NANFA-- Collecting in the Low Country (longish)

Roselawn Museum (
Wed, 30 Jan 2002 11:58:01 -0500

Hi All

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 F. chrysotus in full breeding color. The bottom was mud, but not too

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

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

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

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

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,

Steven A. Ellis
Kennesaw, GA

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