The Southern Salmon

After hearing reports of striper action on the Wateree River, Dawson Jordan and I wasted no time in planning a trip to catch some. This was exciting news because up until this point, I thought I had to travel to the Congaree to catch the river bound striper run. We intended to make the trip on Saturday night but the water level of the river was not going to be high enough until Sunday. Dawson and I loaded the john boat Saturday night and prepared the tackle. We have had success catching spawning striper on the Saluda River in Columbia and the lure of choice was the fluke with a weighted hook. Jordan Addison of Rock Hill has been fishing on the Wateree River catching striper and he had his own crew assembled to meet us in the morning.
Dawson and I woke up and pulled out of Dillon at 3:30 headed to Lugoff. I couldn’t relax along the drive because I had not cranked our Evinrude 8hp engine in 4 years and I hoped that it would start. A lot of time and effort would have been wasted had the motor failed to start. We arrived at the boat ramp at 5 am and the two boats from Rock Hill were already launching. Jordan Addison and Pancake were in one boat while Caleb Olney and Daniel fished from another. Pancake helped Dawson and me to carry our boat to the river and I could feel a piece of gravel in my shoe causing some discomfort. I waited until the boat was in the water before I checked, to find that the gravel turned out to be a beer bottle; piercing my shoe and foot. It was an inconvenient wound but not enough to inhibit my fishing.
I sweet talked my motor while I pulled the cord and got a fast response from the faithful engine.
The three boats turned and moved down river to start fishing before sunrise. My motor sputtered to a stop and I realized that the gas line slipped off. After further examination I found that the clip was broken and I would have to hold the gas line to the engine for the day. I was pulling the cord to start the engine and Dawson warned me saying, “Lawrence we’re coming up on a rapid.” I assured Dawson that we were fine and kept pulling the cord. I paused to take a break and I heard the rumble of moving water. I could now see where the white water stood out in the dark and I pulled the cord with renewed motivation. The engine started and we shot around the rapid. Caleb and Jordan anchored their boats to fish behind a rapid in the middle of the river and I moved to anchor against the shore. We dropped anchor and started casting. Dawson hooked a striper in no time and brought it into the boat before the sun came up. That single little striper justified the early morning in my mind. Dawson released the fish and we kept casting. A rock appeared ahead of us and I said, “Dawson I can see the bottom!” Thats when we realized that dam had stopped generating water and our boat was soon high and dry on top of the rocks.
Dawson and I had been waiting for our opportunity to land a striper on the fly and this looked like the day. We took our fly rods and scrambled through the rocks, casting at various passes that fish traveled. Carp, striper, gizzard shad, and gar were packed in the shallow water. I thought about how much damage I can do to the far and carp had I brought a bow and arrows. The giant carp would get stuck between the rocks and splash their tail in the water until they would finally make it through the pass. I took cover behind a rock and waited for a carp to swim by. I stunned him with my helmet and jumped on top of the fish but the slippery animal shot out from under me. I looked up and saw Dawson fighting a fish on the fly rod. In the other direction I could see the other two boats as their crews tried to move them through the rocks. They looked like a sled team but their progress was slow. Dawson and I continued to cast the fly rods catching two more bass before we heard a blaring siren from the dam. Dawson and I made eye contact and he yelled, “TO THE BOAT!” The dam had given the warning and the raging waters would be coming soon. I could see across the river that the other two boats were also loaded and ready for the water to come. In no time, the water was racing past and the rocks became rapids. Dawson and I drove the john boat towards the other two boats and anchored behind a rapid. Caleb’s boat caught 4 striper, Jordan’s crew caught none, and Dawson and I did not catch any more. The secret weapon that worked for Caleb was a lure called a Creek Chub. He would cast up stream and would reel with the current. Jordan cranked up to tide back to the ramp and the rest of the boats followed.
I faced the rear looking over my shoulder to watch the Rapids. Our 8hp engine was running full speed against the current and we were barely moving relative to ground speed. Two Rapids were staggered ahead and the bulge in the water was higher than the rails of my John boat. Dawson hunkered down gripping both sides of the boat like his life depended on it. Very carefully we slid the boat between the rapids into smooth water.
Post trip conversations at the boat ramp are always fun because that’s where you hear about what was working for other boats and also some side stories of things that happened along the way. We may not have caught the number of striper that we expected, but the thrilling ride on the river made it a success just to have the boat on the trailer. Dawson talked about the striper and how the fish can draw such a crowd of fishermen when they make their spawning runs into the rivers. The nature of the spawning run and the effect it has on SC fisherman urged Dawson to give them the nickname, The Southern Salmon.