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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“OLD ACHES AND PAINS” LOVED LAKE LANIER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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NOSTALGIA AND BASS AT LAKE SEED

The triangle of land and water contained within lines drawn from Clayton to Hiawassee to Clarkesville hold an abundance of special memories. Even before I was born, the area affected my future. During their courtship in the 1920’s, my dad and mom would often stir the summer dust along the unpaved roads that led from Cornelia to the cool, clear waters of lakes Burton, Rabun, and Seed.

FISHING_AT_LAKE_SEED

Many times during my youth, the then game warden and later Sheriff of Rabun County, Chester York, would tag along with me as I stalked trout on the Coleman and Tallulah rivers, which are the main headwaters of lakes Burton, Rabun and Seed. My dad and I often fed wild deer and other animals at Bobby Carnes’s cabin on Moccasin Creek, and camping trips with Dad and my Uncle Bob Moon on Wildcat and Dicks creeks sometimes ended with a foray to the upper part of Seed Lake, below the dam at Lake Burton, to battle trophy-sized rainbow trout.

LAKE_SEED_SPOTTED_BASSThough time has distanced me from these beautiful surroundings and many who shared those experiences with me have departed this life, those wonderful times are forever etched in my memory. Therefore, when an old fishing buddy invited me to spend a couple of days fishing with him at Seed Lake, I jumped at the chance.

From the Lake Rabun turnoff near Lakemont, Georgia on Highway 441, time seems to have stood still. The narrow pavement follows the intricate path of the Lake Rabun shoreline past unique lake homes that have weathered more than fifty winters.  Beyond Rabun Beach Park is the Nacoochee Dam, which was built in 1926 to sandwich the 240 acres of Lake Seed between lakes Rabun and Burton. About a mile north of the dam is the Lake Seed Boat Launch.

Lake Seed Spotted BassUpon venturing out into the lake, one quickly realizes that current is present. In fact, Lake Seed is actually more like a wide river running between lakes Burton and Rabun, which becomes swifter when water is released at the dam. The constant flow of cold water and food through the lake, however, allows Lake Seed to support several different species of gamefish.

Though shad populations are good, the main sources of food for predator fish like bass, trout, and pickerel are small yellow perch, sunfish, and crayfish. In fact, yellow perch are so numerous, Georgia Game and Fish biologists have experimented with hybrid pike in the past to decrease their numbers.

aniswbdSince Lake Seed is a smaller, river-type impoundment, bass fishermen find it easier to read than larger lakes. The cold flowing water restricts most bass to the warmer areas of shallow coves or shoreline structures, so few bass are caught below twenty feet.

Normally, a bass angler has only to seek out visible structures like blowndown trees, boat docks, or rock formations away from the main flow of water to be successful.  Both largemouth and spotted bass tend to use those places as their home and a point of attack for food.

For me, the deadliest lures for both largemouth and spotted bass in Lake Seed are the swimming grub on a 1/16th ounce leadhead jig and the 1/8th ounce Swirleybird. Cast either of these lures around any structure or simply along the banks and  swim them slowly. When a strike is felt, either give a little twitch or reel faster to set the hook. These diminutive lures will produce a multitude of bass and other species.

Besides the great bass fishing, this beautiful mountain impoundment supports a healthy population of bluegill and redbreast sunfish that are large enough to attack many of the bass offerings. Also, the swimming a grub is sure to produce plenty of big “slab” crappies, especially around the many boat docks, blowndown trees, and brush piles.  Other than the bass, however, the most fun is an occasional vicious attack by a big “jackfish”, which is actually an eastern chain pickerel.  Farther up the lake near the dam at Lake Burton, small spinners or live nightcrawlers will often lure a big rainbow or brown trout out of hiding to do battle in the faster water.

Though a small lake that certainly can’t accept tremendous fishing pressure, Lake Seed offers an escape from the norm. It’s a place where one might catch more than fifty fish of several different species during a single outing, and enjoy the beauty and serenity of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Visiting anglers should remember that this pristine area has a delicate environmental balance. Practice “catch and release” as much as possible, show respect for the local residents and their property, and leave the area as clean and beautiful as it was found.  Places like Lake Seed need to be preserved to show future generations a glimpse of the past!

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