The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division (DNR/WRD) and the Garden Club of Georgia, Inc. (GCG), have teamed up to provide communities with a unique framework for restoring wildlife to shared lands through The Community Wildlife Project (CWP). As the human population grows, the pressure on our natural resources is more intense than ever. Vast amounts of wetlands and other wildlife habitats are being destroyed, and with them many wild animals and native plants have disappeared. Yet, in the midst of human population centers, some fascinating wildlife remains. Therefore, with a little help, the native plants and animals that live in these often fragmented habitats can co-exist harmoniously with mankind.

The Community Wildlife Project is a statewide initiative that encourages towns, neighborhoods, rural areas and residential institutions to become certified as wildlife-friendly communities, and is the only wildlife habitat certification program in Georgia directed at the community as a whole.

“This is a great time to be outdoors and working on a project that benefits our wildlife neighbors,” said Terry Johnson, Program Manager for the Nongame Endangered Wildlife Program. “The Community Wildlife Project offers great opportunities for the entire community, including small neighborhoods or the entire county, to join together and do good things for Georgia’s wildlife.”

The Community Wildlife Project is educational and fun for all ages, who want to help conserve native wildlife and plants in their own communities for future generations to enjoy. Georgians throughout the state are encouraged to participate in The Community Wildlife Project, which provides an excellent way for citizens to help restore and preserve wildlife habitats while enhancing the natural beauty of their communities. For more information on the Community Wildlife Project, send a First Class, $0.34 stamped, self-addressed #10 letter sized envelope to: The Community Wildlife Project, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division, Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program, 116 Rum Creek Drive, Forsyth, Georgia, 31029 or call (478) 994-1438.

To support community conservation projects like The Community Wildlife Project as well as other conservation programs for Georgia’s nongame wildlife, Georgians may purchase a wildlife license plate for their vehicles. More than 700,000 wildlife license plates have been sold in Georgia, raising over $10 million for wildlife conservation, recreation, and education projects. In community conservation programs and hundreds of other projects, DNR is putting tag dollars to work for wildlife in Georgia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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West Nile Virus, No Worry for the Wild Turkey

WildTurkeyThe West Nile Virus will not have an appreciable impact on wild turkey populations, bottom line.² said Bob Eriksen, National Wild Turkey Federation regional biologist for the New Jersey and New England east coast region.

West Nile is one of the most serious and fast spreading wildlife diseases in North America during the past three years. But, not surprisingly, the wild turkey continues to thrive despite the infectious plague.  The first reported case of West Nile was detected in a New York zoo in 1999.  Prior to that, the virus had been documented in Europe, Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East.

Humans, animals and birds can be infected with the disease through the transmission of blood by mosquito bites. The most common cases in America have seen crows, blue jays and horses fall to the virus, urging wildlife biologists to test other species like the wild turkey.

Researchers at the Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory tested domestic turkey poults with doses of West Nile large enough to cause infection.  ³All the poults developed the virus, but none showed severe symptoms or died from the disease,² said Eriksen  Through the sequence of tests, biologists discovered that healthy wild turkeys in these pen conditions appeared unlikely to carry the virus. No transmission from the infected poults to the non-infected pouts occurred in the pen.  Although it is unlikely that a human would become infected, some hunters wear plastic gloves when cleaning their wild turkey, as well as other game, to avoid the risk of contracting infections like West Nile or others.

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The mother bald eagle’s head could be seen easily above the side of the huge nest in the more than 200 year old tree across the freshwater pond, but what was even more exciting was the huge male eagle on a limb just above her head! Though the pair could be viewed with the naked eye, seeing them through the lens of the young naturalist’s telescope was a phenomenal sight, but simply one of many on Little St. Simons Island on the Georgia Coast!

This pristine barrier island provides a natural habitat for a diverse and abundant community of wildlife including alligators, European fallow deer, dolphins, river otters, armadillos, feral hogs, raccoons, swamp rabbits, and over 280 species of birds.

Since the island is on the Atlantic Flyway, it is relatively easy for naturalists to lead birding expeditions, pointing out favorite habitats and behaviors to help guests identify each species. The Island is one of the best birding locations on the Eastern Seaboard, and endangered wood storks have become permanent residents of the island.

Of special interest to most visitors are the European fallow deer that were introduced by the owners during the 1920s. The original owner was a great lover of wildlife and hunting, and his goal was to populate the Island with various species of deer and elk. Though the other species of deer have all died, the fallow deer have prospered.

The fallow deer does give birth to their babies in late spring and early summer. The tiny fawns are a delight to see along the sandy roads as they follow their mothers or nurse quietly in the grass. During the fall mating season, guests who listen closely are rewarded with the sounds of the deer “barking.” It is an incredible earthy sound that signals the continuance of the species.

On the Atlantic Ocean side is seven miles of secluded beach with an abundance of treasures for shell seekers. One can also explore the creeks and rivers by motorboat, canoe, or kayak. An abundance of natural resources makes Little St. Simons Island a prime fishing destination for redfish, sea trout, flounder, and other game fish.The boats, all equipment, and fishing tackle are included in an overnight stay.

The Lodge on Little St. Simons and the rustic cottages are the perfect place for romantic couples or wildlife lovers to get away from the stressful life in the city or suburbs of Atlanta. The food and drink that is prepared by excellent chefs is mouth watering, and the laid-back atmosphere of the island is memorable. Everyone who visits this beautiful barrier island, that can only be reached by boat, leaves with both a desire to return and the experience of a lifetime!
For more information, contact:
The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island
P.O. Box 21078
Little St. Simons Island, Georgia 31522-0578
Toll Free (888) 733-5774 ~ Phone (912) 638-7472 ~ Fax (912) 634-1811

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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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PHIL_NIEKRO_FISHINGAs we approach another baseball and fishing season, I can’t help but have some warm thoughts of an old friend who has been a credit to both sports. Few people who ever played the game deserved being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown more than Phil Niekro, and any fisherman who ever had the pleasure of his company in a bass boat would have nothing but good things to say about this fine man.

I’ve had the distinct honor to have known Phil Niekro as both a friend and fisherman for more than twenty years, and over that period, regardless of fame or accomplishments, he has never changed. He always takes time to give anyone a smile, sign an autograph, or just pitch in to help any worthy cause.

I remember going to Fulton County Stadium when it was so empty that you could sit anywhere you wanted, but that never mattered to Phil. He pitched his heart out for the fans who were there, held his head up high, and gave class to a team that otherwise would have been the laughing stock of the National League.

Niekro with Lanier Stripers   Even when he was released by the Braves, before he had the chance to win his 300th game, he handled that insult with class. Instead of bad mouthing the organization, he left quietly, went to the New York Yankees, and put together two great winning seasons.

NIEKRO_WITH_LANIER_STRIPERSMy involvement in fishing and promotional efforts over the years has afforded me the opportunity to meet many of the “greats” and “so called-greats” of baseball and other sports. One soon finds that many are so into themselves and their accomplishments that they lose sight of where they came from, and just how special it was to have played this “little boy’s game” at the major league level. Phil Niekro, however, does not fit into that category. In my opinion, he belongs in a special place with those who have given so much back to the fans and the game like Ted Williams, Roy Campenella, Mickey Mantle, Cal Ripkin, Jr., Dale Murphy, and Stan Musial.

As a fisherman, Knucksie never forgot the lessons he learned from his Dad during his formative years in Ohio. He has always treated our sport and pastime with as much reverence and respect as he did the game of baseball. His natural drive to learn as much as possible and be the best has made him one of the better bass and striper fishermen on Lake Lanier. As with baseball, however, he has never been greedy or secretive with what he has learned. He is always ready to help any other angler to become better, and his sons have also become extremely good fishermen.

I could go on and on about this great guy, and probably even tell a few stories that Phil wouldn’t appreciate me sharing with the general public, but by now, Knucksie would be asking me to end the accolades and get on with the fishing!

Bill Vanderford has won numerous awards for his writing and photography, and has been inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Guide. He can be reached at 770-289-1543,, or at his web site:

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OUTDOORS_IS_FUN_WHEN_PREPAREDDespite the colder weather, more people are venturing into the great outdoors in pursuit of numerous experiences. These excursions should  include an outdoor survival strategy.

Search and rescue experience shows that a person can survive for up to three minutes without oxygen or with severe bleeding; for up to three hours exposed to extreme heat or frigid cold; for up to three days without food and water.  Panicking in an emergency, however, can reduce survival time to as little as three seconds. Therefore, in order to keep a clear head in a bad situation, survival experts suggest that you S.T.O.P. ……….Sit, Think, Observe, Plan.

Sit – compose and collect your thoughts.

Think – about what you have and what you can do to help yourself.

Observe – your surroundings for situations that might help you (shelter, water, a “findable” location) or hurt you (falling rocks or trees, floods).

SURVIVALEQUIPPlan – many times, calm reflection will resolve a minor directional confusion.  If a reasonable analysis of the situation still says “lost”, however, having the will and gear to survive plus a plan of action will stifle panic.

All of your action and energy should be directed toward maintaining your health, safety, and comfort until help arrives.  Believe it or not, comfort is actually possible in an uncomfortable situation and is a great aid to keeping calm.  The other asset to calming down is a sensible survival kit.  Here are the other 14 items that can help you survive:
1.    Compass or small GPS, and the knowledge of how to use it.
2.    Small multi-purpose knife and wire saw for shelter construction and wood gathering.
3.    Matches in a waterproof case, disposable lighter, candle for light and fire-starting cubes.
4.    Space brand Emergency Blanket or Emergency Bag for shelter, warmth and sun protection.
5.    Rope or string for shelter construction.
6.    Flares or Emergency Strobe for nighttime signaling.
7.    Signal mirror for daytime signaling.
8.    Whistle for signaling.
9.    Water filter or purification kit.
10.    Heavy-duty plastic bag for water or food storage.
11.     Candy, high-energy bar, bouillon cubes, dried fruit, etc.
12.    Small first-aid kit and insect repellent.
13.    An appropriate supply of any personal medication required.
14.    A picture of your loved ones provides motivation and the will to survive.

These are only general survival-gear suggestions.  A customized survival kit for specific needs and specific areas (cold, hot, wet, desert) is best.  Overall, the kit should be waterproof, compact, and lightweight so that you will carry it at all times.
Whether fire or shelter is the most important single survival factor in a harsh environment is often debated. Both are important, but consider that fire provides warmth but no shelter, while shelter also provides warmth.  The MPI Space brand Emergency Blanket is a proven emergency/survival that was developed by NASA research in the mid-1960’s, and provides plenty of help in a small package. The Space brand Blanket system is based on metalized (aluminum) polyester film.  It provides a thermal barrier when wrapped around the body, trapping and reflecting 80 percent of radiated body heat.  Used as a shelter, the blanket provides sun, wind and rain protection and prevents heat loss by evaporation and convection.  It is a very effective heat reflector from a fire. This item and others on the list above will save your life!

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