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March/April 2021The Fishing HoleText By Joey Frazier Photos by Robert Clark

South Carolina’s lakes offer some of the best fishing tournament action in the country thanks to decades of SCDNR fisheries research, habitat management and stocking.

Two people fishing from a boat on lake Marion - photography by Robert ClarkBack in the mid-1960s, my grandparents had a few acres with a small farm pond in what was then rural Lexington County. My brother and I spent lots of time with Papa Gunter at the pond as young boys. We swam in one end and fished in the other. My grandmother, we called her Mammaw, did most of the fishing back then. It was her favorite fishing hole on summer weekends. After fishing and swimming, we would gather on the bank to devour sliced watermelons or home-churned ice cream and maybe even hot dogs. I thought it was paradise.

I remember, late one autumn, Papa drained the pond. Some men came with long nets; they waded through the water to corral an assortment of bream, catfish and bass — enough for a big fish fry with friends and extended family. Then there was a mud hole in front of the little weekend cabin.

To my young eyes, paradise truly was lost, but spring brought new hope. I went with Papa to buy fingerling fish to restock the pond. It was exciting to watch the barrels of water and little fish go into the water, and even more fun to go back with him on some evenings to throw fish food out around the point where Mammaw most liked to fish. Of course, it was a while before she was back on her fishing stool.

I didn’t know it then, but it was a good lesson in fisheries management. All the fun a farm pond brings, such as catching fish, came with great responsibility.

Today, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) Freshwater Fisheries section bears a large portion of that responsibility for the citizens of the Palmetto State — and Ross Self, the department’s chief of fisheries, leads the charge.

Two trees in Lake Marion - photography by Robert Clark

"Our staff monitors and manages fish populations through a variety of methods, including sampling populations and even interviewing anglers," said Self as he explained how his team is using this information to make recommendations to the SCDNR’s hatchery programs.

Success stories for the state freshwater fisheries programs are too numerous to list, but results of those successes are apparent by the recent regional and national attention coming to South Carolina from the Bassmaster organization.

According to a recent press release from the SCDNR, during the past year, 2020, Bassmaster named four South Carolina lakes as some of the nation’s Best Bass Lakes of the Decade based on tournament catch records and information on how agencies like the SCDNR manage major reservoirs in their states for both bass and other popular species. Santee Cooper placed in the Top Twenty-five in the national designation, while lakes Thurmond, Murray and Hartwell all scored spots in the southeastern regional lineup.

"It is great for the staff of the Freshwater Fisheries section to see their investment of time and energy in managing the fishery be recognized by a national organization and have such a positive light shown on the results of their efforts," said Self.

Since 2012, Bassmaster magazine has published a list ranking the top one hundred bass-fishing lakes in the nation based on data compiled from weigh-ins during the spring tournament-fishing season. During the 2020 season, no data was available due to the COVID-19 pandemic; so, the magazine’s editors gathered all the data at their disposal, such as catch records and fisheries management. Inclusion on the list is a nod to the planning, hard work and cooperative effort among the SCDNR, state lawmakers, local governments, tourism-promotion organizations and other stakeholders that goes into managing South Carolina’s major lakes and reservoirs.

Professional bass anglers on the Bassmaster trail, like Brandon Cobb of Greenwood, whole-heartedly agree with the Palmetto State’s recent honors.

"South Carolina’s fisheries are awesome bodies of water because of the diversity," Cobb said. "Traveling around the country, many lakes can be difficult to fish during certain times of the year. Our lakes vary in greatness of fishing, but there is always a way to have a successful day on the water in South Carolina."

Success can be measured in many ways. The value of the work done by the SCDNR’s fisheries staff is reflected in the tremendous economic impact this resource offers our state, according to Self, who estimates that impact at more than a billion dollars.

Cobb grew up fishing South Carolina waters and went on to fish with Clemson University’s bass fishing team during his college years. Today he travels around the country competing and making a living with a rod and reel.

"I guess I’m biased because I grew up in South Carolina, but I believe most pros love fishing in our state,"Cobb said. "We may not be known for giant bass, but the quality of our fisheries is well known among my peers."

Lake Murray Sunset - photography by Robert ClarkBoth Self and Cobb credit the SCDNR’s field staff who do the hands-on work to build and maintain excellent recreational fisheries.

"Our staff are spending more time and effort working on habitat enhancement in the state’s aging reservoirs" said Self. "Over the years, much of the structure that was in these reservoirs, flooded trees and stumps, have broken down and no longer provide the fish habitat they once did. We are starting projects in some areas to attempt to replace some of this habitat. This work will continue on and expand to additional areas as funding and resources become available."

After joining the Bassmaster tour, Cobb won his first professional tournament on Lake Hartwell in the South Carolina’s scenic Upstate.

"My win on Lake Hartwell will always be my most memorable victory," Cobb said. "Not only was it my first pro level win, but it was on my home lake."

Although more than five decades have rolled by, Papa Gunter’s little pond still provides enjoyment for new generations and new families. And, during that time, fisheries management has advanced and expanded around the entire state of South Carolina. I believe that both Ross Self and Brandon Cobb will agree that whether you fish for fun or fish for a living, the best part of the experience will always be the memories, and thanks to the SCDNR, there’s lots of good water in the Palmetto State where families can wet a hook.

Joey Frazier is editor of South Carolina Wildlife magazine.

South Carolina State Fishing Lakes

  • Dargan’s Pond – Darlington County
  • Draper WMA State Lakes – York County
  • Jonesville Reservoir – Union County
  • Lake Ashwood – Lee County
  • Lake Cherokee – Cherokee County
  • Lake Edgar Brown – Barnwell County
  • Lake Edwin Johnson – Spartanburg County
  • Lake George Warren – Hampton County
  • Lake John D. Long – Union County
  • Lake Oliphant – Chester County
  • Lake Paul Wallace – Marlboro County
  • Lake Thicketty – Cherokee County
  • Lancaster Reservoir – Lancaster County
  • Mountain Lake 1 & 2 – Chester County
  • Star Fort Pond – Greenwood County
  • Sunrise Lake – Lancaster County
  • *Webb Center Lakes – Hampton County
  • *Bonneau Ferry WMA Lake – Berkeley County

*Webb Center and Bonneau lakes are closed for fishing on scheduled hunt days.

Besides these State Fishing Lakes, there are many public access points for bank or pier fishing around the state. Go to https://www.dnr.sc.gov and click on the "Fishing" tab to find more information.


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Featured Video

Beech Bottom Falls, which opened in early 2019, is accessible through a trail located off F. Van Clayton Memorial Highway (where a parking area is located), on the way to Sassafras Mountain, in northern Pickens County, SC.