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Rod, Gun and Game: The crappie are biting in the Carolinas

I’D RATHER BE FISHING — Captain Brad Taylor is pictured with a white crappie, taken at Lake Murray, S.C. To contact Taylor, call 803-331-1354 or email brad@tayloroutdoors.com. Photo by Forrest Fisher.
SOUTH CAROLINA — If you like to fish and don’t mind taking a drive, to find great fishing, especially when Western New York is covered in ice and the freezer is bare, check out these fishing destinations.

Last weekend, I drove to Lake Murray, a man-made impoundment near Columbia, S.C., primarily to visit with old friends Kent and Pat Kruse, formerly of West Falls, who moved to a warmer, low-tax climate, for retirement.

Finding fish in a new place is never easy, so we checked the local fishing services and found Captain Brad Taylor, a Lake Murray fishing guide.

Fishing with Captain Taylor is like fishing with TV fishing star Hank Parker. Taylor sounds exactly the same, and uses his friendly manners to talk fish right into the boat. Parker also lives near Lake Murray and Taylor has guided that legendary outdoorsman.

While many people visit Lake Murray to find freshwater striped bass or black bass, we came to fish for crappie, one of the tastiest freshwater fish.

March on Lake Murray finds the air temperature between 40 and 70 degrees, with bright sunshine and varying water clarity conditions, depending on which part of the lake you fish. The lake includes perhaps 100 fingers, which lead from quiet, backwater bays to the main reservoir, which occupies more than 80 square miles of surface area.

We loaded assorted tackle into the 21-foot, fiberglass TideWater™ boat, which is made in Columbia. The water temperature was 50 degrees. Taylor fired up the 150-horsepower engine and we headed out.

We rode out for about 5 minutes and then slowed down; Taylor turned the Hummingbird™ to the side-scan mode. Searching an area beneath a road bridge, he said, “There’s fish here, but the wind today might make it too cold for us to enjoy the fish-catching, so let’s go look for a quieter spot, up the creek.”

About 500 yards up, into the finger-like bay of this lake tributary section, the electronics showed an old creek bed, down below, with varying water depths, from 6 – 20 feet. A few old trees were lying at the bottom of the creek. I was impressed with the electronics’ accuracy. Taylor turned off the Yamaha and dropped the Minn-Kota® Terrova® digital bow thruster into the water.

Crappie fishing in South Carolina with a master crappie guide is not like crappie fishing in Western New York. While we fish for crappie in WNY by casting a single rod with a jig or a minnow, it is more common to use a multiple rod holder arrangement, called a spider rig, for crappie fishing in South Carolina and other southern states.

A spider rig was bolted near the bow of our boat and another one was set over the stern, at the back of the boat. Taylor quickly dropped eight, 12-foot Silstar® rods, all rigged with an open-face spinning reel or push button spincast reel and 6-pound test monofilament line, into the water.

The rigs were set up with a half-ounce sliding sinker. The line was threaded through the center hole of the sinker four times and then about 18 inches, to a 1/48-ounce jig head. The jigs were set 6 – 12 feet down and spaced around the bow of the boat, using a metal rod holder that was designed to accommodate all of them, with each rod’s presenting a different shape, color pattern and hook color. Each jig head was rigged without a plastic tail, but was tipped with a lip-hooked fathead minnow.

A few minutes later, we sailed over the fish and the red color jigs began to produce strikes. We found white crappie suspended in the water column, 10 feet down, in 15 feet of water, holding in the middle of the channel in a pre-spawn schooling location. The fish were plump and ready to spawn in a few weeks, with fish in the three-fourths – 1-pound size range.

According to Taylor, the hot crappie fishing peaks from middle to late April through the first week of May, about the same time good crappie fishing begins, in Western New York. From January – March, Lake Murray crappie action is considered slow, with approximately 40 – 60 crappie per day, but, during the hot period, 150 – 300 are often taken, per day. To protect the fishery, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources maintains an 8-inch minimum size limit and 20 fish-per-person limit, per day. A week-long, non-resident fishing license costs $11.

Taylor told us stories about his seminar circuit experiences, in which people would ask him to sell them information about when and where to fish. “Fishing and hunting is not like baking a cake,” he said. “Which color, which rod, which action, what depth ... any one of those variables could change, so you need to be ready to make changes, when the fish don’t want to take what you are offering.”

He said that, as the water warms up and some of the bigger fish move into shallower areas, the fishing gets really easy. A long pole and a little bobber with a minnow or a jig, set at a foot or two down, work along woody shoreline cover.

Taylor uses a special tactic for northern angler visitors, called “southern ice fishing,” Utilizing a lightweight, short rod, he drops down the line, rigged with a 1/64-ounce jig head and a 1 3/4-inch fish stalker jig tail. The soft, plastic tail is very slowly reeled up, as the rod tip is wiggled gently. The special-order jig tail, which is made at the local Crappie Hole Tackle Shop in Chapin, S.C. makes the vertical motion deadly.

Taylor offers four-person fishing trip packages that include three nights in a private cabin, with two full days of guided fishing. This costs approximately $300, per person. Fish for multiple species and enjoy some warm sunshine, ahead of our normal weather.

Taylor also works with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, to provide tackle and fishing instruction for kids and adults, at seminars held during various times of the year. He is a guide for alligator hunting, although I am happy to say that there are no gators in Lake Murray.

To rent a fishing boat on Lake Murray, visit River Winds Landing Marina at www.riverwindslanding.net.

I was very impressed with the trip and enjoyed traveling to this area. It was quiet and offered great fishing.

Owls winter in WNY
The short-eared owl is listed as an endangered species in New York state. Each year, beginning in late November, short-eared owls make their way southward from their breeding grounds in northern Canada, to overwinter in the United States. As part of an ongoing study about the behavior and habitat use of these silent predators, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation staff and volunteers have been utilizing assistance from interns from the University at Buffalo.

During recent years, several owls have been discovered and trapped at various sites in Region 9, and were fitted with radio or satellite transmitters, to gain information relating to owl activity and their home winter ranges.

Short-eared owls have been reported at two sites in Niagara County, this year, as well as two sites in Chautauqua County and one in Cattaraugus County.

In addition to mapping out foraging and roosting habitat characteristics, the UB interns have been dissecting pellets, collected from roost locations, for diet analysis, with meadow voles’ being the most preferred prey species.

Popular fishing hotlines
Many anglers visited the NYS DEC Western New York fishing hotline websites, last year. Those pages are updated weekly, to provide anglers with current fishing information and to cover the major fishing waters of Region 9 and the western half of Region 8. The hotlines are available on the DEC website, www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/fishhotlines.html.

Recordings of the fishing reports may be heard at 855-3474 and 679-3743. The Lake Erie fishing hotline had 80,067 total visits, in 2012, an increase of 10 percent over 2011. The Western New York Fishing Hotline page had 61,291 total visits, in 2012, an increase of 17 percent over 2011. The automated phone hotlines received a combined total of 24,678 calls, in 2012.

As a whole, Western New York’s fishing hotlines were accessed for angling information 166,036 times, or an average of 454 times, per day, in 2012.

Outdoor calendar
– March 16: Niagara musky awards banquet, Pearl Street Grill, 6 p.m. For more information, call Scott McKee at 225-3816.

– March 17: WNY 3D archery shoot, Evans Rod and Gun Club, Cain Road, Angola, 7 a.m. – 1 p.m. Open to the public. For more information, call Ray Zylinski Jr. at 866-5072.

– March 17, 23 and 25: NYS hunter safety education class, Springville Field and Stream, Chase Road. Register at the first class; 7:30 – noon.

– March 18 and 21: Hunter safety education class, Lake Shore Firemen’s Exempt, 4591 Lake Shore Road, Hamburg, 6 – 10 p.m. For more information, call 432-3049.

– March 19 and 21: NYS archery education, Niagara Gun Range, 3355 Niagara Falls Blvd. For more information, call 693-4000.

– March 30: Outdoor show, S&S Taxidermy. View 2013 bows and crossbows. NYS Big Buck Club, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., 455 South Cascade Drive, Springville. For more information, call 592-2404.

– March 31: NYS crow season ends.

Send outdoor information for the Forrest Fisher column, 10 days in advance, to nugdor@yahoo.com.
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