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OUTDOORS: A so-so day is part of fishing

BY KEN PERROTTE / THE FREE LANCE-STAR

JUDGING BY the number of boats on the Saluda River, just west of Lake Murray’s 50,000 acres, expectations were high for loading stringers with pre-spawn, slab-sized crappies.

A lot of things can mess with expectations, especially when fishing.

I was down in Columbia, S.C., for a conference last week. Working in a local outdoors experience is always high on the travel agenda and having monster-sized Lake Murray a few miles away seemed like a good opportunity.

The lake was created in the 1920s to provide hydroelectric power and in its early years was the largest man-made reservoir in the world. Today, it’s probably better known for its freshwater striper fishing, but I figured with spring rapidly arriving in South Carolina, crappie fishing could be heating up.

Longtime fishing guide Brad Taylor grew up on the lake and crappie fishes all winter long. I met him at a dock on a tributary of the Saluda River, which feeds Lake Murray.

Fishing for crappie in southerly states such as Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina makes for an interesting comparison with the crappie angling typically seen around our region. Boats with special rod holders capable of holding about eight 12-foot rods each at both stern and bow are not uncommon there.

“You can put out as many lines as you can handle,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s custom-built 21-foot boat was rigged for crappie. His excellent sideview fish-locating Humminbird graph gave sharp images of what might be hanging about bridge pilings and docks.

The plan, though, was to mainly fish the creeks of the Saluda River. A heavy storm had pounded the area a few days before and the water was high and looked a little muddy. Fishing had been tough. Taylor caught a few nice fish on his morning trip, but expected the afternoon to be a challenge. We went back to where he’d found fish in the morning.

“A little crowded,” I thought aloud, counting 10 boats slowing trolling or drifting through the area. “There were 30 out here this morning,” Taylor countered.

“Fish are scattered now. You can still catch a few trolling or tight-lining this time of year, but this isn’t my favorite,” he continued. He added that post-spawn fish in May congregate back into schools and when you find them, it’s possible to catch 300 fish a day. In late February, Taylor said bridge pilings can hold incredible amounts of fish.

Lake Murray’s concrete bridge pilings have fisherman-friendly mooring hooks imbedded in them, allowing boats to tie up.

The limit is 20, down from 30 four years ago, with an 8-inch minimum to be a keeper. A trophy fish is anything from 2 pounds and up. Fish in the 1–2 pound range are common when you find them, he said.

We trolled the channel for a couple hours, boating a couple white crappie in the 8–10 inch range.

“Clear-water fish want to be in the shade and muddy-water fish want to be in the sun, especially in the spring when it’s cooler,” Taylor shared.

Surface water temperatures were in the low 50s and crappie usually hold off on spawning until the water nears 60 degrees.

Slow fishing affords plenty of time for talking. We talked duck and deer hunting. Taylor shared stories similar to experiences we’ve encountered in Virginia, where pressure to eradicate invasive lake grasses like hydrilla and milfoil resulted in aggressive steps that likely pleased non-fishing summer pleasure boaters but decimated fish and waterfowl habitat.

Our last stop as the sun began setting was a spot he called “Big Fish Ditch,” a small creek with some submerged structure. No takers. As we passed bridge pilings on the way back to the dock, friendly queries with other anglers revealed it had been slow going for everyone. Unless you’re fishing by submerging electrical current or exploding quarter-length sticks of dynamite in the water, you’ve got to learn to temper expectations and take the slow days with the go–go days. That’s fishing.

If you want to check out Lake Murray for either crappie or stripers, reach Taylor through his website: tayloroutdoors.com.

TOP 100 GAME FISH

I rarely refer readers to content in other publications, but a recent listing in Sport Fishing Magazine of the top 100 game fish around the world is exceptionally well done, with wonderful photos, narrative background on each fish and a global map showing distribution of the species.

To compile the listing, editors surveyed top anglers and boat captains around the world, including Dr. Ken Neill III of Yorktown, a dentist who seemingly spends as much time on the water as he does working inside patients’ mouths.

Neill and the other evaluators completed spread sheets that rated each fish for which they have personal experience. Fish were evaluated on such attributes as their strength, stamina, aerial acrobatics, sight-casting qualities and more.

It was fun to see where popular target species for Virginia anglers placed in the evaluation.

Not surprisingly, Neill’s top-rated fish, the blue marlin, was rated the top fish overall, but the rating of many other fish in the top 50 was interesting. Plus, many in the top 50 are Southern Hemisphere fish that not everyone gets a chance to battle. The listing is a tutorial in the best opportunities for worldwide angling.

Check it out at sportfishingmag.com.

Ken Perrotte can be reached at The Free Lance–Star, 616 Amelia Street, Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, by fax at 373-8455 or e–mail

at outdoors@freelancestar.com.

For more on outdoors things to do around Fredericksburg and the region, sign up for The Free Lance–Star’s newest e-newsletter, Mighty Outdoors, at http://fredericksburg.com/topics/mightyoutdoors/about.html

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