Despite the rainy weather forecast for this weekend, all of the Northeast Georgia sportsmen and women promise to be in a spring outdoor mood and ready to drag out shotguns, fishing rods, crickets, corn, turkey calls and owl hooters…maybe not exactly in that order.
The good news is that there will be plenty of trout in Northeast Georgia streams this year, but the bad news is that the turkey population is down a little, especially adult gobblers. Opening day for turkeys was last Saturday and trout season opens Saturday.
What to do for a dedicated sportsman? It’s obvious! When you roll out of bed at 5:00 a.m. Saturday and your wife inquires about where you are going at such an ungodly hour, you have to admit to her both turkey hunting and trout fishing. Watch out, she might tell you that she’s taking the credit card and going to both the jewelry store and the dress shop for a serious spending spree!
One serious consideration for both endeavors might be on most of the Northeast Georgia Wildlife Management Areas which are not crowded during turkey season. WMA turkey and trout combos include Dawson Forest, Lake Russell, Blue Ridge, Chattahoochee, Chestatee, Cooper’s Creek, Lake Burton, Swallow Creek, and Warwoman. Additional turkey only WMA’s include Clark Hill, Oconee, Cedar Creek, Redlands and B.F. Grant. To hunt any of these areas, hunters must check in only once per season by signing their name and big game license number on the sheets provided at the check station, and must come back and sign out any gobblers taken. A hunting license cost $10, big game licenses cost $9 plus a $19 Wildlife Management Area license is required. A Sportsman’s license cost $60 and covers it all.
There is a fairly good turkey population in Northeast Georgia this year and the good news is that gobblers are in great condition from last fall’s bumper acorn crop. Consequently, they are feeling perky and should gobble a lot.
A below average holdover of adult birds from 2008, in addition to a very good hatch of young birds last spring due to good nesting and brood conditions, means lots of jakes (1-year-old birds) in the woods. If you are not seeing turkeys yet in their normal places out in pastures and fields, don’t worry, they haven’t disappeared, they may still be in the hardwoods scratching. They are using the hardwoods now and probably will continue to do so when the season opens much more this spring than they were last year due to the dramatic changes in the acorn crop.
Of course, the key to bagging that gobbler is finding one that has spring fever — doing a lot of gobbling. With the very unusual weather we’ve had, it’s difficult to tell when the peak of gobbling will actually take place this year. Some gobbling is underway right now especially on relatively warm mornings. Last weekend in Wilkes County, it was 30 degrees with a 5-10 mph breeze and I heard one turkey issue one gobble. On Sunday, it was 34 degrees and calm and I heard at least five different gobblers, but most were jakes.
Many old timers say the peak of gobbling is when the dogwoods are in full bloom and this is probably as likely a time as any. Gobbling in counties and WMAs south of Hall will most likely peak during the next week or two. Hall, Banks, Jackson and Dawson may peak in early April, but the mountain counties and WMAs probably won’t peak until mid-April. The best WMAs in Northeast Georgia last year were Dawson Forest, Lake Russell, Clarks Hill, Oconee, Coopers Creek, Chestatee and Blue Ridge. The best counties were Green, Wilkes, Oglethorpe, Warren, Banks, and Franklin. Don’t overlook your backyard, however, Hall, Dawson, White and Jackson counties are still good turkey areas.
What about trout fishing? You need a Sportsman’s license ($60) or a fishing license ($9) and a trout license ($5). For either turkey hunting or trout fishing or both, there are three ways to purchase a license: on the Web at www4.wildlifelicense.com/ga/start.php for a $2.75 fee; by phone at: 1-800-366-2661 for a $4.00 fee; or through local dealers for a $2.75 fee. There are still several local license dealers in Hall and surrounding counties. However, conspicuously absent from the list under the new system is Walmart and several others. DNR Law Enforcement at 2150 Dawsonville Hwy. (770-534-5499) has licenses for sale as well as a current list of local dealers.
A quick check with trout stocking coordinator Perry Thompson at Lake Burton Hatchery indicates a plentiful supply of stocked trout for opening weekend in addition to the wild trout already out there. Plans are to stock over one million catchable-sized trout in the mountain streams, lakes and reservoir tail waters for 2009. Even with droughts, personnel vacancies and cutbacks, the state and federal trout hatcheries maintained high trout production and growth last year which translates to lots of fish for stocking this year.
Everyone jokes about bringing your own rock to stand on for fishing opening day trout streams, but it’s not really that bad.
Don’t worry about conflicts between turkey hunters and trout fishermen, it never happens because they are automatically separated by space and time with turkey hunters concentrated at daylight on the high ground and fishermen all day in the stream valleys.
By the way, if you can’t make up your mind Saturday or the rainy weather keeps you closer to home, go bass or crappie fishing and that will spread everyone out even a little thinner on the second weekend of turkey hunting and opening day of trout season. There is still plenty of room either way!
One word of caution, there may be flood watches/warnings this weekend, don’t take chances wading in swift high water in any stream, it can surely be dangerous. Be careful.
Kent Kammermeyer is a certified wildlife biologist. His column appears monthly.