Camp-Fish Combo For The Family

Georgia offers many great options for a good summer combo trip.

In today’s world, competition for your time and resources abound. As a society, we are relentlessly marketed to through smartphones, apps, television, radio, internet and almost any place we visit. Restaurants have stores that you can shop in while you await a wireless pager to signal a table’s availability. Stores have restaurants so you can dine during your retail experience. And all of these things have a common denominator—a hefty price of admission.

If you are like me and think the constant drone of background noise and endless tasks to accomplish could use a pause or skip function, grab a tent, sleeping bag, some fishing tackle and head out to one of our state’s abundant campgrounds. It’s time for a family trip that combines the laid-back joys of camping with some fishing action.

Georgia boasts an abundance of campgrounds, from state parks to private and municipality-run facilities. Georgia’s state parks, like the state itself, offer diverse scenery and terrain types. Common denominators, in my experience, are reasonable fees, nice facilities and like-minded patrons. In today’s increasingly consumer-oriented world, a weekend camping trip can provide a nice way to reset your mental clock for relatively little money, a combination increasingly uncommon.

No matter where you live in the state, there is a park within a reasonable drive. A quick search at www.gastateparks.org is an excellent place to begin to research opportunities in your area and a little farther away from home as well. From there, you can search for state parks that offer activities that peak your interest.

The Camping Experience

The camping experience, and its campers, varies wildly. From the minimalist backpacker who only takes as much gear as he can carry, to the 36-foot fifth wheel with all, maybe more, conveniences of home, there’s a place for everyone. I tend to fall somewhere in between these two types.

I tent camp, but I prefer to sleep on an air mattress or cot. I like to bring along trinkets and gadgets to make camp chores easier and more enjoyable, but see no need to show up to the great outdoors with a 43-inch LED TV. I typically elect for an RV site, which is normally larger than a tent site, with electricity and water supply. The combination of these amenities coupled with reasonable proximity to a bath house, keep the creature comforts at a more than adequate level, while not insulating me from the very things I came to experience in the first place. And given that there typically isn’t much disparage between the costs of a RV site versus tent site, there isn’t a big down side for the added convenience of the RV site. If you are more inclined to drop off the grid and really rough it, many WMAs and national forest lands offer primitive camping opportunities. Regulations vary, so do your homework before setting up camp. For ease of access, available amenities and easy transport of the copious amounts of firewood I’m somehow compelled to burn, I enjoy state parks with sites offering full hook-ups.

The most costly part of camping is your sleeping arrangements. From bargain priced tents to luxury RVs, the choices are endless. Once you decide how and where you’ll slumber, gear choices can be tailored to your specific type of adventure. My gear selection is pretty basic and has been acquired one piece at a time, over time. My essentials are firewood, an axe, a cooking appliance and a light source. Consumables vary based on the length of my stay and the type of area. My most used piece of equipment is a pocket knife. Assuming you carry three different models on your person daily, like me, this shouldn’t be an issue. One way that I’ve found to expedite my packing and eliminate forgotten items is to pack my camping gear in a central location and leave it alone. Plastic storage bins make excellent gear lockers, and the clear models let you see the contents at a glance. If you need paper towels or a lighter for the house, pick one up at the store and leave your camping stash intact. You’ll thank me the next time you show up to a campsite prepared and ready. Once you’ve gotten a few trips under your belt and gear dialed in, you’ll spend less time worrying about what to bring along and more time worrying about what the fish will be biting.

The Fishing Experience

More angler than camper, I typically try to combine my camping trips with opportunities to fish. With kayaks always in tow, one of the most enjoyable parts of a camping trip is the opportunity to hit the water. Camping somewhere new gives me the chance to explore nearby waterways I may not take time to drive to otherwise.

Last February, I took my first trip to the legendary Okefenokee Swamp in the southeast corner of Georgia. I’ve heard about the “land of the trembling earth” all my life. As a child I was totally fascinated by the PBS special “Swampwise,” chronicling Okefenokee Joe (Dick Flood) navigating the dark, tannic waters in a canoe and exploring nature along the way. I really don’t have a good answer for why I waited so long to visit, but I plan to have many return trips.

Planning a camping trip was just the catalyst I needed to venture to Fargo and check out the swamp firsthand. A friend and I pitched camp at Stephen C. Foster State Park and kayaked from there. On that short trip, I caught fish, saw woods and waters teeming with wildlife and slept in a completely wild place, unpolluted by man-made noise and light, save my immediate camping neighbors. All this tranquility, history, physical challenge and natural scenery for the lowly sum of $28 per night. If there’s a better bargain out there, I haven’t found it. I left Stephen C. Foster State Park with an appreciation for a part of my state that I had never visited and a strong desire to return. Not too many purchases cause me to have those same desires, cost notwithstanding.

The fishing at the Okefenokee was unlike my standard fare of bass fishing back home. Bowfins were the most common and cooperative fish I encountered. A little research before my trip had me to believe that soft plastics, red in color and Texas-rigged, would get me bit. That turned out to be true. While not hard to elicit a bowfin to strike, the hookset can prove to be more difficult. Once you feel the bite, which tends to be violent, you have to drive the point home to get a solid hookset. Then the battle is on! These bowfin are definitely not short on fighting spirit. Two words of caution—play the fish to hand quickly or you may attract unwanted attention from another famous inhabitant, the American alligator. When you land a bowfin, don’t lip it like you would a bass, as these holdovers from the Jurassic period have a mouthful of teeth. Another fish that is abundant in the swamp is a panfish called a flier. Others, such as warmouth, can also be caught. A popular technique is to use a bream buster rod and a little fly called a Sally, and pink and yellow are traditional favorite Sally colors. I also caught warmouth on my tried-and-true in-line spinners fished on ultralight tackle.

Before heading down to Fargo, call ahead to the park office to get the latest information on the closing of the park due to significant wildfires in the area. The park office at Stephen Foster State Park can be reached at (912) 637-5274. At the time of this writing, the park is still closed. A mandatory evacuation has just been lifted for the towns of St. George and Moniac on the perimeter of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Rainfall in mid May brought some relief to the blaze started in early April by a lightning strike. Hopefully, the drought conditions will end soon, and the fire will give way to new growth and life, and the park will reopen. When it does, those Okefenokee fish should be tearing it up.

In my home area of west-central Georgia, there are numerous options for a camping and fishing combo trip. Nearby campgrounds are perfect for an impromptu weekend trip.

One of my favorites is Blanton Creek Park, a recreation area operated by Georgia Power Co. Blanton Creek Park is nestled on the banks of the Chattahoochee River on Bartletts Ferry Reservoir (Lake Harding). Access to the water is easy with a nice double boat ramp for powered craft and ample shoreline to launch paddle craft. Nightly camping fees are very modest at just $25 per night for sites offering full hook-ups. There are also tent-specific sites for $20 that offer power at each site and communal water outlets. The park also offers a pirate-ship playground for children and numerous opportunities to ride bikes and generally explore.

The fishing is also very good. The Chattahoochee River channel is only a couple hundred yards from the campground’s no-wake zone and offers remote stretches of the river and creeks upstream, and the main body of Bartletts Ferry reservoir is downstream. I’ve also caught a good number of fish in the slough adjacent to the campground. Fishing for bass, bream, crappie and catfish can be very good in the waters near Blanton Creek Park.

A short run upriver will put you in a remote area of the Chattahoochee and Flat Shoals Creek, which forms the borders of Blanton Creek WMA. I tend to target bass, with a side of bream for good measure. Texas- and Carolina-rigged plastics are almost always my favorite techniques and top performers for bass during the summer months. I love to pitch pumpkin and watermelon-red Zooms of various varieties to the abundant wood cover. A square-billed crankbait worked along a blowdown is also a good producer. I like crawdad or sexy-shad colors, but find that violent collisions between crankbait and wood are more critical than color choice. Crank your plug down and let it bounce off a stump or blowdown to attracta bite.

As summer approaches, I also enjoy running limb lines for catfish in this area. The close proximity of the camp to prime fishing makes it easy to set lines and return to camp to allow them time to soak. It’s hard to beat the feeling of fighting a nice catfish by hand. The primeval tug of the unknown on a limb line lifts my spirits immeasurably, while chiseling away corrosive layers of modern living.

Stephen F. Foster State Park and Blanton Creek Park are two I have experienced in recent years. We haven’t scratched the surface of all the potential spots. From mountainous opportunities in north Georgia to island camping on the Atlantic coast, there are opportunities for everyone, both near to home and within a few hours drive. I plan to explore Crooked River State Park near St. Marys and a few of the other coastal campgrounds in the future.

Four of Georgia’s state parks in 2015 made the national rankings of the “Top 100 Family Friendly Places to Boat and Fish in the U.S.,” according to the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation’s (RBFF) Take Me Fishing campaign.

Tugaloo State Park (Lake Hartwell): Situated on a wooded peninsula, Tugaloo’s cottages, yurts and most campsites offer views of 55,590-acre Lake Hartwell. During the summer, Hartwell offers good bass fishing, especially with topwater and jerkbaits for bass. Tugaloo State Park has a six-lane mega ramp used for fishing tournaments. Fishing is also good for stripers and hybrids at Hartwell.

High Falls State Park (Butts County): Located northwest of Macon, High Falls State Park is named for tumbling cascades on the Towaliga River. Boat rental, ramps and fishing docks provide easy access to the park’s lake, known as a good lake for bass fishing and also for summertime catfish—including some giants. Overnight visitors can choose from a spacious campground or lakeside yurts, which are like canvas and wood tents.

Fort Yargo State Park (Barrow County): Located between Atlanta and Athens, this popular park features a 1792 log fort built by settlers for protection against Creek and Cherokee Indians. Visitors come to Fort Yargo for its wide variety of outdoor recreation and scenery. Mountain bikers and hikers can test their endurance on 18 miles of trails. For sportsmen, the main attraction is a 260-acre lake that has long been actively managed for improved fishing. The lake also offers a large swimming beach and boat ramps.

Georgia Veterans State Park (Lake Blackshear): Established as a memorial to U.S. veterans, this park features a museum with aircraft (including a B-29), armored vehicles, uniforms, weapons, medals and other items from the Revolutionary War through the Gulf War. An 18-hole golf course and proximity to I-75, make this one of Georgia’s most popular state parks. A sandy swimming beach is the perfect place to cool off during Georgia summers. The summertime fishing at Blackshear is good, especially the nighttime crappie bite. Blackshear is also known for good bass and catfish.

Our neighboring states also offer nice camping opportunities in varied topography. Between that and what Georgia offers, and you should be able to access an affordable mini trip—or epic adventure—with just a little bit of research and effort.

My family and I recently took a quick overnight trip to Blanton Creek Park. My two sons were so excited that we had talked mom into spending the night in the tent with us! We set up camp, hung out, talked to each other, and for about 24 hours we were completely undistracted by the noise of the world. For a family to spend time breathing fresh air on God’s green earth is a good thing. To do so while only spending about what an outing to a chain restaurant would cost is even better. I encourage everyone to get outdoors and explore our state’s rich camping resources. And bring the fishing gear.

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