A Kid’s Summer Fishing Tour

Pull them away from the video games and put a rod in their hands

David Cannon | August 1, 2008

The fishing pond at the Buford Trout Hatchery is full of bream and catfish. Caleb Godfree enjoyed pulling one fish after another from the pond with a cane pole.

For a lot of kids summer means playing outside with friends, going to the local swimming pool and heading indoors to beat the heat with a little video-game action. Unfortunately, video games have taken over as the No. 1 summer activity for kids. Couple that with the fact that fewer kids have access to good fishing spots, and you end up with a lot of kids growing up having never wet a line.

Fortunately, there is something we can do about it, but it takes a lot of patience, a willingness to switch gears when necessary and plenty of good snacks and cold juice boxes. Yes, summer can be a wonderful time to introduce, or reintroduce, a kid to the wonderful world of fishing. But making it a fun (and safe) experience has to be the No. 1 priority.

Preparation is the most important part of the trip, so use this brief check- list to aid in planning. Here’s what the little angler-in-training will need:

1. A good life jacket that fits.
2. Sunglasses.
3. Sunscreen.
4. His or her favorite ball cap (Braves hats bring the best luck and can double as a rally-cap).
5. Kid’s fishing outfit that displays his or her favorite superhero/cartoon character and spooled with 4- to 6-lb. test.
6. No. 4 and No. 8 bait hooks.
7. Bobbers in assorted sizes.
8. Split shot.
9. Bait: hot dogs, crickets, red wigglers or salmon eggs, depending on the species you’re pursuing.
10. His or her favorite assorted snacks and drinks (If you want to avoid a sugar crash mid-trip, avoid the more sugary choices).
11. A small cooler with enough room for ice, juice boxes, water and a few cleaned fish in plastic baggies.
12. A camera to capture the memories.

For our adventure, we took Caleb Godfree of Monroe on a quest for his first fish, and more importantly, a good time. Caleb is 5 years old and is a great kid with a lot of energy, so the key would be mixing things up to hold his attention and keep things exciting.

We decided Caleb would probably enjoy some trout fishing below Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River tail- water, a little catfish and bream fishing at the Family Fishing Pond at the Buford Trout Hatchery, and then a tour of the hatchery itself so Caleb could have the chance to look at and feed some really big fish.

Stop One: Buford Dam

The No. 1 choice for this trip, the Chattahoochee River tailwater below Buford Dam, is near the top of the list of places a parent should take their kids for a good trout-fishing trip, and there are many reasons for this. It is the most kid-friendly spot on the upper end of the tailwater. There are some nice shoals in the area where kids can get their feet wet, under the watch of an adult, and plenty of room on the bank to sit or stand and cast into the current, which will always be the safest option.

Since the water coming out of the bottom of Lake Lanier and through Buford Dam stays ice-cold (usually in the 60-degree range), trout fishing below the dam is an option on even the hottest of summer days.

Second, it lies upstream of the artificial-lures-only section of the ’Hooch, meaning the little guys and gals can fish with corn, crickets, red wigglers, salmon eggs and the like. This will make the “catching” a lot easier, and it gives something else for the kids to play with. What little boy doesn’t like messing with worms or crickets?

With the help of his dad, Daniel, Caleb displays this fresh- from-the-hatchery rainbow trout on the Chattahoochee River.

Third and most importantly, there are an unbelievable number of trout stocked in this section of the river, adding to the chances that fish will be caught, which is always a good thing.

“Roughly 20 percent of all the trout stocked in the tailwater are put in at Buford Dam,” said Bill Couch, the Buford Hatchery manager. “In a normal year, that means about 159,000 fish (for the whole tailwater). But, because of the drought that number is down to about 139,000.”

Bill also added that in a year with normal rainfall, about 5 percent of the fish put in the tailwater would exceed 12 inches in length. But, that number has doubled to approximately 10 per- cent this year. So, kids have double the chance of hooking into a trophy trout.

After the July 4 weekend, fish are stocked on a weekly basis and this continues through Labor Day. Once next year rolls around, however, keep in mind that from mid-March through July 4, the stockings take place twice a week. This is important because the sooner you can get a kid on freshly stocked trout, the more naïve the trout will be — meaning lots of easy targets.

As far as the actual fishing goes, rigging the child’s rod and reel is pretty simple. If fishing live bait or corn, try fishing with a No. 6 or 8 bait hook attached to 4- or 6-lb. line. Roughly 1 foot above the hook, attach a small split shot to the line and then place a small bobber another foot or two, depending on the depth of the water, above the split shot. Help the kid cast upstream, then patiently teach him or her to allow the rig to float downstream without reeling and to keep his or her eyes on the bobber. If the bobber plunges, take the opportunity to get excited and congratulate them even if the fish isn’t brought to hand.

Caleb certainly enjoyed his first time watching a bobber go down. And he managed to catch his first fish, a fine rainbow trout.

“I got one!” Caleb yelled multiple times as his bobber plunged below the surface. Caleb was reluctant to pick up or touch the first few fish, but his fears subsided after his dad, Daniel, showed him it was OK. After that, Caleb even became comfortable enough to throw them back himself, which he did with a lot of enthusiasm.

If the child is accustomed to casting and reeling, the best bet may be to rig a small inline spinner, such as a Rooster Tail, and add a piece of worm to the treble hook. This setup is an almost guaranteed trout slayer.

While this may be the most kid- friendly fishing location around, it also has the potential to be the most dangerous. Large volumes of water flow through the dam during the scheduled releases, making this spot a real hazard for the ill-informed or under-prepared. Be sure to fit everyone with an adequate life preserver — it’s a regulation — and be sure to call the corps water release hotline to find out the generation schedules. That number is (770) 945-1466.

Stop Two: Family Fishing Pond

Once the young angler has either gotten his fill of catching trout, limited out, or just simply becomes bored, there is another great place to go that is only a few minutes from the dam. The Family Fishing Pond at the Buford Trout Hatchery is absolutely loaded with hungry bream and catfish, and the fishing is all catch-and-release which is great because families can be assured of great numbers of fish. Those under the age of 16 can fish the pond without a license, but anyone 16 or older must have a Georgia fishing license.

This seemed to be Caleb’s favorite leg of the trip, as the cane pole he picked up from the hatchery office was easy to manage and the bream were feisty and active. Bill accompanied us to the pond and, along with Caleb’s dad Daniel, continually made sure Caleb’s hook always had a fresh pinch of hot dog on it. On almost every cast, Caleb got to see his bobber shoot under the surface of the water, either because he had a fish on or because the bream were pulling the bait off of his hook.

While Caleb was fishing, one of the DNR employees walked past holding a king snake in his hands. This caught the attention of all of us, but of Caleb in particular. The snake was  handed to Bill who crouched down with it so Caleb could take a closer look. Reluctantly, Caleb walked over and felt the snake’s tail as Bill assured him it wouldn’t hurt him. Bill was right, and it seemed to be an exciting little time out from fishing for Caleb.

After the snake was set free in the woods, Caleb got back to work with the cane pole and started pulling out one bream after another. By the end of this stop, Caleb had caught and released 13 bream! Caleb definitely has more work to do before becoming a full-fledged fisherman; when asked how many fish he caught, he answered, “Oh, I don’t know… I think I caught six.”

It was the only time in my entire life I have ever heard someone say less than double the amount of fish they actually caught.

Bill said he believes this pond is fished more heavily by kids than any other location in the entire state. And, as we found out, this does not seem to affect the catch rates. Bill recommends No. 8 hooks, the smallest bobber you can find and either red wigglers, small bread-balls, crickets or tiny pieces of uncooked hot dog for bream.

For catfish, step up to a No. 6 Aberdeen hook, 6- to 8-lb. test line and either larger chunks of hot dog, night crawlers, or the usual catfish baits such as chicken livers.

The Family Fishing Pond opens daily at 7:30 a.m. and closes at 4:30 p.m. The hatchery keeps a stash of cane poles for check out to young anglers, but it’s best to bring your own equipment as the cane poles are divvied out on a first-come, first-served basis.

Also, if you visit the pond for some fishing and see Caleb standing on the bank, you might want to try the other side of the pond, as Caleb has probably already given most of the fish in the area some sore lips.

Stop Three: Hatchery Tour

The last stop on our kid’s fishing tour doesn’t involve actual fishing, but it’s close enough. Every Saturday at 1 p.m., a knowledgeable DNR employee walks groups through the hatchery and explains the inner workings of raising coldwater game fish in the Deep South.

Tourists are taken by the concrete raceways that hold rainbow and brown trout and are divided by sizes of the fish, from small fingerling trout all the way up to the giant brood stock which can tip the scales at more than 10 pounds! Seeing those fish is as exciting for the “big kids” as it is for the younger ones.

Bill or one of his peers will explain how the hatchery works, right down to the equipment that injects oxygen into the water, in a clear and fun manner. Visitors have the chance to ask questions throughout the tour and get to throw in a few handfuls of trout pellets and watch the fish go crazy sucking in food. Caleb got a kick out of feeding the trout; he also got splashed by trout rolling on the surface to take in a few pellets.

The tour lasts about 45 minutes to an hour, and self-guided tours are an option for groups visiting the hatchery any day other than Saturdays. Call (770) 781-6888 for more information.

While summers in Georgia are notoriously hot and muggy, there are other options for beating the heat besides playing video games or staying in the swimming pool. Standing on the side of a naturally air-conditioned trout stream under the shade of a river birch with a cold box of apple juice in one hand and a bent-over fishing pole in the other should be enough fun to hook any kid on fishing.

A fun timeout from the fishing action is a tour of the hatchery. Viewing the trout in the raceways is fun for little kids like Caleb and “big kids” like Daniel.

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