After a yearlong closure and almost $750,000 spent on upgrades, the Evans County Public Fishing Area reopened Saturday with an influx of 37 young anglers — and about as many parents and grandparents — at the start of National Fishing and Boating Week.
“With the rebuilding of the dam and the restocking of the lake, we’re looking for a better turnout than what it used to be like,” said Evans County PFA Manager Steve Mincey. “We’re looking for this to be like starting off brand-new.”
The PFA, one of 10 operated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, is state property. Accessible by Sunbury Road from U.S. Highway 280 about nine miles east of Claxton, the site encompasses 372 acres of land and water. It includes three lakes measuring eight, 30 and 84 acres.
Beginning in June 2012, the site closed for 12 months to undergo what DNR officials described as maintenance. But it was a sort of maintenance necessary for manmade lakes “once in a lifetime,” Regional Fisheries Supervisor Tim Barrett said.
The work included rebuilding the earthen dam at the end of 84-acre Bidd Sands Lake and installation of a new concrete and metal gate structure for controlling the flow of water into the Little Bull Creek. A second emergency spillway for flood control was created and fishing piers on two lakes resurfaced. The total cost came to $747,572, according to DNR Wildlife Resources Division spokeswoman Melissa Cummings. OCS Construction was the general contractor.
Smaller improvements during the closure included installation of eight new handicapped-accessible picnic tables, repairs to a nature boardwalk and removal of a dilapidated wooden dock. Nature and fishing access trails were reblazed and some new ones cleared so that the area now has about two miles of trails.
Back in business
Without ceremony, the fishing area simply opened up at sunrise Saturday for fishing. June 8 is a free fishing day, when Georgia public fishing areas are open to fishing without licenses. Children younger than 16 do not need licenses anyway, but the adults who accompany them usually do.
The Evans County PFA has traditionally held a Kids Fishing Rodeo on the first Saturday in June, and resumed business as usual with this year’s. The majority of what’s new is at Bidd Sands Lake. The 84-acre lake was drained for the first time in its 40-year history as a state-run facility and probably almost 60 years of existence, Mincey said. After the lakebed dried, stumps were removed and some vegetation burned.
The dam was resloped and made two feet taller, and a layer of stones called riprap were piled on the slope, from bottom to top. These are intended to reduce erosion from wind-driven waves.
By also eliminating trees and their roots from the dam, the project makes the lake system more stable for the long run, said Joel Fleming, the DNR fisheries biologist assigned to the area. Roots create pathways for erosion and weaken earthen dams, he explained.
Meanwhile, the yearlong hiatus gave the DNR time to apply strategy to rebuilding stocks of fish in the lakes. Mincey explained that Lake Woody, the 30-acre lake that feeds directly into Bidd Sands Lake, was restocked to full capacity, with largemouth bass, bluegill and redear sunfish. After a few months of growing time, these fish were released into the 84-acre lake, and the 30-acre lake was restocked again.
Some year-old fish and channel catfish were also added directly to the larger lake. A recent lake survey using an electrical device to stun fish turned up some seven- and eight-pound bass and “catchable” size fish of other species, Mincey said.
Also during the restoration of Bidd Sands Lake, 20 person-sized metal chicken coops donated by Claxton Poultry Farms Inc. were placed in clusters on the lake bottom near the dam. These form “fish attractors” after the fashion of offshore artificial reefs, Mincey said.
He and Fleming said they are especially interested in improving the population of crappie, another sunfish species, and that the fish attractors should help.
The five clusters of chicken coops are marked with red buoys.
In addition to the changes already made, the fishing area will get a new kiosk with information explaining its features, including the lakes and trails, Mincey said. Also on order are archery targets to create both 3-D and standard archery ranges as a new feature, and these should be in place by this fall, Fleming said.