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When Doves Fly

Dig if you will, a picture – of a late summer afternoon as the sun is moving from scorching hot to almost tolerable. A cut-over grain field lays sheared in strips accentuated with round bales of hay strategically placed to conceal figures clad in camouflage clothing and a dog. Off in the distance, just above the tree line, a trio of tiny gray streaks, mourning doves, come flying into view. The species of bird is unmistakable by the hooked shape of the head and beak as the birds enter the field.

The sight is underscored by the pop ,pop, pop of the hunters closest to the far end of the field as the hunters rise up and attempt to bring down the little rockets with shotgun blasts. In no time, all horizons are marked with birds as they circle the field hoping for an opening to descend and land.

This is what it looks like, when doves fly.

12:00 Noon on September 3rd will mark the opening of the 2016 Dove Season. Possibly more than any other shooting sport, dove hunting conjures up memories of both hunts and hunters from days gone by. The sport has changed in some ways due to better management of the resource but at the basis is still an outing where friends and family members gather to spend time in a dove field and fellowship over the opening event of hunting season.

Here in the Upstate, the prospect of the upcoming dove season is good. Preparing for dove season is a labor of love for field managers who begin plotting and planting fields in late April and May to insure that food crops, used to draw birds to the hunting fields, are fully ripe and mature come opening day.

Richard Morton, Region 1 wildlife biologist whose territory includes most of the Upstate said dove hunters who planted their crops early this year should have a better than normal shoot when the first of the three-part dove season opens next week-end.

"If you had your crops in the ground before the drought set in, things are looking pretty good," said Morton. "The rain we've had over the past few weeks has greened everything up and I've seen some good looking millet and sunflower fields."

"I've also talked to a lot of area dove field managers and they're reporting the birds are moving into the fields regularly so it looks like everything is lining up," he said.

Mourning doves are classified as migratory birds under Federal regulation but the majority of doves that will come into play next week are resident- South Carolina born and bred birds. As the fall progresses and the second and third hunting seasons open in the state, hunters will begin to see more of an influx of migratory birds moving down from northern states.

Morton said that dove hunters who do not have private lands to hunt can view a listing of public dove fields made available by the state and are hunted on a first-come-first serve basis. These public WMA fields are only open on certain days of the week to limit the amount of hunting pressure on the birds. A full listing of public dove fields along with full season dates for the three dove seasons that will occur this year and additional information regarding regulations and bag limits can be found on the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources website at dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/dove/fields.

Morton said that dove fields in the Upstate, both public and private, are trending upward in the number of birds they attract and hold in one area. He said that the lower occurence of competing agricultural fields compared to the Low Country is a benefit to Upstate dove hunters.

"There are so many dove fields in the Low Country that it tends to really scatter the birds out and you don't get much concentration in any one area," said Morton. "In addition, there are agricultural fields that have nothing to do with hunting, that also spread out the numbers even thinner over a larger area."

In regards to planning an Upstate hunt, Morton said he feels certain most fields will get hunted on opening day Saturday, Labor Day and the following Saturday. Otherwise he said hunters can increase their chances of success by coordinating hunts with surrounding properties to keep doves from accumulating in one field that is not being hunted.

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Phillip Gentry is the host of "Upstate Outdoors," broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week's guest on the show will be Morgan Promitz, Fishing Product Manager for Hobie Kayaks. Contact Gentry at pgentry6@bellsouth.net.

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Dove hunters who planted their fields well before this summer's drought set in should expect to have a better than average year as dove season comes in next week. Photo by Phillip Gentry.

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The Heart Of The Tin Man

Earlier this month, on August 7, John Cox of Debary, FL won one of the most coveted titles in professional bass fishing. He won the Forest Wood Cup. To say Cox ran away with the event held on Wheeler Lake in Alabama doesn't give much credit to the other competitiors, including local favorites Bryan Thrift from Shelby, NC, Todd Auten from Lake Wylie, SC and Brandon Cobb, from Greenwood, SC, but he did. Cox won the event by over four pounds across four days of competition.

You have to give substantial credit to Cox on how he won the event. Cox is unconventional - an extremely likeable guy who makes his own fishing rods from scratch, even doing so in his hotel room the night before a tournament. Cox also fishes from an aluminum boat.

The media circus that follows the FLW Tour around have nick-named him "The Tin Man." You might also remember Cox when he walked away from the competition on Lake Hartwell in March during a sight fishing festival, again fishing from his aluminum boat.

Make no mistake, Cox isn't fishing from an old john boat that he loads up in the bed of his pick-up truck at the end of the day. He has a really nice Crestliner aluminum bass boat that has all the same bells and whistles as a big fiberglass bass rocket, duly wrapped in vinyl detailing promoting his fishing sponsors and powered by a big 200 HP Mercury outboard. But the heart of the Tin Man remains the same.

"I started out bass fishing from an old aluminum boat," said Cox. "After I started fishing pro, I won my first event in an aluminum boat. I have fished out of glass boats, but that's just not my style, so I went back to the aluminum."

In the circumstances of his Cup win at Lake Wheeler, having a durable aluminum ride was one of his primary reasons for winning the event. Cox said he's never had much luck fishing on Wheeler and wanted to get as far away from the main lake as possible, while still staying in bounds.

With scorching daytime temperatures and water on the main lake approaching the 90 degree mark, Cox picked one of the tributary creeks that feeds Lake Wheeler, Cotaco Creek, and ran it about as far back upstream as he could go. Along the way, he left all of the competition behind, both literally and figuratively.

"The water in the creek was a lot cooler, with plenty of shade from over-hanging trees. I had to jump over a number of stumps and logs to get back up in that creek, but once there I found what I was looking for," said Cox.

The backwaters of Coataco Creek are laden with weeds, making it a perfect scenario for fishing a topwater frog in the same surroundings as fishing the farm ponds of his youth.

"When I got back there in practice I realized I was going to have the whole area to myself, nobody else was coming, even the media boats had a hard time getting over all the downed trees," he said, "but once there, the fish were willing, and what better way to have four days of fishing than catching hungry bass on a topwater frog."

In winning the Forest Wood Cup, Cox set a precedent of sorts, that winning a prestigious event doesn't require an expensive fiberglass bass boat that costs as much as a small house.

Marty Walker, owner of Palmetto Boat Center on the I-85 Frontage Road in Piedmont agreed. Walker said he sees a lot of competitors choosing to fish from an aluminum bass boat.

"We have a lot of high school kids who are fishing for their schools in aluminum boats but there are plenty of adults who fish from them as well," said Walker. "An aluminum boat comes rigged every bit as nice as a fiberglass boat, and the best thing is that you can get in a brand new top end aluminum boat for the same price as an entry level fiberglass boat or a used high-end boat."

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Phillip Gentry is the host of "Upstate Outdoors," broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week's guest on the show will be Ashley Clark, Area Chairman for Greenville Ducks Unlimited. Contact Gentry at pgentry6@bellsouth.net.

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John Cox recently won this year's Forest Wood Cup as well as the FLW Tour Event earlier this year on Lake Hartwell, all while fishing from his trusty aluminum bass boat. Photo courtesy (Andy Hagedon/FLW).

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Could NC’s Elk Herd Be Migrating Into South Carolina?

Many Upstate residents enjoy the prospect of seeing wildlife around their residences. The Upstate is home to deer, turkey and even the occasional bear that comes out of the mountains, but have you ever considered the possibility of seeing an elk?

According to Bob Santanello, chairman for the Upstate Chapter of The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the prospect that elk exist in the wild in South Carolina is not only plausible, it's likely.

"I think there's a good chance some elk may already be here," said Santanello. "Rumors have persisted for some time of elk sightings around the Caesar's Head and Jones Gap State Park areas in northern Greenville County. To date we have not verified this with any game wardens or park rangers, but we frequently hear from folks who say they have seen them up there."

An experimental program to reintroduce elk to the Cataloochee Valley of North Carolina was begun in 2001. What started as 40 transplanted animals nearly 20 years ago has grown into a herd of an estimated 300 - 400 animals.

Elk once roamed the southern Appalachian Mountains and elsewhere in the eastern United States, but were eliminated from the region by over-hunting and loss of habitat. As the crow flies, Cataloochee is less than 100 miles from the South Carolina state line.

In 1990, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, an organization committed to the future of the animals, suggested that the National Park Service reintroduce an elk herd back into the southern Appalachians. Officials chose the Cataloochee Valley because of its relative isolation. The first 25 elk arrived in February 2001, imported from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area on the Kentucky-Tennessee border after being relocated from Alberta, Canada. Another 27 animals were added in 2002.

"These animals are known to migrate thousands of miles," said Santanello. "The Cataloochee valley is a natural funnel and the animals are not fenced in. It's beginning to get kind of territorial up there. The big bulls are running off the smaller males so they take a couple of cows and go look for somewhere else to live."

Santanello said it's easy to tell which animals were transplanted, because the bulls all have collars and most of the cows have tags in their ears. To further support the animal's migrations, he said there was a surprise earlier this spring in the Cataloochee Valley.
"We had a mature bull show up with no collar, and he wasn't one of ours," said Santanello, pointing out that populations of elk currently exist in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

September and October are ideal months to view elk in the Cataloochee Valley. Pre-rutting activity (prior to mating season) begins in September and peaks at the first of October. Bull elk make their legendary bugling calls to challenge other bulls and attract cows and bugling may be heard a mile or more away.

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In Other News

The Upstate SC Chapter of The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will be holding it's 20th annual Big Game Banquet and fundraiser to benefit the Upstate Chapter. The event will be held at The Poinsett Club in Greenville on Saturday August 13. The event will feature raffles for guns, a live auction and world class wild game food prepared by the Poinsett Club chefs. Fine craft beer will also be available from Blue Ridge Brewing Co. Doors open at 5 pm. A range of ticket packages are available by contacting Edward Wilson at 803-528-3574. Doors open at 5 pm.

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Phillip Gentry is the host of "Upstate Outdoors," broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week's guest on the show will be John Cox, winner of last week-end's Forest Wood Cup championship bass tournament. Contact Gentry at pgentry6@bellsouth.net.

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Elk are a common site in the Cataloochee Valley area of North Carolina, but expansion of the herd may be pushing the offspring of these animals in South Carolina. Photo by Phillip Gentry.

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Who Stocks Lake Hartwell?

Over the last month, fisheries managers with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources have stocked Lake Hartwell with over one million striped bass and hybrid striped bass. Before you run to get your fishing rods, you should know that these stocked fish average only about 2 inches apiece in length.

Local striped bass anglers applaud the stockings as striped bass and their hybrid cousins do not reproduce naturally in the lake like bass, bream, catfish, and other popular species of game fish. Still, there are a lot of misnomers about who, what, and why stripers are put in the lake.

“We have three different strains of striped bass that we stock in different parts of the state,” said SCDNR Freshwater Fisheries Chief Ross Self. “We have a Santee strain, which are the original strain of fish native to the Santee-Cooper system and the Savannah River strain, those fish that have historically been stocked in Lakes Hartwell, Russell, and Thurmond. We do have a third strain in the Pee Dee system as well.”

One of the criticisms the SCDNR receives about striped bass stockings in the Savannah system, particularly Lake Hartwell, is that Hartwell only gets the leftover fish after the Santee-Cooper drainage, which includes Lakes Wateree, Murray, Marion and Moultrie have received their quota.

The Savannah system is cooperatively managed by both South Carolina and Georgia Departments of Natural Resources as both states share a common border along the entire Savannah River. Region I Fisheries Coordinator Dan Rankin is the representative for South Carolina in this cooperative program.

“We hear this about Hartwell all the time, presumably because of the decline in the number of stripers there over the last couple of years,” said Rankin. “In fact, this is just not accurate because the systems use two entirely different strains of fish. Those strains are not interchangeable.”

As part of the cooperative agreement between states, Georgia hatcheries retrieve the eggs from striped bass in the Savannah system each spring and fertilize them in their labs. When the eggs are hatched, the fry are sent over to the South Carolina striped bass facility in Bonneau near Lake Moultrie to be grown out in ponds. This batch of fish are the group that were stocked into Hartwell over the last month to the tune of 1.2 million fingerlings.

“The concern about Hartwell stems from a fish kill that occurred during the late summer in 2013,” said Rankin. “The loss of fish was higher than we originally estimated as electro- shocking surveys and angler’s surveys conducted by both states have shown.”

The kill was a result of higher-than-normal water levels that were siphoned off as part of the lake’s flood control agenda. This took place during the late summer when surface water temperatures were at a critically high level and the siphoning reduced the amount of fish sustainable water in the lower lake basin.

Rankin said the target stock rate annually for Lake Hartwell is an average of 13.5 fish mix of striped bass and hybrids per acre. He said the Department has beefed up this number since the 2013 event in an effort to replenish stocks. 

Both striped bass and hybrid striped bass have better than average growth rates in the Savannah system but will take years to replace the largest specimens of fish that were the most susceptible to the fish kill.

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Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week, Adam Ruonala from Palmetto State Armory will be on the show. Contact Gentry at pgentry6@bellsouth.net.

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Despite recent criticisms over lower than normal striped bass populations in Lake Hartwell, the SCDNR in a cooperative program with Georgia has maintained striped bass and hybrid stockings for many years. Graph provided by SCDNR- Dan Rankin.

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SC General Assembly Passes Deer Tag Legislation

After more than two years of discussion, debate, and public consensus meetings, the South Carolina General Assembly has passed legislation that will institute a deer tag program as part of SCDNR’s hunting and fishing license structure. In addition, the bill will establish, for the first time, a limit on the number of antlered deer than can be harvested across the state.

On May 24, the General Assembly, in the waning days of the 121st session, made final amendments and passed Senate Bill 454 on May 26. The legislation has been sent to the Governor’s office.

In the new legislation, resident hunters who purchase a hunting license and Big Game Permit will receive at no additional charge three buck tags with no antler restrictions, three unrestricted doe tags and eight date specific doe or antlerless deer tags. 

In addition to the three buck tags, resident deer hunters will have the option to purchase two more buck tags for $5 each which carry an antler restriction of a minimum of four points on one antler or a minimum twelve inch inside antler spread. 

Effectively, the legislation places the variety of regulations currently in place across Game Zones 1 and 2 in a deer tag format for the entire state with a few modifications. All deer harvested in South Carolina will be required to be tagged. The program will start out allowing a hunter who receives the three unrestricted buck tags and then purchases two restricted buck tags to kill 5 bucks in a season. This is statewide and effectively establishes a limit on bucks in areas where before there was no limit.

Under the current program, deer hunters are allowed to kill one doe per day on specified doe days without the use of a tag. In addition, hunters can purchase up to four doe tags to use at any time after September 15. 

The newly legislated program will replace doe days with date specific tags as well as allow the use of “anytime” doe tags.

The Doe Quota program that is administered by application for larger land tracts with higher populations of deer will be continued under the new legislation as the Deer Quota program, allowing the harvest of both bucks and does and is regulated by the state through issuance of an appropriate number of Deer Quota tags.

Non-resident deer hunters will be allowed to purchase deer tags in South Carolina for a fee. The first antlered deer tag costs $50 and $20 each for each additional antlered deer tag up to a limit of four tags. Two of these four tags are required to be restricted, carrying the same requirements as resident restricted buck tags. 

Fees generated from the deer tag program will be divided with 80 percent going toward the cost of administering the program and 20 % going towards law enforcement. The new legislation also imposes penalties for violations of the program, not properly tagging deer or taking more than the legal limit of deer with fines of between $50 - $500 per animal or up to 30 days imprisonment. 

Portions of the revenues will also be used during the first year of operation to fund a coyote management program.

The legislation has been a focal point of state wildlife biologists, conservation groups, legislators, and members of the deer hunting public. Overall the new legislation has been seen as positive. It passed the final hearing in the both houses with only one vote of opposition.

Conservation groups have applauded the move to finally establish limits for antlered deer in the state while also introducing a tagging system that is enforceable by law, though some believe that the limits on deer harvest, particularly with the varied doe tags, is still too liberal.

If signed by the Governor, the new tagging program will not take effect until the 2017 Deer Season.

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 Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week, the show will be broadcasting live from The Beef Jerky Outlet on Woodruff Rd in Greenville. Contact Gentry at pgentry6@bellsouth.net.

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During the waning days of the legislative session, the South Carolina General Assembly passed legislation that will finally establish limits on deer across the state and institute a tagging program. Photo by Phillip Gentry.

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Turkey Hunters Urged To Complete And Return Survey Forms

Last week, a number of randomly selected state turkey hunters were mailed a survey card by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. The selection was drawn from the nearly 120,000 hunters listed in the state’s turkey data base who applied for or were automatically mailed turkey tags during the past spring turkey hunting season.

According to Charles Ruth, the state wildlife biologist who coordinates the state’s Wild Turkey program, the information received by the state from these surveys provides valuable information in the management of the species.

“This is the only way we have of determining the numbers of the turkey harvest in our state,” said Ruth. “It is extremely important that hunters who received the survey form fill them out and mail them back, even if they did not hunt this year.”

Ruth said that of the 120,000 sets of turkey tags issued this past year, statistics show that less than a third of those, approximately 45,000, actually hunted turkey during the past season.

“Turkey tags are free, so a lot of license holders check off the turkey tag renewal just in case they decide to turkey hunt, and if you apply for tags one time, you continue to receive them,” he said.

Over the last several years, some hunters have become critical of this method of data collection. In years past, the state required that hunters tag and register the bird at a local check station. Neighboring states have instituted an electronic check system where hunters are required to tag and register the harvest by calling in the tag number to a computerized phone bank. Ruth said all of the data collection systems have their pros and con’s and none are ideal.

“Several years before we discontinued the check stations, we instituted the current survey system and at least 25% of hunters in the survey admitted they did not check their turkeys for one reason or another,” he said.

Opponents of the current data collection method criticize that the random survey skews the numbers received by the SCDNR which has maintained a steady decline in turkey numbers across the state for the last decade. This eventually resulted in a reduction in the bag limit of turkeys beginning this past season.”

“I am openly critical of the whole process,” said Stan Coleman of Fountain Inn. “I have hunted turkeys for the past 10 years and I have never received a survey and don’t know anyone who has. But based on someone else’s opinion, the limit was dropped and I have more turkeys on my property now than I ever had.”

Ruth said that as the lead biologist for the state turkey program, he would welcome the addition of a tele-check type system, but would continue the random survey mailings even if a tele-check system was established.

“Most people don’t understand how the survey works on a statistical basis,” said Ruth. “The survey works based on trends. The bottom line is that the numbers may not be exactly right but it does show trends on a consistent basis and it’s more important for us to see the trends and be consistent than to get an exact count every year.”

The results of the 2016 survey will be posted on the SCDNR website once completed. The results from the 2015 survey can be found at: www.dnr.sc/wildlife/turkey/2015TurkeyHarvest.html.

If you have questions regarding the survey, you can call 803-734-3886 or write to 2016 Turkey Hunter Survey, SCDNR, P.O. Box 167, Columbia, SC 29202

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 Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week’s guest will be State Senator Tom Corbin. Contact Gentry at pgentry6@bellsouth.net.

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Turkey hunters who received the randomly selected turkey hunter survey are urged to complete and return the survey even if they did not hunt. This survey is a valuable tool in managing the state’s wild turkey populations. Photo by Phillip Gentry. 

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Extended Turkey Season Leaves Some Upstate Hunters Wishing To Go Back To Old Sch

After years of pining away for an earlier start to the wild turkey season, some Upstate turkey hunters are now wishing things could go back to normal. The 2016 Eastern Wild Turkey Season opened uniformly across South Carolina this year on March 20 and ended  Thursday on May 6. The extended season was a result of recent legislation aimed at reducing the bag limit for wild turkey while creating a uniform season across the state.

Prior to the current year, turkey season opened on private lands in Game Zones 3 – 6 on March 5 and ran through May 1 while the Upstate, Game Zones 1 & 2 didn’t open until April 1 and also closed on May 1. During the past legislative session, state lawmakers sought to close what many hunters deemed as an unfair advantage for low state hunters who paid the same license fees to hunt as Upstate hunters but were allowed not only an earlier start, but an additional two weeks in the season.

Mike Johnson, manager of The Clinton House in Laurens County said he anticipated what a lot of Upstate hunters came to discover by getting into the woods 10 days earlier than normal.

“Our breeding season is different up here than it is in the lower part of the state, our hens were not ready when the season opened but that didn’t stop hunters from hitting the woods clucking like hens ready to mate,” said Johnson. “It didn’t take long for an old gobbler to figure that out.”

Union County hunter Mike Gault said he enjoyed the early season which resulted in both he and his son getting shots at turkey in the first week of the new season.

“We did real good, the males were still grouped together and with no hens to compete with, a lot of birds responded to calls really well during the extended time,” said Gault.

Most hunters agree that by the beginning of April, gobblers that normally would be gobbling frequently throughout the day to gather hens once they became ready to breed went uncharacteristically silent.

Part of the blame may lie with the weather patterns experiences during late March and April. The daily temperatures during the last 10 days of March were much warmer than normal. By the first of April, a cold snap came through and shut the typical mating activity down.

Jerry McKinley of Pelzer was able to use one of his three tags during the second week of April, but said he did it by putting away his turkey call and using some old woodsman tricks.

“The way they gobbled during March and then to just shut up like that during April, I figured the old birds had already been called to by one too many hunters,” said McKinley. “I started just slinking through the woods, looking for sign, and listening. When I thought I was in an area where there might be turkey, I just sat down and started scratching the leaves with my hand.”

McKinly said on his third hunt in April, that scratching brought him a gobbler in full strut coming over the rise, the last rise that bird would ever cross.

According to Bart Littlejohn of Carolina Farm and Wildlife Supply in Pauline, the end of the season was the worst he’s seen in recent memory.

“I haven’t heard of anyone killing a bird in the last 10 days,” said Littlejohn. “It might be the lack of gobbling and activity has taken it’s toll on hunters. Personally, I hunted hard for four weeks and was just tired of it by the time May arrived.”

Littlejohn said he also disagrees with the assessment by SCDNR of the decline of the turkey population in recent years.

“I have no faith in the statistical models and summer surveys they use to determine the overall population,” said Littlejohn. “I’ve seen a large number of both hens and jakes this year and we were forecasted to have less turkeys around now than ever before.”

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Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week’s guest will Chris Wells from Wellspoken Ministries. Contact Gentry at pgentry6@bellsouth.net.

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Many Upstate hunters found the new extended 2016 turkey to be more than they bargained for. Photo by Phillip Gentry.

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Bream Moon Rising

“Bream” is the colloquial name given to a gregarious set of panfish species in the South. Typically, a bream is a bluegill, but can also include redear sunfish, also known as shellcrackers, redbreasts, and an assortment of other sunfish. 

Most fishermen can probably trace their first fishing roots back to this more than willing fish. This time of year the most numerous of bream species, shellcrackers and bluegills, move into shallow waters to nest and lay eggs. The males prepare the nests and guard the nest from predators once the females have deposited eggs. This guardianship is what makes the fishing for big bull ‘gills so exciting. Males, decked out in almost solid black spawning colors, will strike at anything that comes near the nest with a vengeance. 

Bream spawn around the full moon with shellcrackers usually taking the first ful moon in April and bluegills coming around the full moon in May. This year, with the early spring and the late full moon in April, it looks to be a bream free-for-all.

It’s also for this reason that fly rods and popping bugs make a great bedding bream arsenal. With the growing popularity of fly fishing over the years, tackle manufacturers began putting less expensive and more user friendly fly rods and combos on the market. A good quality fly rod combo can be had for about the same price as any baitcast or spinning outfit. Like spinning and baitcasting, it takes a bit of practice to learn to effectively handle a fly rod. 

As for lures, match the size of the bait to the size of the fish. Bream have small mouths and bugs and flies with smaller hooks in the size 10 range will hook more fish. Larger baits with larger hooks are acceptable for the biggest bream and the not-so-occasional largemouth bass that shows up.

Locating a bream bed is more than half the battle. Bream prefer to bed in shallow water surrounded by plenty of structure. Typical bedding habitat will be muddy or sandy bottoms in shallow water around structure such as docks, brush or rocks.

Locating bream beds requires the use of at least four of the five senses. Look for visual signs of bedding such as saucer-like depressions in the bottom in clear water or tell-tale wakes of bream swimming in shallow water. Foamy, bubbles may also be present in backwater eddies from bream fanning as well as stirred up, muddy water. Look for beds to be located in the shallow flat areas in the upper reaches of most lakes.

 If an area contains a large bream bed close to shore or if fishing without a boat, a good idea is to walk the bank or wade in the area and cast to the fish. Care should be exercised not to let your shadow cross the bed to keep from spooking fish.

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Bassmaster Elites Take on South Carolina's Coastal Rivers this Weekend

Georgetown Hosting The Second Stop On The Bassmaster Elite Tour April 7 - 10

The Bassmaster Elites tour will make it’s second stop of the season in South Carolina this week-end. The Elites last visited the Palmetto state during the 2015 championship Bassmaster Classic which was fished on Lake Hartwell.

This time, the 110 professional bass anglers will be duking it out on unfamiliar territory as they fish a conglomeration of coastal rivers that flow into Winyah Bay and Charleston Harbor. The primary rivers include the Pee Dee, Waccamaw, Santee, Cooper and Black, among other smaller tributaries in the region.

Several of the professional anglers visited the area prior to the waters becoming off-limits over the winter, but few came away with any kind of conclusion. 

The Cooper River, which flows out of Lake Moultrie and makes it’s way to Charleston Harbor is the most reliable bass fishery of the coastal rivers that are fair game for the tournament, but with the requirement to launch from the Carroll Campbell Marine Complex at Winyah Bay in Georgetown, anglers opting to fish the Cooper will sacrifice nearly half of each day’s fishing just to get to the Cooper.

 “You can bet that there will be a number of anglers who choose to make the long-distance run to the Cooper River,” said the 1999 Bassmaster Classic champion Davy Hite of Ninety Six, S.C. “That’s the risky part of this game. By choosing to make a long run, an angler is sacrificing large amounts of fishing time, gambling mechanical failure, empty gas tanks or a myriad of other potential obstacles.”

Practice opened this week which gave the anglers their first look at the conditions they will be facing this week-end. Unlike inland lakes and reservoirs where wind and rainfall typically dictate water conditions, tidal influxes from the Atlantic Ocean will be a big factor in what kind of water the anglers will face.

“It’s gonna be tough,” said 2015 Bassmaster Classic Champion Casey Ashley from Donalds, SC. “We’re going to have high water and off tides during our fishing hours. Add in that it’s going to require some long rides to get to fishable waters and I believe it’s going to be interesting.”

The Winyah Bay delta is not typically known for producing large numbers of big largemouth bass, although it frequently produces big bass with little rhyme or reason. Professional anglers typically fare better finding a consistent pattern they can rely on to produce better than average daily limits across   four days of competition. 

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USC Goes Back-To-Back as FLW Bass Fishing Collegiate Champs

Anderson Will Represent College Series in 2016 Forrest Wood Cup

The University of South Carolina may need to rethink it’s sports marketing strategy. While it’s highly supported Division 1 football program has proven to be a poor return on investment of late, one of it’s club sport affiliates, the Anglers@USC bass fishing club team, has been kicking butt and making names.

Locally outshining the hoopla of Florida pro John Cox, who earned a check for $100,000 by winning the FLW’s Lake Hartwell Tour Event, the FLW Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship was won by Chris Blanchette and Hampton Anderson of the University of South Carolina. The USC anglers fished a three- day event, emerging on top of 53 college teams on Lake Keowee. 

The USC anglers posted a tournament best three day, 15 fish limit weighing 38 pounds, 15 ounces, finishing 14 ounces ahead of second place team Kennedy Kinkade and Josh Worth from Colorado Mesa Univesity. The win netted Blanchette and Anderson $29,000 in cash and a brand new Ranger Z175 bass boat and 90 HP Mercury Outboard motor.

“We’re both conservative fishermen,” Blanchette says. “We just want to go out and catch a solid limit. But we knew this is it – this is the National Championship. We came here to win, not take second or third.”

The victory posted back-to-back wins for the Gamecocks in FLW Collegiate championships following last year’s win on Lake Murray by USC anglers Patrick Walters and Gettys Brannon.

For college club teams, bass fishing on a national circuit is both a blessing and a curse. The students rarely get the rescheduling consideration common with other college athletes and the anglers have to pay for their own tackle, gear and traveling expenses. On the other hand, winning a big sum of money, unheard of in other sanctioned college athletics, goes straight into the pockets of the anglers.

With regard to the FLW Collegiate National Championship, winning the event comes with another blessing and curse. The winning team gets a free berth to compete against the professional bass anglers in this year’s coveted Forrest Wood Cup, which will be held on August 4 - 7 on Lake Wheeler, AL. The curse is that only one angler can go to the Cup and the way that spot is decided is by blind fish-off the following day on an as yet undisclosed lake.

Following the awards ceremony, Blanchette and Anderson were informed by FLW officials that they would be competing against each other in separate boats on Lake Russell.

‘We both knew this was what would happen if we won, it’s just business,” said Hampton Anderson, a TL Hanna High School graduate from Anderson.

While the pros decided their fate on Sunday, the USC anglers staged their own private head-to-head competition on Lake Russell, launching from Sanders Ferry ramp on the Savannah River side of the lake.

“I haven’t fished Russell since I was a kid with my Dad,” said Anderson. “I just went out there and started beating the banks.”

At the end of the day, Anderson emerged victorious with a five-bass limit of 10 pounds, 1 ounce, while Blanchette caught four keepers for 6-6. Anderson said he simply fished around the boat ramp but figured out a pattern to catch largemouth bass, which were holding at the ends of tree blow-downs rather than concentrating on the smaller spotted bass which were everywhere else.

Anderson said he’s looking forward to competing against the pros on Lake Wheeler. A senior finance major, he said his strength as a bass fisherman is fishing slow and deep, both desired combinations for fishing Wheeler in the dead of summer.

“I’ll probably drag a jig around on the bottom and see what happens,” he said.

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 Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week, Upstate Outdoors will have Edwin Evers, winner of the 2016 Bassmaster Classic, appearing on the show. Contact Gentry at pgentry6@bellsouth.net.

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Last Sunday, Chris Blanchette and Hampton Anderson of the University of South Carolina won the FLW Bass Fishing College National Championship ahead of 53 other college teams on Lake Keowee.The win represents back-to-back FLW National Championships for the bass fishing Gamecocks. Photo courtesy FLW.

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