Hi gang, Rick here from Used Pontoon Boats with a low water report from Lake Marion, South Carolina. Up and down Lake Marion, locals and visitors alike are in awe when they see how dramatically the water levels have fallen. Hundreds of pictures have been taken. Many news articles have been printed. You can’t go to any shoreline without hearing people comment on the low water level.
“My daddy remembers when the river was being made into a lake,” Wade Felkel of Elloree said. “He said he can’t ever remember it being this low before.”
The impact of the severe drought gripping most of the state is being felt by many businesses which make their living serving people who use Lake Marion for recreational purposes. Business owners say they’re just trying to ride it out, and many are optimist that conditions will improve on the lake.
One of the bright spots is that fishing guide services are seeing little change in their day-to-day business.
“With the recent rain, the lake level has already come up about 1.5 feet,” said Linda Shipley, Santee town planner and zoning code enforcer. She and her husband, Steve, who run the Ships Guide Service, have a positive outlook about the lake levels rising and encourage fishermen not to give up on Lake Marion.
“There are still plenty of fish in the lake. The trick is to find a boat ramp to accommodate our 30-foot pontoon boat,” Shipley said, noting that they are using ramps in the Vance and Eutawville area.
Barb “Mouse” Witherell agrees with the Shipleys’ assessment of fishing in the lake. She and her husband, Nathan, run Santee Cajun Guide Service.
“We have a boat out today with people from Kentucky,” Witherell said. She says her business hasn’t suffered from the decreased water levels.
“We have 35 bookings right now, and we are taking more local fishermen out because they can’t get their boats in the water.”
Santee Cajun Guide Service usually works out of the Mill Creek area, but when the water level began to drop, they moved their boats to Marker 79 in Vance.
“The patterns have changed. They (the fish) may not be in the places you normally find them, but they’re out there,” Witherell said.
The news around the lake is not all good, however. Some businesses slow down during the winter months, but this year’s drought has caused them to cut their seasons short and find other sources of income.
“We normally continue swamp tours up to around Thanksgiving,” Tim O’Connor of Fisheagle Tours said. “This past fall we had to stop in October because there was no access into the swamp areas.”
The tours usually start up again in mid March, but “Captain Tim” said he will have to wait to see if the lake comes up enough to accommodate his 32-passenger pontoon boat. The water needs to rise another five feet for him to pull into his docking area and higher yet for boats to reach his gas pump, O’Connor said.
O’Connor and his wife, Brenda, also have a tackle, bait and gift shop on the grounds of the Santee State Park.
“The park boat ramps have stayed open for the most part, but bait and tackle sales are down due to fewer fishermen launching their boats,” he said. “People are still catching fish from the dock and shoreline.”
When asked what he was doing to compensate for the lack of tour and tackle business O’Connor said, “We have cut back on our hours, staying open only on weekends. With the price of gas, it doesn’t pay to drive here to be open every day.”
“Brenda and I have just purchased an embroidery machine which will be set up in the store to do hats, shirts and custom jobs for park visitors and businesses in the area,” O’Connor added. “If the lake is slow to rise, we hope the embroidery business will pick up some of the slack.”
Other small businesses who rely on bait and tackle sales like Stumphole Landing & Campground are riding out the slump with hopes it won’t be long before the lake rises and fisherman can use the ramps again.
None of those interviewed doubt the lake will come back to its normal level. The only question they have is how long that will take.
Thanks to T&D Correspondent Mary Ann Larkin, who can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com
Used Pontoon Boats, By Rick Ostler
Pontoon Enclosures-North American Waterway
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