By Ford Walpole

Catching fish is fun and catch-and-release is rewarding. For the sporting conservationist, helping with a fish-stocking project furthers the sustainability of a passion. Recently, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released young spot-tailed bass, also known as red drum, redfish or channel bass into the lake at the James Island County Park and the peninsula’s Colonial Lake.

Phil Maier, DNR director of Coastal Reserves and Outreach, told me about the opportunity that DNR advertised on social media. On April 13, friends of DNR showed up at the James Island County Park while park visitors walked over to join the fun. My son Ned and I accompanied local Boy Scout Troop 88 in the exciting effort.

Several young women known as the “Drum Daughters” were especially interested. Their captain, Darcy Hill, learned of the event from her brother Drew, operations manager at the park. Darcy, Christin Kruger, Mandy Henderson, Stephanie Carson, Shelby McCarthy, Sandy Jones and Melissa Cole all fish together any chance they get. Darcy, Kristin and Mandy are sponsored by KastKing, a new company specializing in fishing products; Darcy is an angler consultant while Mandy and Kristin are brand ambassadors.

The fish were released as part of the DNR Marine Stock Enhancement Program, which began in the late 1980s. Biologist Karl Brenkert boasts that DNR “now annually stocks over a million red drum in coastal waters.” These conservation efforts are financed by the proceeds of the S.C. saltwater fishing license program. Specifically, this stocking project is “a preliminary investigation of the feasibility of using coastal lake systems to increase fishing opportunities and access for youth and shore-based anglers,” Brenkert tells us. As Maier points out, “Not everybody has a boat, after all.”

Brenkert relays the interesting tale of the stock fish. “Adult broodstock are collected in Charleston Harbor through long-line surveys and are transported to DNR’s Marine Resources Research Institute (MRRI) on James Island. Fish are spawned in spawning systems and newly hatched larvae are transported to the Waddell Center in Bluffton, where they are stocked in outdoor nursery ponds for the first 30 days. By this time, they are one-to-two inches in length, which is the size we typically release.”

Fish travel to the release site in a hauling trailer that Mark Conrardy has artfully decorated. Releasing them is not as simple as opening a valve. Brenkert continues: “To reduce stress and increase the survival of the hatchery fish, staff members spend a good deal of time acclimating the fish to the local water conditions. Acclimation is achieved by slowly replacing the water in the trailer with the water from the release location. Red drum can handle a wide range of salinities, but it would be a shock to drop them directly into waters with different salinities.”

Once the fish are acclimated, the volunteers help record measurements and weights and assist with netting fish from the trailer tanks and emptying them into the lake. DNR schedules stocking during the spring and fall, when ideal water temperatures are between 70-75 degrees. These particular fish were spawned during fall of 2016 and will reach the legal limit of 15” by next fall.

About 1,300 spottails between four and six inches were stocked at the James Island County Park. Randy Woodard, the general manager of the James Island County Park, is “excited about the fish release. The pond was previously stocked with bass, bream, carp and catfish. The introduction of red drum will afford families a better fishing experience. My hope is to see more families enjoying this recreational opportunity.”

On April 19, another 2,800 red drum found a home in Charleston’s recently renovated Colonial Lake. “Fishing has been an essential part of Charleston commerce and culture since William Sayle first dropped anchor off the Carolina coast in April of 1670,” reflects city spokesperson Cameron Wolfsen. “That’s why we were so genuinely excited to work with DNR to expand fishing opportunities for this generation of Charlestonians, with the release of nearly 3,000 fish in Colonial Lake. We’re grateful to DNR for making this project possible and look forward to even better fishing days ahead for our citizens.”

Robert Wiggers, a marine biologist who leads the DNR stock team, reports on a follow-up study: “A month later, we tested Colonial Lake by simply fishing the lake for an hour. Four of us caught around 17 red drum in that time period. The fish are still very small, six-to-eight inches and at that size, they are difficult to hook without a tiny hook. We’ll continue to monitor both lakes through the summer to evaluate fishing activity, which we hope increases as word gets out.”

Several weeks after the release, Drum Daughters Darcy Hill and Christin Kruger, who assisted with both stocking projects, returned to Colonial Lake to try their luck. Darcy describes the venture: “Christin and I and one of our fellow KastKing co-workers from Philadelphia fished Colonial Lake and those micro-puppy-guppy drum were hitting like a ton of bricks! They would almost instantly nail any bait that hit the water! As none of us had ever really fished Colonial Lake, I put out experimental bait on a KastKing trifecta (KastKing rod, reel and line) with a monster piece of cut bait on a huge circle hook.

“We fished for a few hours before our 8:00 p.m. downtown dinner reservations, but just as we were packing up to leave, the KastKing trifecta started to sing! We landed a huge bull red and attracted quite the crowd.”

Of course, Darcy and her friends plan to return to Colonial Lake. DNR, Charleston County Parks, the City of Charleston and the volunteers all hope the girls have some company. Fishing at parks requires no insider knowledge about secret spots and angling from the shore is simple and relaxing. So get out there and try your luck!

 

Ford Walpole lives and writes on John’s Island and is the author of many articles on the outdoors. He teaches English at James Island Charter High School and the College of Charleston and may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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