Former Gov. Sonny Perdue is credited for taking action to expand the Georgia’s $2 billion a year freshwater fishing industry. He proposed the initial $19 million for the Go Fish Georgia Initiative as part of his 2007-08 state budget.
According to a news release by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Go Fish Georgia is a $30 million initiative that leverages $19 million in state funds and private donations, along with financial support by local communities.
The Go Fish Georgia Education Center, a big part of that initiative, opened its doors Oct. 8, 2010. The center, near the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry, promotes better water conservation and stewardship of Georgia’s watershed. It also promotes fishing participation around the state, to include attracting major fishing tournaments currently held in other states.
According to the center website, one large fishing tournament could contribute millions of dollars to the local economy. A championship fishing tournament could have an economic impact of $27 million.
In addition to the Go Fish Ed Center, the state has created the Bass Trail, which, when completed, will include 17 tournament-style boat ramps throughout the state.
Locally, ramps are planned for the Houlihan Bridge on the Savannah River in Chatham County, the Altamaha River in Glynn County and another one on the Altamaha River in Wayne County.
The center supports the overall initiative by promoting fishing through a variety of media. Most visitors begin their tour with a film that explores the state’s fishing resources and explains why fishing has been a fun family tradition for generations.
Other interactive displays include freshwater aquariums that feature trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, striper hybrids, bream and catfish as well as alligators and turtles; interactive freshwater and saltwater fishing simulators; an interactive shooting room, and a stock fishing pond.
There also is a state-of-the-art fish hatchery and a wealth of information about Georgia’s diverse waterways that include 4,000 miles of trout streams, 12,000 miles of warm water creeks and rivers and more than 500,000 acres of ponds and lakes.
The fishing simulators allow the angler to feel like he or she really has a sailfish or a largemouth bass on the line. A wall nearby displays hundreds of fishing flies and lures with a note beside each that identifies the type fish it attracts.
Outside, a stocked pond is used for children’s fishing events and classes. The center conducts interactive and hands-on education programs and workshops for school systems. Outside, freshwater aquariums display a variety of fish and aquatic critters, including water fowl and otters.
According to DNR, nearly 1.3 million Georgia residents spend $1.1 billion on fishing licenses, fishing gear, boat ramp fees and other accessories. While generating nearly 11,000 fishing-related jobs, the total economic impact of fishing is $2 billion annually.
The Go Fish Education Center is a three-hour drive from Hinesville. Ticket prices are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children 3 to 12.
For more information, go to www.gofisheducationcenter.com or call 478-988-6701.