South Carolina's Best Nighttime Bassin'

Hot July weather makes for some of the best bass fishing of the year -- after dark. These are some of the top destinations for after-hours fishing in the state.

Photo by Michael Skinner

Methodically, you lift your rod tip a few inches, hold the rod steady until you feel the "tick" of the bait hitting the bottom, return the rod to its former position, reeling a bit to keep the line taut. And then you lift again. You repeat the process until your jig is almost back to the boat and then make another cast into the darkness. And so it goes.

Then something changes, albeit only slightly. You never feel the tick of the bait hitting the bottom. You don't feel a strike either and the line doesn't race off; however, something isn't right, so you set the hook hard. Your instincts were true, and the bass is solidly hooked -- and it feels like a pretty good fish.

Night-fishing often is a touch game. Much depends on what an angler can feel, instead of what he can see, and that is a big part of the appeal of the after-hours approach. Fishing in the dark forces anglers to really focus, and an extra sense of pride comes from feeling an isolated cluster of grass right before a bass thumps a spinnerbait, or from recognizing an absurdly subtle strike without the benefit of seeing the line. Plus, tuning in to everything around causes anglers to notice and enjoy the sounds of frog conversations in the backs of coves and bass busting the surface in the distant darkness.

Other appeals of night-fishing include the opportunity to escape hordes of recreational boaters that invade many reservoirs on summer days, to reduce competition from other fishermen and to stay out of the heat of July afternoons.

Also, of course, there is the fact that bass often feed better at night during midsummer, and they tend to move shallower into areas where they are easier to locate and to catch.

Night-fishing calls for different approaches than most anglers commonly use during the day. Veteran night-fishermen generally use slow approaches, relying on baits that bump along the bottom or swim slowly. Good choices include a jig with a big trailer and rattle chamber, and a big dark-colored, plastic worm or tube. A large red or black spinnerbait with a single, oversized Colorado blade also will account for a lot of nighttime bass.

On calm moonlit nights, some anglers also like topwater lures, especially plugs that gurgle slowly and steadily across the surface and also big buzzbaits. Around marinas, streetlights and other areas that remain illuminated through the night, faster-moving topwater baits and other more aggressive lures like crankbaits and soft-plastic jerkbaits can come into the equation.

Along with altering angling approaches, fishermen must consider lights needed for safe and legal running and for doing things like tying on baits and unhooking fish, and they must carefully consider nighttime navigation. Running lakes after hours calls for more map study, slower speeds and greater care to stay in marked channels than does the daytime approach.

Finding offshore structures or even key areas along banks also can be more difficult at night, especially if an angler does not have a GPS. A good approach if a lake is somewhat unfamiliar to an angler is to arrive a couple of hours before dark and spend those last hours of daylight scouting and setting plans for a night of fishing.

Anglers who want to venture out after hours can find good opportunities on most major reservoirs in South Carolina. However, some lakes are extra appealing to night-fishermen because of the amount of daytime use they typically receive, the normal stinginess of the lake on summer days or the ease of navigation after hours. We've selected a handful of lakes in all parts of the state that are extra appealing for night-fishing. Let's dig into how and where to find the best action on each.

LAKE KEOWEE

Deep and clear, Lake Keowee can become quite challenging on summer days. Fish commonly spend time 40 or more feet beneath the surface, holding over points or humps or burying themselves in brush off the ends of docks. After the sun goes down, however, the fish tend to stray shallower and feed more aggressively.

Night-fishing also tends to bring spots and largemouths together on Keowee, allowing anglers to more readily fish for the two species together. Spots typically spend summer days notably deeper than do their big-mouthed cousins, which instead choose to take refuge in areas of permanent shade and the thickest cover they can locate. However, by nighttime, both species move up points and the sides of islands, invade shallower brush and cruise flats, allowing anglers two-for-one fishing opportunities.

Lake Keowee is an odd lake, as it is really more like two lakes than one. The Keowee and Little rivers are impounded by separate dams, and the two bodies are joined by a narrow neck near the Keowee Nuclear Station. Both arms are clear and generally steep sided, with deep water at their lower ends.

Groups of islands (including submerged islands) in the upper Keowee River arm and the lower Little River arm often produce good summer nighttime action. Many anglers also concentrate on boat docks throughout Lake Keowee. However, finding the right docks any given night often requires searching. The most productive docks, day or night, have brush sunk off the ends of them. Depths and proximity to creek and river channels are the major variables that need to be sorted out any given night. Many anglers use dark-colored, soft-plastic baits with clacker beads or rattles as part of their rigs and shake the offerings in the brush.

Anglers also should look for docks where lights have been left on or other spots where artificial light stays on the water. These are perennial night-fishing hotspots, especially on clear lakes like Keowee where the fish can feed readily by sight.

LAKE RICHARD B. RUSSELL

In stark contrast to Lake Keowee, Lake Richard B. Russell has no development around it. Therefore, lit boat docks are not part of the nighttime fishing equation. It also isn't especially popular among pleasure boaters because of stumps and flooded trees and because various other big reservoirs are closer to more people. The reason for selecting Lake Russell for this article is simple: It is an outstanding night-fishing lake.

The second of three big impoundments along the Savannah River, Lake Russell spreads over 26,650 acres. It offers a great mix of deep- and shallow-water habitat, with an abundance of wood in all depths, providing terrific bass habitat. The bass stay well fed from abundant threadfin shad and blueback herring.

The lake supports a very good bass popula

tion, which includes a mix of largemouth and spotted bass. The spots are not native and have only been in Lake Russell for about a decade, but they have thrived and are big and abundant. Spots actually make up about two-thirds of the black bass through much of the lake's main body, based on biologists' samples. The opposite is true well up major creek arms, where there is far more shallow-water habitat.

Unlike most reservoirs, Lake Russell has permanently placed poles instead of buoys to mark its channel. Because the poles are precisely placed along channel breaks, one of the best ways to find fish -- even for anglers who know nothing else about the lake -- is to "fish the poles." Adding virtue to this strategy, which often is carried out at night with a dark lizard or worm on a Carolina rig or a big red spinnerbait fished on the shallow side of the break, most poles are surrounded by brush sunk by fishermen.

In addition to the poles that mark the channel edge, hazard markers are great targets for summer nights because they mark shallow areas that are near notably deeper water. Fish that spend their days in the channel or along natural breaks beside shoals move onto those shoals at night to feed. Casting a jig-and-pig to the shallowest point on such a structure and working it down the edge works really well.

Anglers also shouldn't overlook Lake Russell's stands of flooded timber, which are marked as well. These areas look sparse because many trees have broken off at or just beneath the normal water level, but there are forests just below the surface and tangles of timber on the bottom. At night, most fish will be in the backs of these pockets, where the water around the bases of the trees is shallower.

A reciprocal agreement between Georgia and South Carolina allows anglers licensed by either state to fish anywhere on Lake Russell with a valid license from either state. The minimum size for bass is 12 inches.

BOYDS MILL POND

Boyds Mill Pond may be small, but its bass are big. A fertile lake that's full of shad, Boyds is famous for producing "football-shaped" bass, and it yields more than its share of double-digit weight fish. Despite its big-bass reputation, Boyds still doesn't attract a tremendous amount of attention, except from local fishermen, and on a summer night there often won't be more than a few boats on the entire lake.

Boyds impounds the Reedy River just west of Laurens. The upper reaches of the lake are shallow and contain vast flats, which bass will cruise at night. Many steeper banks farther down the lake are absolutely loaded with downed trees, and an angler easily could spend a night working Texas-rigged soft-plastic baits among the treetops.

Boyds also has several very well-defined points that stretch out toward the Reedy River channel, and the bass move up those points on summer nights. Most points and adjacent flats also have brush sunk atop them.

Because of the sizes bass grow to in Boyds Mill Pond and the abundance of cover, anglers should go out "loaded for bear," with large, heavy-wire hooks, strong line and stout rods. Boyds' bass aren't line-shy during the day, let alone at night, so there's no reason to let a fish of a lifetime get away.

A small privately-owned access area on the west side of the lake has a good boat ramp and a tackle shop. Access is from state Highway 252. Cartop boats can be launched on the opposite side of the lake, but the access is very rough and parking is limited.

LAKE MURRAY

Lake Murray's large size, openness and proximity to Columbia make it extremely popular with recreational boaters and fishermen, and on summer days Murray can get downright crowded. In truth, Murray still has a fair amount of traffic during the night; however, it's nowhere near what exists while the sun is still out.

Lake Murray also is a good night-fishing pick because it is a very difficult daytime lake for catching fish during midsummer. Most bass in the main lake stay deep and become very lethargic during the day. Up the rivers, they hold very tight in shoreline cover, where it's hard to get a bait to the bass or get the bass out if they do bite.

Anglers venturing out at night who are unfamiliar with Lake Murray should concentrate on the lake's main body, between Billy Dreher Island at the dam, fishing main-lake points, points in the lower reaches of major creeks and humps along the Saluda River channel. The best areas offer good daytime habitat near the depth of the thermocline, ideally with some grass, and good adjoining structure that is notably shallower.

A good topographical map is highly valuable for identifying potentially productive features, especially after an angler begins to put together a pattern. Lake Murray has dozens of significant points and countless offshore humps, so with a map an angler can find structural features that are similar in character and how they relate to channels to a point that produces fish.

Some bass will move all the way up points and feed on flats in coves and pockets that are adjacent to major points. These fish may be quite shallow and often will cruise around buckbrush, dock pilings or other cover. A Texas-rigged 10-inch plastic worm is always a good choice for shallow fish at night.

Finally, anglers shouldn't overlook lit boat docks, pockets lit by streetlights or any other spot that remains illuminated overnight. Baitfish congregate in lit areas and bass move in nightly to enjoy the buffet. Bass often will hang just outside the lit area and ambush minnows that are swimming in the light.

LAKE EDGAR BROWN

Deep into the Lowcountry, within the town limits of Barnwell, Lake Edgar Brown supports a super population of high-quality largemouths year after year. Owned and operated by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) as part of the state's fishing lakes program, Lake Brown is intensively managed specifically for fishing. It is regularly fertilized to maximize productivity, and the result is a great forage base and fat bass.

Lake Brown's bass population got super-charged several years ago when the SCDNR stocked the lake with numerous 5-pound-plus largemouths to deal proactively with an over-population of stunted crappie. Lake Brown has been a fine bass lake ever since, and its remote location in combination with its small size of only 100 acres keeps it from attracting heavy pressure from serious bass fishermen. Despite all the big bass, most of Lake Brown's fishermen target catfish, bream or crappie.

The upper end of Lake Brown is shallow and full of brush and stumps, making it an ideal area for slow-rolling a big nighttime spinnerbait or gurgling a black Jitterbug across the surface. The lower main body has minimal structure out in the lake, so anglers should work along the shores, pitching jigs or worms toward shoreline cover (assuming there's enough moonlight to see the treetops and pitch into them).

One unique appeal of Lake Brown is that anglers actually can enjoy good night-fishing prospects from the bank. The combination of excellent shoreline access and lights along part of the

banks make Lake Brown unique.

Making the opportunity extra good, one of the best areas of the lake for night-fishing is within a cast's length of a long stretch of shore. A ditch runs right beside the earthen dike that divides the main lower lake from the old creek channel, and bass often hold along the edge of that ditch. By simply working gradually down the dike, an angler can make virtually every cast onto that flat and then drag his offering down into the ditch.

The limit on Lake Brown is three bass, with a 16-inch minimum size. Two ramps provide good boating access. No outboards of more than 10 horsepower may be operated north of Hospital Road. No outboard restrictions apply to most of the lake.

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information on fishing in South Carolina, including a fishing report that's updated weekly and for regulations, view the SCDNR's Web site at

www.dnr.state.sc.us/.

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