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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WINTER FISHING IN KEY WEST IS SPECTACULAR

loKEY_WEST_WRECKFishing, shipwrecks, and sunsets are synonymous with the shallow flats and channels near Key West, Florida, and recent visitors have experienced the complete trifecta. With the fairly new wreck of a two-masted schooner having been washed up on a shallow bar near the Calda Channel, many anglers are having their charter captains stop on the way in from a successful day of fishing to photograph the sunset through the rigging of the old vessel. It is quite a sight to behold, but so is winter fishing at Key West!

When most fishermen think of coming to Key West, they immediately picture battles with huge, acrobatic tarpon, speedy bonefish, or powerful permit. In winter, however, most of those fish have migrated to warmer climates or deeper water. Nevertheless, the fish that replace them during the colder months are also excellent fighters and much better to eat.

loGREG_RHAE_AND_CERO_MACKERELThe waters near Key West are teeming with marauding schools of mackerel at this time of year. Most anglers can easily catch their daily limit of three to five pound cero and Spanish mackerel, and many king mackerel exceed forty pounds. In addition, one may find huge schools of redfish that range from ten to twenty-five pounds, and tuna are often abundant in the twenty pound class.

Bottom fishing near Key West will net a variety of fish including several types of grouper, snapper, and grunts. The majority of these fish are also very palate pleasing.

With more than five-hundred species of fish inhabiting the blue-green waters of the Florida Keys, fantastic fishing is experienced daily. Winter visitors experience a kaleidoscope of flora and fauna, including white herons, loons, pelicans, ospreys, and numerous small animals.

loKING_MACKERELloBIG_REDFISHReal adventurers often bring or rent a small skiff, canoe, or kayak, which allows the exploration of many of the uninhabited keys or the opportunity to fish shallow flats within sight of Key West.

At mile marker 20 on Sugarloaf Key is a beautifully landscaped tropical KOA resort complete with waterfront campsites. This modern facility is just minutes from Key West, and the best place to camp close to all the action of the “Conch Republic’s” capital city. Camping at these sites may not be the plush way to visit the Florida Keys, but for family fun plus great fishing or snorkeling during the winter season, this is the economical way to go!

The Mardi Gras-style experience in the old downtown section of Key West every night, and the circus atmosphere along the wharf at Mallory Park during the “Sunset Celebration” at the end of each day makes Key West a warm, electrifying destination away from our cooler weather. This final island at the tip of the Florida Keys is certainly a fabulous tropical paradise, but it also ranks among the best places on the globe to get away from the cold, catch plenty of fish, and escape reality for awhile!

loDOWNTOWN_KEY_WEST

Downtown Key WestFor additional information about reservations or directions, contact the Florida Keys Visitors Bureau through Stewart Newman and Associates at 1-800-FLA-KEYS. For fishing information, contact Capt. Larry Cohen at (305) 294-7670 or (305) 923-7100.

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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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DOWN FROM THE HILLS OF HABERSHAM

“Out of the hills of Habersham, down through the valleys of Hall, I hurry amain to reach the plain, run the rapid and leap the fall, split at the rock and together again, accept my bed, or narrow or wide, and flee from folly on every side, with a lover’s pain to attain the plain, far from the hills of Habersham, far from the valleys of Hall.”

Though I was in my preteens before I ever saw the Peach State’s most magnificent river, my Mother taught me that first verse of Sidney Lanier’s famous poem, “Song of the Chattahoochee”, before I reached my sixth birthday. Since then, however, I have had the pleasure of sampling the potpourri of fabulous fishing opportunities while visually feasting on some of Georgia’s finest vistas from the hills north of Helen to Lake Seminole, where the Chattahoochee joins the Flint to become the Apalachicola River prior to pouring its fertile waters into the Gulf of Mexico. With the beginning of trout season this month, some basic knowledge of the upper Chattahoochee River seems to be an appropriate subject.

KAYAK_ON_UPPER_HOOCHThe first trickle of a stream that biologists consider the extreme headwaters of the Chattahoochee actually begins in Union County. Other small streams like Henson Creek have their beginnings in adjacent Towns County, and much of the trout-rich upper Chattahoochee River is in White County. Therefore, despite the beautiful words, Sidney Lanier left out much of this famous river at the start of his poem.

Though only accessible to the toughest of the trout fishing clan because of the remoteness of the area, the upper Chattahoochee and Henson Creek are still home to some of the last native eastern brook trout in the southeast. Though they seem to be thriving in these creeks that are hidden by undergrowth, they can’t stand much fishing pressure.

Farther down, one can catch both stocked and native rainbow trout in Low Gap and Jasus Creeks. Also, Spoilcane Creek runs down from the vicinity of Unicoi Gap alongside Highway 75 north of Robertstown. It can be seen from the highway, and is easy for anyone to fish. Certain sections, however, run through private property, so check before wetting a hook.

Most of the mainstream of the upper Chattahoochee River is in the WMA and can be accessed from Forest Service Road 52. This section has both wild trout and stocked rainbows, browns, and brooks during the season.

From the Highway 75 Alternate Bridge at Robertstown south through the town of Helen, one can now catch stocked trout year-round. This is an especially popular and scenic stretch of the river, and can be extremely busy with canoe or tube traffic at times. Nevertheless, it is a good place for Dad to fish while the wife and kids enjoy the carnival atmosphere and great shopping in the Alpine village of Helen.

Actually catching the small trout from the farthest upper sections of the Chattahoochee and its tiny tributaries is very difficult because of the size of these waters and the undergrowth. Nevertheless, if one is willing to get on your knees at times, and present diminutive, #16 dry or wet flies in almost cane pole-fashion, wild brook and rainbow trout can be caught. Farther down in parts of the WMA, more normal casting is possible, and from Robertstown through the town of Helen, the fishin’ is easy for even a novice fly caster.

Fishing is not allowed in the immediate vicinity of the falls and store at historic Nora Mills. Also, the river from below Nora Mills down to the Highway 255 bridge along the White/Habersham County line has poor public access, and private landowners often take offense to trout fishermen or whitewater enthusiasts that come in contact with their property. Therefore, it is not recommended trying to fish this stretch of the Chattahoochee River.

By putting in at the Highway 255 bridge, however, one can float a beautiful section of the Chattahoochee that meanders through long quiet stretches that are only broken by occasional rapids. This section of the river from Highway 255 down to Highway 115 bridge is about five miles long and can be navigated by most any experienced person with a canoe, kayak, rubber raft or float tube.

The only dangerous spot is the Smith Island Rapid, which is about three miles into the float. It is a Class II rapid that is usually run by staying left for the first two ledge series, then moving right for the bottom chute, which empties into a picturesque pool with a grotto-like setting. If the water level is above three feet, the right side of the island is also navigatable, but be sure to maintain a route that is right of center.

Larger flies, streamers, small spinners or the smallest floating or sinking injured minnow lures are best on this first fishable section of the Chattahoochee below Helen. One can usually catch a few of the small stocked trout, but will occasionally hook a trophy-sized rainbow or brown trout.

TROUT_FROM_UPPER_HOOCHAnother five mile float is also possible from the Highway 115 bridge downstream to the Highway 384 bridge. This section, however, should not be attempted unless one possesses excellent whitewater skills. The Class II and III rapids during the first mile at Buck Island Shoals, at Three Ledges during the third mile and the tricky falls in the Horseshoe Rapid in the fourth mile are a test for even the most experienced. Nevertheless, if one has the experience, this section of the Chattahoochee River is both scenic and very productive at times, but a little knowledge of these rough spots is helpful.

During the first half mile downstream from the Highway 115 bridge, several small rapids must be navigated followed by a ninety degree left-hand bend, then the river starts to become much steeper in its descent into Buck Island Shoals. This is a very long combination ledge and shoal series that is quite technical at low water and very testy at high water. One should attempt the initial drops on the far left side and remain there until past the first couple of tiny islands, then cut back toward the main channel so that the middle section of this shoal is run right of center. Buck Island will be on the left, and at high water this stretch can be run on the left side of that island.

After clearing Buck Island, a short, calm section is encountered followed by another long, technical section with granite outcrops on the bottom right. If the water is low through here, one has to carefully traverse the far right side and be watchful for a partially submerged rock below the bottom ledge that is known for flipping boats over. When the water is high, all three sections of the Buck Island Shoals become one very long rapid with big waves, fast water, and tricky crosscurrents, and can generally be floated by maintaining a line right of center throughout the section.

As one drifts through a long Class I shoal during the third mile of this float, outcrops of granite on the right side will signal the first drop of the Three Ledges. It should be run to the left of a long, hot dog-shaped rock, then steer back to the right prior to reaching the second ledge, which requires a S-turn through some low, broken ledges during the descent. After this second ledge, maintain a line right of center for a short distance then work back toward the left before attacking the third ledge, which is a three foot drop that extends the width of the river. The best place to go over this small falls is just to the left of the hump in the center. If one ventures too far to the left, then you add to the coloring of “Rainbow Rock”, which got its name from the many colors of ABS canoes that have landed on this rock over the years.

The last rapid in this float is the Class III Horseshoe Rapid and may be the toughest for most people to negotiate. Just after entering the fourth mile of this float, one passes through a rocky little Class I shoal followed by a sharp left-hand bend in the river. As the river starts to straighten out here, many people are fooled by the quick drop of the False Horseshoe Rapid, which looks like the entrance to the much tougher rapid waiting about a quarter of a mile farther downriver.

If the water is normal to slightly higher than normal, one can stay more to the left of center and miss the higher, tricky center section of the Horseshoe Rapid. During low water, however, you must start right of center, enter angled to the left, then make a hard right to keep from becoming a statistic on the rocks below.
If you survive Horseshoe Rapid, the river is immediately joined by the Soque River coming in from the left side. From here down to the old iron bridge just north of the Highway 384 Duncan Bridge, which is the best place to take out, is an easy float.

Though extremely exciting to navigate, the section down from Highway 115 contains plenty of choice hiding places for big trout. These fish will hit streamers, spinners, small crankbaits and floating or sinking injured minnow lures.

From the Duncan Bridge all the way to Lula Bridge is another all day float, which has been handled by many novice boaters. A few rough shoals are encountered, but none that are too dangerous for anyone using good common sense.

Trout from Upper HoochTrout on this section of the river are few and far between, but when caught, they usually exceed seventeen inches in length. Instead of the trout, however, many fat, acrobatic shoal bass are caught with Swirleybird spinners.

Despite the fact that trout thrive in both the Chattahoochee and Chestatee rivers above Lake Lanier, none seem to venture down into the lake naturally. The few trout that are caught in Lake Lanier today are commercially-raised rainbows that have been released by striper fishermen using them for bait. Until 1987, however, trout were stocked in Lake Lanier annually, but due to changing water conditions, different angling interests, the addition of striped bass, and the cost of the stocking program, it was ended.

Nevertheless, great trout fishing still exists from below Buford Dam to the mouth of Peachtree Creek in northwest Atlanta. Much of this section of the river maintains a healthy population of resident brown and rainbow trout, but the Georgia DNR also stocks heavily during the trout season from April through October.
Though many of the shallower, shoal sections of this lower part of the Chattahoochee can be waded, float tubes, rubber rafts, or smaller boats seem to be more popular for most trout fishermen. Just pick a section of the river that is not too long, get a buddy to put his car at one end of the float and yours at the other. Check the power generation schedules at Buford Dam and Morgan Falls Dam, if applicable.

Though more dangerous for waders, power generation is accompanied by a rapid rise in the water level and a tremendous increase in the speed of the river’s flow. A recording of the intended power generation schedule at Buford Dam is available by calling (770) 945-1466.

Warmer days often find trout anglers traveling to faraway destinations to find better fishing. The beauty that Sidney Lanier described in his poem so long ago, however, is still within easy reach for any angler. The river is always cool and comfortable, and the trout fishing is usually much better than that found in some “greener pastures”!

Excellent additional information is available in the book, “Trout Fishing in North Georgia”, which is available from: Jimmy Jacobs, 810 Wendy Hill Road, 22G, Smyrna, GA, 30080. Also helpful is the book, “Secrets to Fishing Lake Lanier”, which is available postpaid for $13 from: Fishing Book, PO Box 1222, Lawrenceville, GA, 30046.

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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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THE ALTAMAHA RIVER HAS BECOME “THE BIG CAT’S DEN”

CATFISH_FROM_ALTAMAHA_RIVERThough its bewhiskered countenance is not one of the most beautiful sights, the catfish is certainly one of the most prolific and largest of fishes in Georgian waters. Despite its homely appearance, “Old Whiskers” is an excellent adversary on a rod and reel, and very tasty when fried golden-brown in a hot cast iron skillet. Nevertheless, according to the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, too few anglers in our state are taking advantage of the great numbers of big catfish that abound in the Peach State.

The Altamaha River has become known as one of the premier flathead catfish rivers in the southeast. Although flathead catfish or “Appaloosa’s” are thriving in the river, fishing pressure remains low. On an average day trip, one can land 10 to 20 catfish that average 3 to 25 pounds, and 30 to 50 pound flatheads are not uncommon.

The better fishing for these huge cats occurs in deep holes located along the channel side of the river. An electronic sonar unit is useful in locating these places, but almost any local tackle store can tell you where to find the flatheads.

When using sporting tackle, a minimum of 30 pound test line is recommended because of the large size the flatheads attain and the abundant snags in the river. Live baits are the most popular way to attract these huge catfish. Some favorites are are large worms (Louisiana pinks), shiners, and bream.

Set lines or limb lines are also a popular and effective way to harvest the big flatheads. Since flatheads are more active at night and depth is not critical, most anglers fish limb lines overnight using hand-sized bream.

Catfishing Near Old SternwheelThough flatheads are prevalent throughout the river, the river near Jesup, Georgia, which is in Wayne County, is usually the best. The Wayne County area also boasts three of the best Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s) in our state (Little Satilla, Rayonier, and Sansavilla) for hunting trophy deer, wild hogs, and other small game.

CATFISHING_NEAR_OLD_STERNWHEELJaycees Landing near Jesup, Georgia has a good boat ramp and everything needed for a successful fishing or hunting trip. Home of Altamaha River Expeditions, it offers hunting and fishing guide service, canoe and kayak rentals, camping, on-river housing rentals, and license sales. They can be contacted at (912) 427-6570, (912) 588-9222, or at their web site: www.altamahariverexpeditions.com

The Jesup area also offers numerous historical sites and many unique eateries. Special needs and excellent information are always available from the friendly folks at the Jesup-Wayne County Tourism Board by calling toll-free (888) 224-5983.

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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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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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