By Lauren Deal
Macon Community News
I’m always delighted to visit places for families to have fun in Middle Georgia. After years of writing about local destinations, it’s particularly satisfying to discover somewhere I’ve never been. This month, we went to the Go Fish Education Center, located at 1255 Perry Parkway in Perry, Georgia, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
I haven’t been fishing in more than a dozen years. The only fishing pole we own was given to our daughter by Santa Claus at a beachside holiday party several years ago. The only time it’s been used was by me. It turns out that if you lock your keys in your van, a fiberglass fishing pole is the perfect apparatus for reaching through a cracked window and pushing that stubborn unlock button.
Needless to say, I haven’t considered it imperative that I visit Go Fish because I didn’t think there would be anything there for me. Spoiler alert: I was wrong. Go Fish Education Center was entertaining and educational for my entire family.
We didn’t give ourselves nearly enough time to enjoy everything that they have to offer. If you are going with school-aged children, I highly recommend that you go on a day where you can spend at least two hours. For reference, our children are 8 (third grade) and 11 (sixth grade), and my middle schooler brought a friend along. Children between the ages of 6 and 13 would benefit the most from the educational aspects of the Center. If you plan your visit ahead, there are three scavenger hunts available at gofisheducationcenter.com to print out and carry with you.
Children as young as 1-2 would enjoy the live fish, especially the outside aquarium, and the displays. Still, you could probably see everything in an hour to an hour and a half if your party includes only very young children (2 and under). Once a month, they host a Toad-ally Toddlers educational program, with hour-long sessions beginning at 9:15 AM, 10:15 AM, and 11:15 AM. The schedule of dates and topics for this special programming is available at the Go Fish Education Center website.
From September 1 through May 31, the Go Fish Education Center is open on Friday and Saturday from 9 AM to 5 PM. On Sunday, it is open from 1 PM to 5 PM. During the week, the Center is only available for school and homeschool groups and special educational programs. From June 1 through August 31, the Center is open Wednesday through Saturday from 9 AM to 5 PM, and on Sunday, it is open from 1 PM to 5 PM. In past summers, they have also offered summer day camp activities.
Near the entrance to Go Fish, there is a theater featuring a 10-minute presentation on the importance of fishing and aquatic conservation in Georgia. The video is well-produced and engaging. It serves as a nice introduction to the Center.
Along the corridor leading to the exhibits, viewing windows allow visitors to see behind the waterfall and under the water of the mountain spring habitat in the outdoor aquarium.
The outdoor aquarium is beautifully sculpted from stone, wood, and aquatic plants native to the state and houses over 50 species of native Georgia fish and reptiles. The first habitat replicates the waterfalls, streams, and lakes of the North Georgia Mountains, where fish like trout and smallmouth bass thrive in the colder mountain waters. Children can see above and below the water.
From the mountain habitat, the aquarium path travels down the state to the Piedmont, which is home to largemouth bass, longnose gar, and catfish. In the Piedmont exhibit of the aquarium, visitors can also see an endangered species of fish donated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Atlantic sturgeon.
In addition to being endangered, the Atlantic sturgeon is also considered a “living fossil” because it has existed for over 200 million years. Its appearance has changed little since it inhabited the world alongside dinosaurs. In 1607, the Jamestown settlers in what is now Virginia survived starvation because of the large volume of Atlantic sturgeon living in the James River.
From the Piedmont plateau, the path travels down the state, crossing the “fall line” to the Coastal Plain (the region occupied by Macon and Perry). Fish in this part of the aquarium include black and white crappie and largemouth bass. Farther away from the line traveling towards the coastal region, the aquarium habitat gives way to swamp populated with bowfin, sunfish, and alligator snapping turtles.
The final exhibit features three American alligators.
Inside the Go Fish Education Center, there are a variety of hands-on and educational opportunities. A large topographical map of the state features markers for each of the largest cities and deep grooves to mark the paths of our most significant rivers. Clouds float above. Water gathers into tanks of sediment below. Kids can spin the wheel to create lightning and rain, then watch as the stormwater travels down the hills to the rivers, and down the rivers to the sea. Nearby wall placards identify Georgia’s 14 watersheds.
The walls of the main gallery are lined with brightly colored fish of all sizes, shapes, and species native to our state. Interactive exhibits allow visitors to use touch screen technology to select a fish and learn its name, habitat, physical characteristics, feeding habits, and more. The cool thing about this exhibit is that the touchscreens are mounted in front of immersive wall displays. The screen menu recreates the scene on the wall so that children can learn about the fish in its habitat.
One of the most fun and colorful exhibits allows guests to step inside what must be the biggest fishing tackle box in the state (if not the world) and explore lures and the techniques employed with each one. Giant-sized versions of eye-catching lures are displayed in individual sections of the tackle box, with buttons that you can press to select that lure. A large screen in front of the tackle box plays film footage where a narrator explains the name of the lure, its use, and the casting technique that best fits the lure while a fisherman is demonstrating it amid lush natural surroundings. This exhibit is executed brilliantly, with a high-quality video and beautiful lures.
The main gallery holds several replica boats with fishing rods set up before large screens. Visitors grab their fishing rod and attempt to reel in a fish. I don’t know how the technology works, but it seemed like the fish on screen was responding to the movements of the “fisherman.” Another exhibit allowed visitors to experience onboard technology like depths-finders, and yet another lets you navigate a fishing boat. Young and old thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to fish and navigate from these boat replicas.
In a smaller room off the main gallery, younger children will fall in love with the child-sized replica of a beaver dam and a hide-and-seek exhibit of a forest habitat built around a small stream. The habitat is complete with trees, small mammals including a beaver and a raccoon, ducks, frogs, and more. My 8-year-old daughter thoroughly enjoyed running through the damn, looking under the water, and trying to spot each of the animals hidden in the scene.
The older children had quite a time with interactive shooting games in the same room. One game allowed them to engage as bear hunters trying to shoot a giant black bear as he ran across the screen. Another game featured a bouncing red ball, a moving target for the keen eye. The guns are designed after rifles, with sights and a laser point to assist in aiming.
After experiencing the hands-on activities in the main gallery, we took the hatchery tour led by Assistant Hatchery Manager Jonathan Savarese. I don’t recommend this tour for small children, but our school-aged group received a wealth of information. There was even time for us to ask questions along the way, which Savarese answered enthusiastically.
The hatchery tour begins with pools of bass located just outside of the hatchery. It then moves into the hatchery to tanks where sturgeon are being raised. Walking through the hatchery, we were able to observe and learn about the four different kinds of fish currently being raised by DNR biologists at Go Fish. We learned about the natural habitats and habits of the fish, including the conservation efforts ongoing within the state to protect certain fish.
We also got a behind-the-scenes look at the equipment, procedures, and experiments that take place in a hatchery. For families who want to expose their children to real-life applications for math and science education, this tour was perfect, with hands-on opportunities for all. At the end of the tour, Savarese and Naturalist Gregory Render-Butler talked to my kids and me about what education is necessary to do their jobs.
Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to fish in the pond at the Go Fish Education Center. There was a cart with fishing poles for visitors to use, and we were assured that the pond was well-stocked with a variety of fish. Several families were scattered around the pond fishing. Fishing is included in the admission fee to the Center. The pond provides ample room to spread out along the shoreline.
We will undoubtedly return to Go Fish, and we’re already looking forward to our next trip. In addition to their toddler and school group programs, they also have opportunities for homeschool students and large-group self-led tours. The Center hosts fishing tournaments and an art contest, too.
To plan your visit to Go Fish Education Center, visit their website at gofisheducationcenter.com.