Carolina's 2006 Crappie Forecast

If you're searching for top-shelf crappie fishing, you have plenty of choices in our state. (February 2006)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

For South Carolina crappie fishermen, there's plenty of good news for the 2006 crappie season. Traditionally, anglers think of the spawning season as prime crappie fishing time, and while that's correct, you don't need to limit your fishing to that shallow-water spawning period. Fishing in all of the lakes we'll highlight here is typically good throughout most of the year.

Even now, during the pre-spawn time period, you can expect to make good catches of crappie. Moreover, that action continues right through the spawn and into the post-spawn phases.

According to Val Nash, chief of Freshwater Fisheries for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), while all lakes have strong and weak phases of reproduction success, the crappie fishing remains very good statewide.

Nash noted that lakes Hartwell, Wylie and Wateree should all have a good year in 2006.

"A good crappie fisherman shouldn't have any trouble on any of our South Carolina lakes, as there are plenty of crappie to fish for," he said.

In addition, he added, there is at least one lake that will offer anglers excellent crappie-fishing opportunities for the next few years. That lake, of course, is Lake Murray.

"Excellent conditions for crappie and bream populations are in place at Lake Murray," Nash said. "With the long-term drawdown for repair work, the exposed areas around the lake grew up with vegetation. Therefore, when the water returned to normal pool, all of a sudden, there was a tremendous increase in several factors that influence panfish populations. First, of course, is much more water. And this water now encompasses a great deal of natural vegetation that had grown up around the shoreline."

When the water flooded back over these areas, it had almost the same effect as filling a new lake. Not quite that good, perhaps, Nash said, but close enough to make a big difference. This creates a boom situation.

"The carrying capacity of the lake skyrockets. There's a great deal more opportunity for spawning. There's much more food available now. The lake has more nutrients in the water simply from aquatic vegetation decaying. For young crappie growing quickly, there is also a boom in the population of the small threadfin shad and an exploding mayfly population, both critical to young fish at certain points of their growth. All these factors combine to create a boom population of fish," Nash said.

The really good news is that this boom should last for a period of more than one or two years. Gradually, the fishing will level off, but there are real opportunities for anglers for the next few years at this lake.

"Even though during the drawdown, the population had declined simply because the available water was greatly reduced, I know fishermen who continued to make excellent catches of crappie while the water was low. Simply, the carrying capacity of the lake was reduced because of reduced water. However, the overall population of crappie was still in good shape. Therefore, the lake had a good population of crappie but at a reduced carrying capacity. Now that the water is up, spawning success and a rapidly expanding crappie population is to be expected," Nash said.

During the cooler weather in the pre-spawn time frame and again in the post-spawn, most of the fish will likely be holding in slightly deeper water adjacent to drops, ledges and points.

However, when the fish move to the shallows to spawn, there's literally more shallow-water cover than you can fish. You may have to work some great-looking areas for a while to find places where fish seem to be concentrated. When you find such an area, work it over and over.

Among the best spots to find an abundance of crappie this year, in addition to Lake Murray, are lakes Wylie, Wateree, Hartwell, and for trophy crappie, lakes Marion and Moultrie. As a bonus, there's a stretch of the Santee River below the Wilson Dam impounding Lake Marion that offers good crappie fishing if you're looking for a different environment.

LAKE WYLIE

The entire Catawba River chain of lakes is known for excellent crappie fishing and Lake Wylie certainly ranks at or near the top. This lake is known for good fishing for a variety of species. Despite heavy crappie fishing pressure, the lake is teeming with crappie and is another year-round productive crappie fishery.

The shallow-water fishing is certainly a favored tactic during the spawn, but the underwater configuration of the lake is ideal for crappie fishing with all the creek channels, drops, creek channel bends and abundant underwater cover.

One factor to keep in mind here is that the state line between North Carolina and South Carolina in the lower portion of the lake is the river channel, with some of the eastern portion of the lake being in North Carolina, while the western portion is in South Carolina, except for the very southernmost portion of the lake, which is all South Carolina.

Most of the creeks on the South Carolina portion of the lake are big enough to harbor good crappie populations throughout the year; however, in midsummer, some of the best fishing will be found in the lower portion of the creeks, near where the creek mouth empties into the Catawba River.

Both Big Allison and Little Allison creeks are very productive, as are Beaver Dam and Crowder creeks. There are numerous offshoots and minor creeks which junction with these major creeks that also provide excellent action.

During the spring, the best advice is to stay on the move, working minnows or small jigs around the abundant shallow water cover. There is plenty of shallow water cover in this lake that the crappie will use during the late pre-spawn and spawn. When conditions are right, a long pole and minnow combination, or some prefer a fly rod and small jig, will produce limits of fish in short order.

During the cooler weather in February and once the water temperatures get warm by June, you need to focus efforts along the creek channel edges and drops. Look for cover such as old stumprows or sunken brushpiles along these well-defined bottom sections.

A number of anglers make some of their best catches after the spawn when the fish begin to congregate back in the big creek channels. Fishermen work along the creek channel edge lines, looking for stumps, brush or other woody cover. Trolling or tight-lining minnows a

re both good methods. Some of the more productive fishermen will put in their own brushpiles, and by fishing from 8 to over 20 feet deep, depending on water conditions, plenty of crappie can be caught throughout late spring and summer.

WATEREE LAKE

Wateree Lake is a highly productive crappie-fishing lake that provides anglers a variety of options for getting into the crappie throughout the seasons. Nash notes that this lake has been very consistent through recent years and expects another good crop of crappie in 2006. During the spring months, particularly late March and April, the shallow-water fishing is excellent on this lake.

The crappie population seems to be in very good condition: Plenty of quality limits of crappie are caught here throughout the year. One of the real keys to success on this lake, especially in shallow-water fishing, is the stability of the water level. The lake tends to fluctuate in the spring and these fluctuations can create havoc with the shallow-water fishing.

Be prepared to back off, even during the spring, to the drops in 8 to 12 feet of water along the major creek channels. Among the most productive areas are Colonel's Creek, Dutchman's Creek, Singleton Creek, Wateree Creek and Beaver Creek. The lake is also full of small coves and pockets that provide abundant shoreline cover, such as blowdowns, stumps and visible brush that are prime spring crappie-fishing hotspots.

During the remainder of the year, even through the fall months, the crappie will generally be drawn to the major creek channels as well as the river channel. Look for the fish to be in the 12- to 25-foot depth range. Small jigs seem to be a local favorite lure, with green and chartreuse being prime colors.

Although not noted for many slab crappie, the lake does produce some good fish: Relative to many other fisheries, what this lake does best is produce an abundance of good-sized fish that offer excellent action throughout the year.

One of the top crappie anglers on the lake is Bill Garner. Garner fishes this lake hard -- several times a week -- from January through June. Garner is likely to catch a limit of fish on any given day. If it wasn't for his passion of deer hunting, he'd fish it year 'round, he said. He'll fish minnows early in the season, then switch to jigs and minnows, then to jigs by the time spawning and post-spawning season rolls around. Garner also catches many fish in the 2- to 3-pound class on this lake.

HARTWELL LAKE

To some anglers, Hartwell may not look like the traditional South Carolina crappie-fishing hotspot, but looks can be deceiving. One of the things I like most about the crappie fishing on Hartwell Lake is that despite the fact that many local anglers do really well, the lake just doesn't get the crappie fishing publicity that it deserves.

That leaves more room for those who do take advantage of the opportunity.

The looks of the lake, rather than the fish population, probably explain why it's not hit very hard by crappie anglers: The lake is a deep, clear lake that doesn't have the obvious shoreline cover apparent in some other crappie producers in the state.

But looks are certainly deceiving in this case. Hartwell not only produces plenty of crappie, but also produces some huge fish in the process. The key, as you would expect, is finding the productive depth and the woody cover to which the fish can relate.

The lake has a significant annual fluctuation; however, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the level to limit the amount of fluctuation during the critical spawning period. With normal spring rains, the water is usually turbid enough for the fish to move shallow, especially in the tributary creeks.

The key is to concentrate your efforts to visible cover along the shoreline, or slowly motor along the steep banks using the depthfinder to spot sunken brush in the proper depth. These techniques remain very productive throughout the summer and fall, though the productive depth will usually be significantly deeper than during the spring.

During the spring months, the many tributary creeks, such as Beaverdam, Martin, Twenty-Six-Mile and Twelve Mile creeks, are excellent spots. During the summer and fall, the areas around the mainstream Seneca and Tugaloo rivers provide outstanding action.

Later in the year, by early summer, nighttime fishing under the lights becomes popular and is very effective on this lake. In addition, it's a way to continue catching crappie while beating the summertime heat.

LAKES MARION AND MOULTRIE

This is the one piece of the crappie-fishing puzzle that Val Nash admits perplexes the SCDNR. Historically, Marion and Moultrie were outstanding crappie-fishing lakes. However, the numbers of fish caught in recent years has declined.

"We're at a loss to explain exactly why. There are many theories, any of which may be part of the real answer. We're looking at the lakes and trying to determine what's going on," Nash said.

But the reason these lakes are included in the forecast highlights is because of their trophy-producing capability.

"If I were looking for limits of fish, I'd think of lakes like Wylie, Murray or Wateree. But if I'm thinking trophy crappie, I think of the Santee Cooper lakes of Marion and Moultrie," Nash said.

He noted that any decline in the crappie fishing here has not progressed to the point that the fishing is bad. The crappie numbers are just not as prolific as in the past. But the size of the fish is outstanding.

One of the keys on Santee in the spring is coping with fronts that pass through. The fronts may slow down the shallow-water fishing, but you can still make good catches in the deeper water.

Local experts recommend fishing areas along the drops that have woody cover. Crappie prefer to stay near the stumps, logs and brushpiles along these drops. Many anglers build their own crappie "beds," but there are plenty of areas with ample natural cover along the many drops. Both jigs and minnows work fine.

During the spring, look for the fish to gravitate more to the major creeks, such as Wyboo, Potato, Taw Caw, Jacks and Eutaw on Lake Marion. On Moultrie, they stack up in Angels Cove as well as the shallow-water, cypress tree-laden flats around the lake.

During the remainder of the year, until very early spring, the drops along the main body of the lakes seem to produce exceptionally well. More than on some of the other lakes, trolling is a widely used and very successful method here. Most anglers will troll, or wind drift, with multiple rods. You need a quality rod holder made for just such a purpose, with Driftmaster being the only one I personally trust my rods and reels to. Work around the shoreline, specifically around points or mouths of small coves or pockets.

SANTEE RIVER

Certainly not widely known for it

s crappie-producing capacity, the Santee River, especially the lower portion below the Rediversion Canal, produces some excellent crappie fishing that is vastly overlooked. While the area does receive considerable fishing pressure, most of the angling is for largemouth bass, catfish and bream. All these species provide very good fishing, yet the crappie, which is ignored by all but a few, is a prime species as well.

Directly downstream from Lake Marion and connected to Lake Moultrie by the Rediversion Canal and lock, the source of the crappie is easy to understand. The abundance of shoreline cover, often in the proximity of fairly deep water, offers the crappie ample places to call home. All that's really required is a few more fishermen dropping crappie-type baits into the water.

I discovered the fish almost by accident while fishing for bream. I started to catch crappie on live worms. Switching to jigs and dropping them in the abundant cover along the river resulted in quite a few hefty crappie on a bream fishing trip. Trips that focused on crappie were even better rewarded.

The above picks of hotspots provide South Carolina anglers plenty of crappie-fishing opportunities for 2006. While other lakes produce good crappie fishing, these lakes are known to be upbeat right now in terms of crappie-fishing success.

Regardless of your specific choice of lake, or if you decide to sample them all, 2006 should be a banner year for crappie fishermen in the Palmetto State.

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