fish

Capt. Truman Lyon with a Santee Cooper striped bass that was undersized last fall but would be a keeper under the  new size limit. File/Tommy Braswell

Veteran guide Truman Lyon is excited about a new law regulating striped bass in the Santee River system, which includes lakes Marion and Moultrie. The law changes the size of legal striped bass that can be kept and the time period in which stripers can be kept.

The law went into effect May 3 with the signature of Gov. Henry McMaster.

From Oct. 1 through June 15, it is now unlawful to take or possess a striped bass less than 23 inches or greater than 25 inches "provided that one striped bass taken or possessed may be greater than 26 inches."

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources explained it this way in a new release:

Anglers fishing the Santee system from now until June 15 can still keep three (3) fish, but they must be between 23 and 25 inches, or one of the three may be greater than 26 inches. Previously, the limit for striped bass in the Santee River system during the open period was three (3) fish, all of which had to be at least 26 inches. The new law also gives anglers an extra two weeks of striped fishing with its June 15 closure. Under the previous law the Santee system was closed to striped bass fishing between June 1 and Sept. 30.

"It's already started to do something," said Lyon, who guides out of his home on the southern shores of Lake Moultrie. "Some of my friends have already caught the three-fish limit."

Lyon pointed out that last fall there were trips when plenty of fish were being caught from Lake Moultrie in the 23- to 25-inch slot but had to be released under the old regulations.

"It has been tough," he said. "(Guides) have lost a lot of clients because they want to take some fish home. In (Lake Moultrie) we're not catching the bigger fish."

He said a fellow guide from the upper portion of the Santee Cooper lakes caught 31 keeper stripers in October and November of last year while Lyon, fishing the lower lake, only managed nine keepers in the same time frame.

Water quality and temperatures have changed and the larger fish, Lyon said, have been staying further up the system, where the waters begin flowing into Lake Marion. There also have been changes in the herring and shad runs, the primary forage for the stripers.

Lyon said he doesn't think the change in regulation will affect the population of stripers, but he's sure it will have a positive effect for fishing guides.

"It will increase the customer base," he said. "There are people who don't come down here (the lower lake) any more because they don't get to take any fish home."