Not everyone owns a boat. But being boatless doesn't mean you can't find a spot to take your kids fishing. You simply have to look around, and quite often all it takes is a walk through your neighborhood.
Countless Lowcountry neighborhoods have retention ponds that not only provide beauty but serve to help manage flooding. And as a bonus to homeowners, they often are stocked with fish and can produce some memorable catches, from sizable largemouth bass to tiny bream.
If you don't have access to a neighborhood pond or permission to fish them, there are other options.
A couple of Lowcountry spots that quickly come to mind are part of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources' Public Lands program.
• Bonneau Ferry Wildlife Management Area (Highway 402, Cordesville in Berkeley County) has four lakes totaling 100 acres. The lakes are open to adult/youth fishing on Thursday-Sunday from March 2-Oct. 31, except during scheduled deer and turkey hunts. No adult may fish without a youth 17 or younger. Each youth may be accompanied by up to two adults. Daily creel limits are 2 largemouth bass and 10 bream, with no limit on catfish. Minnows are allowed as bait in the lake. Boats may be propelled by paddle or electric trolling motor only.
• Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve/Wildlife Management Area (Botany Bay Road, Edisto Island) features Jason's Lake, which is open for adult/youth catch and release fishing Friday-Sunday. Call 843-869-2713. Again, you can take a canoe or kayak, but there are plenty of spots to fish from the bank.
• Another often-overlooked gem is the Francis Marion National Forest. There are numerous small bodies of water and the U.S. Forest Service encourages fishing.
Now that you have a few ideas, whether it's neighborhood ponds, Wildlife Management Areas or the Francis Marion National Forest, how should you approach those spots.
"Whether it's a Zebco or a cane pole, throwing a bobber out and having a kid see that bobber go down, that just defines the joy of fishing to me," said guide Mike McSwain (broadriversmallmouth.com). "Somebody took me to a pond when I was about 6 and saw a bream about to eat the bait. He handed me his pole, and I saw that bobber go down. That's something I'll never forget."
While living in Charleston, McSwain spent many days exploring small ponds in the Francis Marion, sometimes lugging along a canoe and other times working his way around the shoreline.
Observation is a key when picking a spot to fish from the bank. Go without a rod and reel and watch where others are fishing, then return to the best spots at a later date. Be friendly and ask questions. Don't crowd others who are fishing. In some of the more remote locations, you can tell the best spots because there are well-worn openings in the brush.
"When we look at these places, we tend to look and say 'that place looks fishy.' What we're seeing with our eye is all we have to go by when we fish ponds. We don't know if there are brush piles down there. Somebody bank fishing won't have a depth finder, but they can hit structure. You see stuff sticking up so fish near that structure. A big part of success when fish are shallow is the grass lines. Grass lines will grow out from the bank, and those always hold fish in these southern ponds.
"One thing I like to do when I'm fishing a pond is to try and find out where the deeper drops are. I'll fish plastics and drag them along the bottom. If there's an isolated piece of wood sticking up in the pond, that's a good place to fish a plastic."
McSwain said rock walls also are good spots. The drain pipes in retention ponds where there's a little water flow are another good spot to target.
For kids, keep it simple. Use crickets, worms or minnows fished under a bobber. As they (and you) become more adept, try fishing the plastic worms, Rooster Tails or Beetle Spins.
"Kids get excited about a 3-inch bream," McSwain said.
So do a lot of adults.