Recently, I have been seeing and hearing some great fish tales about large amounts of fish being caught, especially in the rivers.
Some of the largest red breast and bream that I have ever seen are being shown. Any fish tale has to be told more than once, and that is why I am repeating my story about fishing on the Altamaha 22 years ago at this time. Adamson’s Fish Camp was closed for several years, but recently reopened under the management of Christi Adamson, who can be reached at 912-654-3632. Cabins can be rented. Boat launch costs $5, and fishing on the hill also is $5 per person, with children younger than 12 free. Their slogan is, “When nothing is going right, just go fishing!” No, I am not getting paid to advertise for the camp, but I have enjoyed hundreds of hours there with my family and want to share the joy of nature and fishing.
Leaving our government offices in Hinesville behind with piles of paperwork and ringing telephones, we loaded our truck camper, hitched our boat behind it and headed for Adamson’s Fish Camp on Beards Bluff Campground on the Altamaha River in Long County about 5 miles off Highway 301. We have fished at this place all of our lives.
We stopped at Harvey’s Bait Shop on River Road and bought two cages filled with fat, singing brown crickets to use as lure on our hooks. The historic campground is on a high bluff overlooking the river, with a breeze usually blowing all the time.
We parked our camper near the river after putting our boat in the water. A streetlight and faucet were at our campsite. New picnic tables with benches were scattered throughout the camp. There were steps going down the river slopes to make the trip easier. Many live oaks shaded the area.
We checked the Grier’s Almanac many months before for planning this fishing trip. The moon was to be full this month, and the fish should’ve been bedding. I have never understood why my husband wants to look at the moon signs to tell when to fish. I often teased him and told him that I was going fishing in the water and not the moon.
Just after 7 o’clock in the morning, we were puttering down the river. No alarm clock was needed to get us up that morning. In the oak tree above our camper, a little bird was singing very loudly hours before daylight. The wind was chilly as we motored to our favorite spot. Layers of steam rose off the water as the sun peeked through the trees. I love to watch the ripples in the water and feel the cold mist spray across my face as we ride. I hold onto my life preserver since I cannot swim. However, as long as I can see the shore and know that I have a safe boat operator, I am not afraid to ride in our small boat during good weather. I have a lot of respect for water and know the dangers of boating.
For five days, we fished in the sloughs and lakes that branch off from the main run of the river. We saw many more women and men coming and going in boats. Almost everyone asked how the fish were biting. We passed one man who was sitting in a very nice boat and had four spinners and four fishing poles set out. He said they were biting very slowly. As we fished farther down from him, I watched as he pulled up at least a dozen as fast as he could bring them in. Now, to me, that is not very slowly! Harlon likes to fish with two or three poles at a time, but I only like to fish with one, and I always hold it in my hands and feel the tug if and when a fish actually messes with my bait. I want to be ready. I end up with a callous on my finger from holding the fishing pole when I fish a couple of days.
Along the banks, the wispy, green willow trees hung over with just a few faded blooms on them. I only sneeze a few times when anchored to them. I know that if I have a headache, I can chew on a small piece of the willow branch and my headache should go away. The exposed, odd-shaped gnarled tree roots are fascinating to look at after being worn by the swirling waters. Huge, old cypress trees line one side of the river bank. The eddy places around the cypress trunks are excellent places to fish. I threw my hook, baited with a lively cricket, under the edge of the tree. The red cork sank with a fast jerk. I pulled and hooked the fish. It ran around with my bait, bending my pole. The line sang as the fish swam first one way and then the other, trying to get loose. Finally, I pulled it out, and it was a large shellcracker. You can tell it from the white bream by the tiny orange spot on the side of its head. This is the way I enjoy catching fish — for the fish to grab the bait, sink the cork fast and run. For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone doesn’t like to go fishing.
A man gave us a few catalpa worms for bait. They are excellent bait, but are so nasty. I threaded half of one on my hook, and my husband reminded me to pinch the worm’s head off. He said the fish would not bite it with its head on. Maybe that is why I never had much luck fishing with them. They make better bait if you take a wooden match and push it through the worm and turn them inside out before putting them on the hook. But I did not have any matches with me. I did catch several bream with the half-worm. The skin is so tough that the fish cannot pull it off as fast as a tender cricket.
I wondered which way I should pin on the cricket — head-first or tail-first? — as I did not know to pinch the worm’s head off. Maybe I will ask my husband one day or just watch carefully while he does it. He always catches more fish than I do, but I blame it on the fact that he turns the boat so he has the best fishing position. He denies it and trades positions the next day — and still catches more! I like to move my bait around in the water and dabble it up and down, but he constantly nags me about keeping it still and fishing very deep. As we move from one spot to the other, it is my job to scan the trees and limbs for snakes. We saw only one water moccasin swimming in the water.
As we rode down the length of Blue Lake and turned around, I looked across the forest on each side of the lake. Lush, green bushes and tall trees were everywhere. With the usual cypress trees, there also were oak, hickory nut, sweet gum and tupelo trees. Swarms of honeybees buzzed around the tupelo blooms, collecting nectar. The tupelo trees produce red fruits about 1½ inches long that make delicious red jelly if you can collect enough of them.
While we were tied to a tree root near the bank, I climbed out of the boat and walked on the hill. The forest floor was so clean from the water washing over it. Many cat squirrels scampered and chased each other across the ground and up one tree and down the other, leaping on tree limbs over the lake. I wonder if they can swim. The old saying is that the fish will bite if the squirrels are playing.
A loud rat-a-tat-tat from a red-headed woodpecker shattered the silence of the swamp. They peck on dead hollow trees and can be heard from early morning until late evening. Mourning doves were heard in the distance. The hoot owl eerily hollering “who-who” seemed to demand me to answer “Margie.” This is supposed to be a sign of the moon coming up or going down. White pond birds, with the sun glistening off their wings, were flying high in a V formation. Hundreds of these birds could be seen in a day, and they always were going in the same direction as a group. We could see them individually flying low and gracefully gliding to a perfect landing on a low limb to swipe a small fish or other water insect.
A trip to the river is not complete to me until I see the small golden birds with gray wings that sing so beautifully. One morning as we fished, a golden bird alighted in the willow bush and flitted from one limb to the other for a long time.
One afternoon as we were leaving the lake, Harlon pointed to a strange-looking bird poised on one leg on the edge of the water. It stood about 2 feet tall and had gray feathers. There were two or three white plumes growing on top of its head that fell over its back. It was such a majestic-looking bird to be standing by itself in the swamp. I have since learned that it might have been a great blue heron.
The fish usually bit better in the late evening. We fished until it was too dark to see the cork and the whippoorwills began hollering. It was time to end another day of fun out in the natural world.
Back at the campground, we took our daily catch to the sink and cleaned them. We had kept all we caught except the two slippery eels my husband had hooked; he just cut the hook off and let them go. I am scared of them and do not want them anywhere near me! We had a mixture of about 100 blue bream, white bream, shellcrackers, red breast, a blue cat, channel cat and a yellow willow catfish. There also were a few war mouths, but my husband does not like to admit catching them. They pull good to me.
The five days passed by in a hurry, and it was time to pack our camper, clean up the campsite, load the boat and head for home. We always cooked outside, had fried fish two nights for supper and plenty to take home with us. The change of pace was so enjoyable. It is so peaceful to just sit quietly in a boat anchored in the shade of a tupelo tree and silently watch nature as my mind drifts slowly along with my cork in the water. We can hardly wait for our next trip to the Altamaha River. (Reliving this trip of 22 years ago as I typed it was very enjoyable — and I do love to fish!)