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Georgia isn't just peaches and football

Coastal Georgia is home to world class fishing as well as world class beauty. Get the picture. You’ve set out on a charter fishing trip off the docks at St. Marys, Georgia. Lunch is packed and drinks chill in the cooler. Your captain sets a course near famed Cumberland Island as you relax and enjoy the wee moments of dawn. The sun peaks out over the horizon as you cast your first line out. Your target reads a like a menu at a seafood restaurant. Flounder. Redfish. Sea trout. Tarpon. Shark. Black Drum. With Cumberland Island in the distance you land the first catch of the day. The first of many. A doormat flounder. Good eating. Your mind drifts. Flounder po’ boys or fried flounder with grits... Breaking your daydream a pod of dolphins surface near the boat as they chase bait up into the grass reeds. Their violent splashing as they coral and consume their breakfast reminds you of the wildness which surrounds you. They work as a team, chasing and pushing their prey into the shallow water. A marsh breeze blows salty and clean. A bald eagle sits perched atop a pine tree in the distance. Wild horses graze the marsh and eye you warily. The day has just started and it’s already one for the books. Unbelievably this scenario is a daily occurrence on the natural coast of the Empire State of the South. Georgia’s scenic rivers, marshes, and beaches offer some of the best fishing you’ll ever experience. While the sheer enormity of such a vast area can be overwhelming, hiring a guide who knows the water will make for a successful outing. Georgia has about 100 linear miles of coast, as the crow flies. It stretches from Tybee Island in the north to Cumberland Island in the south. Surprisingly, many people do not realize that Georgia has a coast at all. It’s hidden in plain sight. Just a short hop off I-95. The reasons our fishery is so productive lie in the secrets of our shoreline. Georgia’s ocean line is made up of 15 barrier islands that dot the coast. One by one they literally line the mainland and serve as a buffer from the ocean. Only Tybee Island, St. Simons Island, Sea Island, and Jekyll Island are accessible by vehicle. As such they are the only portions of our coastline that are marked by high tourism rates. That makes 11 islands that are only accessible via boat. Of the 11, only Sapelo Island and Cumberland Island are accessible by public ferry. The remainder are accessible by private boat only. As a result of their relative inaccessibility, the natural ecosystems of these islands remain largely intact and undisturbed by man. Home to all manner of wildlife, each island is like stepping back in time. Towering live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Huge longleaf pine trees. Giant sand dunes. Glimpse life as it was hundreds of years ago. Alligators are a common sight, as are gopher tortoise and white tail deer. Numerous artesian springs bubble up in unexpected places. Old cemeteries appear out of nowhere. Truly magical. Cumberland Island is famous for wild horses and old mansions. Ossabaw Island is home to the famous Ossabaw Island feral hogs, who were dropped off by Spanish explorers hundreds of years ago and due to the isolated island population have remained genetically pure to their Iberico Spanish heritage. Sapelo is famous for the Gullah/Geechee culture which still can be found there in communities like Hog Hammock. The Gullah, or Geechee as they are also known, are direct descendants of lowcountry African slaves and still carry a language and culture unique to themselves. The barrier islands of Georgia are endlessly fascinating. A lifetime can be spent exploring them. They are marvels of biological diversity. In fact, the barrier islands of Georgia are some of the most biologically diverse areas on earth. No tourists crowding the beaches, no high rise hotels. They lie just off the mainland. Each containing similar ecosystems and mile upon mile of pristine beach. Behind each island lies a treasure trove of undisturbed marsh and estuary. These marshes are marked by pluff mud bottoms and reedy grass swaying in the current. Veritable sweeping prairies of brackish water. Fishing legends are born here. Tidal fluctuations can be drastic and occur a couple times each day, with some areas going completely dry each low tide and flooded each high tide. Within these marshes lie the key to Georgia’s phenomenal fishery. Small tidal creeks spill into larger tidal creeks which spill into tidal rivers which empty into the ocean. These estuaries are the nursery grounds for shrimp, crabs, fish, and oysters. With these waters virtually unspoiled due to the inaccessibility of the barrier islands the waters teem with life. This is why fishing is so great on the Georgia coast. The young fish and crustaceans are the cornerstone of ocean life and also the bottom of the food chain. The ones lucky enough to survive to adulthood ensure a healthy population while the unlucky ones provide predator fish with a food source. This duality is a fact of life for saltwater fish and crustaceans. Georgia is home to a third of the existing marsh left on the entire east coast. As development and pollution has stripped most states of marshland, Georgia has remained undisturbed and pure. The coast of Georgia is fed by 5 main freshwater rivers. The Savannah, the Ogeechee, the Altamaha, the Satilla, and the St. Marys. These major freshwater rivers pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of clean water everyday towards the coast. As the tides push saltwater from the ocean on the beach side of the barrier islands to the back marshes of each island, the mix of fresh and salt creates a perfect environment for baby fish and crustaceans to thrive and grow. After spending their formative years in the marshes, these animals with eventually venture out into deeper water to continue life as adults. They’ll return to the marshes to feed and reproduce and continue the cycle of life. And in the process they’ll provide some excellent Georgia saltwater fishing. Indeed Georgia has a coast and it is a marvel to behold. The saltwater fishing in Georgia is great year round. With each season the catch can vary in species. Plan your trip accordingly and you’ll find success.

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