Golf fans aren't the only spring visitors who travel thousands of miles to visit Augusta.
In a ritual likely as old as time, American shad are appearing in the Savannah River to spawn after a journey that takes them as far north as Nova Scotia and back to the same waters in which they were hatched.
Bob Baurle, who operates Lock and Dam Bait & Tackle, is the person to ask if you need advice on how to catch the roe-laden fish.
"Right now, they're catching a lot of them," said Baurle, who will celebrate his 50th year at New Savannah Bluff this July.
The best baits, he said, are sabicki rigs, with an assortment of tiny jig hooks; and small leadhead jigs adorned with pink or chartreuse grubs.
"I always suggest 1/32 or 1/16-ounce jigheads," Baurle said. "You can also use 1/8 ounce if you need to."
The lock wall at New Savannah Bluff near Augusta Regional Airport is a favorite spot to cast for shad in the foaming tailrace below the dam.
On light tackle, shad are entertaining and challenging fighters. Most fishermen simply release them so the fish can continue their journey upstream.
This year, anglers must time their outings around a project designed to help the migrating shad swim past the dam to spawning grounds in the shoals above Augusta.
"We're going to be opening and closing the locks to let more fish swim upstream," said Capt. Jim Bates, who serves as the project's lockmaster.
The lock will be opened at about 11 a.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then closed about two hours later, he said. "We plan to do this through the first Monday in July."
The Savannah is one of many Eastern rivers where dams and other man-made changes have reduced shad populations.
Although an estimated 10 million shad swam past Augusta each year in Colonial times, scientists think fewer than 300,000 fish make the journey today.
BAITING BILLS: If you were planning to dump a few hundred pounds of corn under your favorite deer stand this fall, you'd better think again.
In a series of last-minute maneuvers before the adjournment of the Georgia General Assembly, both bills that would have legalized baiting were withdrawn by their sponsors.
House Bill 1285 would have allowed hunting over bait "south of and including Heard, Troup, Meriwether, Pike, Lamar, Monroe, Jones, Baldwin, Washington, Glascock, Jefferson and Burke counties."
The bill's sponsors included Jay Roberts, a legislator from Ocilla, who led a House Wildlife Management Study Committee last year to seek public opinion on the divisive issue.
"In the end, that bill sat in the Rules Committee for a couple of weeks, and the author never called it up for a vote - and then he withdrew it," said John Bowers, assistant chief of game management for Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division.
During a two-day debate over the bill in the House Game, Fish & Parks Committee, there were many hours of testimony both in favor of and against baiting, he said.
The committee ultimately sent the legislation to the House floor with no recommendation, and it was sent to the Rules Committee to await being called for a floor vote. It never happened.
In the other chamber, District 11 Sen. John Bulloch introduced a bill that would set the fine for hunting over bait at $25, which opponents labeled a "poaching fee" that would inadvertently decriminalize baiting.
That bill was opposed by groups including the Wildlife Resources Division and the Georgia Wildlife Federation and its Camo Coalition lobbying arm.
Although the bill cleared a first reading and was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment, it didn't go much farther.
"It was sent from Natural Resources to the Rules Committee and was scheduled for a floor vote, and the author withdrew that one, too," Bowers said.
Among the bills that did pass were:
- House Bill 338, which allows scopes on muzzle loading rifles this fall and includes stronger prohibitions on importing deer or related animals from outside the state.
- House Bill 1424, reflecting a compromise among clubs that hunt deer with dogs and landowner groups, was successfully passed with revisions to Georgia's dog hunting rules.
"Basically, the new law removes the $100 annual or $25 two-day license fee for a dog deer hunting tract permit," Bowers said. "But it will require anyone 16 or older hunting deer with dogs to obtain a deer dog hunting license in addition to all other licenses, at a cost of $5."
The law also provides that anyone with two or more violations involving dogs that are found off the designated hunting property can have their license revoked.
"The idea was, it puts some responsibility on the individual, which is something the dog deer hunting groups have been desiring," Bowers said.
All other provisions relating to hunting deer with dogs will remain in place this fall.
Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or firstname.lastname@example.org.