone’s sojourn into Georgia’s Blue Ridge.

SMITHGALL WOODS PRESERVES GEORGIA’S MOUNTAIN PAST

FALL IN THE BLUE RIDGE MTSThe short drive from the main highway along the cascading waters of Dukes Creek to The Lodge at Smithgall Woods allows a visitor the opportunity to view the pristine beauty of the Georgia mountains as they appeared before the onslaught of developers. Even the buildings that comprise The Lodge were built with thought and respect so that they blend naturally into the surrounding picturesque environment. In fact, the entire landscape of Smithgall Woods is like an artist’s tapestry that is illuminated by sunlight filtered through a misty canopy of sheltering hardwood trees.

The 5,555-acre tract of prime mountain property was acquired by the state of Georgia in 1994 from noted conservationist and businessman Mr. Charles A. Smithgall, Jr. It was immediately designated as a Heritage Preserve under the State’s Preservation 2000 Program, which is the highest legal assurance possible that the land will be used only in conjunction with strict preservation and conservation guidelines and that it will be maintained in its natural condition for present and future generations to enjoy.

Though hiking to the nearby Dukes Creek Falls and mountain biking are always an option at Smithgall Woods, Dukes Creek has been named by Trout Unlimited as one of the “Top 100 Trout Streams in America”. The constant sounds of water cascading over rocks, birds singing, and trees swaying with the wind more than blot out any distant noises of civilization. Mix that with the smells of mountain laurel, rhododendron, and numerous hardwood trees, plus the visual feast of a gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountain setting, and no amount of money could give one the feeling of tranquility experienced at Smithgall Woods. If one wants to enjoy a stay at this beautiful place, however, reservations are a necessity, and they may be obtained by calling toll-free 800-318-5248 or 706-878-3087.

PORK AND POLITICS ARE ALWAYS ON THE MENU AT POOLE’S BBQ

MtyonahWhen Oscar Poole brought pork, politics and a bunch of plywood pigs to the Zell Miller Mountain Parkway, which runs through the sleepy, mountain village of Ellijay, he wasn’t welcomed with open arms. To the contrary, many in the local population actually complained to the city elders, or just poked fun at his piggly ways.  Old Oscar, however, knew how to make good barbecue, was already a staunch advocate of conservative, GOP politics, and the value of attracting attention with the “Pig Hill of Fame”.

The entire slope behind his barbecue restaurant looks loosely like a graveyard, with hundreds of plywood pigs bearing people’s names.  Plenty of the pigs have easily recognizable names like Ludlow Porch, Pat Buchanan, Guy Milner, LeRoy Powell, and Rush Limbaugh.

“I’ve even got one Democrat up, there,” admits Oscar Poole. Someone paid me to do one for Al Gore, so I put him on the left side of the hill and tried to hide him.”

Barbecue and politics are a Southern tradition, but Oscar Poole’s political pork cookery puts a new twist on the tasty, white meat.

Though he looks and often talks like just one of the “good ole boys”, Oscar Poole is a retired Methodist minister with several college degrees, and an accomplished musician. In fact, he keeps an electric piano in his establishment and plays regularly for patrons.

Oscar actually started his restaurant in 1989, but due to both national and international publicity, it has become world famous in a very short time.  In a way, he has Big Government to thank for the flash of inspiration called the Pig Hill of Fame that made this eyesore of a place world renowned.

“LBJ’s wife, Lady Bird started all this,” said Poole. “She made people take down their signs along the highways in her pet beautification program. So, to get around that, I started putting names of well-known people that visited on little plywood signs with a pig shape, and it became very popular. Now, everybody wants their name on one of the pig signs.

The whole thing with the “Pig Hill of Fame” is done all in fun, and the fact that it sells barbecue is great for Oscar Poole. The bottom line is that each day at lunch time his little barbecue place is crowded, and it’s often hard to find a seat in his establishment on weekends or holidays. For Oscar, however, it’s never strictly business, he likes to have fun, and wants to keep it that way. Nevertheless, for both an interesting experience and some of the Peach State’s best barbecue, it’s worth the short trip up I-575 to Ellijay to the “Pig Hill of Fame”!

“MARK OF THE POTTER” IS A NORTH GEORGIA LANDMARK

SOQUE RIVER-MARK OF THE POTTERAny trip through the scenic Blue Ridge mountains of Northeast Georgia this fall should follow a course up Highway 197, through the village of Clarkesville, and up the winding road alongside the beautiful Soque River.  This path leads one to a picturesque old grist mill that rests precariously along the edge of a deep hole in the river just below a cascading waterfall. Although it has the authentic look of the old mill, this place has been known for more than a quarter of a century as “Mark of the Potter”.

It is a showplace and retail outlet for crafts and pottery from local artists, including expert potters who daily create the exquisite brand of pottery for which this unique establishment has become famous.

The actual mill was built during the 1930’s by Allen Watts to fill a need to provide the local farmers a place to grind their corn into meal. It became known as “Grandpa Watts’ Mill”, and for more than three decades, ground farmer’s corn “for the eighth”, which meant the mill kept an eighth of the meal for payment of services.

Travelers still have their breath taken away when they come around the curve of Highway 197 and first gaze upon the foaming water of the tumbling falls and catch sight of the stately old mill. Former visitors and newcomers alike continue to marvel at the huge trout that swim in the big pool below the back deck, and never fail to purchase trout pellets to watch them feed. “Mark of the Potter” is a genuine Georgia landmark, and should be a planned stop on anyone’s visit to the Northeast part of our state. It is located 10 miles north of Clarkesville on Georgia Highway 197. For additional information call (706) 947-3440.

TRAGEDY AND BEAUTY ARE INTERTWINED WITH TOCCOA FALLS

FALL MORNING IN THE MTSFrom below the misty cascade of water freefalling 186 feet into a deep pool that empties into a tiny stream lined with colorful wild azaleas and rhododendron, one would never imagine the dark side of this picturesque natural wonder. Nevertheless, in the wee hours of a rainy night on November 6, 1977, an earthen dam at the top of this breathtaking waterfall gave way, and one-hundred and seventy-six million gallons of water plummeted into the tiny valley below that is home to Toccoa Falls College! Thirty-nine people were killed, another sixty injured, and most of the college campus was destroyed.

Compassionate people from all over the world, who had never heard of Toccoa or the tiny Christian college, responded immediately with their money and their hearts. More than $3 million in funds and hundreds of volunteer workers poured into the little valley to help.

Because of that tragedy, the dam and lake were never rebuilt, and every effort has been made to allow Toccoa Falls to return to its natural state. It is 29 feet higher than Niagara Falls and truly one of the most magnificent waterfalls in the “Peach State”. It certainly lives up to the name given by the Cherokee Indians, “Toccoah” , which means “beautiful”.

The light passing through water that almost changes to an eerie mist before being consumed by the pool below has prism-like qualities that seem to hypnotize those who watch. Therefore, any visit to Toccoa or the almost 100 year-old college would be incomplete without spending a few memorable minutes gazing up at this miracle of nature called Toccoa Falls. For more information about Toccoa Falls, call toll-free 800-868-3257 during regular business hours.

THE NACOOCHEE INDIAN MOUNDS

NACOOCHEE INDIAN MOUNDAn old Indian mound stands at the junction of Highways 17 and 75, just south of Helen near the Chattahoochee River. It is a familiar landmark to many travelers, but a mystery to newcomers.

Legend has it that Indian lovers from opposing tribes are buried in this sacred place known as the Nacoochee Mound. The story relates that Sautee, a brave of the Chickasaw Tribe, and Nacoochee, daughter of a Cherokee Chief, fell immediately and hopelessly in love when a Chickasaw band stopped in Cherokee territory at a designated resting place. The two lovers met in the night and ran away to nearby Yonah Mountain to spend a few days together. When they later confronted Nacoochee’s father with the idea of creating peace between the two nations, Chief Wahoo ordered Sautee thrown from the high cliffs of Yonah Mountain while Nacoochee was forced to watch.  Almost immediately, Nacoochee broke away from her father’s restraining hands and leaped from the cliff to join her lover.  At the foot of the cliff the lovers dragged their broken bodies together and locked in a final embrace.  The Chief, overcome with remorse, realized the greatness of love, and buried the lovers, still locked together in death, near the banks of the Chattahoochee River in a burial mound.

Though a very touching story, in reality, the Nacoochee Mound is an old burial site that was probably placed there long before the Cherokee Tribe inhabited the area. In fact, an excavation that began in 1915 unearthed 75 burials in the mound.

Graves were discovered at varying levels, showing that the burials took place over a number of years.  Differences in artifacts found indicate a slight change in the culture, due possibly to the influence of civilization.  Within the mound, none of the remains were preserved well enough to enable exact measurements of the bodies.

Since the Cherokee Tribe later used the mound as a site for their townhouse and ceremonial rites, they were obviously ignorant of the original purpose of the artificial hill. They also erected an estimated 300 dwellings in a village on the surrounding flatland near the river.

The Nacoochee Mound is located in White County, two miles south of Helen on property belonging to the L.G. Hardman Estate.  Dr. Hardman was a former Governor of the State of Georgia.  During the summer of 1980 Nacoochee Valley, in which the Mound is located, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district. It is a beautiful place to see from the road during any season of the year!

DEER ARE THE REAL ATTRACTION AT RED TOP MOUNTAIN

DEER NEAR-RED-TOP-MOUNTAIN2As the young buck stepped away from protection of the fall foliage to the nakedness of a rocky point on Lake Allatoona, he scanned each direction intently for any sign of danger. Though he made a magnificent sight standing alone on the tiny spit of land that jutted out into the blue-green waters, with the sun in his eyes, the elegant wild creature was unable to see a small group of deer watchers standing less than fifty yards away.

At most places in the Peach State, this sighting would have been rare, but not at Red Top Mountain State Park and Conference Center. Due to transplanted deer from the overpopulated Sapelo Island on the Georgia Coast, lack of hunting, and a deer feeding program, Red Top Mountain supports an overabundance of healthy deer. Therefore, deer watching has become a major attraction to this popular state-owned facility that is located just off Interstate 75 about 35 miles from downtown Atlanta.

So that visitors can more easily enjoy viewing these beautiful creatures, the folks at Red Top Mountain maintain several deer viewing areas near feeding stations. With so many deer in this 1950-acre peninsula at Lake Allatoona, however, it is difficult to visit this gorgeous state park without encountering numerous deer along the trails and roadways.

Many lovers of the outdoors come to Red Top Mountain for short getaways, or weekends, and utilize the more casual accommodations that include 18 cottages capable of housing 144 persons or the 90 campsites for tents, trailers, and RV’s. Most of these sites have electrical and water hookups and offer easy access to tennis, swimming, hiking, boating, fishing, and deer watching.

Red Top Mountain was appropriately named for its rich, red soil, which was once mined for the iron ore content. This state park’s picturesque beauty and abundant wildlife, plus its proximity to metro Atlanta, makes it a natural wonder that warrants visiting. For more information, call (770) 975-0055 (Red Top Mountain) or (770) 389-7275 (Georgia State Parks).

JACKS RIVER FALLS – A HIDDEN TREASURE IN THE WILDERNESS

JACKS RIVER FALLSViewing the Jacks River Falls for the first time takes one’s breath away.  The tremendous cascade of water rushing over the ageless boulders of the three distinct levels is almost deafening.  Also, the rising mixture of water and air forms a mist that shrouds everything in a dreamlike fog.  It is so captivating that visitors often stand as if in a trance while trying to mentally devour this magnificent work of nature.

Despite the physical exertion required to visit this Peach State wonder, the trip is worth every minute of the pain.  The Cohutta Wilderness area and especially, the Jacks River provides, to those willing to pay the price, a wonderful opportunity to enjoy unspoiled nature at its best.

Though several ways exist to reach the Jacks River Falls, one particular path has proven to be fairly easy to follow, and can be accomplished in a day’s hard hike if one is in pretty good physical condition. However, some food and a good supply of water should be carried to make the trip safer and more enjoyable.

From Forsyth, take Highway 20 North to I-575, which becomes Highway 515 at Nelson, Georgia and is called the Appalachian Parkway.  Just beyond Blue Ridge, Georgia, travel north on Highway 5 toward Copper Hill, Tennessee, then shortly turn west onto old Highway 2, which soon became a gravel road as it climbs ever upwards.  At Watson Gap, turn right on Forest Service Road 22, which continues several miles to the parking area at Dally Gap.

Depart Dally Gap on the Hemptop Trail, which winds down out of Tennessee and intersects with Penitentiary Branch Trail about 2.5 miles from Dally Gap.  Penitentiary Branch Trail then descends some 3.3 miles into the Jacks River canyon.

During the first two miles of the jaunt, the trail follows an old logging road. Though it ascends steadily, the path is wide and the rise gradual. The downhill section follows Penitentiary Branch down to the juncture with the Jacks River. From there, it is roughly 1.5 miles downriver to the Jacks River Falls.

The path to the Jacks River Falls is loaded with history.  Portions of the Jacks River Trail along the river are on the roadbed of the old Conasauga Railroad, which was a narrow-gauge railway built to bring out felled logs from the timber camps up in the mountains during the logging days around the turn of the century.

The loggers would cut the chestnut trees all week while staying at the camps, then ride the train back down to a small village at the juncture of the Conasauga and Jacks Rivers on the weekends.  The town was called Shamble’s Mill, and was located in the Alaculsy Valley.

During a hike along the Jacks River Trail, one can actually walk on some visible sections of the old cross-ties made from American Chestnut trees, which have resided there for at least 75 years.  The American Chestnut trees disappeared from the Georgia mountains during the 1920’s and 30’s because of a blight that killed them.

Near the falls, one will probably encounter campsites and other hikers.  Most of these hikers come in from Tennessee on the popular Beech Bottom Trail, which is approximately 3.5 miles from its Tennessee state line beginning. Instead of taking the shorter but more rugged Hemptop Trail, they chose the Jacks River Trail, which follows Bear Branch down to the intersection with the Sugar Cove Trail at Lost Cove Branch.  Despite being a much easier trail to traverse, the Jacks River Trail is almost 11 miles long and has 44 river crossings up to waist-deep before one reaches the Jacks River Falls.  Nevertheless, many pure backpackers prefer that trail because of the easier walking on fairly level old logging roads.

Though the scenery is breathtaking, a jaunt into the Cohutta Wilderness and the Jacks River Falls should not be attempted by those with small children or any physical problems. Despite the other friendly hikers you might encounter, you’ll be a long way from any help should a problem arise. Nevertheless, if you’re up to it, the Jacks River Falls is one of Georgia’s most picturesque places!

FALL IS EASILY VISIBLE FROM GEORGIA’S HIGHEST MOUNTAIN

VIEW FROM BRASSTOWN BALDThe dense vegetation that covers Brasstown Bald, which is Georgia’s highest mountain, comes alive with brilliant colors during the fall leaf season, and on a clear day, one can see beauty in every direction. The path to this Peach State wonder, however, would impress even the most seasoned mountain driver because of the steepness of the winding road that ascends to near the top of this pinnacle. Even more formidable is the half mile of trail that cuts a path through the thick foliage from the parking lot to the top of the mountain.

Nevertheless, if one is physically fit enough to reach the top, a National Forest Service visitor center complete with exhibits, slide programs, and an observation tower await atop the 4,784-foot summit. Here, visitors have a 360-degree view across miles of mountain ridges and lakes into four states. Though fog and low clouds are often a problem on top of Brasstown Bald, if one is lucky enough to reach the summit on a good day, the view is breathtaking!

The parking area is as far as automobiles are allowed to travel, but actually, several steep hiking trails lead to the tower, and for a small fee, during most months, Mini-buses depart every few minutes for those who would like to ride to the summit.

This picturesque place is a Georgia landmark that would enhance anyone’s itinerary, and is a great one-day trip from Forsyth County. It offers one of the finest vistas in the Peach State, and affords one a unique experience while visiting the North Georgia mountains.

Brasstown Bald opens seven days a week through the first week in November. From south of Blairsville, go east on GA Highway 180 to GA Highway 66 north to the parking area.The visitor center phone is (706) 896-2556.

NEARBY CLARKESVILLE IS A FALL PARADISE

Situated in the higher foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the stately old town of Clarkesville seems to either have or be close to a multitude of interesting places. In fact, Clarkesville is only a few miles away from six state parks, two National Forests, and five natural waterfalls. Located just twenty miles from the Appalachian Trail and fifteen miles from the Alpine village of Helen, Clarkesville is centrally located enough to be the perfect “home-away-from-home” for exploring Georgia’s northeast mountains during the fall “Leaf Season.”

MOUNTAIN STORE FRONTMountain StorefrontJust north of Clarkesville, Brigadoon is a breathtaking place along the fabled Soque River. It is the perfect choice for both fly fishermen and couples looking for a special place during the leaf season. One can constantly see the beauty of this gorgeous tributary while traveling along Georgia Highway 197 from Clarkesville to Lake Burton, but it is mostly privately owned and untouchable. Therefore, the legend of this famous river and the tales of its huge trout continues to grow.

Thanks to a dream and the foresight of a beautiful, energetic, young lady trying to find a secluded spot to take her away from the constant pressures of her job in the financial bastions of Wall Street, however, trout fishermen and romantic couples can personally experience the solitude and majesty of the Soque River.

Brigadoon encompasses an almost two-mile section of land and river that makes a big bend around a mountain adjacent to Highway 197. It is one of the most scenic stretches of the entire Soque River.

The lovely lady with the “crystal ball”, who opened this paradise to visitors, is Rebekah Stewart. Though her original idea for this Blue Ridge Mountain paradise was to have her own secluded mountain retreat, changes in her life, the urging of friends, and her outgoing nature remolded her plans. This resulted in opening her section of the Soque River as a catch and release, fly fishing only stream, where serious trout anglers could realistically have the chance of catching an over thirty-inch brown or rainbow in one of the most majestic settings in the eastern United States.

Besides a pair of romantic suites in the lower part of her house, Ms. Stewart has added two gorgeous cabins. Visitors not only have almost two miles of the cascading waters of the Soque River to explore, but within a few miles by road are Lakes Burton, Rabun, and Seed, and many other attractions. Few places on Earth offer anyone the chance to spend quality time in such breathtaking natural scenery as Rebekah Stewart’s Brigadoon, but reservations are necessary. Call (706) 754-1558 for reservations or more information about Brigadoon.

In Clarkesville’s historic district, one will find the Burns-Sutton Inn, which is a Victorian bed and breakfast inn that was built in 1901 and completely restored in 1985.  This large three-story inn contains seven sizable rooms filled with period and antique furnishings.  The old house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and has many fine architectural details that allow a visitor to mentally drift back to the golden finery of the Victorian age.

Lodging guests at the Burns-Sutton Inn are offered special rates on championship golf at Clarkesville’s premier country club, and on horseback riding packages. Other activities like hiking and biking are also easily arranged by the inn. One call to Jaime Huffman, who is the host and owner of the Burns-Sutton Inn, can provide one with a multitude of information about other interesting things to do and see in the vicinity of Clarkesville. She can be contacted at 706-754-5565.

A few miles northeast of Clarkesville, a more than two-hundred year old oak, covered with a heavy, green coat of resurrection fern, stands like a sentinel as one leaves the pavement of Shirley Grove Road onto the red clay of Bear Gap Road en route to the meticulously restored Glen Ella Springs Inn.  Like the old inn and the famous spring, this ancient tree has seen a lot of weary travelers from Indians to modern tourists.

A GEORGIA MT. homeplaceMost of the land in the vicinity of the springs was originally owned by Cherokee Indians. In fact, the actual site where the Glen Ella Springs Inn now stands was part of a 600-acre tract awarded in the 1830’s to Glen and Ella Davidson as part of the great Cherokee land give-away.

A Georgia Mountain HomeplaceNot much was done with the land, however, until the family’s homeplace was constructed on the site in 1875. That original building was expanded in 1890 and again in 1905 to take in paying guests. Many of these visitors were wealthy families from coastal Georgia who summered in the mountains to escape the hot season’s yellow fever plague.

Guests usually arrived in nearby Turnerville via the Tallulah Falls Railroad, and would be personally greeted by Glen Davidson. He would then transport them to the inn in his horse-drawn buggy.

Today, the sixteen room inn and its gourmet-style dining room are drawing guests from around the Southeast as well as across the country. Reservations and more information are available by calling (706) 754-7295.

Clarkesville is an extremely worthwhile place to visit, and the entire sojourn can be made in a weekend. This North Georgia town was the first resort community in Georgia. It is a great place for peace and quiet in a laid-back, gorgeous mountain setting during the fall season.

“THE TRAIL” HAS ITS BEGINNINGS IN GEORGIA

BLUE RIDGE MTS. at dawnLong before I was old enough to appreciate the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, my dad and I had crossed this national treasure many times while searching for trout in the North Georgia Mountains. Though quite rugged in many places, “The Trail” is always a thing of beauty during the fall of each year here in the Peach State.

For those hardy souls who attempt the more than 2,100 mile journey along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains, they normally begin at Springer Mountain near Jasper, Georgia. From that point, their sojourn will take them through fourteen eastern states before ending at Katahdin in Maine.

Georgia’s part of the Appalachian Trail winds some eighty miles along ridge tops and through rather primitive areas of the Chattahoochee National Forest. The average altitude is around 3,000 feet, but the trail reaches above 4,400 feet in places. The climb and descent can often be steep, and each section of this trail offers a variety of challenges to hikers. Nevertheless, one is constantly rewarded by breathtaking vistas from high rocky outcrops or open summits.

The Appalachian Trail was built and is maintained by volunteers from each of those fourteen states for the enjoyment of everyone. It is well-marked throughout its length with rectangular white blazes. Side trails or trails to water have blue blazes, and turns in the trail are marked with double blazes as a caution to hikers. Signs are placed at road crossings, shelters, or other important intersections.

Georgia’s part of the trail has eleven shelters, and all but one are three-sided with open-fronts. Each has a floor, and spring water is readily available. The one exception is a stone, two-room structure at the top of Blood Mountain. It has four sides, a fireplace, windows, a sleeping platform, but no water close by.

The Appalachian Trail in Georgia can be reached from six major highways, which the trail crosses at their highest point. An 8.5 mile approach trail is located on Highway 52 at Amicalola Falls State Park, which is fifteen miles northwest of Dawsonville. The trail crosses Woody Gap on Highway 60 fifteen miles north of Dahlonega, but just twenty-two miles north of Dahlonega on Highway 129/19, is the most interesting spot to join the trail. Neels Gap is below the summit of Blood Mountain, and has one of the most complete hiking and backpacking stores in the eastern U.S. It also features books on every aspect of the Appalachian Mountains or “The Trail” and offers a wide array of souvenirs.

Other places to intercept the Appalachian Trail in Georgia are at Tesnatee Gap and Hog Pen Gap on Highway 348 (Richard Russell Scenic Highway) twelve miles northwest of Helen, Unicoi Gap on Highway 75 ten miles north of Helen, or Dicks Creek Gap on Highway 76 eighteen miles west of Clayton. Short day trips from any of these convenient crossings of the trail can be very invigorating and educational. The real beauty of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, however, is the constantly changing, but magnificent, bounty of nature that is revealed to those who take the time to traverse this phenomenal wilderness path. No classroom or TV show can compare with the sights and sounds of this natural, living panorama. Therefore, youngsters always leave with an indelible memory of even a short hike along this historical path during any time of the year.

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