For sure, there are larger freshwater gamefish to chase (largemouth bass and crappie spring to mind), including a panopoly of options in the sunfish family, but for South Carolinians raised on cane poles, crickets and coastal plain blackwater rivers, there will always be something special about hauling in a brightly colored redbreast (Lepomis auritus) during the heat of summer.
Maybe it’s the fact that none of our other native freshwater fishes packs quite the same visual wallop as the redbreast, a feisty fighter with a colorful underbelly. Or maybe it’s the primordial stillness of the coastal plain’s meandering tea-stained blackwater rivers. But one thing’s for sure, for first-timers and old-timers alike, nothing puts a smile on their faces like a hard-pulling, colorful redbreast on lightweight tackle.
Redbreast can be found in many of South Carolina’s coastal plain river systems, but the blackwater Pee Dee system (along with the Edisto system to the south) is known in particular as a hot redbreast fishery. That reputation was in danger, just a few short years ago, when redbreast fishing in the region began to decline from its historic peaks. An invasive, non-native species, the flathead catfish, took most of the blame for the decline in redbreast fishing, and there’s no doubt it has had some impact, but after studying the problem in-depth, DNR biologists realized that historically bad drought conditions across the state between 1998 and 2002 had also taken a major toll.
Two factors have helped mitigate those problems, and in recent years, the redbreast bite in the Pee Dee has been stronger. First, the rainfall picture has improved greatly, and second, juvenile redbreast raised at the DNR’s Cheraw and Dennis Center fish hatcheries have been stocked into Pee Dee rivers – the Pee Dee, Little Pee Dee, Black and Lynches -- by the tens of thousands during the fall months, fish that will be ready to spawn the following spring, according to DNR Fisheries Chief Ross Self.
“Right now the redbreast numbers in these rivers looks pretty good,” said Self. “We believe that our sustained stocking efforts have played a significant role in the return of stable redbreast populations in those rivers.”
Where to go: The Little Pee Dee River in Dillon County was designated a State Scenic River in 2005, and the DNR-published Boating Guide to Little Pee Scenic River Water Trail provides a detailed description of river access and boating options (as well as natural and cultural history) for a 27-mile section of this scenic river from Moccasin Bluff Landing, just north of the City of Dillon, to Huggins Bridge Landing at SC Highway 41. The Black River and Lynches River are also prime redbreast waters, and accommodations, guides and other information about the region is readily available from the Pee Dee Tourism Commission.
What to use: Keeping it simple is the name of the game where redbreast are concerned. Light spinning tackle is all you need – no more than 4-6 lb-test line, and a lightweight, flexible rod is best though in some cases, a cane pole or synthetic “bream buster” with just a #4 hook and a split shot fished on the bottom is the best rig of choice for getting underneath overhanging shade (a wise strategy). When fishing with live bait, crickets seem to be the bait of choice, although some people prefer worms. For artificial lures options, small beetle spins – again on light tackle are a popular option.