Frazer Breckenridge enjoys plenty of social distance while also getting in a little fly-fishing at the Chattahoochee Wildlife Management area near Helen. (Steve Hummer/Staff)

Hunters, fishermen find natural cure to being stuck at home

Outside, you remember outside, right? It’s the other side of binge-watching and Microsoft Team video conferencing, beyond those walls you are presently climbing. It’s where blue sky, air that makes lungs happy and all the new green of spring are rumored to exist. Outside has never seemed more outstanding.  

Georgia has not closed the outdoors. In fact, the state deemed many of its natural places essential to the spirit – so long as the body stayed well away from any other body. 

Winder’s Frazer Breckenridge would not debate the benefits of time spent out of doors as he was performing the microsurgery necessary to attach a tiny feathery fly to a line. This past week he was supposed to be on a honeymoon trip to Scotland, and that, of course, was called on account of the coronavirus. Instead, he retreated to the Chattahoochee Wildlife Management Area near Helen to pass the time one day and forget about a fabulous romantic European journey deferred. Nearby, his new wife wandered the trail.

“I’m just looking for a way to enjoy nature without getting too close to others,” he said before descending the steep bank to a river flowing too fast with new rain to give up its trout easily.

“It’s all about the escape, getting out of the house and getting away to nature,” he said.

Acworth’s Jackie Scott would second that emotion. A school bus driver with no bus to drive now, he’ll get away to a rock-strewn shore at Lake Allatoona and deploy a battery of spinning rods as often as four times a week now. “To get out, to get other things off your mind and enjoy this beautiful weather – it’s a blessing,” he said.

“We’re social creatures. It would be tough to take this away from us, too.”

So many other personal and social outlets have been shuttered because of the coronavirus outbreak. But hunters and fishermen – some of them rediscovering their love of the outdoors as a way to combat the tedium of semi-quarantine – have been to a large extent spared. Waiting out fish or fowl seemed to be a perfectly healthy way to wait out a pandemic.

“The governor has been adamant about that from the get-go that we were going to remain open,” said Rusty Garrison, director of the Wildlife Resources Division for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “It’s social distancing at its best. Turkey hunting doesn’t work well in a group.”

The Georgia DNR manages a little more than a million acres of public land, including 106 wildlife management areas around the state as well as multiple boat ramps and public fishing areas. There’s room to spread out, and the DNR insists that you do.

An outdoors option has been a welcome reprieve for those going slightly stir-crazy, but the surge of activity has not been particularly good news if you’re a turkey.

Turkey hunting season runs March 21 through May 15 in Georgia, and not surprisingly, more people having more time to hunt the birds has meant more meat in the freezer. According to WRD figures, hunters have reported bagging just over 10,000 turkeys the first 24 days of the season, a 26% increase over this same period last year. 

Recreational hunting and fishing license sales revenue for the first two weeks of April is up 7% compared with the same period last year, the wildlife division reports.

“I think it’s extremely important to be able to get out and get in nature,” Garrison said. “We’re seeing an uptick – not just in Georgia but around the country – of people getting out and getting on the water. Our fishing and hunting license sales are up a little bit. People are getting out on the trails hiking, maintaining that distance.

“Getting out in nature is definitely therapeutic. You’re cooped up in the house or cooped up in the office doing all the computer meetings, just getting out in nature is wonderful for relieving some of the tension that has built up.”

Acworth’s Jackie Scott awaits a call on any one of three lines at Lake Allatoona. (Steve Hummer/Staff)

Out in the field, there is no shortage of testimonials.

From near the headwaters of the Chattahoochee: Jerome Burch is a dental technician from Gainesville. His wife, Shann, works in the same office, one forced to temporarily close. As his two daughters grew increasingly restless at home, Jerome decided to break out some of the equipment he had neglected for too long and take the family fishing. They scuttled off to a creek and caught and released a few native trout. He invested in tackle for the girls and here they were upgrading to a wider river. What began as an excuse to get out of the house had an interesting side-effect. “I fell in love with fishing again,” Jerome said.

To the shore of Lake Allatoona: Three generations of the Rosa family – Cesar, his son also named Cesar and his son Jadiel – perched on one of Red Top Mountain Park’s stony fingers that reach into the lake. The morning had not been productive, testing young Jadiel’s scant supply of patience. But even not catching fish is a festival compared to lolling around the house. “It’s just good for your mental health,” said the elder Cesar. 

They call it fishing, not catching. Just as they call it hunting, not shooting. Ask a couple 20-somethings from Jefferson, Zachery Hill and Anthony Tschari, about the vagaries of going one-on-one with the natural world. On a mid-week morning, they had set out to turkey hunt early and trout fish later. And would land no representative of either species.

Not that there weren’t good tales to tell, of getting up before the sun with both turkey and trout on the brain, of quick-changing from camo and waders, of being a complete edition of Field & Stream onto themselves. And one slip in a chilled, fast-moving river, it’s a bit unsettling just how far a person can bob downstream before returning to vertical. Both took that ride.

“This is our Netflix,” Hill said.

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