Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Fisheries Technician Travis Taylor with the Wildlife Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources stocks the Abbotts Bridge area of the Chattahoochee River with about 200 pounds of rainbow trout in Duluth Tuesday. Taylor distributed about 1,000 pounds of rainbow trout raised at the Buford Trout Hatchery along the river as the trout fishing season began yesterday.
Preparation for fishing season
A look at how members from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources collect data and stock local waters with fish.
ON LAKE LANIER -- On a recent brisk morning, only days into the official start of spring, when sleet floated across the water, optimistic anglers set out at daybreak.
"There are certain times of year," said Patrick O'Rouke, a fisheries biologist, "that unless it's a blizzard out, they're probably going to go."
In an area of the lake near Oakwood, off of Mountain View Road and south of Browns Bridge Road, the water temperature danced around 55 degrees when O'Rouke, who works in the Wildlife Resources Division with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, set out to sample the population of striped bass in Lake Lanier. The goal was to get a better idea of the overall numbers, sizes and general health of fish the DNR stocks in the water.
After the National Weather Service reported that seven and a half inches of rain fell in February, the most in any February since 1998, Georgia anglers are eager for trout season and fishing in general to return to warm weather months. "Recent rains are contributing to good stream flows and will give us the opportunity to spread fish out, making way for another excellent opening week of the Georgia trout season," John Lee Thomson, trout stocking coordinator for the Wildlife Resources Division.
Pat Markey, the manager of the Buford Trout Hatchery, agreed.
"We've been waiting for this day all winter," he said.
That day is annually the last Saturday in March when trout season opens, which O'Rouke said brings out many anglers who have fished north Georgia streams for decades.
"They're attached to those streams, and parts of those streams," he said.
While trout season is eagerly marked on the calendar, O'Rouke said warm weather brings out anglers more than anything else. And largemouth bass show the greatest difference when the water level is up, O'Rouke said.
In the spring, DNR officials conduct electrofishing, or shocking, to measure the population and health of fish. In Lake Lanier, O'Rouke recently shocked striped bass, measured, weighed and pulled a scale off of each fish. Fish scales are similar to trees, O'Rouke said, in that scales also have rings.
"We can go back in a lab and look at it, and know the length of all the fish and their age, and the general strength of that fish's year class," O'Rouke said. "Based on how many 3-year-old fish we get, we know basically how well that year did. It helps us know what to do when we're stocking these fish when they're zero years old."
Generally, fisheries biologists like O'Rouke sample fish at least two days per week this time of year, but could be up to four or five.
"We come out days and days trying to do this and try to get a lot of fish so that we can compile a larger data set," he said. "The idea is to be representative of the whole lake, to get a subset of that. That is similar size distribution that tells us a lot about what's going on."
Fisheries biologists also learn if there's enough forage fish for other fish to feed on. Along with shocking, they also collect brood stock of large male and female fish and take them to a hatchery in Richmond Hill, near Savannah. They stock fish from that hatchery around the state in May.
On a recent visit to Lanier, O'Rouke found a 15-pound and a 16-pound striped bass, but said the lake is also home to striped bass that could be 40 pounds.
A Sugar Hill native and North Gwinnett High School graduate, O'Rouke said he enjoys his job because has a personal attachment to local fisheries.
"But the other part is, this is my office," he said. "Instead of going into a cubicle every day, I get to come do this."
AT A GLANCE
The Chattahoochee River in Gwinnett is open to fishing year-round.
Georgia DNR officials stock more than 160,000 rainbow trout from the Buford Trout Hatchery in that section of the river from March to December.
The river also includes a naturally-reproducing population of brown trout. Trout don’t normally exist this far south, but since the water that flows out of Buford Dam comes from the bottom of Lake Lanier, it stays cold year round.
A limit of eight trout per day is allowed.
Lake Lanier features many species, including spotted and largemouth bass, crappie, striped bass, catfish, bream and walleye.
All anglers 16 and older need a license to fish in public ponds and streams. An annual fishing license is $9 for a Georgia resident. A trout stamp is needed to fish in trout waters and costs an additional $5 for residents. Licenses can be bought online at www.gofishgeorgia.com, call 800-366-2661 or find a list of retail license vendors at www.georgiawildlife.com.
Where to go?
From the Ga. Highway 20 bridge to the boat ramp at Medlock Bridge Road (Highwy 141) on the Chattahoochee, anglers can only use artificial baits and lures. For the artificial sections, experts suggest using 1/16 ounce or 1/8 ounce rooster tail baits. Above and below this section, experts suggest anglers without a boat use a basic rod with an eight-pound test line, No. 8 hooks and a can of corn, power bait or salmon eggs.
The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (National Park Service) are Settles Bridge and McGinnis Ferry (Forsyth side of the bridge) in Suwanee, Abbotts Bridge in Duluth, and Medlock Bridge near Norcross. Park access requires a $3 daily parking fee.
In Norcross, Jones Bridge and Holcomb Bridge parks are available.
In Lawrenceville, Tribble Mill Park is the largest lake or pond maintained by the Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation Department.
Source: Georgia Department of Natural Resources