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Rod, Gun & Game: Crappies biting in South Carolina

Captain Brad Taylor holds a one-pound white crappie taken while fishing last week in Lake Murray, located near Columbia, S.C. (Photo by Forrest Fisher)
If you like to fish and don’t mind a half-day drive once or twice a year, especially when Western New York winter ice is in transition and the freezer is bare with no fresh fillets for the Easter Lenten season, there are lots of places to go.

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

Upon arrival to a new fishing place, we checked the local services to help us find fish and found a young man named Captain Brad Taylor, at 803-331-1354 or brad@tayloroutdoors.com, who was considered the premier fishing guide on Lake Murray. While many early season fishing trips here are for freshwater striped bass or black bass, we came to fish for crappie, perhaps the tastiest fish in the freshwater sea.

The March time period on Lake Murray finds the air temperature between 40 and 70 degrees with extremely bright sunshine and varying water clarity conditions, all depending on which part of the lake you fish. There are many inlets to the lake, with perhaps 100 fingers, or so, that lead from quiet, backwater bays to the main reservoir, which occupies over 80 square miles of surface area — not a small lake.

As we loaded assorted tackle into the 21-foot fiberglass Tidewater boat, a safe, wide boat rig made locally right there in Columbia, the Hummingbird electronics showed the water temperature was 50 degrees. Taylor fired up the 150 horsepower Yamaha engine and it purred with that familiar sound of “let’s go fishing.” I love that sound.

We didn’t go very far, only about a five-minute ride, when we slowed down and Taylor turned the high-tech electronics on the Hummingbird to the side-scan mode. Searching an area beneath a road bridge, Taylor 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 creekbed down below and varying water depths from six to 20 feet. There were a few old trees laying down there too and I was impressed with the accuracy of the electronics. “Let’s try it here,” Taylor said, and he turned off the big Yamaha and dropped the Minn-Kota Terrova digital bow thruster into the water.

Crappie fishing in South Carolina with a master angler-guide is not like crappie fishing in Western New York. While we fish for crappie by casting a single rod with a jig or a minnow, in South Carolina and many southern states, it is more common to use a multiple rod holder arrangement, called a spider rig. One of these spider rigs was bolted near the bow of the boat and another one was set over the stern, at the back of the boat. Taylor quickly dropped eight (yes, eight) 12-foot long Silstar rods (model LMCR12), all rigged with an open-face spinning reel or push-button spincast reel and six-pound test monofilament line (Triple-Fish brand) into the water.

The rigs were all set up with a one-half ounce sliding sinker in which 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 six to 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 presenting a different shape, color pattern and hook color. Each jig head was rigged without a plastic tail, but tipped with a lip-hooked fathead minnow, locally termed “tuffies.”

A few minutes later, the silent electric power of the bow motor took us over the fish and the red color jigs all started to produce strikes. It didn’t take long before we found white crappie suspended in the water column 10 feet down in 15 feet of water, and holding in the middle of the channel in their pre-spawn schooling location. The fish were all white crappie; wonderfully plump and ready to spawn in a few short weeks down there, with fish in the three-fourths pound to one pound size range, though many were far bigger at times of the year, too.

Taylor shared that the hot crappie fishing peaks from middle to late April through about the first week of May, about the same time good crappie fishing just begins here in Western New York. From January to March, Lake Murray crappie action is considered slow with about 40 to 60 crappie per day common, but during the hot period, 150 to 300 per day are common. To protect the fishery, the South Carolina DNR maintains an eight-inch minimum size limit and 20 fish per person per day. A non-resident fishing license for one week costs $11 — very affordable, and we purchased them online the day before we left.

Taylor is a high-accuracy, honest story-teller type personality. He told stories of his seminar circuit experiences where people would approach him and say, “if I pay you for the information on where to fish and what to use, you tell us when to go — you know, you give me the spot, the lure, I’m good, right? He would tell them, “well, you could be, but fishing and hunting is not like baking a cake.” He added, “the name of the game is which color, which rod, which action, what depth, for that day; 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, as required.”

He shared, “as the water warms up later in the month and through April, some of the bigger fish move into these shallower areas and 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 will work along woody shoreline cover.

Taylor also uses a special tactic for northern angler visitors — he calls it “southern ice fishing.” Using a lightweight and relatively short (six-and-a-half foot) rod, he drops down the line rigged with a 1/64 ounce jig head and a one and three quarter inch “fish stalker” jig tail. The soft plastic tail is very slowly reeled up as the rod tip is wiggled ever so gently and…wham! Vertical motion is deadly with that wiggly, special order jig tail, which is made locally at the Crappie Hole Tackle Shop, in nearby Chapin.

Taylor and his wife and six dogs this year are offering special four-man fishing trip packages that include three nights in a private cabin with two full days of guided fishing (with Captain Taylor) for about $300 per man. You can fish for multiple species with an expert and enjoy some warm sunshine a bit ahead of our normal weather.

Captain Taylor also works with the South Carolina DNR, providing tackle and fishing instruction for youth and adults alike, with seminars at various times of the year. Taylor is also a guide for alligator hunting; you can call him and ask about details, though there are no gators in Lake Murray.

If you want to rent a fishing boat on Lake Murray, check in with Carolyn Cracraft at River Winds Landing Marina (visit online at www.riverwindslanding.net), though the fishing service described Captain Taylor includes the boat and tackle and note this little detail, there are other guides on Lake Murray, but there are no other licensed full-timers.

Long story short, we were impressed and enjoyed traveling to this area because we found it to be quiet with great fishing and the folks there offered a very simple, responsible, style of life.

Popular fishing hotlines

Anglers visited the NYS-DEC Western New York fishing hotline web pages in 2012 very often. The fishing hotlines are updated weekly to provide anglers with current fishing information and cover the major fishing waters of Region 9 and the western half of Region 8. Each fishing hotline is available on the DEC website at www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/fishhotlines.html. Recordings of the fishing reports can also be heard at 855-FISH and 679-ERIE. Calls to the hotline were up 10 percent and visits to the page increased 17 percent.

Outdoors Calendar

March 14: Lake Ontario Trout & Salmon meeting, 4H Cooperative Extension, 4487 Lake Ave., Lockport, 7 pm, Capt. Jim Skoczylas on catching walleye and salmon with torpedo divers, call 635-0519 for information.

March 15: NYS Northern Pike, Pickerel, Tiger Musky, Walleye seasons end.

March 16: Niagara Musky Awards Banquet, Pearl St. Grill, 6 pm, call Scott McKee at 225-3816.

March 17: WNY 3D Archery, Evans Rod & Gun, Cain Rd., Angola, 7am-1 pm, open to public, call Ray Zylinski Jr. at 866-5072.

March 17/23/25: NYS Hunter Safety Education, Springville Field & Stream, Chase Rd., register at first class, 7:30 am-noon.

March 18/21: NYS Hunter Safety Education, Lake Shore Firemen’s Exempt, 4591 Lake Shore Rd., Hamburg, 6-10 pm, call 432-3049.

March 19/21: NYS Archery Education, Niagara gun Range, 3355 Niagara Falls Blvd, call 693-4000.

March 30: 11th Annual Outdoor Show, S&S Taxidermy, see 2013 bows and crossbows, NYS Big Buck club, 9 am-5 pm, 455 S. Cascade Dr (Rt 219), Springville, call 592-2404.

March 31: NYS Crow Season ends

Send outdoor events 10 days in advance to nugdor@yahoo.com.
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