April 19, 2016
If you're like most anglers, you've spent some recent time peeking at message boards or other online fishing reports, talking with friends about places they've fished and thinking about your own outings. Spring has long since sprung and summer is coming on quickly, so it's time think seriously about summer fishing plans.
If vacation days are precious and you wish you could use them for fishing and for spending time with family while school is out, a good strategy is to plan a family fishing vacation. In setting such a plan, though, understand that your regular fishing spots might not be thew best places to go.
If your children are young or if fishing is not a major priority for all, it's important to pick a destination that offers easy access, lends itself to basic techniques and likely success, and offers appeals that extend beyond fishing.
With such thoughts in mind, we've selected a handful of destinations in different parts of the state that lend themselves nicely to family fishing vacations.
MYRTLE BEACH PIERS
Beaches and vacations go together, as do oceans and angling opportunities. Saltwater fish of many sorts can be accessed by boat or from the surf, but one of the best ways to tap into good fishing is to walk out onto a pier.
Piers obviously get you away from the beach and to deeper water without need for a boat and provide structure for the fish. Just as important for family outings, it's easy to tote stuff out and set up comfortably for a day of fishing.
Plus, piers get fished a lot during the summer, so current information is easy to gather. Ask about rigs and baits when you pay your pier fee or buy bait at a local shop, and don't be shy about asking questions of other pier fishermen. Most will gladly help, especially when you're out there with your family.
Good pier fishing opportunities are scattered along the entire South Carolina coast, but the best concentration of long ocean-side piers is in the Myrtle Beach area. A pier listing compiled by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources lists seven piers in Horry County, and all are on the Atlantic Ocean and between 660 and 1206 feet in length. Ask in local bait shops which pier has produced the best recent bite.
Many techniques work well for fishing piers, and the best approach truly depends on your family dynamic and the ways you like to fish. The easiest productive fishing for most family groups is a stationary approach with two-hook bottom rigs (available at any coastal bait shop) and baited with bloodworms, frozen shrimp, squid or whatever is recommended locally. Spots, whiting and flounder are among the many species that might bite.
If you or someone in your group favors a more active approach, casting or jigging a spoon or a jighead rigged with plastic tail and possibly tipped with bait can be extremely effective for various species. Fast presentations, high in the water column, tend attract fast fish like mackerel, while slow bottom pretentions are more likely to produce flounder.
Keep in mind, too, that all pier positions aren't equal, and that farthest out isn't always best (although it can be). Look for clues, like the point where waves break and where you see baitfish, and don't be shy about moving occasionally if the fish don't cooperate at the spot you are fishing.
Most piers charge a fee that includes licensing. To fish from a pier that does not charge a fee or have a pier permit, a saltwater license is required.
Along The Way
Whether your family prefers ocean splashing and beach sunning; walking a quiet nature trail in Myrtle Beach State Park or kayaking in the marsh; or amusements like miniature golf, music shows, midway rides and waterpark slides, you'll find plenty to do in Myrtle Beach. Planning at home (visitmyrtlebeach.com), before it's all in front of you, can help you prioritize and spare you from getting overwhelmed.
OCONEE STATE PARK
If you want to vacation in the mountains, consider a fishing weekend at Oconee State Park, which is located in Oconee County in the northwestern corner of the state. Two small lakes within the park put family-friendly fishing options in immediate reach, and nearby destinations provide additional opportunities and nice variety.
The two lakes within the park cover 20 and 12 acres and offer a traditional warm-water, small-lake mix of bass, bluegills and channel catfish. Trout also get stocked during the cool months, but those are generally gone by summer vacation time. Private boats are not permitted on the lakes, but the park offers inexpensive rental boats. Foot access, which includes banks and a fishing pier, is good.
Whether you camp or stay in a cabin, you'll have fishing in your back yard because the cabins are on one lake and the campground is on the other. For the simplest and most dependable action, set up your youngest anglers with basic bobber rigs and live crickets and cast around shallow cover.
If your crew wants to try for something larger, switch to small treble hooks, no bobbers and just enough weight to get the bait to the bottom, and bait the trebles with chicken livers for channel catfish. Cast out a few lines and wait.
You might have to move a few times to find the cats. If no rod tips jiggle in 15 or 20 minutes, move to another spot that's either shallower or deeper. Eventually you should land baits close enough to the cats that they can "follow their whiskers" and find you.
Bass can be caught by walking the bank or renting a boat, but the boating approach certainly allows you to hit more spots and gain better casting angles. Typical pond strategies for fairly clear water work. A good approach at Oconee is to downsize, using spinning tackle and Beetle Spins, Rooster Tails and similar offerings for a bass/bluegill mix.
If catfish action is a major attraction, plan an outing to Go Fish!, a pay-to-fish destination that is located about 25 miles south of Oconee State Park. Go Fish! has two lakes that are stocked with four kinds of cats, including fish up to 60 pounds. No license is required, but daily fees are charged for adults and children.
Yet another nearby alternative is to do a little wading or bank fishing for trout in the Chattooga River or its East Fork. The East Fork is regularly stocked near the Walhalla Fish Hatchery, and the Chattooga gets stocked through the summer near the Burrells Ford and Highway 28 bridges.
Along The Way
Places to play abound in the Oconee State Park area. The Chattooga River is world-class whitewater rafting destination, and trails that lead to waterfalls or parallel the river lace its corridor. A trail that parallels the East Fork of the Chattooga River begins and ends at the Walhalla Fish Hatchery, where you can see fish being raised for stocking.
The state park itself also has hiking trails, paddle boat rentals, a miniature golf course and more. For information, visit upcountrysc.com
SANTEE COOPER COUNTRY
When folks think about fishing on lakes Marion and Moultrie, most think about things like drifting or anchoring for giant cats, chasing striper schools, or working the swamps in a bass boat for largemouths. That's certainly understandable, but those aspects are only part of the story. The Santee Cooper lakes also provide outstanding opportunities for simple and easily accessible fishing.
Several fish camps and parks around the lakes have fishing piers that provide fine platforms for targeting catfish and various panfish. Additional shore access exists in various places, including Santee State Park, some fish camps and the Re-Diversion Canal.
Cut shad or herring, which is available from most fish camps and stores around the lakes, works well for catfishing from the shore or a dock. Small bait pieces will produce more action. Most fish will weigh less than 10 pounds, but any catfish that bites in the Santee Cooper lakes could turn out to be a giant.
If the cats won't cooperate or your children are a little small for the size of fish they could encounter, a good alternative for dock fishing is to present red worms on split shot rigs just off the bottom and straight down for a mix of panfish species.
Although Moultrie's openness and Marion's size and flooded forests can be intimidating, major creeks that feed Marion, like Big Poplar, Jacks, Eutaw and Tawcaw, and backwaters around both lakes, can be approached like separate, smaller waterways if you do want to fish from a boat.
Bass, crappie, bluegills and channel catfish all offer good prospects in creeks and backwaters, and rental boats that range from canoes to pontoons are available from several fish camps.
The "Lakeside Facilities" page at santeecoopercountry.com includes a map that shows the locations of 40 different sites around the lakes and listings for each that tell which ones have piers, boat rentals and more. The Santee Cooper Country website also offers current fishing reports, a listing of guides, information about lodging and more.
Along The Way
A good way to enjoy the wild side of Santee Cooper Country is to take a swamp tour with Fisheagle Tours (fihseagle.net). These pontoon tours start at Santee State Park and go way up the river and into the swamp, where you're likely see shorebirds, migratory birds, alligators and much more. Other cool places to explore include Cypress Gardens near Moncks Corner and the fish hatchery at the Dennis Wildlife Center.
CHERAW STATE PARK
Located near neither the beach nor the mountains, Cheraw State Park sometimes gets overlooked. To miss this gem of a park, though, is a major mistake. Cheraw is built around Lake Juniper, a beautiful, 360-acre lake that is lined with cypress trees and big stands of lily pads. The lake's dark waters support good populations of largemouth bass, crappie, bluegills and channel catfish.
Lake Juniper is large enough to provide room to explore but small enough that it's not hard to figure out where the fish should be. Plus, the lake usually won't get rough from wind. This lake also is an excellent small-boat destination because of a 10-horsepower motor limit that keeps boat wakes to a minimum. A small boat works nicely for working among the cypress trees, and the park rents canoes, kayaks and johnboats for $30 per day.
A 1/2-mile boardwalk along the edge of the lake provides a really nice fishing platform for family outings. Bobbers, small hooks and red worms or crickets will to the job for bluegills from the boardwalk. Jigs or minnows work better for catching crappie.
If your family opts to fish from a boat, have everyone focus on visible cover, especially edges of lily pad stands and the trunks and knees of cypress trees. Have them pitch small jigs, spinners or ultralight crankbaits for crappie, bluegills and bass, or stick with bigger baits like plastic worms and frogs to specifically target the lake's largemouths.
Early or late in the day, a Rebel Micro Popper is a really good bet for bluegills or bass, and its single barbless hook makes it safe for the youngest anglers in your crew.
Cheraw State Park participates in the SCDNR's Tackle Loaner Program, so if you need to borrow a rod and reel or two for your children, they can help
Along The Way
Hiking trails in Cheraw State Park wind through an extensive longleaf pinelands, which are home to red-cockaded woodpeckers. Other park offerings include a championship 18-hole golf course, a bike trail, a swimming area in the lake, and a large playground in a natural setting.
Overnight options in the park include cabins and a campground. Visit southcarolinaparks.com for more information.