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Posts from July 2014

Understanding Thermoclines, The Key To Summertime Fishing

I've long held with the belief that 10% of the fishermen catch 90% of the fish. The reason that saying rings true is that those 10 percenters understand that 90% of the fish are found in only 10% of the water. Professional tournament anglers have a process they go through while pre-fishing for a tournament that they refer to as "eliminating water".

While that process sounds more disgusting than it really is, "eliminating water" means verifying that fish either are or are not holding to a given pattern in the 10% of the water that se anglers seasoned anglers would expect them to be in.

During the summer months when fishing can become extremely difficult, much of the 10% of the water that anglers are looking to find fish in is related to a thermocline.

A thermocline is a layer of water more often found in a large body of water, where the temperature gradient is greater than that of the warmer layer above and the colder layer below. To understand the concept, a quick physical science lesson is in order.

A typical reservoir may have uniform temperatures throughout the lake, from top to bottom, for only a short time in the spring and again in the fall. In the summer, most lakes with sufficient depth (usually 30 -40 feet) are stratified into distinct, non-mixing layers of different temperatures. The top warmer layer is referred to as the epilimnion and the colder bottom layer is known as the hypolimnion. These two layers are separated by the metalimnion layer. The metalimnion, better known as the thermocline, is a zone of rapidly changing temperature.

You'll understand the concept better if you have ever dove down into a lake while swimming and found substantially colder water several feet below the surface. Fish thrive in this cooler layer because it has the best balance of dissolved oxygen. The colder water below, the hypolimnion layer, is actually devoid of oxygen. Because little sunlight reaches the hypolimnion, photosynthetic oxygen production is negligible and decomposition of dead plant and animal matter on the lake floor leads to declining oxygen levels as the summer progresses.

At this time of year, any lake that can and will develop a thermocline has done so. This means that 90% of the fish will most certainly be holding at specific depths in stratified reservoirs to take advantage of the cooler water that provides the highest dissolved oxygen.

To understand the seasonal movements of fish in our local reservoirs – striped bass, largemouth and spotted bass, and even larger catfish species, during the expansive summer months, you have to be constantly on the water monitoring them. As the temperatures and water inflows change, so do fish movements.

The best way to determine the level of the thermocline is by adjusting the sensitivity on most of today's modern sonar units. The cooler, denser water will rebound the signal and chart a slight line across the graph, marking the depth level. If fish are present in that area of the thermocline, it will also be the level where most of them are residing.

Another way to judge the thermocline is by the life of live bait such as herring, a typical striped bass favorite, or bait shop minnows, frequently used for bass and crappie. If you raise the minnow up too high, the heated water will quickly kill the bait. If you drop the bait below the thermocline, the lack of oxygen from the decomposition of plant and animal material on the lake floor will also kill the bait. This is an important consideration when fishing any live bait vertically beneath the boat.

The next step to finding fish is locating where the thermocline layer meets suitable fish cover.

Anglers often confuse the terms "structure" and "cover". Simply stated, structure is any terrain feature that crappie, bass, stripers, or other fish will find favorable given the time of year. Cover is a physical object, a stump, tree, rock pile, bridge piling or boat dock, that usually rises vertically in the water column to either break current or provide a hiding place.

Many professional anglers and guides have made a living fishing break lines – an underwater ridge where the bottom drops away to deeper water. As a method of locating fish at a particular depth, get on a specific break line and just follow it all over the lake. Since we already know that fish are more inclined to suspend at the level of the thermocline, the key is to put your baits right in the top of the thermocline and then follow the break line until you come across the fish holding on or above some kind of structure.

In Other News
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources, in cooperation with the Enoree District of the U.S. Forest Service, will host a special youth dove hunt in Union County on Saturday, Sept. 6.

The Sept. 6 youth dove hunt will be at the U.S. Forest Service Herbert Field about 5.6 miles southeast of the town of Carlisle. Only youth 17 years of age or younger will be allowed to shoot, and youth must be accompanied by an adult 21 years or older. Adults must remain in the field and closely supervise participating youth at all times.

For questions on the youth dove hunt, or for more information, contact the Union office of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at (864) 427-5140 or contact the U.S. Forest Service Enoree Office at (864) 427-9858.

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More Than Two Sides To The Kendall Jones Debate

Last week the internet controversy over Kendall Jones, a 19 year old Texas Tech cheerleader who has dedicated her Facebook site to exhibiting her kills of big game animals in Africa, hit a critical mass as news reports and public response to the issue from both sides of the right-to-hunt debate mounted. Jones has received death threats from site viewers extolling the villainy of her African safaris. The result has been a galvanizing of viewers and a rekindling of the hunter vs anti-hunter debate in the news media.

The antis rally to the side that any and all killing of animals is wrong. Some leeway is afforded when hunters reply with the argument of money that is paid to participate in the safari hunts goes toward conservation and wildlife management, feeding of the local population, and funding law enforcement that keeps poaching of the animals at bay. However, years of cable television documentaries have swayed the general public to the point that many viewers feel that any big game animal is endangered and should never be hunted.

When pressed for an opinion, hunters will take the same stand with big game hunting in Asia and Africa that gun owners take any time a gun issue is presented, basically the right to bear arms (or in this scenario hunt) shall not be infringed.

To the dismay of some, hunters are harder on themselves and their peers than many outsiders suspect. An example of this is white tail deer hunting. The entire group will rally in support of the right to hunt deer but archery-only hunters in the group frequently look down their noses with disdain at gun hunters who use long range, scoped rifles to basically do the same job the archer does with different gear. In these cases, it's for the end user to determine what is "sport" and what is not.

You also don't have to travel to Africa or even outside the state to find the same controversy over what level of hunting some find acceptable and others don't. For the last 6 or 7 years, the SCDNR has operated a lottery draw system for hunters to apply for tags to hunt alligators in the lower part of the state. Once an endangered species, the American alligator has rebounded back to sustainable populations where the number of human/alligator encounters often makes the news. Wildlife management officials have sought to control the rising population of alligators by allowing limited harvest of these animals.
Regardless of the science behind the motive, anti-hunters frequently come out against the state's alligator hunters who hunt and harvest a particularly large specimen that garners enough attention to make it into the mainstream media.

An additional hotly contested example is the legal hunting of black bears in both the Upstate and Low Country where biologists cite that number of black bears in the Appalachian chain has reached or exceeded the social carrying capacity. Two week long seasons for bear hunting in the Upstate are provided by the DNR and likewise, when news and photos of bears harvested by hunters hits the mainstream media, the outcry over killing "cute and cuddly" or "defenseless creatures" always rears it's head.

One side of the Jones debate that even divides the general hunting population is that African safaris costs range in the tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars for one single animal. Most hunters don't have that kind of money to spend on a sport and simply write Jones off as a spoiled rich girl out spending Daddy's money.

The subject of fair chase rarely arises when connected to African safaris. American hunters who hunt high-fence or pen-raised animals for sport are placed on a lower social hierarchy by both the hunting and general public. These areas are maintained as private preserves and the cost to hunt within, as well as the likelihood of success, are high.

Perhaps the general public nor the anti's would be so quick to judge Jones if she were truly a Sheena Of The Jungle who scouted, patterned, and then stalked and hunted her African prey without the aid of outfitters, guides, and the like. In the meantime, it's an issue that neither side is likely to sway the opinion of the other over.

In Other News
According to a wildlife biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, dove hunters still have time to plant fields to attract doves during the upcoming season. The Upstate has an abundant population of resident mourning doves and the best way to attract the speedy, acrobatic birds is to plant an abundance of good dove foods in an environment conducive to feeding by doves.

Individuals interested in dove field planting recommendations should contact the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Small Game Project in Columbia at (803) 734-3609 or their local regional wildlife biologist. A planting guide for dove hunters is available, as is the South Carolina Migratory Game Bird Hunting Guidebook which contains information on field preparation and frequently asked questions.
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