Vacationing/Fishing at Jekyll Island, Georgia

We’ve always tried to take a summer vacation in late June. Last year we went to the mountains. The year before that everything was pretty much shut down due to Covid. In 2019, Amy was pregnant with our third daughter and had zero desire to venture very far from the house during June (Allie was born on June 29th). If memory serves me correctly, the four or five years prior to that were spent on some sort of beach vacation. We always enjoy our trips away, but one thing has always been missing for me: the opportunity to kill, or catch, something while on vacation.

My wife usually does not take my yearning for an adventure into account when planning these trips. However, this year she finally relinquished her stronghold on vacation and allowed me to have some minor input on our destination. After some back and forth, and a few recommendations from some of her family members, we decided on Jekyll Island, Georgia. I’m fairly certain this is the destination she really wanted because she roped me in with pictures of alligators and folks catching redfish from kayaks. Usually, she would have just kept that stuff to herself and moved right on passed it if it wasn’t somewhere she really wanted to go. Needless to say, upon seeing the pictures I was all in for Jekyll.

Jekyll Island lies right off the coast of Georgia, just north of Jacksonville, Florida. This was an added bonus for me because we got to drive through part of Jacksonville. We didn’t venture into the city for the sake of time, but I got to point and show the kids where Daddy used to live. The first settlement on the island was started by British General James Edward Oglethorpe. He settled the first colony on the island and named it for Sir Joseph Jekyll, the man that financed the operation. Oglethorpe assigned Major William Horton to build an outpost on the island, and with the help of indentured servants, Horton built a fairly prosperous plantation. The Horton home remnants still stand today.

After Horton’s death, ownership of the island changed hands several times and the owners were not always British. French and Spanish buyers came and went until the War of 1812 which once again left the islands in the hands of the British. In 1858, the Wanderer Yacht (one of the few remaining slave ships still bringing slaves from Africa) arrived on the island. It arrived with close to 400 enslaved people aboard. During the Civil War, the ship was confiscated by Union forces and used for various military operations. During the early parts of the war, the island was used by Confederate troops until General Robert E. Lee ordered them off the island. There are still remnants of gun batteries on the island today.

Following the war, Jekyll was purposed as a high class hunting club. Started by John Eugene DuBignon, members of this high class club were J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William Vanderbilt, and William Rockefeller. At the time, it was dubbed the “richest, most exclusive hunting club in the world.” World War II eventually ended the club, and in 1947 it was sold to the state of Georgia for a state park.

Now that you’ve got the background of the island, let me describe it from my lens. The sites on the island are breathtakingly beautiful. From the marshland to Driftwood Beach, the island has a little bit of everything you could want. And yes, there are alligators on the island. There are also a ton of deer! I bet we saw over thirty deer during our visit, something I certainly didn’t foresee. The ground is covered with palmettos sprinkled in amongst some of the prettiest Live Oaks that you’ll ever see. Spanish moss hangs from the trees creating a curtain to a gorgeous skyline. The beaches are a mixture of sand and river silt due to the East River cutting the island from the mainland. Driftwood Beach is something out of a fairy tale and is considered one of the top beaches to visit in the country. There is also a really cool sea turtle rehabilitation center on the island that they take very seriously. White lights are not allowed on the beach at night, and sand dunes are protected for sea turtle nesting grounds.

Another thing that is big on the island is fishing. I felt like every truck that I saw on the island had fishing rods sticking out of the back. Of course, I’d have to try my hand at this. On the last evening of our trip, we ate dinner, then Mackenzie and I headed to the south end of the island to try surf fishing. I’ve never really done it, so I have no idea if we were doing it right, or not. We bought some frozen bait from the local bait shop, rigged up a pole, and waited while we watched the sun disappear on the horizon. Finally, the rod bent and I know what that means. I grabbed it quickly and started the retrieve. Being a surf fishing novice, I had no idea what I was reeling in.

During the retrieve, nothing surfaced showing me what I was reeling. To be honest, I felt like I was reeling in a catfish. Finally, as it got closer to the shore, that all familiar fin breached the water. We’d hooked ourselves a shark. It’s been a long time since I’ve landed a shark, and never from the beach. I’ve also never landed one barefoot while standing in ankle deep water exposing my toes to little sharp teeth. Fortunately, I’m coming home with all ten of them. Mackenzie’s excitement filled the sea air, this being her first encounter with the tax man. Even though the shark only measured about two feet in length, to her we’d caught Jaws. She wasn’t the only one that was excited. A small crowd gathered around to view our catch. One nervous vacationer told us that he’d been swimming in that exact area no more than a couple of hours earlier.

I removed the hook from the shark’s mouth with some pliers and sent him on his way. We sat back down in the sand, fished a little more, and talked about how beautiful the island was. We watched the stars fill up the black sky before calling it a night and heading back to our condo. On the drive back I couldn’t help but smile. Amy had finally picked the perfect vacation.

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