Biologists implant radio transmitters to study Thurmond Lake stripers

Anglers might land some unusual stripers at Thurmond Lake this summer.


As part of a study to trace seasonal migration routes of the lake's biggest sportfish, South Carolina research biologist Jason Bettinger is implanting radio transmitters in several dozen fish.

"We've tagged 17 fish -- so far," he said. "We'll probably do 15 or 20 more fish this year, and next year, we'd like to do 30 to 40 more."

The transmitters will enable Bettinger and his colleagues to follow the fish as warmer weather elevates water temperatures and lowers dissolved oxygen levels.

Typically, when hot weather hits, striped bass move upstream toward the Russell Dam tailrace where they are vulnerable to being killed during the operation of Russell Dam's pumped storage "reversible" turbines.

The Army Corps of Engineers is building an $11.3 million oxygen injection system near Modoc, S.C., that will be able to oxygenate a broad swath of water in the lower lake during hot weather, which biologists hope will encourage more stripers to remain in the lower lake.

Bettinger's mission is to observe fish movement this summer and fall, before the oxygen system goes online in 2011. He will repeat the study next year to look for behavior changes.

So far, most of the fish that were implanted with transmitters were large ones.

"We were shooting for fish 21 inches and up," he said. "So far we've gotten them from 22 inches to 48 inches, averaging 33 inches. So we'd like to get some smaller fish next time."

Anglers who catch one of the tagged fish aren't required to let it go, but it wouldn't be a bad idea.

"Obviously, we'd like to get as much information as we can from the fish, but we typically tell people they can do whatever they normally do with their fish," Bettinger said.

Implanting the transmitters requires an incision that is sutured shut with purple thread. "These devices don't have external markings, but if an angler sees sutures on the belly, it means it is one of the fish we've tagged," he sad.

The transmitter is about the size of a tube of lipstick. "If someone gets one, we'd like to have it back, because we can reuse it in another fish," Bettinger said.

Once operational, the oxygen plant will be capable of pumping 20 to 100 tons of oxygen per day through seven miles of perforated pipes submerged 80 to 90 feet below the lake's surface.

The project's $11.3 million pricetag includes a series of improvements to Gilchrist Road and a nearby boat ramp and parking lot.

The system is the last of a series of environmental features the corps agreed to undertake as a condition of operating Russell Dam's reversible turbines.

4-H HONORS: Columbia County's 4-H Project SAFE shotgun team captured a series of top awards at the April 17 state qualifying competition held in Bulloch County.

Lori Patterson, the shotgun team's lead coordinator, said 75 team members participated in the 11-county event and won six of eight awards given, including high individual scorer at both the junior and senior levels. Other awards were first and second place, junior teams; and first and third place, senior teams.

The program has 166 team members this year, she said. Practices are held each Thursday at the old Columbia County landfill property. For more information on the team and its schedules, visit

HOMELESS OSPREYS: I got an e-mail last week from Mike Cliatt, one of many local anglers who has noticed the large osprey nest on a power pole at the Little River Bridge between Lincoln and Columbia counties.

It was bad news: the recent windstorm, he said, appeared to have destroyed the nest. "The eagles were nowhere in sight."

I checked with Jeff Brooks, the Corps of Engineers' wildlife biologist, who was aware of the nest, but had no details on the fate of the birds that had used it.

Ospreys typically return to the same nests year after year, Brooks said, and have been using the one on the bridge for several years.

He was unsure if the ospreys had any young. However, with fledging typically not occurring until July, any young birds in the nest might have been lost.



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