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G-Man Wins 2016 Bassmasters AOY, Longer Rods Legalized for 2017

With the 2016 season coming to a close, Bassmaster Elite veritable favorite Gerald Swindle of Guntersville, Alabama claimed his second Angler-Of-The-Year title when the dust settled at Mille Lacs Lake in central Minnesota.

Swindle, known to fans as "The G-Man" didn't have his best performance at the final event of the 2016 tour, but his five fish limit of smallmouth bass weighing 22 pounds on the final day of the event put him in 10 place, enough to maintain the surmountable lead in points he had accumulated throughout the Bass Elite Season and finish ahead of Keith Combs, Randall Tharp, and Jacob Powroznik.

Swindle also won the AOY title back in 2004 and won the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open in 2011, but surprisingly has never won a Bassmaster Elite event in his career. Swindle credits consistent finishes, a hard work ethic, and abundant support from his friends, fans, and family for winning this year's title.

"My parents were in the crowd to watch me win AOY," Swindle said. "And my wife has stuck by me, through thick and thin — she's kept my head in the game and helped me stay focused when it was most important. I'm so thankful for the support I receive from her and my family. This is a team sport for the Swindles, and it's a victory we all get to celebrate together."

The AOY title automatically placed Swindle in the 2017 Bassmaster Classic which will be held on Lake Conroe, a 21,000-acre impoundment of the San Jacinto River in Montgomery and Walker counties and will weigh in at Houston's Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros.

In other news from the Bassmaster camp, a 40 year standing regulation regarding the allowable length of fishing rod legal for use in Bassmaster tournaments will be extended, literally. Starting with the 2017 season, anglers will be allowed to use rods as long as 10 feet.

The current rule allows competitors to use one casting, spin casting or spinning rod (8-foot maximum length from butt of handle to rod tip) at any one time. The long standing rule is somewhat of a throwback to days when two competitors fished from the same boat in the same tournament category. It was thought that using a rod longer than 8 feet might give one of the competitors, presumably in the front, a greater advantage.

These days, Bassmaster Elite anglers are accompanied only by a tournament marshall or cameraman who does not fish. Open tournaments involve a pro angler or "boater" who is fishing for a larger prize and a co-angler or "non-boater" who is restricted to the back of the boat and the two do not compete.

The change was sought by several anglers who specialize in fishing tactics that would benefit from the use of a longer rod. Some tournaments in western states had already began allowing the use of longer rods to take advantage of the growing popularity of casting large, heavy swimbaits and spoons for largemouth bass as well as several smallmouth bass presentations.

"I don't have anything against the new rule, it's probably not going to be something I use because that's just not the way I fish," said 2015 Bassmaster Classic champion Casey Ashley from Donalds, SC. "Some of those guys in the western regions throw those big baits. So long as it's legal for everyone, I'm OK with it but I'm not sure I could fit a 10 foot rod in my boat."

The new rule will apply to all B.A.S.S. trails, including the Bassmaster Elite Series, the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens and all B.A.S.S. Nation and youth events.

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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, local Bassmaster Elite angler Casey Ashley will be on the show. Contact Gentry at pgentry6@bellsouth.net.

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Gerald Swindle of Guntersville, AL claimed his second Bassmaster Elite Angler-Of-The-Year title last week following his 10
th place finish at the final event held in Minnesota. Photo courtesy of BASS.

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Primitive Weapons?

Advancements in design, manufacture, and function make these deer hunting weapons far from primitive.

Love them or hate them, regulations that govern the public and private lands in the Upstate of South Carolina provide for specific weapons requirements during the early weeks of the whitetail deer hunting season.

In Game Zone 2, which comprises the majority of the Upstate from Abbeville to York and all counties in between, archery season for deer opened on September 15. Next weekend, on October 1, the "primitive weapons" season will open.

Primitive weapons are defined as any black powder propelled firearm that is loaded through the muzzle of the gun. In many instances the season, which runs through October 10, is also referred to black powder or muzzleloader season.

On an odd note, the definition of archery was amended several years ago to include both vertically held bows and horizontal bows, more commonly known as crossbows. The twist is that archery significantly pre-dates any "primitive" firearms by several centuries.

On October 11, the modern firearms season commences and is an allowable weapon through the end of the whitetail deer season which ends at dark on January 1. Each weapon category has a specific start date each year but is allowed through the progression of seasons.

Contrary to the name, "primitive" is probably way down the list of terms used to describe both inline black powder guns and even today's crossbows.

The modern inline black powder rifle made popular by Tony Knight back in the mid 1980's as well as the adaptation of "shotgun" 209 primers and pelletized powder has turned muzzle loading from a primitive weapon to a high tech weapon.

Pre-measured powder pellets are dropped into the rifled barrel, followed by a belted or saboted slug, pushed into place with an aluminum rod, and fired using a modern firing pin to impact the primer which delivers an equal spark through a breech plug. In most cases, the rifle has a composite stock and is aimed using any number of modern rifle scopes which provide dead on accuracy out to 200 yards.

The same type advancements can be found in today's archery tackle, particularly crossbows which have given rise to more early season deer hunters in the woods come September because the bow can be cocked and locked, aimed very similarly to a gun, and fired using a trigger mechanism without the required movement of drawing the bow, sighting in with an aiming pin, and releasing the string manually.

"Speed is the key in both situations," said Robert Mayfield of Greer, an avid deer hunter who takes to the woods on September 15 with his Barnett crossbow in hand and trades it on October 1 for his Thompson Center muzzleloader . "The crossbow is as fast or faster than any compound bow without the strain of draw weights that might require 80 pounds of pull."

The one leveling factor across the board, whether the hunter is using the most modern crossbow or inline muzzleloader, is in 90% of occurrences shooting at a live target, the hunter gets one unhurried chance to make the shot count.

"It's still mostly a one shot deal. It takes a fair amount of effort and movement, including getting a foot up in the stirrup of the crossbow to re-cock it," said Mayfield. "With the muzzleloader, you still have that 5 – 10 seconds of blindness when that blackpowder fogs you in and you can't see anything till the smoke clears. Most times the animal is long gone if you missed the first time."

"I guess that's why they call it hunting and not killing," he said.

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On Friday September 23, the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians will have a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Grand Reopening of its museum located at 210 Main Street Bryson City, NC at 2:00 PM followed by several guest speakers and a museum tour. On Saturday, September 24th, at Noon, the Museum will have its first Hall of Fame induction ceremony preceded by a luncheon. Tickets are $35.00/person. For more information, contact the Bryson City Chamber of commerce at 828-4788-3681 or Bob Nanney at fearnofishbob@att.net

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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 broadcast live from Carolina Motorfest at the Greenville/Pickens Speedway. Contact Gentry at pgentry6@bellsouth.net.

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Today's modern blackpowder firearms come complete with advancements in firearms technology that lend little credence to the term "primitive weapons". Photo by Phillip Gentry.

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Hunters For The Hungry – Putting Meat On The Table For Those In Need

One of the more popular perks of being a deer hunter is that it provides food for the table. Venison is widely touted by even the most die-hard gluten-free, antibiotic free, lean meat advocates as a valuable source of protein. With deer season opening this week across most of the Upstate, the annual supply of venison in the households of hunters and those lucky enough to know a successful deer hunter starts to soar.

But what about those, less fortunate, who don't get enough food to eat, the truly hungry that live right here in our own communities?

Another great value of the available supply of venison also helps the less fortunate, those deemed truly hungry thanks to a statewide organization known as South Carolina Hunters and Landowners for the Hungry (HLFH). This organization, which is based in Pacolet, SC, provides deer hunters in South Carolina a great opportunity to help with feeding the hungry by providing processed (ground), frozen meat to food banks throughout our state.

The organization enlists the help of a number of deer processors across the state. These processors collect donated venison from hunters and provide them to the organization. In return, HLFH solicits donations from both hunters and non-hunters alike to provide funding to compensate processing, storing, and distribution of the meat to food banks around the state.

"As the 2016-2017 Big Game Hunting Season approaches, we are asking you to consider a sponsorship of or donation to the South Carolina Landowners and Hunters for the Hungry," said Harold Campbell, president of HLFH. "All monies received go to our sole cause, which is to provide venison to needy persons here in South Carolina, a nutritional source of food. No one in Hunters For The Hungry receives any compensation for his or her efforts. We are all volunteers."

In the organization's 12 years in operation, HLFH has delivered nearly 1,500,000 meals to needy families and charities in the upstate. At its inception, the founders of the organization realized that hunger is a reality in both urban and rural areas and that 1 in 5 families across the state are impacted by real hunger. Each year, tens of thousands of emergency meals are provided to South Carolinians every month from meat donated to food banks by HLFH, nearly half of those impacted are children.

It began as a vision by the group who saw a way that the sport and tradition of deer hunting could give back to the community. As the sport of deer hunting grew in popularity, the deer hunters and land owners in the community who founded HLFH recognized an opportunity.

Some deer hunters found themselves in possession of more fresh meat than they needed or wanted. This resource could be organized to benefit those in the community who were hungry, and who otherwise would do without, could be provided with quality meat.

Secondly, in a day and age where deer hunting often gets undeserved negative attention, providing this service to the community would generate positive publicity for hunters and the tradition of deer hunting.

As a service to both the community and as a management tool for one of the state's most valuable resources, having a venue to allow unwanted or donated meat from the annual deer harvest in South Carolina can be used more effectively efficiently by eliminating waste.

"We will be holding our annual banquet this weekend," said Campbell. "It's going to be a great family event and we invite everyone, not just deer hunters, but anyone who wants to contribute to this good cause, to come out and help us help the needy in our community."

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This Saturday, September 17, the South Carolina Hunters and Landowners For The Hungry will be hosting its 11th Annual Benefit Banquet featuring US Representative from South Carolina's 4th District, Trey Gowdy.

The banquet will be held at Philadelphia Baptist Church in Pauline, SC at 6:00 pm. Dinner will be provided by HLFH. Door prizes will be donated by local area merchants. Donations will be accepted at the event and all donations are tax deductible.

For more information, call 864-585-9218 or visit schuntersforthehungry.org

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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 outdoor legend Hank Parker. Contact Gentry at pgentry6@bellsouth.net.

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Deer hunting is not only a popular tradition in the state, it also provides food for the table. Thanks to a local organization, it also provides food for those in need. Photos by Phillip Gentry

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No Rest for the Weary

With Labor Day in the rearview mirror and the official end of summer here, it's time to get serious about the upcoming deer season. For the majority of the Upstate, Game Zone 2, that means next Thursday, September 15 is opening day if you take to the woods with archery tackle. If you are not a bow hunter, you have a 2 week reprieve and possibly 3 ½ weeks if you are not a fan of muzzle loader hunting. Gun season, which includes modern rifles that don't require black powder, opens on Tuesday, October 11.

In that short time, there is much to be done if you plan on having a decent season this year. Private land hunters have it a bit easier than public land hunters. First off, you can start planning locations for stand placement and even erect those stands, put out trail cameras to make sure you've made a wise choice, and even begin sweetening the site with bait if so inclined.

Public land hunters will need to reserve doing anything permanent or even semi-permanent to the land you intend to hunt and baiting is not allowed. The biggest difference will be preparing private lands to try to coerce deer to show up where you want them to versus scouting and trying to figure out where deer will be naturally and making plans to hunt those areas on public land.

Either way you go, the first suggestion is to locate food sources. Early bow season will find deer making use of soft mast and browse foods – wild berries, honeysuckle, muscadines, and green browse plants. By the time gun season rolls around, you can expect acorns to start falling and deer will walk away from a fresh pile of store-bought corn to eat acorns.

Now is the time to find those trees that are laden with hard mast and decipher which direction deer are most likely to enter and exit those areas. Once well-worn trails are identified, stands that offer concealment and are located downwind will be the most beneficial. It is not a hard and fast rule, but here in the Upstate, winds tend to be from the south when the weather is warm and stable and from the north when things are changing or cooling off.

If you have the opportunity to establish food plots, now is the time to be doing that. Don't be overly concerned about the noise or traffic of a tractor bush hogging, plowing, or planting an area. Deer will discover soon enough that it is hunting season and the appeal of ripe greenery, which if planted now will sustain your hunting activities beginning around Thanksgiving, will give them reason to overcome the intrusion.

Finally, if you have areas where permanent stands are erected, now is the time to inspect those stands for safety. Ropes, chains, and straps used to secure the stands need to be checked and invariably, some burgeoning timber will need to be manicured so you can see the approach of deer around the stand.

As stated, hunting season is here. Last week-end's dove shoot and the area lakes becoming deserted will have to wait. Days spent toiling now will pay off in spades once the weather cools and quiet crackle of leaves means more than just an inquisitive squirrel.

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Game Zone 2 - Private Lands

Buck Limit: 2 per day, 5 per season (all methods and hunt periods combined)

Antlerless Limit: One (1) per day on either-sex days or with individual antlerless deer tags. Archers may take either-sex during primitive weapons seasons (including archery only season) without being required to tag the animal.

Archery Only: September 15 - 30
1 antlerless per day - 2 total.

Primitive Weapons: October 1 - 10
Muzzleloader is buck only, except Antlerless on October 1, 8 or with individual antlerless deer tags. 1 antlerless per day - 2 total.

Gun Hunts: October 11 - January 1
Buck only for all weapons except on either-sex days or with individual antlerless deer tag. 1 antlerless per day. Total 5.

Either-Sex Days: October 15, November 12, 19, 26; December 31; January 1

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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 Kyle Clark from Doc's Deer Scents. Contact Gentry at pgentry6@bellsouth.net.

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With deer season just a week or so away, deer hunters need to spend some time planting and scouting for food sources that will produce deer throughout the season. Photo by Phillip Gentry.

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It's About Time..

For most hunters, the parts are greater than the whole.

This Labor Day week-end kicks off the beginning of hunting season when hunters take to the fields on Saturday for the first of this fall’s hunting seasons. Each season is successively followed by another season, but for the true outdoorsman, the parts add up to much more than the total because no matter what quarry is being sought, it’s about hunting season…

It’s about crickets. It starts with those constant companions who slip in during the last days of summer heralding the arrival the fall season, when geese and ducks take flight in the evenings and the sounds of summer fade away.

It’s about mowed fields. The smell of the harvest on the cooling evening breezes bringing back memories of all the hunting seasons that have been and all those yet to be.

It’s about muddy boots. Who yearn to soak up the clay of the great outdoors and transport their owners to those special places where no tire dares to tread then humbly wait by the door at the end of the day to seek the next adventure.

It’s about dog hair and feathers. Of course, it’s always about dog hair. In the truck, in the house, on your clothes, but the feathers are a prideful reminder than some dogs are meant to be more than just pets and who, like the hunter, also seek the solace of outside.

It’s about high school football. Not from the bleachers, but the sounds of the bands and the dimmed cheers of the crowd that waft across the landscape reaching even into the tree tops where the solitary hunter waits in with great anticipation for his own game to begin.

It’s about orange in the windshield. That unspoken custom in the language of the outdoorsmen who simply acknowledge one another with a nod or raising of the hand at a stoplight or passing on some lonely rural highway at all hours of the day.

It’s about blood. Because let’s face it, hunting is about killing, and killing involves blood and the shedding of the quarry’s blood is sacred and not to be taken lightly, either in action or responsibility, but provides color to the soul.  

It’s about country diners that open at 4:00 AM. The din and clatter of coffee cups and plates, feeding the hungry who have little time to eat. It’s about bleary eyed hunters, dressed in drab clothing, and bleary-eyed waitresses trading cash for calories in the fluorescent glare of pre-dawn darkness. 

It’s about bullets. Bullets everywhere – in pants pockets, in the washing machine, in the console of the truck, but never one more when you need it the most.

It’s about empty boat ramps and empty beaches. It’s about the fear that while you rekindle the feel of the rod after a long hot summer the trophy buck you’ve been chasing will let his guard down and you won’t be there.

It’s about a whole new wardrobe, designed not to stand out in a crowd, but to blend in with nature. It’s about long forgotten gloves and hats, tucked away in heavy jackets, religiously stored away and washed to retain no human scent, but still smell like old dirt.

It’s about hunting buddies – past, present and future. The memories of those who have gone on to better hunting grounds and those oh-so-predictable ones who show up every fall. It’s about those who now have responsibilities and just can’t be there and those who just need a little more time.

It’s about hunting season…and it’s about time.   

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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 Jamie Burnett from Egret Baits.  Contact Gentry at pgentry6@bellsouth.net.

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Regardless of the quarry sought, for true outdoorsmen, hunting season is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Photo by Phillip Gentry.

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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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