Fun fishing trips for the family abound in South Carolina -- all you have to do is pick the best one for your family members. These suggestions will give you some help doing just that. (June 2006)
Summertime is an ideal time for the family to enjoy the bounties of our lakes and rivers in South Carolina. Without a doubt, we have the climate and fishing opportunities for an entire family to enjoy a day or weekend of fishing.
However, take it from one who has been involved in planning and conducting family fishing trips for a long time. The key to success in any family fishing endeavor is strategy. First, you've got to go to a place that offers excellent fishing. In my definition of "excellent" for family fishing, I'm looking at "head count" in terms of numbers of fish being more important than simply big sizes of fish. If you can get a bit of both, and we'll point you in that direction when possible, then you're way ahead of the game.
A key to the success of any family fishing adventure is having a backup plan . . . and a backup plan for your backup plan. Thus armed, you can cope with about anything that comes along, regardless of the ages of your kids. When you combine kids, parents, other adults and lots of fish, you have the basic recipe for a fun-filled day.
First, when planning a family fishing adventure, regardless of where you go, bring food . . . plenty of food. Unless your family doesn't have any youngsters, you'll need food as a diversion. In addition, during the summer months in South Carolina, I'd also insist the kids bring swimsuits and maybe even some shoes for getting out and walking along the shoreline.
With the basics now discussed, it's time to find some great places for family fun.
Panfishing is always a great way to ensure family fun. Typically, when you have kids and adults in the same boat or fishing along the same stretch of shoreline, you need to have a lake that produces plenty of fish in many different manners.
Once such place that I've used for years for family outings is Lake Wateree. There are numerous public access areas if you have a boat to launch and fish from. Even if you don't, most of these public ramps offer good shoreline fishing. The Lake Wateree State Park offers excellent opportunities for weekend camping/fishing trips as well as shoreline fishing opportunities.
If you have a boat, all you need to do is find a rocky shoreline that tumbles from the shoreline down to 8 to 12 feet deep. Arm yourself with rods or poles baited with crickets and worms and slowly work along the shoreline of these steeper banks.
If I have small children in the boat, I'll plan to do most of the baiting up myself, which can be a fast-paced chore on this lake. While Lake Wateree doesn't have the size of bream that some other lakes have, it does make up for it in numbers. It would be unusual indeed to fish long on this lake and not get plenty of action from bream during the summer months. Crickets are the quickest and easiest bait and will produce plenty of bream and the occasional catfish. And I'll usually rig a couple of rods with a gob of worms and fish them in the deeper water off the backside of the boat. This typically results in occasional hookups with larger channel catfish, which abound in this lake. It's not unusual to hook into a few catfish in the 3- to 5-pound class, and sometimes much larger, during the course of a day of fishing.
Another technique is to anchor in a cove that has 10 to 15 feet of water and randomly cast lines around the boat. Put some on the bottom with flat lines -- use rod holders if you have them -- using only small split shot for weight. On other rigs, use floats. Typically, you'll get plenty of action from one method or the other, from the deep or perhaps from the shallower water areas. Once you get a pattern on the fish, you can then focus your efforts.
If you and your family are shoreline fishing, you can randomly cast lines off the shoreline in the same way. Put some on the bottom, some with floats. Again, the successful pattern is the manner in which you'll want to eventually work all the rigs.
Another of my favorite family trips is to actually go to the coast and enjoy the fishing and crabbing opportunities there. Probably the area we've frequented the most over the years is the area around Folly Beach, just south of Charleston. There's a great beach as well as a big public boat-launching ramp just as you get onto Folly Island.
However, the basic idea of what I'm about to describe can be applied to practically any coastal area along South Carolina. The key is to fish for a smorgasbord of fish using shrimp as bait and to rig some crab lines with chicken backs. This is the double whammy approach that will generally keep the entire family busy either fighting fish or pulling in blue crabs. That's a perfect recipe for a great family fishing trip.
If possible, I'll use a boat simply because it does enable me to change locations if the fish are not biting at one spot. If you can anchor near the point of a creek and the river or along a shallow sandbar that drops into the river or deep saltwater creek, you'll be in business. You do need to note whether the tide is rising or falling and anchor your boat accordingly.
Rig some lines and cast the shrimp out around the boat in a fanlike fashion, generally toward the deeper water. I'll also drop some chicken backs, tied to some twine and just enough weight to sink the chicken to the bottom. Usually, we'll drop those under the boat or toss the lines toward the shallow water. Of course, tie the crab line to something in the boat.
Among the many species of fish that will bite the shrimp, which can include redfish and speckled trout, and the crabs on the hand lines, you'll have plenty going on. If you haven't crabbed like this before, it's simple. Simply give the chicken a few minutes to attract crabs, and if they're in the area, they'll be attracted to it. Slowly pull the line in, hand over hand, until you can see the piece of chicken and the crabs clinging to it. Use a dip net to swoop the crabs up and into the cooler. It's not unusual to catch a couple dozen blue crabs in this manner during a day, sometimes a lot more. For family adventures, it can be a great source of entertainment as well as great eating later on. Typically, with shrimp as bait, the fish will generally bite very well and between the two, along with the food, there should be fun for all.
If things do get slow, don't hesitate to pull onto a beach and let everyone walk and look for shells. That can be an excellent change of pace and it has always added good memories to our fish trips on the Folly River.
Lake Edgar Brown is a great destination for several reasons. One, it has excellent fishing for a variety of
species of fish. Second, it's quite accessible and finally it offers great shoreline fishing opportunities.
Situated in downtown Barnwell, Lake Edgar Brown is a 100-acre lake managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). The lake provides outstanding bream, crappie and catfish action.
In fact, it's one area where family members, if they're all old enough to use bass tackle, can have a reasonably good chance to catch some largemouth bass on the family trip. This is especially true early and late in the day.
This excellent fishery is in large part due to the rejuvenation of the lake through the SCDNR staff that monitors the lake. Long recognized as a fertile body of water, a severe fish-overcrowding problem plagued the lake years ago. However, proper management has turned the entire situation around and now the lake offers exceptional fishing opportunities for several fish species.
When I fished this lake, Chris Thomason, SCDNR fisheries biologist working the lake, said Lake Brown receives a large amount of shoreline fishing primarily because of this easy access to potentially productive water.
"On nice days in the spring, summer and fall, it's common to see dozens of people lining the dike and most of them will be having decent luck with a variety of fish species," Thomason said.
A state road also bisects the lake and there are regulations regarding lake use on either side of that road.
Lake Brown is uniform in depth, ranging from 3 to 9 feet deep, with relatively little bottom contour or structure on the bottom.
If you wish to bass fish, the topwater lures and plastic worms are excellent choices. But for a more relaxed fishing style with the family, use live bait for best results. There are some very good-sized bream and catfish in the lake, so don't be surprised if you hook into a big fish or two along the way.
I know Lake Murray is getting a lot of publicity these days, but the bottom line is the lake is very productive. With the water back in the lake now for a couple of years, the shallow-water cover has been a real boon for panfish species. On any given day, especially if you have a boat, you can work around this shoreline growth with worms, crickets and minnows and literally catch a smorgasbord of bream, catfish and crappie. Plus, it's easy fishing for the most part.
In addition, Lake Murray has a big state park that offers great access to many shoreline fishing opportunities, as well as picnic areas. Also, there are many pubic-use areas that have very good shoreline fishing. Because of the regrowth of weeds while the lake was down, shoreline fishing can be a bit challenging from some areas. The key to the productivity of this lake is that it has a bumper crop of panfish species right now that make for great family fishing trips.
Lake Greenwood is another place I'd suggest for a family trip. Greenwood is a great crappie lake and also has plenty of bream and catfish to boot. Here, one option would be to go on a family fishing trip at night. This is one that is best if you don't have real young kids. But once the kids are 10 to 12 years old or older, this can be a great family adventure.
Younger children probably won't be able to stay up late enough during the summer for the lights to attract the fish to the bait. But kids in double-digit ages will generally stay fired up long after the sun goes down. If you have a big enough boat, or better yet, a pontoon, you can anchor along a steep shoreline or over the river channel and fish under the lights. Summertime can be a prime time to fish at night for crappie on this lake, and the simple excitement of nighttime fishing can be a real thrill for the entire family.
The rigging is simple enough: Just put rods out all around the boat, fishing around the lights. There are lanterns you can use or you can use the "green" lights that run off 12-volt batteries. These lights are easy to use and are outstanding in terms of fish attracting. They don't create the glare associated with the regular lights and they certainly do attract fish. This has become my light of choice over the past few seasons.
You will need to establish a depth pattern, but once you see what depth the fish are biting, just get everyone to focus in on that depth. You don't have to stay all night, although that is a good option if you have a pontoon where folks can sleep if they wish. Often three or four hours will be plenty for everyone and you'll have plenty of crappie in the boat.
A final family trip is to our favorite local fishing pond. Most of us know someone who has a big pond that is full of bream, catfish or bass. This has been the scene for many enjoyable family fishing trips for our clan. If the kids are old enough to wander alone, they can work around the pond freely while you help the youngsters from a spot with easy access to the water. Usually, by bottom-fishing or with floats, you'll be able to catch plenty of bream and catfish.
I recall one such trip where we caught many fish by several different methods.
The pond we chose to fish first was about three acres in size. The pond did offer a variety of structures and cover types, including weedbeds, shallow-water stumps, a deep hole, a gravel bar with deep water on two sides and some shallow-water brushpiles.
Who could ask for more?
My spouse began the fish catching with a chunky bass taken from about 8 feet of water on a plastic worm, while I helped one of the youngsters hook up a cricket.
Two other youngsters worked the shoreline with crickets and small casting rigs. Every couple of minutes one of them would go "whoop!" and proudly hold up another big bream. As the afternoon progressed, my wife and I alternated with the youngest and helped her catch a few bream, while the other one worked on the bass population. By the time darkness fell, we'd caught a big mess of bream, a couple of catfish and several largemouth bass. Everybody was happy, we had plenty of fish for supper and a great family fishing trip to remember.
No, not all family fishing trips have turned out as good as that one, but with a bit of planning about what age kids were going, we've been able to enjoy a lot of fun-filled fishing adventures through the years. There's scarcely anywhere in the state that won't produce a good trip, but these places are certainly among the best bets you can find. This summer, make your family fishing plans and enjoy the best of both . . . family and fishing at the same time.