State wildlife officials and fishermen's groups are hopeful that legislation to completely rewrite the state's freshwater fishery laws will pass in the opening days of the South Carolina Legislature next January.

Bills were proposed this past session by a task force representing all segments of the recreational fishing public, plus fishing guides and commercial anglers and representatives from most major fishing clubs. One bill (H. 3864) deals strictly with gamefish, the other (H. 3865) with non-game fish, and they cover all freshwater species from black bass and crappie to striped bass and bream to catfish and trout.

The two bills, introduced in the House in April by a multitude of representatives, had worked their way through the legislative process all the way to second reading in the Senate the final week of the regular session when Rep. John Scott, D-Richland) put a hold on them.

Scott had no problem with the fisheries bills, but his action was a typical legislative ploy initiated when a member of one legislative house wants the other body to act on his favorite legislation. Scott wanted the House to vote on a voting bill he had sponsored.

The bills are awaiting third reading in the Senate and then must go back to the House for concurrence with Senate amendments. As most legislators appear to be on board, officials anticipate those differences will be ironed out quickly and the bills will be sent to the governor for her signature.

The bills are comprehensive in cleaning up the language in existing fishery laws, rename bodies of water to concur throughout the state, address size minimums, baitfish and even establish a trophy striped bass fishery on Lake Russell.

Among specifics addressed in last-minute amendments are: no non-game gear allowed in Lake Monticello and new limits for striped bass on Lake Murray. The proposed Lake Murray limits are five fish with a minimum of 21 inches from October through May and no length limit from June through September.

If the bills pass, the effective dates for the new laws will be July 2012.