Unique fishing experience can be found at coastal lake

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JEKYLL ISLAND, Ga. --- Spud Woodward is no stranger to recycling.

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As a biologist and assistant director of Georgia's Coastal Resources Division, the Augusta native has helped create fishing reefs from subway cars, sailboats -- even Army tanks.

This summer, with the aid of volunteers from the Coastal Conservation Association, an impoundment built as a yacht basin -- and later used as a water skiing venue -- is being reincarnated into a unusual fishing site.

Best of all, it's open to the vacationing public.

"It is a unique place where you can have a saltwater fishing experience in a pond type environment," Woodward said. "It's also the largest publicly accessible saltwater impoundment in Georgia."

The lake near the Jekyll boat ramp was built decades ago as a marina and connected to a nearby tidal river.

However, tidal currents quickly silted the area in, rendering it unusable for boats.

Its next use was as a commercial ski rixen, where a tower and mechanized cable system was used to pull skiers. That facility shut down in the 1980s.

Today, the area is linked to tidal creeks only by culverts that allow saltwater and its array of marine life.

"It has minimal tidal exchange, just a few inches, so it's mainly a pond that rarely changes its level," Woodward said. "So it gets a good population of flounder, redfish, mullet, shrimp, even blue crabs. Someone there also caught the biggest croaker I've seen in 25 years in coastal Georgia."

The state's evolving efforts to boost coastal redfish populations led to the experimental stocking in 2007 of 1,200 redfish. This May, another 1,200 fish were released, including 500 with tags.

The fish are growing rapidly and are being caught with great regularity. Twenty tags have been returned already from the spring release, Woodward said. The stocking also included some large, trophy- sized reds.

This year, Georgia obtained a $20,000 grant from the Fish America Foundation, a conservation branch of the American Sportfishing Association, and used about $15,000 of those funds to improve the ski rixen pond.

The biggest improvement was a $10,000 aeration system that uses compressors to blow oxygen into the deeper parts of the lake's center. The remaining $5,000 was used for habitat enhancement.

"We put out three kinds of habitats," he said. "We used granite rocks, like rip-rap; Berkely fish habitat units made from recycled monofilament fishing line into a four-foot cube of flat plastic; and porcupines made from concrete and PVC pipe."

Coastal Conservation volunteers and local 4-H groups provided much of the labor needed to install the improvements, enabling the grant money to be spent directly for materials.

More fish stockings are likely in store for the site, Woodward said.

The site someday might become one of Georgia's official "public fishing areas," which would allow special harvest regulations at the site.

MORE DOVES: Georgia dove hunters may be able to harvest more birds this fall because of a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policy designed to expand dove season opportunities.

The new rule would allow states to increase bag limits from 12 to 15 birds. Georgia's Natural Resources Board will consider such a proposal Aug. 27.

If approved, the new limit takes effect when the state's dove season opens Sept. 6.

"For several years, we have been working through the federal process in cooperation with other state wildlife agencies to provide more harvest opportunity and enhance hunter satisfaction," said John W. Bowers, Georgia's assistant chief of Game Management.

"This is the first time we have been offered a 15-bird bag limit without a change in the number of days to hunt doves."

Because mourning doves are migratory game birds, hunting seasons and bag limits are set within a framework provided by the Fish & Wildlife Service.

This year, opening weekend officially begins at noon Sept. 6.

The 2008-09 season dates are Sept. 6-21, Oct. 11-19 and Nov. 27-Jan. 10.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.


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