The Introduction of Smallmouth into The Broad River

By Mike McSwain

We may not normally associate smallmouth bass to Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, but I was speaking with a biologist yesterday and Bonnie Raitt came to mind. The biologist used the phrase “unintended consequences,” which happens to be my favorite Bonnie Raitt song. It’s the first song on her 17th album, “Dig in Deep.”

So, this month I dig in to how we wound up with phenomenal smallmouth in South Carolina, and we look at a few of the unintended consequences of their introduction. It’s the number one question by folks who fish with me. How did smallmouth wind up here in the Broad River?

We see pros catching them in tournaments on Erie, or St. Clair, or Lake Champlain; lakes that are a lot closer to Canada than they are to South Carolina. We tend to think of smallmouth as belonging to cold weather lakes. But this highly respected and sought-after game fish can be full of surprises.

The introduction of smallmouth into South Carolina rivers happened in 1984 when 1400 six-inch fish were experimentally stocked in King’s Creek in the upstate. Biologists thought the characteristics of the water in Kings Creek a good fit for smallmouth. Conversely, they felt the main stem of the Broad was a poor habitat. Their expectation was that the fish would be confined to the upstate stretches where they were placed in York and Cherokee counties. SCDNR Fisheries biologist Scott Lamprecht (retired) recalls that study, which was led by Val Nash, a biologist who later became Chief of Fisheries for SCDNR. “The smallmouth winding up doing so well in the Broad was simply unintended consequences, “said Lamprecht. “We were just hoping the fish would survive in Kings Creek.” Surprisingly, the fish managed to not only thrive, but to also move into the upper Broad. And in 1990 DNR began stocking them in the Broad as well.

To say the introduction of smallmouth into King’s Creek was a success is an understatement. The fish now flourish throughout the entire Broad River system and have extended their kingdom all the way down the Congaree into the upper Santee Cooper Lake, Lake Marion. Jason Bettinger, Region Three Fisheries Coordinator for SCDNR, says that reproduction of smallmouth in the Broad has been good. So good, in fact, that DNR no longer stocks smallmouth in the lower Broad. “Reproduction has been very, very good, but we do continue to stock in the upper Broad,” he said. Bettinger noted that the reproduction success in the Broad is in contrast to reproduction in Lake Jocassee, the OTHER well know South Carolina Smallmouth hangout. “The smallmouth in Jocassee have not reproduced well,” he explained. “We stock in Jocassee to maintain fishing. There is some reproduction, but the rate is low.”He went on to say that scientists are “not clear at all” why reproduction is poor, but pointed out that Jocassee is nutrient poor with not enough forage to sustain too many bass populations. Jocassee is home to largemouth, spotted bass, red-eye bass, and trout in addition to smallmouth.

I would like to thank the many biologists like Jason and Scott who have always been there to answer my many, many questions about the smallmouth in the Broad. I have always felt that better understanding the science makes me a better angler. And apparently this fish biology business can be a lot like the fish catching business: full of surprises.

Send questions or comments to Mike McSwain at 843-763-3805, or Facebook profile “Michael L. McSwain,” or Instagram and Facebook page @broad river smallmouth. TIGHT LINES