Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Hooking the big one | What Ocean Lakes is doing to improve fishing in the campground ponds

You have the right bait and the right spot by one of our lakes, but the big fish just aren’t biting. You can’t figure out why.

Neither could we. So we’ve brought in experts to find out why and help us improve the very popular fishing culture at Ocean Lakes.

For years, Ocean Lakes has stocked the lakes in the campground with carp, bream, bass and other fish that folks love to reel in. But the stocking efforts haven’t produced the desired long-lasting results.

So before stocking again with the same disappointing results, Ocean Lakes has hired experts to compile the first thorough assessment of the ponds in the campground’s 40-plus year history. That baseline data will provide more info for officials to create a plan to improve fishing that caters to each pond’s unique environment.

“Why spend money over and over [stocking the ponds] when it’s not working,” said Jeff Wilson, the Landscape Manager at Ocean Lakes. “Let’s solve the problem first.”

The Smart Group, a science-based consulting group in nearby Pawleys Island, has been gathering info ranging from the ponds’ depths to the inventory of fish in each lake.

You might have noticed experts from The Smart Group on the ponds in Ocean Lakes in recent months as they've gathered data on each pond. The results will be used to improve fishing in the campground's lakes.

You might have noticed the team in the ponds the past couple of months gathering water quality samples and taking inventory of the fish. Knowing the type of environment in the ponds will tell the experts what type of fish can thrive there.

“This is really the first time Ocean Lakes has ever done anything like this,” said Russ Bodie, principal at The Smart Group. “This is a baseline, then we will build on that.”

Experts logged the types of fish in each lake and measured them.

How we got here

The ponds around Ocean Lakes started getting special attention in the 1990s when the campground launched a pond management program.

The program initially aimed to improve the look of the ponds, which had become covered in weeds and algae, Wilson said.

Officials started stocking the ponds with sterile, grass-eating carp to control the vegetation. Guests who were fishing started catching these impressive fish – feeding a new frenzy for fishing in the campground ponds, Wilson said.

“When people catch something like that, they love it,” he said.

With tales of landing these great fish circulating through the campground, fishing became an even more popular activity. Ocean Lakes started stocking the ponds every three years with more carp, bass, bream and catfish for sport fishing.

But through the years, the stocking wasn’t working as well as officials hoped.

Jumping right in

Bodie and his team from The Smart Group have closely studied each of the lakes around the campground over the past few months.

Early findings show some of the ponds are much deeper than anyone knew; Lake Emily is 16 feet deep – about six feet deeper than officials always thought.

The early assessment of the lake known as Ocean Lakes – across from Sandy’s Meet n’ Eat – also showed surprising results: Lots of juvenile sunfish and good vegetation – both signs of a healthy environment for fish to live and grow.

“The vegetation is the story on this pond,” Bodie said as he removed some from the net after seining. “It makes a huge difference.”

Bodie and his team netted samples from several spots in the pond, then took an inventory of the types and sizes of fish collected (they tossed them right back in after the quick inventory).

“This has been a big surprise,” Bodie said. “I thought we’d find some but this really bodes well for future fishing.”

Russ Bodie (center) with The Smart Group gets a sample of fish from Ocean Lakes as Rowan Iwaniuk, 9, from Michigan eagerly watches and waits to cast his fishing rod into the pond.

Those were just initial results from one of the ponds. Bodie plans to present overall findings to key leaders at Ocean Lakes this week. Once they have that baseline information, they can determine the next steps in the long-range plan to improve fishing in the ponds.

“We want to enhance the fishery,” Wilson said.

Check back in the coming weeks for more on the study’s results.