JACKSON - Colton LaFon will do almost anything to go fishing - even wade through knee-deep muck dragging a net.
"It's not like hooking one with a line," he said. "But it's still fun."
Colton and other biology students from Fox Creek High School fished for largemouth bass Wednesday using large nets as part of a project to help endangered wood storks at Silver Bluff Audubon Center & Sanctuary.
The bass were eating bluegill stocked into special ponds created 19 years ago as a feeding venue for the rare birds.
"It's better if we remove the bass," sanctuary manager Dan Connelly said. "They're eating the bluegill we put in there for the storks, so we want the bass taken out."
Silver Bluff is a mecca for storks that often fly as far as 100 miles in search of an easy fish dinner. The ponds are stocked, then drained to just a few inches deep.
"When we drain one of the ponds, the storks are here within 24 hours," Mr. Connelly said.
"We counted 192 on Friday, and about 70 great egrets, too."
This year, thanks to help from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, about 750,000 small bluegill were stocked in the Silver Bluff ponds, he said. But more are needed.
A single pair of storks, he explained, must consume about 430 pounds of small fish during the summer breeding season in order to feed their young.
The shallow water is essential for wood storks to feed. The stork ponds are designed to mimic natural river and swamp conditions, where summer heat dries up wet areas and concentrates prey along shallow, muddy flats.
Wednesday's project to de-bass one of the drained ponds yielded a nearly-full bushel basket.
"We got 30, maybe more," declared mud-covered Fox Creek student Tyler Mason. "I think we did pretty good."
The bass, he added, won't go to waste, either. "We've got the fillet knife ready."
TO SEE THE STORKS
Storks & Corks, a fundraiser for the National Audubon Society and S.C. Wildlife Federation's endangered wood stork program, will be held at 6 p.m. Aug. 12 at the Silver Bluff Audubon Center. Tickets cost $25. Visitors will see wood storks and enjoy hors d'oeuvres, a wine tasting and lecture. Call (843) 462-2150 for reservations.