Three Rivers for Carolina Largemouths

Don't overlook moving water in your quest for South Carolina bucketmouths. These three rivers all yield fine fishing for anglers who know how to approach them.

By Terry Madewell

"What lake are you heading to?" is the first question many anglers ask when they realize that you are going bass fishing.

Answer that you won't be fishing a lake, but are instead headed to a river to target largemouth bass and you're apt to get a perplexed look.

Rivers, while often very good as fishing waters, tend get overlooked by the bass-fishing crowd. Largemouth anglers are used to launching bass boats on big, open lakes where they can open up and run, and most South Carolina rivers don't lend themselves to that type of boating. Rivers also stand out on the map less than big reservoirs, and they just don't get the same amount of attention.

Causing rivers to be forgotten even more by bass fishermen, most moving waters have bigger reputations for producing one or more other species. We'll look at a few rivers that fit this description. All offer fine bass fishing, and all three tend to get overlooked for other species.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

SALUDA RIVER
Trout abound in the Saluda's mountain forks and in the tailwater of Lake Murray, which cuts through Columbia. The tailwater is also well known for the striped bass fishing it serves up each spring. Between the mountains and Lake Murray, though, the Saluda is a very interesting largemouth destination, with a few distinctive sections that serve up good fishing, and anglers tend to overlook the river's bass.

Different sections of the upper Saluda vary notably in character. Upstream of Lake Greenwood, the river is generally narrow and sometimes shallow and usually only fishable by floating a johnboat or other cartop boat from one bridge crossing to the next. Small dams also create some obstructions through this section.

However, a couple of those dams actually create little lakes that offer some of the best fishing prospects along the upper Saluda. Holiday Dam, just east of Honea Patch, forms a 6 1/2-mile-long lake that spreads the river out just enough to create very good largemouth habitat. This section, which is difficult to access and requires great caution to navigate, produces some very large bass during the spring.

The only ramp for this section of the river is an extremely rough dirt ramp just upstream of the dam that would require a 4-wheel-drive for launching most boats. For anglers who have canoes or other carry-in boats, access is also possible at Cooly Bridge, where state Highway 242 crosses the bridge. The access is owned by the city of Belton and open for public use.

Steve Patterson, a trophy bass specialist from Gray Court, fishes this section of river any time he gets a chance during the pre-spawn time period, focusing on points that stretch toward the main-river channel with big "thumper" spinnerbaits, oversized jerkbaits and 12- or 16-inch plastic worms.

This section of the Saluda is generally off-colored and it can get downright muddy. Patterson doesn't necessarily mind the mud, however, as the bass sometimes feed quite aggressively when the water is dirty. He'll fish mostly with a spinnerbait, rigged with a single oversized Colorado blade and rigged with a long trailer, most of the time when the water is dirty.

Several miles upstream of Holiday Dam, another Saluda Dam creates another small lake just west of Greenville. This lake, which is accessible only by a single private ramp that charges $5, also yields some real heavyweight bass, especially during the first part of spring.

Moving well down the river, between lakes Greenwood and Murray the Saluda once again becomes a very interesting largemouth-fishing area. Anglers in bass boats travel up to this section from Murray, maneuver carefully up this stretch for the opportunity to tap its bounties; however, a better approach is to fish the river from a johnboat, either floating from point to point or running up and down from the Higgens Bridge access point.

Boats can be hand-launched for fishing this section of the river from just below Buzzards Roost Dam, which forms Lake Greenwood. There are also boat ramps at Higgens Bridge and Kempsons Bridge, the latter of which is actually located at the head of Murray's Saluda River arm (at normal pool). This section of river produces chunky bass overall, and yields some real giants.

Shallow shoals alternate with pools throughout this part of the river. Largemouths are generally in pool areas and typically will be in cover along outside bends in the river. Most fish relate to the banks throughout this stretch, holding in current breaks caused by blowdowns, rocks, cuts in the banks or other cover.

The most popular way to fish this section is with a flippin' stick and a jig-and-pig or a tube, flippin' the offering right into the thick stuff. Heavy line is sometimes needed to get the bass out. White spinnerbaits cast tight to the banks or among the thick branches also produce good action some spring days.

PEE DEE RIVER
The Great Pee Dee River enters South Carolina just north of Cheraw and twists and turns through the entire Pee Dee Region before turning tidal in character and eventually backing into the open waters of Winyah Bay. The Little Pee Dee rises as a network of creeks in swamps of eastern North Carolina and South Carolina and roughly parallels its big sister to their confluence just west of Myrtle Beach.

The Pee Dee River system is best known for its bream fishery, and bulldog bream continue to serve up great fishing. Also abundant in the river and growing more popular every year are big blue and flathead catfish. Largemouth bass, while numerous through parts of the river, don't get much attention from fishermen.

The main river actually forms as the Yadkin River near the edge of the North Carolina mountains, so it is a fairly good-sized stream by the time it enters South Carolina. The river is big enough for boating throughout, but the upper end is dotted with shallow sandbars and can be littered with downed timber, making navigation difficult at times.

The Little Pee Dee is best suited for canoe fishing, except through its lower reaches. It becomes big enough to be a practical floating stream somewhere around Dillon. The lower half of the river can be fished with a bass boat, and numerous boat ramps in Horry and Marion counties provide good access.

The Little Pee Dee is highly scenic as it winds between big stands of cypress. Except at the far lower end, where fishing beco

mes a bit more popular, anglers are apt to have this water to themselves. Making the Little Pee Dee even more interesting, waters in the vicinity of U.S. Highway 501, both upstream and downstream, are included in the Little Pee Dee Heritage Preserve, and public camping is allowed on these lands.

Both the Great Pee Dee and the Little Pee Dee are blackwater streams and are therefore dark but somewhat clear. They twist and turn continually, spread into swamps in many places and have a lot of connected oxbows and backwaters. Both rivers support good bass populations, although they don't yield many trophy-sized bass. Most fishing pressure is in the tidal lower reaches of the rivers. The rivers' fisheries are very similar, based on limited information that biologists have. The Little Pee Dee is probably easier to fish than the main river simply because of its smaller size.

Through the flowing blackwater portion of both rivers, backwater areas probably hold the most fish this time of year. Fish pile up in little lakes and cuts off the main river through the spring and hold on grass lines, treetops, cypress trunks and other cover. "Bassy"-looking cover abounds both along the main channel and in the backwater areas.

Within backwaters, big stands of lily pads and other types of grass probably hold the most bass during early spring. Anglers do well fishing Texas-rigged worms up around the grass, even swimming them over mats of vegetation and then dropping the plastic offerings off the edges. Bass often will thump them on the drop.

Some of the most interesting early-season fishing in the Pee Dee River occurs in the tidal waters at the river's lower end. Bass are generally quite active by March in this part of the river, and they feed fairly predictably in tidal currents.

Through this section of the river, tides control everything. The fish move in and out with the tides and feed more actively when the water is pushing hard. They hold on the downcurrent side of cover, whether that means downstream or upstream. Tidal movements make the fish's locations more predictable in many instances. Good presentations become critical, however.

In tidal river sections, anglers look for cuts and creek mouths that create good currents flowing into the main rivers. Through the first half of a falling tide, especially, these cuts and currents pull foodstuff off the tops of flats that have been flooded through high tide, and the bass just lie there out of the current, waiting on an easy feast.

Again, plastic worms are popular and very effective lure choices. Other good bets include spinnerbaits and small shallow- to medium-diving crankbaits. Dark worms, spinnerbaits that have gold or bronze blades and crawfish-colored crankbaits are good picks, color-wise, for fishing the dark, tannic-looking waters of the Great Pee Dee or Little Pee Dee River.

Good access to the lower rivers is available at U.S. highways 501 and 601 for the Little Pee Dee and U.S. Highway 378 for the Great Pee Dee. U.S. Highway 17 is the freshwater/ saltwater dividing line along the Great Pee Dee River.

EDISTO RIVER
Historically, the Edisto River has been best known for its abundant redbreast sunfish. In recent years, with flathead catfish having become abundant in the river and having knocked back redbreast numbers, flatheads probably attract more headlines than any other species on the Edisto.

Sometimes overlooked on the Edisto, which is the longest blackwater river in the world and among the prettiest flows in the state, is a solid population of largemouth bass. The bass, which see very light fishing pressure overall, serve up very good action to anglers who learn how to contend with the river's highly variable water levels.

As a blackwater river, the Edisto is not overly fertile, and it rarely produces trophy largemouths. However, it does support decent numbers of bass, with good quality fish in the mix.

One benefit of the river's moderate fertility from a fisherman's standpoint is that the bass tend to feed fairly opportunistically. If an angler can get to the fish, he usually can catch them.

Fishing is most difficult on the Edisto when the river runs really high because the fish tend to move way up out of the river's channel, onto a broad flood plain, where anglers cannot get to them. Very low water makes the river more difficult to navigate, but that is less likely to be a problem than the opposite condition during March.

Most anglers like the Edisto best as a fishing destination when the level is between 4 and 6 feet at the Givhans gauge. The water level can be seen at anytime at the SCDNR's Web site at www.dnr.state.sc.us/.

The Edisto officially forms at the confluence of its north and south forks just east of Bamberg. Its tributaries rise out of swamps in Aiken, Edgefield, Lexington and Saluda counties, but practical bass fishing is limited to the main stem, and the upper half of the river is best fished from a canoe or kayak.

As a designated canoe and kayak trail for 66 miles, the Edisto has good access scattered all along its course. Whether in canoes or johnboats, anglers often will float the river from one point to another, using a shuttle vehicle at one end. Whetstone Crossing, where U.S. Highway 21 crosses the river, Green Pond Church Landing at the end of state Highway 217 and Canadys Bridge at U.S. Highway 15 are good access points for float-fishing trips along the upper Edisto.

Canadys Bridge has a regular boat ramp, and the river is large enough for a regular fishing boat by that point. Farther downstream, boat launches at Stokes Bridge, Mars Old Field and Good Hope Landing are scattered over the next 30 miles

Throughout this part of the river, the Edisto winds through hardwood bottoms, twisting and turning through bend after bend. Downed trees, flooded trees, lily pad fields and patches of other types of vegetation make everything look like bass waters, so anglers need to figure out what kind of cover the fish are holding on any given day.

Early in the day, it's best to throw something like a small crankbait or spinnerbait, which will cover a lot of water, and then keep a close eye out for clues. Once the fish reveal whether they are lying along grass lines, setting deep in brushpiles or holding in submerged timber just upstream of outside bends, then it's easy to slow down and target those areas with jigs and other more thorough baits.

Anglers also need to consider current through the upper half of the Edisto. The river moves along at a fairly good clip for a Lowcountry flow, which really tends to position the fish. Anglers need to plan presentations so that baits pass bass at the same angles they are accustomed to seeing food come from.

The black water eventually gives way to tidal waters, and grasses begin to replace trees along the banks. Through the lower river, which eventually turns brackish and finally salty, the stage of the tide dictates how the fish will behave. Like on the Pee Dee River, bass

feed well around ditches, rice trunks and creek mouths as tides are falling. High water puts them tight to shallow cover. Low water pulls them from the banks.

Popular lures in the lower river are Texas-rigged tubes, baitfish-imitating jerkbaits and spinnerbaits with gold or copper blades. Making things extra interesting through the tidal section, an angler is apt to catch a largemouth bass on one cast and a spottail bass on the next cast.

Access to the lower river is possible at Willtown Bluff and Martins landings in Charleston County and at Lowndes and West Bank landings in Colleton County. The freshwater/saltwater dividing line for regulations purposes on the Edisto River is the abandoned Seaboard Railroad track bed near Matthews Cut Canal.



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