Thousands of Largemouth Bass released into Waccamaw River

Largemouth bass fingerlings before they are released into the Waccamaw River Friday morning.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources released thousands of largemouth bass into the Waccamaw River Friday.

The DNR hopes the fish, though they're tiny now, will have a huge impact on Grand Strand fishing.

The 50,000 largemouth bass fingerlings were released at the Hagley Landing in Pawleys Island.

Around 10,000 of the approximately two-inch long fish were released from a DNR truck at the landing.

The rest were transferred to a boat so they could be set free over a wider area to help them avoid predators.

"We don't release them all in one spot because they have less of a chance of survival," explained Scott Lamprecht, region 4 coordinator for the DNR freshwater fisheries division. "If we spread them out, they survive better."

Lamprecht said DNR research, done with the help of a Conway bass fishing club, showed problems for the species in the Pawleys Island area.

Large fluctuations in the river level, caused by ocean tides, seemed to limit the native population.

So Lamprecht said restocking gives Mother Nature a hand.

"Fish don't grow quite as fast as they do in other places and their abundance isn't quite as great as they are in other coastal rivers, so we are trying to enhance what's here."

While fishing may be a sport, it's also a revenue producer, generating millions of dollars for South Carolina and the Grand Strand.

"Statewide, recreational fishing in freshwater accounts for about $1.2 billion to the economy. Largemouth bass is a large part of that," said Ross Self, the DNR freshwater fisheries section chief.

The tiny largemouth bass fingerlings have many predators in the river.

Lamprecht said he'd be happy if just 25 percent of them manage to survive to reach maturity.

Those that do will be coveted by fishermen.

"It has for a long, long time been the most popular sport fish across the Southeast, not only in South Carolina," Self said.

Self said DNR research shows most largemouth bass that are caught will be released.

The DNR stocks up to ten million fish in state waters each year, including striped and hybrid bass, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and channel and blue catfish.