South Carolina's Top Bassin' Picks For 2009

South Carolina's Top Bassin' Picks For 2009

Black bass fishing is alive and well in the Palmetto State. Here are some of our top picks for the best bass angling of the year. (March 2009)

Black bass fishing is a wide-open, year-round activity throughout the Palmetto State. While tournament fishing does slack off to some degree during the late fall and winter, hard-core bass fishermen are still working the waters for that one big fish bite. With such a passionate following, some anglers are amazed at the quality of black bass fishing still maintained in our lakes and rivers.

But that level of good fishing does exist, according to Ross Self, Chief of Fisheries for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). Self said that despite the fishing pressure on so many lakes and rivers around the state, the black bass fisheries are able to thrive and produce at a high level. Self's overall forecast for black bass fishing in the state is that the lakes and rivers seem to be doing very well.

"We're still not seeing any major problems with the black bass fishery on a statewide basis," Self said. "In many lakes and rivers, the fishing seems to be very productive. One overall concern we've had for a while is the extended drought that's impacting all of South Carolina's lakes and rivers. But that's a concern for the overall fishery and water quality of all our lakes and rivers, not specifically with black bass."

Self said the expansion of spotted bass in the fisheries at some Upstate lakes is one thing still being looked at.

"The agency didn't stock these fish, so we're not sure how they got there," Self said. "Right now, they seem to be added black bass species for the fishermen. However, we're concerned that the spotted bass can become dominant and may eventually have a less than desirable impact on the largemouth population. That's one of the key areas we're watching right now."

Black bass fishermen maintain that one reason the fishery is healthy is the catch-and-release practice, which is used for almost all bass tournaments and the majority of bass anglers when just fishing for fun or tournament practice. Self agrees that catch-and-release is having a positive effect.

Picking the top South Carolina bass fisheries for 2009 is so easy it's difficult. There are few lakes or rivers that would not qualify as potentially excellent fisheries for this year. The hard part is picking some to separate from the rest. There are some lakes and rivers that seem to be at the forefront, based on specific events occurring at those lakes.

We'll start our look at a river that now packs a double whammy for black bass fishing.

The Congaree River is an outstanding black bass fishery and is now perhaps better than ever.

Since the river directly feeds into upper Lake Marion, along with the Wateree River, the lower end of the river is certainly full of largemouths, which can be replenished by Lake Marion. Plus, there is the awesome largemouth habitat found in the swamps in the upper end of that lake. But according to Ross Self, the upper end of the Congaree River has also been a good black bass fishery. However, it is now producing some smallmouth bass fishing as well.

"The smallmouth fishery that was originally found in the Broad River where we stocked smallmouths years ago is continuing to expand," Self said. "We've seen the smallmouth fishery expand to the south toward Columbia over the years. We're now seeing smallmouths being caught in the upper end of the Congaree River. We know for the past couple of years that fish are being caught between the Blossom and Gervais street bridges.

Access to the river is an issue and it is limited. That will have a restrictive impact on the fishing, but that may not be all bad because the river area is quite limited in size and overfishing can be a future issue. That concern is actually true for the resource as a whole. We're looking at this fishery to consider ways to keep this great resource from being over-exploited and be maintained at a high-quality level."

Farther down the river, the largemouth is the primary black bass species and overall the best bet for this resource. The lower end of the river is a potential trophy fish hotspot, and there are plenty of areas where bass fishermen can fish undisturbed for long periods of time. Some will make an early-morning run far up the river and just fish their way back down during the day.

Don't simply just focus on shoreline cover and the obvious hard-structure situations that are visible at the waterline. There are some excellent midriver potential hotspots as well. There are bars and humps along the river, some with considerable woody debris, making them ideal largemouth havens. These are easily overlooked, since working the shoreline on the Congaree River is effective and offers plenty of good-looking targets.

Lake Moultrie has had some good bass-producing seasons recently and is one of the long-term standbys that should provide excellent largemouth fishing again in 2009. One of the best features of this lake is that it has such a diversity of cover and structure that almost any angler can find bass using the kind of structure or cover that he prefers to fish.

The big, open-water lake is ringed by shallow-water cover that includes cypress trees, stumps, logs, grass and weeds. In many of these areas, there will be small creeks or ditches winding through the habitat, making the hotspots easier to identify.

Plus, the lake has many old pond sites situated back in the shallow-water country that offer slightly deeper water. Even in areas you are not familiar with, you can spot that open pocket ringed by trees as a potential pond site. Generally, if you ease your boat into this area, your graph will depict deeper water. The trees along the edge of the old pond or hole can be awesome most of the year.

Top lures here can run the gamut of shallow-water baits. The plastic worm is always a favorite, either Texas or Carolina rigged. Big spinnerbaits are lethal for big fish, especially when worked along woody cover next to the edge of a ditch or hole. Slowly work the blade bait by the target and let it fall for a moment into the deeper water. Re-engage the retrieve and that will often trigger a big-fish bite.

Topwater lures are great and buzzbaits are used most of year except in very cold weather. Big stick baits are also very productive.

During the hot weather and into the fall months, the open-water humps and ditches are ideal for finding plenty of largemouths in small areas. Employ the use of deep-diving crankbaits and Carolina worm rigs to cover these areas. Often you will have to cover several of these structures with few or no bites to whe

t your enthusiasm. But when you hit the right spot, you can catch a limit of quality fish in a short time.

Clarks Hill on the Savannah River is also a long-term producer for largemouth bass. The long-term drought has had an effect on the water level to be sure. That changed some of specific structures where largemouths have been caught, since some of those prime spots have been high and dry for a while. However, the fishery as a whole continues to be excellent. You'll just have to locate new areas until the lake returns to normal. With luck, it will get to full pool range and stay there this year.

One factor to consider here, and at many lakes, is until the water levels return to normal, there will be much more potential to run into submerged hazards. Some guides on the lake have had to re-learn travel routes because of the water.

But this also opens up unlimited possibilities for finding largemouth haunts that have not been fished heavily by others.

The basic patterns where bass are typically found have not changed at Clarks Hill. The creeks and rivers are usually tops during the spring season. Dingy water is more prevalent here and the water temperatures rise quicker. As the warm weather progresses, the better action seems to be closer to the main river channel. Points, humps and channel edges are prime summer and fall haunts for largemouth bass. Working worm rigs, vertically jigging spoons and ultra-deep crankbaits will produce.

One underappreciated opportunity at this bass fishery is nocturnal fishing during the midsummer through early autumn. Some of the biggest bass of the year are caught at night during this month. Some fish will be caught quite shallow and noisy topwater lures can be very effective. Worm rigs, jigs and plastic trailers and spinnerbaits are also very effective on the bass after dark.

An Upstate lake that consistently produces excellent largemouth fishing is Lake Greenwood. Greenwood is absolutely loaded with threadfin shad for forage and, according to many largemouth anglers, the bass here are fat and feisty.

The entire lake can be good throughout the year, but the upper half of the lake seems to be good consistently throughout the year. If there is "normal" rainfall, the water flow through the lake keeps good bass action year 'round. The Saluda and Reedy river arms of the lake are both chock-full of shallow-water cover for largemouths. The largemouths will sometimes school on the shad in the coves and pockets by mid to late March and then throughout the spring and early summer.

During the very early part of the year and again in the heat of summer, some local bass anglers advise visitors to think like crappie fishermen and work the brush. However, during the summer, the lake can stratify and create conditions that cause largemouths to hold in shallower depths than you might think they'd be feeding in. Again, this can vary from year to year based on weather and rainfall patterns. But it can pay to keep in mind that not all the excellent bass fishing will necessarily be in deep water at Lake Greenwood during hot weather.

A few anglers will work topwater lures, such as Jitterbugs, at night along the docks, stumps, logs and fallen trees in the abundant shallow-water cover on the upper end of the lake. This is a great big-fish technique. You may not get many bites, but you can load on a big bass at any time when slow reeling a big Jitterbug.

Because of the abundance of shad and the good shallow-water cover, crankbaits are another excellent choice for most of the year.

Crankbaits can be especially effective around bridge abutments. These areas can be also be effectively fished with jigs or the jig and plastic or pork. With a crankbait, cast beyond the piling, get the lure down deep and then slow the retrieve as it swims pass the piling. Look for current around the pilings as well. Many times the current will have the forage stacked in there, and when that happens, a black/silver pattern crankbait can be lethal. For the jigs, use a jighead heavy enough to get to the bottom in the depth you are fishing. Factor in current flow and work along the edge of the structure.

Another winning strategy with the crankbaits is to fish them around points and pockets in the larger creeks, as well as up the two main rivers. When you find an area that holds one fish, odds are good there are several more there.

During cold weather, a good pattern is to use jigging spoons fished vertically along the edge of major creek or river channels. Find the areas where forage is concentrated and focus your efforts there.

The next water we'll consider is the Cooper River. Below the Pinopolis Dam that impounds Lake Moultrie, the Cooper River winds its way through the Lowcountry and empties in the Atlantic at Charleston. Along this stretch of river are some big bass waiting to be caught.

The Cooper River produces good numbers of bass as well. Since there are not many bass-fishing options for the huge number of anglers in the Charleston, Summerville and Moncks Corner area, the Cooper River does get plenty of bass fishing pressure. Yet, it still consistently produces quality fishing.

Current flow and water level will typically dictate the best patterns for this fishery. When there is little flow and the water is low, then a key to success would be to focus your efforts on the mainstream portion of the river where you can get the lure into some of the deeper water. Often, that's where he forage will stack up during low water and low-flow conditions.

If there is plenty of current and the water level is up, you'll often find some excellent fishing up some of the major feeders, such as the East Branch of the Cooper River.

Excellent bass fishing exists throughout the year, from now until cold weather. The summertime action can be great on the main river. When there's good current flow, there are almost unlimited numbers of small pockets and coves where eddies will form at the mouth to the cove or small creek. Largemouths will orient to these places since they are ideal ambush points. Often you'll find them in ones or twos, but these spots will replenish with additional bass quickly after you catch them.

Right at dusk, some excellent topwater action can be enjoyed in some of the larger flats around the abundance of wood or grass cover. During the summer, the Cooper River does have a good bit of catfishing boat traffic, as well as non-fishing recreational boating. Weekends can be quite busy in the upper and lower sectors of the river. You can sometimes beat the crowds by hanging out toward the mid-point between the dam and the Charleston Harbor. Also, a weekday trip can relieve some of the boating pressure.

The best lures here are similar to the lures noted on other lakes and rivers. However, if you're after a trophy bass, perhaps the use of a very large plastic worm or fake snake would be most effective. Speaking of snakes, nighttime fishing with topwater lures can produce huge bass as well during the late spring, summer and early fall. But trust me, watch out for t

hose snakes.

While almost all of the lakes and rivers in South Carolina can produce outstanding bass fishing during the year, these are some of the topnotch black bass fishing opportunities in the state. Consider these places as among the best bets in the Palmetto State for 2009.

Find more about South Carolina fishing and hunting at: SCgameandfish.com

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