Francis Marion fishing ponds offer family fun and outdoor adventure

Looking for some simple outdoor fun for your family? Did you know that the Forest Service actively manages more than a dozen freshwater fishing ponds on the Francis Marion National Forest near Charleston?

The ponds, which vary in size from a half acre up to 8 acres, are all easily accessible from Forest Service roads for fishing from the bank. The ponds also provide an excellent opportunity for anglers with small boats—including kayaks and canoes—to access pristine freshwaters surrounded by undeveloped forest.

A summary for each fishing pond with driving directions and a handy map can be found at: www.fs.usda.gov/activity/scnfs/recreation/fishing/?recid=47051&actid=42 (Please note: No gasoline motors are allowed in the freshwater ponds and lakes on the Francis Marion National Forest.)

Forest Service biologists—in cooperation with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources—have been actively managing these ponds for several years to increase fishing opportunities and improve fish populations and diversity. The ponds all have a variety of sunfish species (bream) as well as largemouth bass, with some catfish and other fish species for angling.

Bluegill sampled on the Francis Marion National Forest

“With much of the Charleston area being rapidly developed, these fishing ponds on the Francis Marion National Forest provide easy access to simple fishing opportunities in a natural environment for families and anglers of all ages and abilities,” said Keith Whalen, fisheries biologist for the Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests. “Many anglers developed their love of fishing at small neighborhood lakes or farm ponds catching bream and bass with a simple cane pole or fishing rod. These ponds on the national forest offer outdoor adventure with the same thrill of fishing and exploration.”

Much like farm ponds, biologists manage the forest ponds with lime and fertilizer as needed. Coastal freshwater systems tend to be acidic in the Southeast, which reduces fertility for many aquatic organisms that provide food for larger fish. And like farm ponds, the isolated ponds on the Francis Marion can get “out of balance” with many stunted sunfish and fewer (and smaller) largemouth bass. Sunfish, including bluegills, are such prolific breeders that without enough predators they can overcrowd a pond. This is where fishing comes in: “anglers can improve the quality of fishing ponds by catching and keeping sunfish,” Whalen said. “This helps balance the pond to make room for larger sunfish and more (and larger) largemouth bass.”

Biologists annually sample the fish populations in the ponds on the Francis Marion National Forest over two days in the summer using electrofishing. The electric current from a boat-mounted small generator stuns the fish so biologists can net them—then measure and weigh the fish caught and record the species. After the fish are revived, they are returned to the pond. Biologists use these samples to get a picture of the overall health of the pond, including the mix of fish species and the relative health of each population based on weights and lengths.

Biologists then create a plan to improve the balance of each pond for improved fishing.

Fishing options and techniques for the forest ponds are varied from artificial lures for bass, bowfin and chain pickerel—including spinner baits, plastic worms and lizards, and small crank baits. Bass and sunfish can also be caught on medium to lightweight fly rods, using popping bugs with a dropper fly.

Fishing with live bait will also produce fish on the Francis Marion. Perhaps the simplest method—using a cane pole and a bobber with a worm or cricket—will bring back memories and create new ones with your family!

More reminders: Venomous snakes, bees, wasps and alligators are always possible at aquatic locations on the Francis Marion National Forest. Don’t forget bug spray, drinking water and sunscreen in the forest. A South Carolina fishing license is required for all anglers 16 and older fishing on public lands or in public waters; and creel limits are in effect unless otherwise posted.

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources has an excellent freshwater fishing guide and other fishing tips at www.dnr.sc.gov/fish/beginners.html

For more information on fishing on the Francis Marion National Forest, visit www.fs.usda.gov/activity/scnfs/recreation/fishing  or call the local Ranger District Office at (843) 336-2200. For fishing licenses and regulations, visit the SCDNR at www.dnr.sc.gov/fishing.html

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Photos with captions: Courtesy Keith Whalen, USFS





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