The small town of Newborn in eastern Newton County celebrates an unlikely local resident every April: the lowly hornyhead fish. The annual Hornyhead Fish Festival features a fishing tournament with real prizes and a day filled with springtime entertainment.
Most people snicker at its name upon hearing about the hornyhead fish for the first time. Then they wonder, “What exactly is a hornyhead fish, and why on earth did Newborn dedicate a whole festival to these silly named swimmers?”
Hornyhead fish, or hornyhead chubs, are members of the minnow family. Their scientific name is Nocomis biguttatus, and they generally only grow to between five and seven inches in length—although some will grow longer. As its name indicates, the male fish have clusters of tiny horns on their heads. Scientists say the purpose of the horns, or tubercles, is to attract a mate. Outside the town of Newborn, they are primarily used as bait fish. However, hornyhead fish are celebrated at the Newborn Schoolhouse each spring.
The Hornyhead Fish Festival evolved from the actions of a rural Newton County mail carrier, Albert Ozburn Jr. He fondly remembered his own childhood experiences, heading to the fishing hole with a cane pole, hook and a can of worms. Ozburn started checking stream crossings for ideal fishing holes as he delivered mail from the Newborn Post Office. He wanted a new generation to enjoy the simple sport of creek fishing and began taking kids out to fish for hornyhead on spring Saturdays.
Buddy Rowe, a taxidermist who had relocated to Newborn from Atlanta, heard about the fishing trips and thought they were a great idea. He felt the trips should be opened to everyone on one set day each spring, so in 1988, the first Newborn Hornyhead Festival was held, with about 200 guests in attendance. The event has grown yearly. Today, over 1,000 guests enjoy the festival every April.
“I just enjoy the people and watching people have fun. I think it’s great when a community can come together and have a good time.”Christine Hurst
The highlight of the event is the fishing tournament. Around 30 to 40 people sign up to catch the prizewinning hornyhead fish. There are four divisions with corresponding fees. Children up to 10 years old pay $5 to enter the contest. The youth division is for kids between the ages of 11 and 15, and their fee is $10 per person. Adults aged 16 and over also pay $10 to join the tournament while families of four can compete for a flat $20 fee.
Winning catches must be turned in by noon and kept in an aquarium during the contest. Judges choose a winner by awarding six points for each inch in length and one point for each horn. Winners in each division and an overall winner are announced at 12:30 p.m. All winners receive a trophy, and the fish are released back into the local streams. The 2022 tournament champion, Mansfield’s Levi Whitaker, caught a hornyhead that was 7.5 inches long and sported nine horns on its head.
Christine Hurst serves as the publicity representative for the Hornyhead Festival. Despite being the seventh generation of her family to live on the same plot of land in McDonough, she sold it and moved to Newborn when Henry County’s traffic became unbearable. She fell in love with Newborn’s laid-back, rural vibe and grew eager to get involved with local events.
“I just enjoy the people and watching people have fun,” Hurst said. “I think it’s great when a community can come together and have a good time.”
Hurst and the rest of the festival planning committee schedule a great deal of fun for each event. The festival can host up to 40 vendors, selling everything from jewelry to candles. Multiple food vendors offer a variety of delectable treats from which to choose, and there is often live music. The festival includes a car show, a hula hoop contest, a fire truck and a police car. Each year, a new official hornyhead T-shirt design is available for purchase.
The Newborn Schoolhouse Community Volunteers encourage festivalgoers to come inside the schoolhouse to see the small hornyhead fish museum. It features mounted fish, hats, T-shirts and other memorabilia from the Hornyhead Festival’s 30-plus years of existence. The museum also includes photos and artifacts from the Historic Newborn Schoolhouse and its predecessor, the Palmyra Institute.
The historic building is located on Hwy 142 in Newborn. It dates back to 1924 and served as an active school until the mid-1950s. After that, it was used as a community center and is now available for rental for weddings and other private events.
For information on the Hornyhead Fish Festival, visit www.hornyheadfishfestival.com. For details on the Historic Newborn Schoolhouse, visit www.newbornga.com/schoolhouse or call 770-786-1660.