Today's lake level: 1071.38
Your complete online news, information, and recreation guide to Lake Lanier
Jul. 10, 2020
10:53 am
Currently

Humidity:
Forecast

Vanderford's Travel Column


Speed and grace are synonymous with Lanier's raptors

The summer heat has arrived, the great spring fishing has slowed, the virus seems to be fading fast, but if you love raptors, Lanier is a great place to be! In the early mornings of most days, I become almost mesmerized by the graceful flying of large birds in the air currents above my boat. With almost no apparent effort, these beautiful creatures of nature sail and turn on invisible wind currents. Though you will see an occasional bald eagle or a redtail hawk, most of these great birds are ospreys that are not here to entertain anyone. 
 
Within a few seconds, their poetic motions can change dramatically! After a downward burst, their powerful wings become tucked, and the osprey becomes a streamlined projectile hurtling toward the calm surface of the water. No more than a couple of yards from impact, the magnificent wings are partially deployed to slow the crash into the water, and the legs are extended with the deadly talons spread. In less than a blink of the eye, this crafty bird of prey is in and out of the water and climbing back skyward with a fish making its last movements in the clutches of the razor-sharp talons. This life and death struggle is a daily routine because fish comprises 100 percent of the osprey’s diet, which makes them really “fish eagles.”
 
Though they are found throughout most of the world and are a common sight in Florida or along any of our coastal highways, beaches or rivers, these gorgeous birds are fairly new to the area around Lake Lanier. Both ospreys and loons became more prevalent in this part of Georgia when the stocking rates of striped bass were increased.
 
Because ospreys are normally larger than hawks or falcons and have a white head, they are often mistaken for the bald eagle. Upon closer inspection, one can easily see that the osprey has a dark band across its face and a smaller, less colorful beak than his more well-known relative and even more obvious is the osprey’s white breast feathers. Bald eagles are quite dark underneath.
 
Probably the most unique part of an osprey is the rough textured feet that are perfect for grasping slippery prey. Also, the osprey is the only bird of prey that is able to grasp with two toes in front and two in back rather than the usual three and one toe arrangement.
 
Ospreys often grab fish that are too big to carry, and they may not be able to let them go, which usually causes these birds to die prematurely. Some experts believe that the excitement of the catch stimulates a locking mechanism in the feet, while others surmise that the claws simply sink into bone and become stuck. Regardless of the reason, occasionally, fishermen catch large fish with osprey feet still attached.
 
Nevertheless, the ospreys that survive are magnificent birds that are fascinating to watch as they go about their daily task of catching and eating fish. With the exception of pesticides that killed many ospreys during the 1950s and ’60s, they seem to adapt well to all of the commotion caused by the human race. So, if you are lucky enough to see one of these fabulous creatures floating on the wind currents above Lake Lanier any morning, watch for a few minutes. You might be in for a magnificent show of nature!
 
 

Bill Vanderford has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, videography, and has been inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Guide. 
He can be reached at jfish51@aol.com or at his web site: www.georgiafishing.com.




June 2020 column
 

As the virus subsides, Lanier's loons head home

With the virus winding down, the saddest part of the coming summer season on Lake Lanier is that the beautiful loons who have been here throughout winter and spring will soon disappear until next fall. With the possible exception of bird watchers, it wasn’t until the movie, “On Golden Pond,” that most people ever noticed loons. These mysterious visitors from the North start showing up around mid November and remain until late May.
 
For those unfamiliar with this magnificent waterfowl, here are some important facts: The common loon can fly nearly 60 miles per hour, swim faster than most fish, can remain under water easily for five to 10 minutes and their haunting song penetrates the morning fog on the lake like the beam of a powerful searchlight!
 
Loons are divers that are normally 24- to 40-inches in length and have an elongated body and sharp, pointed bill. They are strong swimmers that propel themselves when diving by using their radically webbed feet. Their legs are attached far back on their bodies, a characteristic that permits ease of movement when swimming, but causes great difficulty when attempting to walk on land. Loons are unique among living birds because their legs are encased within the body all the way to the ankle. They are great fliers, but become airborne only after an extensive run along the top of the water.
 
In keeping with their uniqueness, loons rarely live or feed in areas that have been polluted by the extravagances of man. These gorgeous creatures are also very family-oriented and always mate for life. Often, we at Lanier are privileged to observe parts of their courtship, but they fly back to their homes in Canada, Alaska or other extremely northern areas of our country before actually laying eggs. These northern nests are placed on uninhabited land near the water’s edge or on small islands. Usually two eggs are laid, and both sexes take part in the incubation of the eggs and eventual care for the young. In fact, both the mother and father loon can often be seen carrying the young chicks on their backs while swimming.
 
When the loons first return to Lake Lanier in November, both males and females usually appear rather drab with lots of white showing around their heads from the recent summer molt. As they feed throughout the winter, the color and sheen starts to return to their feathers. Before the loons depart, the male’s head becomes almost jet black, and both genders grow a colorful, iridescent, green band of feathers around their necks.
 
Because of their interaction with striped bass while feeding on Lanier’s abundant shad schools, most fishermen have also developed a warm feeling for these interesting birds from the cold North. As a guide on Lanier, bird watchers often hired my services to locate, study and photograph our transient loon population.
 
Seeing the virus departing is a happy occasion, but it will be sad going out on Lanier in the morning mist and not hearing the familiar high-pitched, lonely song of a loon. Nevertheless, I know that people will come out again and enjoy the summer boating … and as always, when the lake settles down with the cool breezes of late fall, the loons will again return to fill my senses with their unique presence and haunting song.
 


May 2020 column

A staycation spring can be fabulous at Lanier

Even a deadly virus can’t stop the beauty of the spring season and rebirth in the natural paradise here at Lake Lanier. Though most everything is closed, partially closed, or suspended, the majority of boat ramps are still open for those who possess or have access to any kind of watercraft! Also, for the first time in several years, the lake is completely full and we are experiencing a “normal” spring. Everything on Lanier is in bloom and the fishing for most species is better than I’ve seen it in years.
 
The warmth of the sun has been felt lately and we have experienced some delightful days, so despite this period of “doom and gloom,” Mother Nature has begun to wave her magic wand, and the Earth and waters are coming alive. From having fished this lake for more than 40 years as a fishing guide, my experience tells me that this could be one of the best fishing and wildlife springs we’ve seen in many years.
 
Things have changed this spring at Lanier as to the way we are catching bass during the spawning period. In fact, as the surface temperature of the water crept up, I discovered a new twist on an old method to catch plenty of spotted bass with a lure that was modified for better action. We have been accomplishing this by utilizing Swirleybirds in 1/8th ounce sizes that have been updated by Veterans Fishing Lures (www.georgiafishing.com). These lures have enough weight to take the lure to the desired depth with enough flash to attract bass and other species.
 
The lake has become alive with the sounds and sightings of birds and wildlife that magically appear in every direction. This spring is becoming a special time to enjoy the abundant bird populations and diverse flora and fauna!
 
We first saw the tiny buds appear on the very tips of tree limbs, then bird songs became more prevalent and now animals are being seen during their mating rituals along the forested red clay banks of the lake. The shorelines have exploded with colors from the dogwoods, mountain laurel, rhododendron and wild azaleas.
 
The return of bald eagles to Lanier has been exciting, and now they seem to be showing up more frequently on the main parts of the lake. Ospreys are also relative newcomers to the area around the lake, but these birds of prey have become more prevalent in this part of Georgia since the stocking rates of striped bass were increased. Because ospreys are normally larger than hawks or falcons and have a white head, they are often mistaken for the bald eagle. Upon closer inspection, one can easily see that the osprey has a dark band across its face and a smaller, less colorful beak than his more well-known relative and even more obvious is the osprey’s white breast feathers. Bald eagles are quite dark underneath.
 
Throughout the spring one can see and hear the most unique bird that has ever graced the waters of Lake Lanier ... the common loon. Loons are divers that are 24 to 40 inches in length and have an elongated body and sharp, pointed bill. They are strong swimmers that propel themselves when diving by using their radically webbed feet. Their legs are attached far back on their bodies, a characteristic that permits ease of movement when swimming but causes great difficulty when attempting to walk on land. Loons are unique among living birds because their legs are encased within the body all the way to the ankle. They can easily swim faster than most fish. Loons are also good fliers, often reaching speeds of 60 miles per hour in the air but requiring an extensive run along the top of the water to become airborne. As always, it will be a sad morning when I go out on Lake Lanier and don’t hear that high-pitched, lonely song of the loon that has warmed my heart throughout this past winter and spring.
 
Despite the terrible virus of this spring, the always spectacular scenery at Lanier, the surprising wildlife encounters, and the great fishing offers nature’s classroom as a “staycation” to all of us. An abundance of picturesque flora and active fauna are a major part of a continuously changing kaleidoscope of natural splendor at Lake Lanier!
 
 


April 2020 column


Tail of the Dragon gives rite of passage to racers

Regardless of where you come from or what form of motor racing you might love, until you have survived the 11 miles and 318 curves in the “Tail of the Dragon,” you haven’t earned the “the rite of passage” in the sport! 
 
This section of US Highway 129 touches the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest and has no intersecting roads or driveways to impede the speed.
 
The Tail of the Dragon was first paved in the early 1930s, but its recorded history dates back to the 1700s when it was a trail for hunters and trappers. Before that, it existed as an Indian trail. It was designated US 129 in 1934 but was only lightly traveled until the 1990s when the road was publicized by a motorcycle enthusiast. For the past three decades, businesses that cater to motorcycle and car enthusiasts have appeared for those who make pilgrimages to try The Dragon.
 
The road curves and winds through the wooded landscape like one’s mental picture of the lines on a real dragon. Many corners are blind, and it is easy to outrun your line of sight long before that of the car’s performance. You might think you need something with big power and fantastic lateral grip, but those cars end up decorating the trees along The Dragon. 
 
There are legends that this road is haunted, and other rumors that the area is a magical land with the power to take hold of people and possess part of their being … which is believable! When you’re behind the wheel of a fast car, the Tail of the Dragon is about you, the pavement, two white knuckles holding tightly to a steering wheel and a stretch of road that is considered one of the most exciting drives in the world. It dissects the mountains starting at Deals Gap on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line all the way to the pull over at Calderwood Overlook. This beautiful scenic overlook offers a gorgeous view of the Cheoah Dam. Also, it’s a fantastic panorama of the Smoky Mountains and Tennessee countryside.
 
The legend of the Tail of the Dragon has spread far beyond North Carolina and Tennessee, and has even caught the eye of movie producers, celebrities and documentary crews. The road and nearby Cheoah Dam were featured in “The Fugitive” and parts of the gearhead classic “Two-Lane Blacktop” that actually features much of the road at the very end of the movie.
 
Whether you’re starting or completing the Tail of the Dragon at the intersection of US 129 and NC Highway 28, Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort is a good place to snap pictures, grab souvenirs, eat lunch, have a cold beverage or even spend the night. Also check out the Tail of the Dragon Store across the street for more great souvenirs and your obligatory photo with the giant eponymous Dragon sculpture.
 
This area is extremely popular for those who love to challenge the many exciting whitewater rapids of the mountain rivers. Therefore, kayaks, canoes, tubes and other water devices are a common sight in this section of the Smoky Mountains.
 
The Dragon is not for the timid … but it is also not for the foolish! It is an exciting ride even without racing wide open around blind corners and at double the speed limit while trying to earn the “rite of passage!”
 
 
Copyright © 2011 Lakeside News. Internet Marketing Company: Full Media (CS)