Within the next six weeks or so, South Carolina hunters will embark on a grand experiment: a uniform statewide spring turkey season with a lower bag limit.

Hopefully, the state legislature will get together this spring, take the advice of the wildlife pros at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and come up with some desperately needed new seasons and bag limits for deer, what with coyotes and habitat loss taking a toll on the population and deer harvest over the past dozen years.

The professional help that SCDNR gives sportsmen came to mind several times just before New Year’s Day with the news of some fish stockings that are unique and should shed a great light on the agency’s good work.

The agency’s marine fisheries division finished its annual stocking of more than 600,000 red drum and 300,000 speckled trout into coastal waters, fish spawned under laboratory conditions and raised to fingerling sized at a maraculture facility near Bluffton.

Through genetic marking, biologists can, to some extent, determine the success of such stockings on the Palmetto State’s inshore fishery, a fishery that, to me, is unmatched among mid-Atlantic and Southeastern states — not counting Florida despite the Gators winning the SEC East in football. Such stockings are not meant to replace wild fish, but to provide a baseline for a species to lessen the effects of a bad spawn or two over a period of several years. Redfish are known to have up and down reproductive success, so putting 600,000 fingerlings into the mix tends to level out year-classes. Trout stockings can help lessen the impact of cold-stun or cold-kill events. 

Too bad other states aren’t following SCDNR’s example. A series of cold-stun kills and their effects have caused North Carolina to lower its daily creel limit on specks to four, overharvest by commercial fishermen has caused the daily creel limit for flounder to fall from 10 to eight to five, and that state’s redfish limit is one per day.

On the freshwater side, SCDNR in December stocked 18,000 brown and rainbow trout in the lower Saluda River downstream from Lake Murray — stocking them by helicopter to get them spread out over several miles of stream.

The lower Saluda is a unique, tailrace trout fishery built around the cold water coming through the dam at Lake Murray. SCDNR’s good work has essentially created a fishery for Midlands and Lowcountry anglers who would otherwise be looking at a 2- or 3-hour drive to catch mountain trout. And it’s developed the reputation as quite a trophy fishery, with plenty of holdover fish from annual stockings growing out to big sizes. So it’s a win-win deal for all sides, one we’ve come to expect from the agency.