Jim Casada

The Lake Wylie licensing conundrum

A recent Fort Mill Times article on the seemingly evergreen matter of reciprocal licensing for Lake Wylie brought back warm, winsome memories of an individual who focused considerable attention on the issue for many years. That was the late Herbert Kirsh, a longtime presence in the South Carolina Legislature.

On the surface, Kirsh might have seemed about as unlikely a candidate for recognition as a staunch friend of sportsmen as any individual ever elected to the state House of Representatives. Herb didn’t fish, didn’t hunt, and would readily acknowledge that his knowledge of the sporting world was pretty much non-existent.

That being said, he had two sterling qualities that made him an ally of everyone from York County who bought hunting or fishing licenses, every soul who enjoyed canoeing or kayaking, not to mention those who reveled in connection with the natural world. First, the man was a fiscal hawk beyond compare and not a dollar of taxpayer money was expended by Legislature without him giving it careful scrutiny. Second, when monies were available for support of outdoor activities, he wisely listened to committed citizen-sportsmen to ascertain the best use of those funds.

One primary source of such funding was sale of non-resident licenses through York County licensing agents. Most, though not all, of the funds raised come from fishing licenses purchased for use on Lake Wylie. The lake, split between North Carolina and South Carolina, does not have a reciprocal licensing agreement.

The history of this is murkier than a muddy Lake Wylie cove, but Kirsh always advocated maintenance the status quo as far as Lake Wylie was concerned. He rightly reasoned that far more non-residents wanted to come to York County and fish Lake Wylie than was true for the Mecklenburg and Gaston counties portions of the lake. That translates, even today with many buying licenses online instead of in York County, into tens of thousands of dollars in annual non-resident license sales. York County gets a decent portion of this money but the majority goes to the S. C. Department of Natural Resources. Kirsh saw this as a major boon for York County and its sportsman, and he was exactly right.

As a result of these funds and his stewardship of them during his many years as a lawmaker, York County benefited in a variety of ways -- installation of fish finders, handicapped fishing access, special equipment for DNR officers, acquisition of public property with diverse uses such as fishing ponds and hunting opportunities on the wildlife management area at Brattonsville, use of the impressive Worth Mountain/Broad River complex in western York County, and much more. When a kid takes part on an opening day dove shoot at Brattonsville WMA; when a family enjoys fishing in the ponds there; or when avid canoers, kayakers, or boat fishermen (and hunters) launch on the Broad River; part of the funding making those things possible came from the sale of nonresident licenses.

That translates to a real plus for York County (and for that matter, residents of nearby South Carolina counties). It also is a solid reason, both historically and in today’s world, why local lawmakers and York County’s representatives on the Lake Wylie Marine Commission should pause and ponder before making any move to change things. The existing situation has long been beneficial to York County and continues to be so.

It’s quite possible that a majority of the members of the Lake Wylie Marine Commission favor a reciprocal agreement, especially when you consider that the preponderance of the group is comprised of representatives from North Carolina (York County has three members—one each from Clover, York, and Lake Wylie—and it may well be that none of them are active anglers or hunters), although a former member who is a good friend, Tim Mead, assures me that during his tenure on the Commission votes never took a state vs. state approach. If it ever came to that, York County would be on the short end of the stick despite having what I am fairly sure is well over half the reservoir’s water acreage.

It should also be noted that fishing is but one of many of the Commission’s concerns, and Mead indicates that he was confident that during the three years he served he was the only member who was a serious angler. All of this leads to one key conclusion, admittedly coming from a pro-York County bias; namely, local lawmakers would be giving away a great deal if they voted for reciprocal licensing. If they did so, the logical questions they should ask themselves and be able to explain to their constituents: “Is it in the best interests of York County?” As a York County citizen, someone who greatly admired what Herb Kirsh did in this arena, and as an avid sportsman, my personal answer would be a resounding NO.