October 04, 2010
Looking for family vacation spots that include some fun fishing for both grownups and kids? Here are some of the best options across the state. (June 2009)
I've had the great pleasure to enjoy many fun-filled family fishing trips through the years in South Carolina. First, it was with my kids, now it's with my grandkids. It was fun then and it's still fun now -- in fact, it may be even more fun now. Certainly, we still take some of the same trips we enjoyed many years ago. But it's also fun to experiment and find different places and new adventures each year.
There are multitudes of family fishing possibilities in the Palmetto State, more than I think I can ever take advantage of. But my kids, grandkids and I will continue to try to notch as many trips as we can.
There are several opportunities that I consider very reliable when taking youngsters and family members fishing. When taking the family as a group event, my focus is on fun, enjoyment and fast-paced fishing activity. That equates to finding fish quickly and catching lots of them to ward off boredom. Also, take plenty of water, soft drinks and bags and bags of food.
We'll look at several possibilities and discuss the specifics of how you can enjoy a productive, fun family fishing trip. Some will be fresh water, but we'll certainly look at some saltwater opportunities as well.
One of the places that I rely on heavily and that I frequently recommend to others is the catfish angling on Lake Wateree.
Much has been written about the big blue catfish on this lake, but that's not the fishery for youngsters. The channel catfish are super-abundant in this lake, and along with the small blue catfish that often hang out in the same places, there are many fish available.
A great example of this fishery occurred last summer when my son Brian, granddaughter, Mya, and I went to Lake Wateree in search of a cooler full of catfish.
While I have great confidence in this lake, I did hedge my bet a bit. Mya does not get to fish often and they were down from Tennessee for a week. I wanted this trip to be productive, so I took some redworms and had rigged up a couple of rods specifically for bream or white perch. Both of those species will be found in the same areas I fish for the summertime catfish.
It's not a bad strategy to be ready to catch some "alternate" fish from any body of water when you take kids fishing, as long as the alternate fish has the chance of providing fast action.
We were on the water early and motored to the lower end of the lake. We anchored on a ledge that dropped from 10 feet deep down to 22 feet. A lot of shad were marked on the graph, also a very good sign.
I cast the catfish rigs out, about six of them. Just for insurance, I baited up the two bream/perch rods with redworms and had just got the second one in the water when a catfish rod near Mya bowed over.
I grabbed the rod and handed it to her.
"Wow, Papaw, this is a big fish," was her response as she struggled with the rod. It was a nice fish but not all that big, about 2 1/2 pounds, a good, average size for this lake. I looked to the back of the pontoon at Brian and he was hooked into another catfish. I had just got Mya's rod re-baited when the one beside it took a nosedive. She and Brian were both battling feisty catfish.
Essentially, that was the pace we kept for 30 minutes before we had a break in the action. We had 15 to 20 fish in the cooler before I remembered the abandoned redworm rigs. One rig had a bream that had been self-hooked and the other rig had a worn-out big white perch.
But we put those rods up; we were in catfish city and after about a five-minute break, round two began and the action was red-hot again. By mid-morning, Mya and Brian had literally caught all the fish they could handle. Brain quit counting the number of fish we caught when he reached 60. It made for a great fish fry later on as well.
The catfish at Wateree during the summer are fairly easy to predict. They'll hang out around humps and ledges near deep water. Our baits of choice were small chunks of chicken breast soaked in oil and Doc's Catfish Dip Bait. My biggest chore was to keep rods baited and in the water.
On this morning, we caught a big cooler of catfish in that one spot. Some days I may have to move around to a few places. But generally, the action will keep the entire family busy.
Our catfish haul for that day would be fairly typical when fishing for the channel catfish and smaller blues at Lake Wateree during the summer. The big blues will bite too, but much more patience is usually required.
The Lake Wateree State Park is a great place to stay if you want an extended fishing and camping trip on this lake. The Lake Wateree State Park has a launching ramp and camping facilities and is open from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. except during Daylight Saving Time when the park is open until 10 p.m. For more information on this park, call (803) 482-6401.
As a day trip, Lake Wateree is within easy driving distance for a lot of mid-state fishermen.
Another trip I took last summer was to the beach, where I found the fishing on some of the piers very conductive for family fishing. There are a lot of piers around the coast, but one of the more popular and productive is the Springmaid Pier in Myrtle Beach.
There is an excellent tackle shop at the pier in case you don't have all the tackle or equipment you need on hand. Plus, fishing licenses are not required when fishing from this pier. That does make it family friendly. The hours of operation for Springmaid Pier is 6 a.m. until midnight; the tackle shop closes at 9 p.m. There is a $1 fee to walk on the dock and a $7 fee to fish all day.
A few anglers will fish for big fish such as king mackerel from the piers with considerable success at times. That takes a bit more specialized rigging and patience than most families would want to invest in a short trip. However, for bottom-fishing, which is the recommended choice for a family group, the action can be quite lively at times, and there's a real diversity of fish species you can expect to catch.
There is real potential to catch a lot of different varieties of saltwater fish, but flounder, speckled trout, spots, black seabass and redfish are a few of the most frequently caught species.
With the ocean handy for everyone to cool off in from time to time, it's an excellent way to spend a great f
amily day. Fishing and swimming in the surf is a hard to beat combo during the summertime.
Far inland, Lake Hartwell is a great upstate family fishing opportunity. This lake is rather large, deep and clear, but there are plenty of fish just begging to be caught. One of the best things about Lake Hartwell is the different species of fish available. The bream fishery is very good and summertime is an excellent time for lots of bream as well as big bream. The catfish fishery is an under-utilized fishery as well. Fishing redworms off points will likely have you hooked into both bream and catfish.
During the midday heat, either jump in the lake and swim a while or move out to deeper water to fish. Early and late are the prime times to catch bream and catfish during the summer, but you can catch them in big numbers and very good sizes.
In addition, if you're interested in striper and hybrids, this can be among the best times of the year to hook into these big fish. Most of the hybrids will be in the 3- to 7-pound class and most of the stripers will run between 5 to 12 pounds. However, somewhat larger specimens of both species are likely to be caught at any time.
While live herring is the bait of choice for most of the professional guides on the lake, some fishermen score well by deep trolling. Additionally, early and late in the day, there is a potential for some topwater schooling fish.
The shad hold up predominantly in the lower end of the lake during the summer, and it's the lower half of the lake that seems to be the most productive at this time of the year.
If you really want to ensure a fun family trip, hire a striper guide. Not only will your chances of catching lots of fish improve, but also the guide will handle all the boat and baiting chores, so all that's left for you and the family to do is to fight the fish.
A top guide on this lake for stripers and hybrids is Chip Hamilton (Lake Hartwell Striper Guide Service at 864-304-9011864). Hamilton said that some of the biggest catches of fish of the entire year are made during the summer.
Another great family destination is Lake Murray. In addition to the excellent striper fishery, the lake has enjoyed a resurgent in panfishing over the past few years. Fisheries biologists report that the re-growth of vegetation along the shoreline from the last drawdown is still having a positive -- and profound -- effect on panfish.
The bream fishing continues to be outstanding in June. If you can locate deep-water brush or stumpfields and fish them with minnows, the crappie fishing is very good as well.
Lake Murray has also garnered a lot of attention in the past couple of years for its catfish, especially in the upper third of the lake.
We'll make one more trip to the coast to finish our family adventures. The area around Charleston is very visitor friendly and a great place to spend more than just a day if you desire. But the saltwater opportunities abound.
I recall on one trip the weather was so hot, the folks in my boat were becoming more than just a little bit crabby for comfort.
But fortunately, there's a good kind of crabby and we were really into that good kind of crabs on this particular day.
The high tide had peaked two hours earlier, the water was falling and we were in a small, undisturbed creek not far out of Charleston. We were catching blue crabs and catching them in rather big numbers.
We had several hand lines out, which were simply pieces of string tied to chicken backs (or legs and thighs since they're often so cheap to buy). The process is to pull them in slowly and then snatch the crabs up with a quick pull of a long-handled dip net before they let go of what had seemed to them to be a free chicken lunch.
We were also catching them in the small crab baskets. You tie bait to the bottom of a crab basket and the four sides open when the basket is lowered to the floor of the saltwater creek.
A string tied to the top of the small basket is anchored to something in the boat such as a cooler lid, steering wheel or anything that's semi-stationary (or if you are incredibly patient, I suppose you could hold it in your hand). After a few minutes of letting the trap sit still, during which crabs move into the basket to feed, a quick pull of the string raises the four sides of the trap and you may have from one to five crabs at a time. Put out four or five of these around the boat, along with the hand lines and you can see how things could get crabby in a hurry.
And I, for one, have no problem with that at all, especially knowing how much I would enjoy the taste of cooked crab once we got home.
If you've ever enjoyed the scrumptious taste of steamed blue crabs or deviled crab, then you know exactly what I mean.
The day was working out even better than I had originally planned. We had started the day on a dropping tide and had pulled the boat onto the beach, just around the point from the pounding surf. As the tide continued to drop, we walked along the beach and picked up scads of shells. We found everything from simple shells to completely intact sand dollars and essentially filled up a five-gallon bucket with a myriad of the colorful and plentiful shells.
I even managed to get in a bit of surf-fishing and caught some fish. I wasn't even planning on fishing, so it was really an unexpected bonus. But we did catch some redfish, black drum and trout.
On the rising tide, we managed to get in a bit of swimming while we were shelling and fishing and doing the beachcombing thing. Of course, we had to stop and eat . . . a couple of times.
So we stowed the fish and shells and began the real thrust of the day's adventure: the crabbing.
The first spot we tried was at the mouth of a small creek and the action was good, but we were catching a throwback crab for every good keeper. When the action slowed after about 20 minutes, we moved to another similar area and repeated the process, catching several good-sized keeper crabs -- then began catching those that required close measurement to ensure they were 5 inches long.
Finally, we found a place that really turned out to be the honeyhole. We were catching some really big crabs there and often catching two big keeper crabs at a time.
In fact, when things really got crabby, I had to forfeit my crabbing activity -- I was staying busy simply putting crabs in the cooler, getting traps prepared to go back in the water, dipping crabs for folks who needed assistance and retrieving crabs that somehow got loose and began scurrying around on the floor of the boat causing havoc and mayhem with the female population.
In general, I was basically doing things a crab boat flunky generally does. Some
of you may know what that entails. But I enjoyed it.
As noted, this is only a small list of the potential family fishing opportunities around our state. But these are proven places to take the family for an enjoyable and productive trip.
But I've always found that taking plenty of water and soft drinks along with ample amounts of food will help get the family through the day.