The Okefenokee Swamp is 402,000 acres of peat bogs and wetlands, and is home to 200 species of birds, forty species of mammals, fifty species of reptiles, and sixty species of amphibians. The plant life is incredible, and even includes multiple species of carnivorous plants. Paddlers can camp in the swamp on designated places with a permit from the refuge office, or they can day trip into the swamp from one of the entrances.
I have camped overnight in the swamp a couple times, and it is an eerily wonderful place as the sun sets. The barn owl serenade with the tree frog chorus is worth the price of admission. There are several trails that lead to raised platforms called “chickees” on which you can set up camp. Two islands have camps on them as well, and there is a fire pit on those. One of my favorite nights in the swamp was sitting with friends around a nice fire while sipping a cup of coffee. The camping permits are first-come, first-served, and cooler months are peak times when it can be difficult to secure a permit. The warmer months are ruled by insects, and only the bravest of the brave will venture into the swamp from late May to October.
The fishing can be outstanding, but not for regular freshwater species. The level of tannic acid in the water keeps most bass away, but species like bowfin and chain pickerel are plentiful. There is also a species of sunfish called a flier, and black bullhead catfish by the millions. The bullheads are said to be one of the best-eating critters in freshwater. I have never been prepared to keep fish. but hope to try these out one day soon.
For lures and tactics, our favorites are inline spinners in yellow for the pickerel and fliers. For the bowfin it is hard to beat a soft plastic vertical jigged in the lily pads. Bring multiple colors and keep at it till you find what they want. Only the sharpest and strongest hooks will work for bowfin, their notoriously bony mouths make hook sets difficult. A bucket of pink worms is the ticket for the bullheads and will also catch the fliers. One word of caution while fishing, any hooked and splashing fish becomes an immediate target for alligators; they can and will take your catch. Play fish quickly and get them in the boat. Always keep your eye out for the thieving lizards when you are hooked up.
There is something magical about paddling in a place that is so quiet you can hear the drops of water falling off of your paddle. It is so wild you would not be surprised to see dinosaurs getting a drink at the water’s edge. This is for sure a place folks need to try at least once in their travels. Kayaks and canoes can be rented at the refuge office at Stephen C. Foster state park just outside of Fargo, Georgia. The park has campsites and cabins and is very nice to day trip out of. Paddlers have to sign in and out at the office when they are day tripping into the Okefenokee. I know we are looking forward to the next trip to the swamp….and the next!