November 21, 2013

Outdoors column: DNR working to aid redbreast population

One of the native fish species in the Little Pee Dee River got a nice boost this month to help them withstand pressure from a ravenous non-native species.

One of the native fish species in the Little Pee Dee River got a nice boost this month to help them withstand pressure from a ravenous non-native species.

During the first two weeks of November, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources stocked approximately a half-million redbreast sunfish at various locations in the river. The final stocking came on Nov. 14 when about 10,000 redbreast were released into the river at the John Holiday Boat Ramp near Galivants Ferry.

The S.C. DNR’s Freshwater Fisheries Section annually stocks from seven to 10 million fish in state waters.

Species raised and stocked into appropriate bodies of water across the state include striped bass, hybrid bass, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, blue catfish, bluegill, redbreast, redear sunfish (shellcracker), rainbow trout, brook trout and brown trout.

Redbreast were selected for stocking in the Little Pee Dee because they are a popular species among river fishermen and their numbers – although stable – are threatened by flathead catfish that have taken up residence in the river over the last 15 to 20 years.

The redbreast population also has been adversely affected by drought conditions, particularly the drought that stretched from 1998-2002 and is considered the worst in the state since records have been kept.

Flathead catfish are native to the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi river basins and are considered an invasive species in South Carolina rivers. Unlike most catfish, the large flathead prefers live bait and studies show they have a particular taste for redbreast, along with bullhead catfish.

Still, the redbreast population in the Little Pee Dee appears to be stable, according to Ross Self, Chief of Fisheries of S.C. DNR’s Freshwater Fisheries Section.

“We feel like they’re seeing more redbreast in the river this year,” said Self. “From our sampling, it looks like the redbreast population is going pretty well in the Little Pee Dee.”

The redbreast that were stocked in the river were spawned in the spring and measured about 2-3 inches in length when released. Since the species begins spawning at a year of age, the released fish should provide a boost to the population in 2014.

“Some of these fish will be spawning next spring and into next summer,” said Self.

Anglers can personally help the redbreast by catching flatheads and helping to keep the number of the non-native catfish in check.

“Catch all the flatheads you can,” said Self. “They are considered a non-game species and as such have no creel or size limit. You can take all you want, any size.”

Hooks For Hearts Tournament

The John Payne Memorial Hooks for Hearts Tournament will be held Saturday in Murrells Inlet with the captains meeting set for today, 6 p.m., at Dead Dog Saloon.

Weigh-in will also be held at Dead Dog Saloon from 2:30 to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

The largest spotted seatrout weighed in will earn $1,000. The event will benefit the American Heart Association.

The tournament is the final of three in the John Payne Cup Series, dedicated to the late John Payne, a popular fisherman in Murrells Inlet who passed away unexpectedly on January 25 at the age of 53.

The angler or team who has compiled the most points in the series will win the John Payne Cup.

For more information call 843-655-5459.

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