Four Top Options for Carolina Bass

Jocassee to Keowee to Murray to Russell -- each offers some excellent angling in the summer. Here's how and where to fish 'em.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Ronell Smith

In the summer months, black bass typically head for deep water, where they can access forage and enjoy the less-taxing cooler waters. This is especially so in the deep and often clear waters of three of South Carolina's best bass lakes: Murray, Jocassee, Keowee and Russell. On most of these lakes, light penetration can be 15 feet or more, making it not only likely that fish will be deeper in the summer, but that they will often be much easier to spook as well.

If catching the fish shallow was difficult, finding them now is a chore only the most patient of anglers will undertake - a fact local expert Shane Lineberger is very well familiar with.

He fishes Keowee regularly, taking advantage of the lake's excellent spotted bass population. Using a soft-plastic jerkbait near brushpiles on the lake's numerous points, he's caught fish over 4 pounds.

"Most of the spotted bass lakes have fish from 1 to 3 pounds," Lineberger said. "But on Keowee, you can catch 20 and they'll all be (about 3 pounds each). It's not every day, but it happens."

Though the overall quality of fish varies from Jocassee to Keowee to Murray to Russell, each offers some excellent angling in the summer, provided an angler knows where to fish and what lure to use.

JOCASSEE

Located in the extreme northwestern section of the state, this reservoir is home to a diverse population of black bass species. Anglers can regularly catch smallmouths, largemouths, spotted bass and redeyes from the 7,500-acre body of water.

However, largemouths, smallmouths and spots are most frequently targeted. This lake has produced some giants over the last several years. In fact, Jocassee currently holds the record for smallmouth (9 pounds, 7 ounces) and spotted bass (8 pounds, 5 ounces), both of which were taken in 2001.

But in a lake as deep and as clear as Jocassee, finding the fish is often the real chore. The lake, which has numerous deep bluff banks and huge flats, takes a while to get used to.

Therefore, like its twin, Lake Keowee, Jocassee's habitat encourages anglers to look for brushpiles near the edge of flats and along the river channels. In the lake's deep, clear water, the fish tend to relate to some deep-water cover.

In the summer, anglers should stay on the lower end of the lake, near the areas where the Toxaway and Whitewater rivers enter the main lake. Here there are numerous humps just off the river channels and big flats with deep water close by. Additionally, as the Toxaway River enters the main lake, the channel snakes back and forth, making it an ideal spot for largemouths, spots or smallmouths to hold.

For a great outing, try putting in at the Devil's Fork Access. From there, go upstream on the Toxaway River and look for areas where the channel winds nearest the bank. Where the bank and channel are closest, search for brushpiles. Many spots on the lake have these manmade fish-attractors. Bass look for them in the summer; you should, too.

Finesse worms on a 1/8- to 3/16-ounce leadhead are ideal here, as these baits seem to call fish out of cover. Another (and at times even more effective) choice is the drop shot, which features a small soft-plastic bait attached to a hook placed above a sinker. These rigs, originally developed for clear-water bass fishing, are dynamite on Jocassee and Keowee. The weight of the sinker can vary with the depth of the water, but the key is throwing it out, then jiggling the plastic bait while holding the weight in place.

"Those fish just cannot stand that," said David Vaughn, a Hartwell, Georgia, resident and expert on clear-water bass. Try soft plastics in watermelon, green pumpkin and watermelon seed.

For the flats and humps on the lake, Carolina rigs and crankbaits are better choices. A quick glance at a topographical map will show anglers numerous areas to throw these baits. The humps right out in front of the access ramp on the Whitewater River are an excellent place to try first, as are the flats near the mouth of Devil's Fork Creek.

The key on Jocassee is to look for the structure first, then locate the cover, such as brushpiles.

Jocassee has no size limit, but a maximum of 10 black bass in any combination can be taken per day. Additionally, anglers fishing the extreme northern ends of the lake, such as the upper ends of the Toxaway and Horsepasture rivers, must have a North Carolina fishing license or remain on the South Carolina side of the lake, as the states do not have a reciprocal license agreement.

KEOWEE

Although Jocassee is home to some truly magnum spots, Keowee is unsurpassed in South Carolina as a place to catch good numbers of solid spotted bass. Anglers can pull into one of several major creeks on this 18,500-acre lake and never leave: The spots will be all over the place - under docks, hovering over points, holding on river channels or buried in brushpiles.

Largemouths are also present on this lake, and anglers often catch a largemouth or two while fishing for spots. The spots, however, will make up the lion's share of the catch.

In the summer months, anglers can put in at the South Cove Park ramp, on the lower end of the lake in Seneca, and they'll never have to put their boat on plane to catch fish. This area of the lake, which is clear down to 7 feet or more, is loaded with docks, long clay points, brushpiles and distinct river channel ledges.

A savvy fisherman could begin at the mouth of Cane Creek, which is on the left heading up the lake. There is an island in this area and several points, many of which have brushpiles on them. Stay well off the shore and cast soft-plastic jerkbaits up onto the points and allow them to sink several seconds before beginning an erratic retrieve.

Then move in closer to the point, drop-shotting small worms or grubs impaled on a light wire hook and fastened to 6- to 8-pound-test line. Choose worms in lighter colors, those such as watermelon, green pumpkin, watermelon/red flake or white.

"Many times, you'll be sitting there doodling that worm, and you'll see that fish come up to eat your bait on your electronic graph," said Hartwell's Vaughn. "They love that drop shot."

Another technique Vaughn uses to catch fish on Keowee is a Carolina rig. He us

es the typical egg sinker above a bead and a swivel, but the bait impaled on his light wire hook is not a worm or similar soft plastic. Instead, he uses a small white grub, similar to that used as a spinnerbait trailer.

"That right there is what I use to catch 'em on Keowee," he said. "That little bait is a killer."

There are, to be sure, numerous ways to catch spotted bass on Keowee. But one part of your tackle should remain the same no matter what terminal rig you tie on: Whatever you do, use light line. The clarity of the water dictates lines in the 6- to 12-pound range,

Finding fish on Keowee is typically not a problem. All an angler has to do is look for brush on the points or flats in the mornings or late evenings, then move to the docks, which can be worked effectively with worms on a leadhead jig, a drop shot or a small jig.

There is no size limit on Keowee, but South Carolina Department of Natural Resources imposes a limit of 10 black bass per day per angler

LAKE RUSSELL

When the weather turns hot each summer, serious anglers turn their attention to this 26,500-acre lake. Unlike most South Carolina lakes, Russell has no residential development along its shorelines, which decreases the recreational craft traffic in summer.

But aside from the lack of traffic on the lake, Russell also features some excellent fishing for both spotted bass and largemouths. The lake is loaded with woody cover, such as standing timber, and is fed by several large rivers.

Anglers also have numerous islands, large flats, clay points and river channel ledges to fish.

For largemouths, Mike Echols launches his boat at the Pearl Mill ramp, which is located on Beaverdam Creek on the lower end of the lake. The angler then heads left under the bridge immediately adjacent the ramp, heading north past the Middleton Road Bridge. He then works the banks on either side of the lake.

This area features great largemouth habitat, as it has blowdowns, steep banks and rocky points. Echols typically throws a spinnerbait here in the early mornings, since shad frequent the area.

"There are always a lot of shad in that area,'' he said. "I don't know why there are so many shad in that creek, but there are.''

Anglers looking for a quick limit here should also throw a buzzbait or floating worm. As the sun comes up, however, anglers should move out onto the main lake, where some of the best action is near stands of timber. These stands of wood, found throughout the lake, hold fish year 'round, but especially in the summer months.

One of these well-known stands is located in the Nunley Branch, a small creek just down the lake on the right from the Pearl Mill ramp. Entering the creek from the north, you'll see trees on the immediate right, stretching all the way to the back of the creek.

Flipping or pitching Texas-rigged tubes, jigs or creature baits here is very productive. But for a real wall-hanger, start out with a white spinnerbait, said Echols. He targets cedar trees (they tend to hold more fish) and throws a 3/8-ounce or 1/2-ounce spinnerbait just past the cover, then counts the bait down 7 or 8 feet. Once down to the correct depth, Echols begins to slowly reel the bait back to the boat.

He throws several times to each tree that he fishes, working the cover from every angle. To completely work the trees, however, try casting a Texas-rigged 10-inch June bug-colored worm on a 5/0 hook with a 1/2-ounce weight. Frequently, the fish bury themselves deep inside the limbs of the cover, and this bait will reach those fish.

Also, Russell has a wealth of brushpiles situated at the end of sloping points, which are excellent places to try a jig, drop shot or crankbait.

If you want to catch spotted bass, head south on the lake to the Highway 72 bridge. This bridge crosses the lake on the lower end near the dam, an area where clear water predominates and the spots are plentiful and easy to find.

Tie on a 1/16-ounce leadhead and a small worm and cast to the bridge pilings. The spotted bass often hover 20 or 25 feet below the surface, so count the bait down, then begin vigorously pumping the rod to give a darting action to the bait.

"On sunny days, you can't go wrong fishing the bridge pilings of Highway 72 bridge or those at the Beaverdam Creek bridge, Van's Creek bridge or the Savannah River train trestle,'' Echols said. "Those bass love a green pumpkin worm on a leadhead.''

Georgia and South Carolina both manage portions of the lake and the limit is 10 bass; Georgia has a 12-inch minimum length limit.

LAKE MURRAY

With the drawdown still underway at this lake, it's easy to get lost in the scenery here. A lake long known for its clear water and plentiful grass, much of the best structure and cover - long clay points, expansive flats and stumpfields - are now void of water.

Even so, the fishing on this 48,000-acre lake hasn't suffered much, if at all. Anglers regularly take 15- to 18-pound stringers, even in the summer months.

Gerry Saggus, a North Augusta native, fishes Murray regularly. He said the key to catching largemouth bass in the summer months on the lake is fishing islands with major points and grass along them.

And on Murray that's not at all difficult, since the lake is loaded with islands, large and small. In the summer months, Saggus typically launches his boat from Turner's Landing, which is located on the south end of the lake in Beaverdam Creek. In addition to the islands in this area, there are plenty of long, tapering points, shallow pockets and flats in the area.

He begins by throwing a walking-type topwater bait along the long points of Shull Island.

"I'm going to throw that bait until my arm falls off," he said. "I just know those big ones will eat (it)."

For those grassy areas between the points and the secondary points, he keeps a soft-plastic jerkbait and a spinnerbait tied on.

Saggus, who has caught numerous largemouths from Murray, said the fish are typically orienting to the grass lines at the edges of the points, where they await an easy meal of shad or herring.

The depth at which the fish hold will vary, he said, but a great technique is to fish those grassy points where the winds are churning the water along the shore. Often the water is slightly murky along these points and the fish will hang just on the outside of the mud line.

In fact, if the wind is strong, he'll spend all day jumping from point to point looking for active fish.

"Basically, in the sum

mer months I'm throwing (topwaters, jerkbaits and spinnerbaits) and moving on," he said. "In the summer, it gets hot and if you're throwing a Carolina rig, it gets boring."

One of the chief disadvantages of the lake being down is that it has virtually taken away the dock bite, since most docks are now on dry land. But this lake has plentiful long, slow tapering points, many of which are lined with stumps and can be seen dropping into the river channel.

On the lower end of the lake, near Shull Island, there are numerous points that anglers can work with Carolina rigs or other rigs. Try to cover water fast and find fish in the process.

"I caught three over 8 pounds this past summer," Saggus said. "That just tells you that they are there. And all three came from within a one-square-mile area."

But in addition to looking for grass along the shoreline, Saggus also likes to look for those deeper clumps of grass in 15 to 30 feet of water. He said the fish will commonly orient to the edge of this grass, where they can enjoy cooler temperatures and take advantage of any prey that happens by.

When he encounters these deep pods of vegetation, Saggus reaches for a deep-diving crankbait, which he runs right over the top of the grass, allowing the bill of the lure to tick the clumps.

For some of the best action, however, look for areas where the grass line meets a bed of stumps - a typical cover combination on Murray, he said. When Saggus finds such a location, he picks up a green-pumpkin or brown-colored jig and begins hopping it across the grass, a dynamite technique for bass buried inside the grass.

"If you can find those areas where the stumps and the grass come together - whew! That's when it gets really good," he said. "If you aren't in a hurry, tie on a jig and go to work."

Anglers are limited to 10 bass per day on Murray, but there is no size limit.



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