Collecting on a June Day in South Carolina
by Chip Rinehart, West Columbia, SC (blue text)
and Steven A. Ellis, Kennesaw, GA (green text)
photos and captions by Steven A. Ellis

Steven Ellis (Kennesaw, Ga), John Patterson (Lillington, NC) and I (West Columbia, SC) went out Saturday, June 15 with plans to do some fish collecting in the Edgefield, SC area. Our target fishes were Christmas Darters and Yellowfin Shiners. Our group had plans to meet at the Burger King in Edgefield, but, when we first arrived we found that the BK that was supposed to be there was 20 miles down the road. John and I parked at McDonalds, as this was on the main road entering and leaving town, to wait for any others that came by. Soon after we arrived, Steven Ellis came riding by but no amount of waving could distract him from his driving chore so, on by us he went. Jumping into the truck, off we went after him, finally catching up a short distance down the road as he was turning around.

We went back to the McD's and ate breakfast, waited until 10:00am for others that might arrive, then headed on to our first site. Our first stop was at Beaverdam Creek at SSR 35. When first stopping at this spot, we got out and walked over to the bridge, looked down into the water and saw small fish swimming everywhere. We were all getting a little anxious to get down to the water. Little did we know things would only get better as the day went along. This site was a small creek that had very little flow. Mostly sandy bottom with some rocks scattered around. In the water on one side of the road there was a beaverdam so this creek was aptly named. The water depth was around knee to hip deep. Most fish were caught with our seines here. We found these fish:
(Site 061502-1)
Eastern Mosquitofish - Gambusia holbrooki
Yellowfin Shiner - Notropis lutipinnis
Bluehead Chub - Nocomis leptocephalus
Tessellated Darter - Etheostoma olmstedi
Redbreast Sunfish - Lepomis auritus
Pirate Perch - Aphrododerus sayanus

I enjoyed hanging out with Chip Rinehart and John Patterson in SC. I've only known Chip for six months, but already we've collected in four different states together. I was meeting John for the first time. The weather was ideal, with temps in the upper 70s to low 80s, cloudless sky, and low humidity. Sunblock definitely would have been called for except that each site we visited had a wonderful canopy of trees overhanging the water. I can't stress enough how beautiful SC is, and I can't believe it's taken me six months to get back over there.

We left this spot and headed on to the next spot. This was on Beaverdam Creek at SSR 51. At this area, a few miles downstream of the first spot, we could again see many fish swimming in the water. The water was much shallower here, rarely getting to knee deep, with a better flow than the last. We seined a little here and got some Yellowfin, Dusky and Coastal shiners but the many rocks here made it difficult. We decided it was dipnet time. We started kicking upstream of our nets, letting the current push anything into our nets and started getting darters and madtoms. In the pools we could see chub nests with shiners all around them. Lots of shale was here and we took some back with us as well.

In this location we got the following 16 species:
(Site 061502-2)
Whitefin Shiner - Cyprinella nivea
Yellowfin Shiner - Notropis lutipinnis
Dusky Shiner - Notropis cummingsae
Coastal Shiner - Notropis petersoni
Bluehead Chub - Nocomis leptocephalus
Christmas Darter - Etheostoma hopkinsi
Tessellated Darter - Etheostoma olmstedi
Redbreast Sunfish - Lepomis auritus
Redear Sunfish - Lepomis microlophus
Bluegill - Lepomis macrochirus
Pumpkinseed - Lepomis gibbosus
Largemouth Bass - Micropterus salmoides
Redeye Bass - Micropterus coosae
Pirate Perch - Aphrododerus sayanus
Margined Madtom - Noturus insignis
Channel Catfish - Ictalurus punctatus (juv.)

Beaverdam Creek was absolutely packed with fish. Evidence of other wildlife was abundant. We found skeletal remains of what looked like a gator, and bird bones in the water. Deer tracks could be seen in the mud beside the stream, and freshly stripped limbs that the beavers were working on floated in masses of pine needle clumps. We saw lots of crawdads and clams as well as a few hellgramites. John swore we were catching the same crawdad over and over. Seining was sometimes difficult due to large stones scattered along the bottom, but apparently the fish were in a generous mood as we still did quite well. Some idiot had left half of the contents of his toolbox on the stream bed. Once we started finding the Christmas darters (in surprisingly slow water) it was really hard to move on to the next location.

Click on a small image to open a larger one.   If you wish to open the image in a separate browser window, do this:  PC users-- right click and select "Open Link in New Window"; Macintosh users-- click, hold it down, and the new window will appear.


beaverdam1.jpg (584932 bytes)
This was our second stop on Beaverdam Creek.
johnchip.jpg (385247 bytes)
From left, John Patterson (Lillington, NC) and Chip Rinehart (West Columbia, SC) plot our next move.
chubnest.jpg (310575 bytes)
This pile of stones is a chub nest. The fishes in the foreground are mostly yellowfin shiners.
john1.jpg (397215 bytes)
This stream is a little slice of the South. John Patterson used his dipnet with excellent results.

Christmas1.jpg (115675 bytes)
For this trip I experimented with taking photos in a critter keeper given to me by Lamarr Eddings. It proved to be less stressful for the occupants, but there were some flash problems. The glare is a minor annoyance, but you'll still get a fair peek at the fishes we caught. These are the Christmas darters we were chasing (Etheostoma hopkinsi).

madtom.jpg (82009 bytes)
Margined madtom (Noturus insignis)

redeye.jpg (49487 bytes)
Redeye bass (Micropterus coosae)


tesselated.jpg (19634 bytes)
Tessellated darter (Etheostoma olmstedi)

We rode back into Edgefield and ate a late lunch at a local country diner on SC 25. Great food, especially the peanut butter pie for dessert. Heading on to our last collection site, we made our made our stop at Stevens Creek on SC 23. This was a larger stream than either of the last two creeks. More water flow along with sandy and rocky areas made this a great place to dipnet and seine. There were many small fish swimming around as well as an ample supply of leeches. Very little vegetation was found in the water here but there were some really nice rock formations crossing the stream at a slight angle. This was a good place for snorkeling and Steven jumped right in. This was very fitting, seeing that the name of the stream was Stevens Creek! Steven saw a Hog sucker, Stoneroller, a Redhorse sucker and many other fish while snorkeling.

bridge.jpg (491275 bytes)
This bridge on SC Highway 23 spans Steven's Creek. Chip told me that bridges of such height are rare in this area, but it afforded us the opportunity for some elevated shots of of this beautiful stream. (Photo by Chip Rinehart)

stevensup.jpg (338370 bytes)
Steven's Creek (near Modoc, SC) looking upstream.


stevensdown.jpg (624436 bytes)
Steven's Creek, looking downstream.


kid1.jpg (479486 bytes)
Steven A. Ellis (Kennesaw, GA) enjoying the stream SC named after him (NOT!). (Photo by Chip Rinehart)

The fish that we caught here are:
(Site 061502-3)
Whitefin Shiner - Cyprinella nivea
Yellowfin Shiner - Notropis lutipinnis
Sandbar Shiner - Notropis scepticus
Spottail Shiner - Notropis hudsonius
Bluehead Chub - Nocomis leptocephalus
Christmas Darter - Etheostoma hopkinsi
Tessellated Darter - Etheostoma olmstedi
Turquoise Darter - Etheostoma inscriptum
Blackbanded Darter - Percina nigrofasciata
Flat Bullhead - Ameirus platycephalus
Largemouth Bass - Micropterus salmoides
Bluegill - Lepomis macrochirus
Pirate Perch - Aphrododerus sayanus
Eastern Mosquitofish - Gambusia holbrooki

spotfin.jpg (72664 bytes)
shiner (Notropis hudsonius)
bluehead.jpg (108199 bytes)
Bluehead chub (Nocomis leptocephalus)
flatbull.jpg (387223 bytes)
Flat bullhead (Ameiurus platycephalus)
seagreen2.jpg (63378 bytes)
Turquoise darter (Etheostoma inscriptum)
whitefin.jpg (120016 bytes)
Whitefin shiner (Cyprinella nivea)

yellowfin6.jpg (82143 bytes)
Yellowfin shiner (Notropis lutipinnis)

yellowfinmix.jpg (637280 bytes)
This collage demonstrates the remarkable differences found in yellowfin shiners (Notropis lutipinnis) from two separate locations. (All of these photos were shot in quarantine tanks that were not intended for display quality.) The group on the right are the yellowfin shiners we caught in Beaverdam Creek (near Edgefield, SC) showing yellow fins. The ones on the left were caught just one week prior to that in Stekoa Creek (near Tallulah Falls, GA) less than 100 miles away, but they have orange fins. In other parts of their range, some yellowfin shiners even have white fins, sparking speculation that more than one species is involved. Further study is definitely indicated.

Steven's Creek was not to be missed. As soon as we parked the vehicles, John and I wandered out onto the bridge where SC 23 crosses the stream. This old structure was built without any allowance for pedestrians, and John and I had to climb up into the framework to take the obligatory upstream/downstream pictures without becoming roadkill in the process. Chip told me that the height of this bridge (VERY tall) was unusual for the area, but we could still clearly see many fishes and a large turtle swimming in the clear water far below. Access to the water required a short hike down a canoe portage trail that ended in a steep, wooden stairway at the water. The bottom step dropped off far enough to suggest that the water level is often much higher than we found it that day.

Until then, the lack of depth and clarity of the water had kept me out of the wetsuit, but I could resist no longer! Once I was in the water, I soon discovered that I could have snorkeled cofortably without a wetsuit were it not for several very large, colorful leeches. Normally, I am about leeches the way many folks are about spiders and snakes. Just seeing one has often kept me in waders. I didn't see them until one attempted to latch onto my hand. Fortunately, I didn't freak, (-: just snatched it off and returned to my gear bag to fetch the neoprene gloves...everything else was already covered. After that, the leeches ignored me, and I became slightly more concerned about other residents of the stream.

As far as I can tell, there is no clear line in SC between where the gators are and where they ain't. In most of the stream the water was shallow enough to allow you to spot one approaching, especially in the bright sunlight. I longed to venture further into some very inviting deeper, darker pools, but I kept getting the "gator vibe" strong enough to make me hesitate. Chip and John had courteously chosen to work quite a ways downstream from where I was snorkeling, so I could have been toast before they would have known it.

The view underwater was every bit as stunning as the scenery up top. Rocky riffles peppered with whitefin shiners, bluehead chubs, and spottail shiners dropped off into sandy pools where ridges of stone formed underwater stairs. Redhorse shot past me so quickly I couldn't even tell what kind they were. I also saw large hogsuckers, stonerollers, assorted sunfish, and scads of blackbanded & Christmas darters. Curiously, I don't think we saw a single topminnow all day.

This creek typified those little slices of nature that give you rest all the way to your soul. I could have easily spent a week there. Unfortunately, reality beckoned in the form of a scheduled midnight workshift that I couldn't avoid. So, I made like a cowboy and headed off into the sunset in the direction of GA. Do yourselves a favor, folks. If the SC boys invite you, GO!

By now it was getting late, after 6:00 pm, and Steven and John both had pretty long drives ahead of them, so we started loading up for our rides home. We all agreed we should come back to these spots again.

Special thanks to Fritz Rohde for providing information and possible areas where we might find our targeted fish.