The Sun News

Q&A with Michael Fulghum

Michael Fulghum
Michael Fulghum

Residence: Byron

Occupation: Aquarium Manager, Go Fish Education Center

Q: How do you describe the Go Fish Education Center?

A: The program is designed to improve fishing and boating opportunities and participation throughout the state for Georgians and tourists. Fishing in Georgia is a $1.3 billion-a-year industry, plus there’s a secondary ripple effect of $2.1 billion. The education center is part of the Fisheries Management Section of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division.

Q: So Go Fish is mainly for fishing enthusiasts?

A: No, not mainly. Of course, enthusiasts love it, but it’s for everybody. Few people leave without being fascinated by what they get to see and do here.

Q: What’s there to see and do?

A: It’s a beautiful, relaxing place with displays and interactive activities about fish, fishing, waterways, the environment and related things, all connected to Georgia. We have a 15,000-square-foot facility that’s packed with information and fun things to do plus our 146,000-gallon aquarium with fish and alligators native to north Georgia mountain streams, midland rivers and south Georgia swamps. There are 75 different species here.

Q: How big is a 146,000-gallon aquarium? That’s hard to picture.

A: Think of 146,000 gallons of milk. Think of a waterway filling and winding its way over about an acre. Think of being able to travel from north to south Georgia in 10 or 20 minutes and getting eye-to-eye with aquatic life in a natural setting that includes appropriate terrain and fauna. And even some waterfalls. You don’t have to be a dedicated fisherman to love it, but if you are, you will.

Q: What interactive activities?

A: There are a lot and they’re really engaging. There’s interactive fresh and salt-water fishing simulators that put you on life-size boats. Some of the simulated fish can put up quite a struggle. We’ve had 80-year-old ladies pull in their catch and grown men give up, so it’s realistic. It’s rewarding and challenging. There are all kinds, including a hunting simulator with wildlife or you can shoot clays. And our giant tackle box where you can select lures and learn about them.

Q: An aquarium, a museum — what other aspects?

A: There’s the hatchery side of things where we spawn and raise nine different species, like lake sturgeon, walleye and small and large mouth bass. We raise trout. They’re all released to Georgia’s rivers and ponds. The hatchery is also home to the Trophy Bass Program, and we accept outstanding catches from anglers and display them.

Q: As your name implies, you’re an education center.

A: The education program is our bread and butter. We have student field trips and in-house classroom programs. We have public, private and home school programs, community programs, toddler programs and do community seminars. Our education programs are very interactive.

Q: How many students come through? How many visitors do you get?

A: On our school-year schedule, we see 100 students a day every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We reserve those days for students. Friday, Saturday and Sundays are for the public. Right now, now through Sept. 1, we’re still on our summer schedule and open Wednesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. You can see our schedule and get information at www.gofisheducationcenter.com. Go to Visit Us. On our three-day weekends we usually have 250 to 300 people. Of course it can be more or less. A few weekends ago there was a 6-year-old girls softball tournament in town and we had over 600 girls, coaches and families in.

Q: Can people fish at Go Fish? Seems like a natural.

A: Oh yeah. We have a catch and release pond that falls under the education program. We supply gear if needed or people can bring their own.

Q: Are people guaranteed a catch?

A: Guaranteed? I can’t say guaranteed, but I will say this: The odds are good. Twice a year, October and March, people can keep a certain number of what they catch. At various times we stock catfish, hybrid striped bass, bluegill brim and trout. Adults have to have an appropriate fishing license, which they can get here or online. Children don’t.

Q: There’s a lot to do. What’s admission?

A: Seems like everybody finds something to do. We have groups from the students to senior groups, daycare groups, families, individuals and all sorts of people from all over dropping in from the interstate. Someone asked to see the evaluation sheets teachers do after visits and when they looked at them they asked to see the negative ones also. We had to say they had them all, they’re just weren’t negative ones. Public admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors 65 or older, children 3 to 12 are $3 and kids 2 and under are free.

Q: What’s the most popular display?

A: I’d say our alligators. It’s so unusual to see alligators close up, safely. We also have a favorite fish: Bessy. She’s an 11-year-old largemouth bass and a beautiful example of one. I believe all animals have personalities but — I don’t know what it is about Bessy — she has an unusually endearing personality. She’ll follow you around at the glass and she comes up to little kids and just waves and waves with her fins. She’s inquisitive.

Go Fish Education Center is located just off Interstate 75, Exit 134, just south of the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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