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SOUTH CAROLINA STRIPED BASS FISHING

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More than 300 pages dedicated to your favorite fish, the striped bass

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south carolina striped bass fishing

Fishing for Stripers and Hybrid Stripers in South Carolina

2006 DNR News release on Stockings in the Santee Cooper System
South Carolina striper fishing regulations Division of Natural resource

N.W.S. Marine Weather Forecasts

South Carolina Striped Bass Marine Record, 46-13 Combahee River 1993
Billy Wayne Chambers, Canady's

South Carolina Striped Bass Freshwater Record
59-8 Lake Hartwell 2002
Terry McConnell, Eastanolle, GA
Picture here

South Carolina Hybrid Striped Bass Record 20-6 pounds Savannah River 1978
Danny Wood, Commerce, Ga.

South Carolina Lakes link
Map of South Carolinas Striper System

Only two East Coast reservoirs have self-sustaining populations: the Kerr Reservoir in Virginia and North Carolina, and the Santee-Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina.
Striped bass are native to the ACE Basin. They belong to the southern strain and behave quite differently from their northern relatives. Southern fish, unlike northern fish, never leave their riverine environments. Northern fish spend a considerable amount of time in near-shore waters and then ascend the rivers to spawn. Striped bass in the ACE Basin never enter the ocean, and it is strongly suspected that they never leave the river in which they are born. Striped bass are found in all the large rivers of the ACE Basin, and they over-winter in the estuarine areas of these systems near the saltwater-freshwater interface. Summers are spent in the cooler waters of the upper river, where springs and a dense canopy of trees keep water temperatures lower. They are often found in deep holes in the river or around structures such as old pilings. In South Carolina you wont find any offshore migration of Striped Bass below (or South of) Nags Head, NC. True there stripers caught in the rivers in South Carolina, Georgia, and Northern Florida. These fish are called riverine stripers. They live their entire lives in the river systems that are unobstructed by dams. They range from the tidal waters in the upper ends of the estuaries in fall and winter to the shoals of the "fall Line" and the tailraces of upstream dams in spring and summer. Some of the populations in Georgia are supplemented by stocking programs but South Carolina's approach is to let the population naturally reproduce.
There are several studies available that were done by Clemson University graduate students that tracked the fish with radio telemetry. One of these studies was done in the ACE ( Ashepoo, Combahee, Edisto ) Basin in South Carolina. None of these rivers is dammed and none of them reach out of the coastal plain to the fall line. The fish were found to spawn in late winter and early spring DOWNSTREAM in the strong tidal currents near the Intracoastal Waterway and to spend their summers in the deep, cool, spring fed holes in the upper reaches of the rivers. Biologists can now tell a genetic difference in thes fish from river system to river system.
This has been an eye-opener to many of the long time striper fishermen that have fished for the river stripers for years. We read about the Outer Banks stripers, the Chesapeake Bay, The Roanoke River, and Long Island Sound. We just naturally thought for years that our stripers came in out of the ocean. Maybe they did thousands of years ago. But the piece of the puzzle that we now realize is that nobody ever sees huge schools of stripers off the South Carolina or Georgia coasts. They aren't caught offshore at any time during the year.

Bass from North Carolina and the Chesapeake Bay are known to undertake coastwide
migrations in addition to annual spawning migrations. They move north to
New England and Canada during early spring and return between September and
December. Bass inhabiting waters south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina,
typically do not take part in coastal migrations. Recent advances in molecular
genetics have allowed researchers to investigate differences in populations
of striped bass. Evidence strongly indicates that the rivers of the ACE Basin
contain a population of striped bass that is unique to the basin".
The striped bass, sometimes known as the “Rock”, “Rockfish” or “Striper” has a long and interesting history in South Carolina. It is the “state game fish” and the “state fish.” The scientific name of the striped bass is Morone saxatilis and it is typically catalogued as an anadromous fish. Anadromous means that it spends the greater part of its life in the ocean and travels to freshwater streams to spawn. Over the past century, fish biologists have reported that striped bass populations have steadily declined. This decline is primarily due to pollution, siltation, construction of power dams and overfishing. Striped Bass are found along the Atlantic Coast from the St. Lawrence River in Quebec and ends in the St. John’s River in Florida. North of Cape Hatteras, the Striped Bass is an anadromous fish. It is one of the most popular saltwater sport fish along the eastern seaboard.

In the spring, the Striped Bass enters freshwater, traveling up rivers to spawn. When spawned, fertilized eggs must have a volume and flow of water that insures at least 48 hours flotation. If they sink, the eggs die. Once hatched the fry begin their journey down river and enter saltwater as fingerlings, juvenile fish. In South Carolina, the striped bass tend to spend the greater part of its life in freshwater streams. Once it was believed that the Santee-Cooper population of Striped Bass had become landlocked because of the construction of two dams that impounded Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion. More recently, fish biologists have come to believe that the Striped Bass in South Carolina were “functionally” landlocked or “riverene” long before the dams were built. This means that they have become residents of the river naturally. This is supported by the current research. Therefore, the Santee-Cooper Striped Bass population is entirely a freshwater population (Campbell, Striped White & Hybrid Bass in South Carolina).

Striped Bass have a tendency to travel in small schools during the first two years of life. They have enormous appetites and feed on shad, menhaden, herring and minnows. Spawning grounds for Striped Bass are typically in streams and rivers with moderate to fast current flowing over a rock or sand bottom. In South Carolina, the spawning period ranges from April 1 to May 15. During this time, the males typically migrate to the spawning grounds first and wait until the larger females arrive. Spawning is governed by water temperature and it starts when the water is around 58-60 degrees F. Spawning of Striped Bass involves several small males surrounding one large female as she lays her eggs freely into the running water. No spawning “bed” or “nest” is created by Striped Bass. The males jockey for position creating much splashing which is known as a “rock fights.” The males brush against the female to stimulate spawning. After the eggs are laid, milt from the males then fertilizes the eggs. Studies have shown that greater than 80 percent of the eggs are usually fertilized. The eggs at the time of fertilization are very small and nonadhesive and settle to the bottom. After a short time, the eggs swell to about four times the original size and possess a tiny oil globule. This change makes the egg approximately the same density of the surrounding water. The eggs become somewhat buoyant and are easily carried by the water currents. The hatching time varies from 65 hours at 60 degrees F to 36 hours at 70 degrees F. According to Bulak (1988), if a striped bass spawned at 70 degrees F in a low rainfall year, approximately 36 miles of flowing water is necessary for the eggs to hatch. But if a striper spawned at the same temperature during a high rainfall period, about 72 miles of flowing water from the spawning area is required. A flow velocity in the river of approximately one-foot per second is required to keep the eggs afloat. If the egg sinks to the bottom, its chances of hatching are reduced because the sediments reduce oxygen exchange between the egg and the surrounding water. The flow rates of the water are basically controlled by the upstream flows from dams. Egg mortality is high, especially in water temperatures above 70 F, but many eggs are laid to increase survival. Less than one percent of the eggs will survive the fist two months.

Bulak (1988), stated that “In most years, the prime spawning grounds are in the upper Congaree, between the city of Columbia and the Eastman Kodak plant. But in years of low water, such as 1985 and 1986, striped bass do not migrate as far upstream to spawn. This points out once again, the impact river flow can have on spawning migration (p. 44).”

Depending in the size of the female, one female can lay from 14,000 (3 pounder)-3,000,000 eggs (10 pounder). A thirty-pound female is capable of producing as many as five million eggs. In a fast moving current, the eggs hatch out at a considerable distance downstream from the spawning place. At the time of hatching, the tiny transparent fish, less than ¼ inch long emerges with a heavy yolk sac attached. It derives nourishment from this sac. The fry at this stage is at the mercy of the water currents. Within four to five days, the yolk sac is absorbed and the fry begins to swim and feed on small crustaceans (Scruggs, 1954).

Male Striped Bass usually reach sexual maturity at two years. They are generally less than 12 inches long. About 25% of the females reach maturity at four years of age when they are about 17 inches in length. Nearly all of the females are mature at five years of age when they reach a weight of six pounds or a length of twenty-three inches. Age studies have shown that the Striped Bass grow slowly during the first two years. The rate of growth of females is faster then that of the male. The average length of a striper is 20-36 inches, while the average weight is 3-10 pounds. Striped Bass attain a maximum weight of 60 pounds in freshwater and 125 pounds in saltwater, but fish over 55 pounds are rare (Bayless, 1982).

In South Carolina, the majority of the spawning occurs in the Wateree and Congaree Rivers, which are tributary streams of Santee-Cooper. Results of a 1983 study indicated that the Congaree River is a major spawning area while additional studies in 1987, now show that the majority of striped bass egg production comes from the Wateree River. In 1973, the SC Wildlife and Marine Resources Department, now known as the SC Department of Natural Resources, reported that there are five main rivers which support populations of Striped Bass: the Cooper, Santee, Congaree, Wateree, and Saluda above Lake Murray. Excellent reservoir fisheries exist in Lakes Marion, Moultrie, Murray and Wateree. Smaller populations are found in Lakes Hartwell, Thurmond, Secession and Greenwood. Biologist believe that a slow moving current in a short stretch of river or a faster current in a longer river may provide the necessary time for eggs to develop and hatch. They believe that of all the state’s rivers, which empty into reservoirs, only the Congaree and Wateree provide the correct ratio of length and flow necessary for reproduction. It should be noted that most striper populations in reservoirs are maintained solely by stocking. This stocking benefits other game fish such as largemouth bass and crappie. The striper seeks out fish such as gizzard shad for its main food supply, thus eliminating fish that would compete with wanted game fish (Davis, 1973).

In the early 1960’s, SCDNR fishery biologists provided the key to propagating Striped Bass artificially by experimenting with various hormones to speed up spawning. The pioneering efforts by Dr. Robert E. Stevens put Striped Bass hatcheries on a reliable production basis. This technique plus the documentation that Striped Bass in the Santee-Cooper River system was “landlocked”, opened a new era of Striped Bass culturing and fishing. It enabled the expansion of Striped Bass into land-locked reservoirs (Bayless, 1982). These techniques have allowed the stocking of Striped Bass in many reservoirs in the United States. Since the1970’s, many anglers throughout the United States now enjoy Striped Bass fishing. Freshwater striped bass fisheries are now in almost every state because of what was discovered in the Santee-Cooper System (Bulak, 1988). In More information about striper production at state hatcheries may be found in the Hatchery Section of this guide.

In recent years, the low rate of hatching survival of striper eggs in Santee-Cooper, indicate that something is affecting the ability of stripers to successfully reproduce and maintain their populations. In hopes of speeding up the recovery of Santee-Cooper striped bass populations, the daily creel limits in 1989 were reduced from 10 stripers to five in lakes Marion and Moultrie and the rivers nearby. Therefore, the law prohibits keeping more than five striped bass or any striped bass less than 18 inches long in the following waters: Lake Marion, Lake Moultrie, Diversion Canal, Rediversion canal, Tailrace Canal, Santee River, Congaree River, Wateree River, Lower Saluda River, Broad River northward to the lock and dam of the Columbia Canal, Cooper River (no length limit) and Wando (no length limit) (South Carolina Wildlife Roundtable, M-A, 1990). In 1993, it was discovered that heavy fishing was creating the reduction of striper populations in the Santee-Cooper lakes. The striped bass are caught so fast and in such large numbers that few of the fish live long enough to reproduce. DNR studies have shown that 80% of the Lake Marion and Moultrie female stripers are caught before they reach spawning size. This reduction of egg-laying females and other factors has caused the drastic decline in the striper population in the two reservoirs (Bulak, Wethey, and White III, 1995). It was stated by DNR fisheries biologists that we have now have to stock more than two million hatchery-reared fish into the lakes each year to meet the demands of fishermen.

South Carolina Rivers

In South Carolina, the majority of the spawning occurs in the Wateree and Congaree Rivers, which are tributary streams of Santee-Cooper. Results of a 1983 study indicated that the Congaree River is a major spawning area while additional studies in 1987, now show that the majority of striped bass egg production comes from the Wateree River. In 1973, the SC Wildlife and Marine Resources Department, now known as the SC Department of Natural Resources, reported that there are five main rivers which support populations of Striped Bass: the Cooper, Santee, Congaree, Wateree, and Saluda above Lake Murray. Excellent reservoir fisheries exist in Lakes Marion, Moultrie, Murray and Wateree. Smaller populations are found in Lakes Hartwell, Thurmond, Secession and Greenwood. Biologist believe that a slow moving current in a short stretch of river or a faster current in a longer river may provide the necessary time for eggs to develop and hatch. They believe that of all the state's rivers, which empty into reservoirs, only the Congaree and Wateree provide the correct ratio of length and flow necessary for reproduction. It should be noted that most striper populations in reservoirs are maintained solely by stocking. This stocking benefits other game fish such as largemouth bass and crappie. The striper seeks out fish such as gizzard shad for its main food supply, thus eliminating fish that would compete with wanted game fish (Davis, 1973).

Santee / Cooper River System

The Santee River is formed from the confluence of the Congaree and Wateree Rivers and flows through Lake Marion. The river is diverted in lower Lake Marion, and either flows out of the Santee dam to eventually drain into the Atlantic Ocean via the South Santee River and the North Santee River, or is channeled along a 7.5 mile diversion canal to fill Lake Moultrie. After flowing through the Santee dam, the Santee River is joined by the rediversion canal connecting Lake Moultrie and the (lower) Santee River.

The following information on the Santee Cooper Dam is courtesy of the Clarendon County Chamber of commerce

The Santee dam across the Santee River impounded Lake Marion in 1942. It was found that the stripers that came up the Cooper River, from the ocean to spawn, entered Lake Moultrie through the Pinopolis Lock and became trapped or landlocked and therefore, could not return to the sea. By a happy quirk of nature, the Santee Cooper lakes and rivers leading to them were an ideal freshwater habitat for what was a saltwater fish. Since that time, stripers have been spawning and living year round in the Santee Cooper lakes system.

Spring - In March, April and May stripers make their way up through the diversion canal and generally by way of the riverbeds in the lakes, up the Congaree and Wateree Rivers for their annual spawning run. As a result, fishermen concentrate on the rivers and Lake Marion. During this period, live herring is the best bait followed by cut bait. The fish are concentrated in deep holes. Herring is sold at most fish camps. Recommended tackle includes 8 to 9 foot rods, free spool reel with clickers and 20 to 30 pound test line. The terminal tackle includes 1 to 2 ounces sliding egg sinkers rigged above a barrel swivel with an 10 to 24 inch stock leader 5/0 or 6/0 off set hook.


Summer - After spawning, stripers head back down the rivers and into the lakes and deep water where herring is effective along the old sunken river channels. When the weather gets hot, they are found in the deepest holes in the lake.

Fall - In September and October stripers start to school and frequently surface as they chase the gizzard shad. Anglers drift in these areas jigging the bottom with spoons and bucktails. Drifting with large shiners is also highly productive. Anglers are also looking for flocks of seagulls feeding on the shad which the stripers chase to the surface. Once a flock is spotted the boats race to the spot. Do not run over the school and scare them down. At the school use top water lures or poppers if they are on the surface. If they sound use fast sinking lures such as spoons or bucktails. When fishing schools in this manner please respect the right of the other fishermen. Do not infringe on their space. Also, do not get too close to the school and scare them. This will spoil everyone's chance at the school.

* Note: Learn to distinguish between seagulls and the small blackhead terns at great distances.

The terns often appear to be feeding over stripers but, frequently are not. When chasing schools in Lake Marion, assume that the complete distance you will run is filled with stumps.

Winter - Stripers are in deep water where drifting with large shiners/minnows is effective. Use same tackle as with herring, switching to smaller hooks and sinkers.

Lake Murray


Midland Striper club MSC is a family-oriented fishing club organized to stimulate public awareness of striped bass fishing. We promote sportmanship, conservation and demand adequate water quality. We're based in Columbia, S.C. on beautiful Lake Murray.

References Used

Captain, Ed Woodward
South Carolina Science standards Division of Natural Resources http://www.dnr.state.sc.us/
Arms, Karen and Camp, Pamela S. Biology. Holt, Rinehart and Winston: New York. 1979.
Bayless, Jack. “A Survivor, South Carolina's Striper.” South Carolina Wildlife. March-April, 1982. Pages 4-8.
Bulak, Jim. “River-born.” South Carolina Wildlife. March-April, 1988. Pages 40-45.
Bulak, James S. Distribution of Fishes in South Carolina, Study Completion Report, WC-8. SC Wildlife and Marine Resources Department: Columbia, SC. 1991.
Bulak, James, Leitner, Jean, Hilbish, Thomas, and Rex A. Dunham. “Distribution of Largemouth Bass Genotypes in South Carolina: Initial Implications.” American Fisheries Society Symposium. 15: 226-235, 1995.
Bulak, James, Wethey, David S. and Miller G. White III. “Evaluation of Management Options for a Reproducing Striped Bass Population in the Santee-Cooper System, South Carolina.” North American Journal of Fisheries Management. 15: 84-94, 1995.
Campbell, Bob. “Fish for the Future.” South Carolina Wildlife. May-June, 1992.Pages 46-49.
Campbell, Bob. Striped White & Hybrid Bass in South Carolina (Brochure). SC Department of Natural Resources: Columbia, SC. No date.
Davis, John. “River Stripers.” South Carolina Wildlife. May-June, 1973. Pages 24-27.
Leitner, Jean. Professional Conversation. Fisheries Biologist. SCDNR Freshwater Fisheries Section: Eastover, SC. 29044 July, 1998.
McCord, Billy. “The Wandering Eel.” South Carolina Wildlife. May-June, 1983.Pages 6-10.
Manooch, III, Charles S. Fisherman's Guide: Fishes of the Southeastern United States. North Carolina State Museum of Natural History: Raleigh, NC. 1984.
Samsel, Jeff. “Hatching a Fishery.” South Carolina Wildlife. May-June, 1997.Pages 6-11.
SCDNR. 1999-2000 Rules & Regulations. SC Department of Natural Resources:Columbia, SC. 1999.
SCDNR. Guide and Poster to South Carolina Freshwater Fishes. SC Department ofNatural Resources: Columbia, SC. No date.
SCDNR. Responsive Management: South Carolina Fishing License Holders Opinions and Attitudes Toward Fisheries Management and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. SC Department of Natural Resources:Columbia, SC. March 1998 (A Report).
SCDNR. Santee Cooper Anadromous Fish, Fish Passage & Restoration. SC Department of Natural Resources: Columbia, SC. No date.
SCDNR. “State Striper Fishery Born Annually at Bayless Hatchery.” South Carolina Wildlife Roundtable. March-April, 1996. Page 50.
SCDNR. Wahalla South Carolina State Fish Hatchery Brochure (96FF1657). SC Department of Natural Resources: Columbia, SC. 1996.
Scruggs, George. “The Rockfish Puzzle-Are They Landlocked?.” South Carolina Wildlife. Summer, 1954. Pages 4-5.
Watson, Mac. Professional Conversation. Fisheries Biologist. SCDNR FishHatcheries/Farm Pond/State Lakes: Columbia, SC 29202 July, 1998.
Zim, Herbert S. and Shoemaker, Hurst H. Fishes: A Guide to Fresh and Salt-Water Species. Golden Press: New York. 1956.

 

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