South Carolina Collecting Trip, January 2002
Steven A. Ellis
Kennesaw, GA

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of collecting in South Carolina with an excellent group of guys including Dustin Smith (Newberry, SC), Chip Rinehart (West Columbia, SC), Cal Reighley (Little Mountain, SC), Fritz Rohde (Wilmington, NC), and me. We assembled at the Burger King in Hardeeville, SC (just north of Savannah, GA), about 9AM.

Our first stop was just a few miles up US Highway 17 at a place called Bahama Swamp. This site was so abundant I can't remember raising my dipnet a single time without finding at least one fish in it. That made up for many fruitless days in the past! I was a little slow getting down to the water because of all the gear. By the time I got there, the others were already pulling out beautiful bluebarred pygmy sunfishes and eastern mudminnows. On the west side of the bridge, wooden pilings from a former bridge stood out of the water in rows creating a small channel between the heavy mats of floating vegetation lining the banks. It was in this vegetation where most of the fishes were being caught. Chip caught a nice male Fundulus chrysotus in full breeding color. The bottom was mud, but not too difficult.

As we worked our way up the channel, Fritz, Dustin, and Cal labored with the seine in the deeper water. Right away they began to catch several different species of sunfishes as well as taillight shiners. Some kind of large fish kept disturbing the water out in the middle of the channel, but the water was too deep for us to determine what it was. Besides tons of FW shrimp, here's the list of what we found:

least killifish
eastern mosquitofish
bluebarred pygmy sunfish
golden topminnow
swamp darter
dollar sunfish
bluespotted sunfish
banded sunfish
black crappie
eastern mudminnow
taillight shiner
brook silversides

Left to right - Cal Reighley (Little Mountain, SC), Fritz Rohde (Wilmington, NC), Chip Rinehart (West Columbia, SC), and Dustin Smith (Newberry, SC)

Dustin and Fritz pull the seine through the vegetation, while Chip prepares to help.

This is Bahama Swamp, just outside of Hardeeville, SC.

Dustin holds up a mature flier.

Juvenile banded sunfish

Eastern mudminnow

Young dollar sunfish

Least killifish

Male bluebarred pygmy sunfish

Taillight shiner (These reflect every bit of light you throw at them. Plus, they are very active. I must have taken a dozen shots to get one this good.)

Towards mid-day, we began driving to the NW for our second stop. Along the way, we stopped at McDonalds for some McLunch. It's the only time I can recall being in a fast food joint where a girl barely 4' tall worked beside another one who was over 6' tall. Fritz got an allstar grin from the kid behind the counter when he ordered a "Big 'N Nasty."

Most collecting trips I've been on always have an element of the wierd involved at some point. This one came as we stopped to collect at a place called Savannah Branch. Fritz and I had just stepped from our vehicles when a SC state trooper came flying up from behind us and stopped beside Fritz. We looked at each other like, "Here it comes." The trooper's accent was classic SC, although he appeared to be of Polynesian extraction (wierd enough). He said, "Y'all ain't seen any cows, have you?" Fritz replied, "Cows? mean, on the road?...uh, no. Why?" The trooper grinned and said, "Yup, they's s'posed to be 'bout a dozen of 'em runnin' loose around here." With that, he gunned his motor and took off down the road. Fritz and I conjectured how hard it would be to miss a dozen cows on a two-lane road, and just let it go at that.

Anyway, this location was one Fritz had worked several years before. This was a mostly clear running stream with a sandy bottom. From the roadway, the water meandered through woods that were very pleasant, even in the winter season. Fritz hoped that we would find Savannah darters there. I stopped to take pictures of Fritz and Dustin working the seine. I had barely taken the first shot before Cal (on his very first collecting trip) dipnetted a large male Savannah darter in glorious color, followed shortly by a female of the same species. Using the seine, we also began to haul in dusky shiners and sailfin shiners. Here's the complete list from this site:

coastal shiner
dusky shiner
sailfin shiner
pugnose minnow
creek chubsucker
pirate perch
spotted sunfish
Savannah darter
tessellated darter
blackbanded darter
speckled madtom
redfin pickerel

Dustin and Fritz examine the catch at Savannah Branch

Dusky shiners

Tessellated darter

Juvenile redfin pickerel

Young pirate perch

Male Savannah darter

Female Savannah darter


Later, we jumped back into the vehicles and drove further NW, racing the sun to get in one more site before the light faded. We stopped very near I-20 at Bridge Creek (Edisto River drainage), about 20 miles east of Augusta, GA. This stream was much smaller, faster, and surprisingly deep in spots, surrounded on both sides with thick brush. The bottom was a varying mixture of sand, gravel, and mud. Sudden drop-offs and low, overhanging branches made it even more interesting.

Fritz broke out the electroshocker to try to zap us out some turquoise darters. After a few technical difficulties, the familiar beeping began to produce not only the expected darters, but other fishes as well. Here's the list:

sailfin shiner
speckled madtom
tadpole madtom
redbreast sunfish
Savannah darter
turquoise darter
blackbanded darter
banded pygmy sunfish
tiny pickerel (just too small to tell)

Here we had to check Fritz's map to determine the third location, while we kept an eye out for the runaway cows.

Cal and Chip suit up for the third assault.

Male and female turquoise darter

A better view of the female turquoise darter

A group shot at the end of the day. Left to right - Steven A. Ellis (Kennesaw, GA), Dustin Smith (Newberry, SC), Chip Rinehart (West Columbia, SC), and Cal Reighley (Little Mountain, SC). You can tell the SC boys are good guys...they all wear white hats. (-:  (Photo by Fritz Rohde)

We finally stopped with just enough light left to take a group photo and load the gear up for the trip home. I really hated to see this day end. That's one of the drawbacks of winter collecting...the days are just too darn short! For this reason, I waited to take the fish pictures until I got home. On the other hand, winter collecting has several key benefits, like fewer bugs, slower or absent reptiles, and less gawkers saying, "What in the world are y'all doin' down there?"

The low country of SC has an intoxicating beauty that you really need to experience if you're ever down that way. I'm glad I live close enough to make a day trip over there, and I plan to do it again soon.

All The Best.