Free fishing day, boat safety education part of national event

COVINGTON - It's National Fishing and Boating Week, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division, is offering an incentive to take part: a free fishing day on Saturday.

That means Georgia residents do not need a fishing license or a trout license to fish. Residents can fish on any public waters in the state, including lakes, streams, ponds and public fishing areas.

Also, numerous free fishing days for kids are scheduled across the state throughout the week.

Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center will host a Public Kids Fishing Event from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday for children age 16 and under. Participants are asked to bring their own bait and tackle, and children under age 14 should be supervised by an adult. For more information, call 770-784-3121.

"Outdoor recreation strengthens the family as a unit and children as individuals," WRD Chief of Fisheries Management John Biagi said. "National Fishing and Boating Week is an opportunity to remind all outdoor enthusiasts to teach their children and others the importance of natural resource conservation while introducing them to an exciting activity that could last a lifetime."

NFBW began in 1979 as National Fishing Week and was created to recognize the tradition of fishing, to broaden the spirit of togetherness and to share the values and knowledge of present and future anglers.

In addition to promoting the joys of fishing, DNR is encouraging boaters to exercise caution while they're out having fun this summer.

Last year, there were 156 boating incidents and 18 boating-incident-related fatalities, according to the DNR.

"Boat operators do not need a license to operate a boat, and people over the age of 16 are not required by law to take a test to operate a vessel, " said DNR Lt. Col. Jeff Weaver, assistant chief of law enforcement. "Therefore, it is extremely important for boat operators to take responsibility for educating themselves on boating safety and boating laws. Making an effort to learn boating laws can potentially save a life."

The Newton County Sheriff's Office is doing its part to promote boating safety by regularly patrolling Jackson Lake.

"Our first concern is the safety of everyone on Jackson Lake. The deputies that are operating the patrol boat have gone through school and are certified in boat patrol," said Lt. Mark Mitchell. "Our main focus is making sure people are adhering to watercraft laws, (are not) boating under the influence and working with surrounding counties and the DNR making sure everyone is having a fun, safe time on the lake."

The DNR advises boat operators to follow the "100-foot law," which requires them to slow to idle speed when they are within 100 feet of docks, piers, bridges, shorelines or people in the water. It is also illegal to jump the wake of another boat within 100 feet and to "buzz" other boats.

In addition, the law prohibits vessels from operating around or within 100 feet of another vessel faster than idle speed unless overtaking or meeting the other vessel in compliance with the rules of the road for boat operation. The law also makes it illegal for boat operators to follow closely behind another vessel, jump the wake of another vessel, or change or reverse their course of direction to ride or jump in the wake of another vessel.

The following rules also apply to boat safety:

· When meeting another vessel, boat operators should pass on the right side unless the boats are far enough apart that they are not meeting head-on or close to head-on.

· On narrow rivers and streams, stay as far right as possible and be careful when rounding bends and curves and overtaking or passing other boats.

· In a crossing situation, the boat on the right should hold its course and the boat on the left should slow down and cross behind the other boat.

· Powerboats always should yield to sailboats.

For more information on boating safety, visit www.goboatgeorgia.com or call the DNR Law Enforcement office at 770-918-6408.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.