Hit The Water Now For Carolina Bream

Late Spring means bream fishing at its best in South Carolina. (May 2006)

There is something magical about the combination of the full moon in late spring and bream fishing. After years of research, I've concluded that the magic has something to do with catching scads of bull bream in rapid succession on light tackle: the willingness of the fish to continue to bite until you are exhausted from catching them. If that doesn't interest you, read no further. The truth is, there's plenty of "magic" before and after the full moon and some of us are suckers for fishing bream beds.

Bream fishing in South Carolina actually begins to heat up during April in some lakes in the Palmetto State, and stays very good throughout the summer. May, however, is my kickoff time for these feisty flatfish. And the full moon in May seems to produce some of the best bream bed fishing of the year in most lakes in the state.

But not all good bream fishing will focus on the bedding action. A good example of this was a trip last spring with a good fishing buddy, Chuck Porter. Chuck caught limits nearly every time he fished in the upper portion of Lake Marion, especially during the bedding season. However, by the time I was able to get with him, the hard-core bedding action had passed. We tried several of his honeyholes that had produced limits only days earlier, but only scattered fish were available.

Therefore, we resorted to the time-tested method of "hunt-and-peck" bream fishing. It works great on Lake Marion, or any bream lake for that matter. We simply took our bream busters and light tackle spinning rigs and started working the seemingly endless stretch of great-looking water. We worked around cypress trees, logs, stumps, brush pads and weeds. As things worked out, we caught a few fish around all those diverse types of cover. The only thing that was really consistent was that the fish were still shallow. They had simply scattered to random cover along the shoreline.

So we hunted them down and pecked away at our limit by taking a couple of fish here, three or four there. Occasionally, we stopped far enough from some good-looking, very shallow spots and cast to them before the boat could spook the fish. That tactic worked out rather well, too.

Lake Marion, during prime bream fishing time, certainly has to rank as one of the premier bream lakes in the state. The average size of the fish is sensational and you do not need sophisticated equipment. In addition, shoreline fishing is excellent, and for that reason at just about every bridge crossing back in the creeks or main body of the lake, people line the shoreline with cane poles and spinning tackle. They also have big buckets to keep all their fish in as well.

But there are other outstanding places for bream fishing, too. In the upstate, Lake Jocassee, with its ultra-clear water, offers great bream fishing this time of the year. Lake Bowen near Spartanburg is excellent, as is Lake Russell on the Savannah River. Lake Edgar Brown is a 100-acre hotspot that's great for boat- and bank-fishing, too. Another hotspot is the Santee River from the Wilson Dam that impounds Lake Marion downstream past Jamestown.

Wrapping up the action would have to be Lake Murray. With the water in Lake Murray back to full pool after the extended drawdown, fisheries biologists think that one of the most positively affected fisheries will be the panfishing species for the next few years.

Back to Lake Marion. This has long been one of my favored haunts for plenty of bream and really whopper-sized bream as well. According to Chuck Porter, the fishing actually perks up in late March and April for shellcrackers. The April, May and June period is outstanding for a wide variety of bream species, most notably the bluegill.

"The shellcracker fishing is great this time of the year, but the bream fishing is awesome as well," Porter said. "Typically, the shellcrackers will get active a month or so before we start catching bream in shallow water, but they'll still provide good fishing right on through the month of May as well," he added.

Porter notes that the fishing takes on two very distinct patterns during this time of the year. The one favored by most anglers is certainly the fishing when the bream and shellcrackers are on the spawning beds.

"The week or so before the full moon seems to be prime time for the fish to bunch up on the beds for spawning. Once you've learned a few places, you can return to these same areas and consistently catch fish. However, all I did when learning the lake was to just start working around the shallow areas of the lake," Porter said. "Using crickets or redworms, put your bait in and around all sorts of shallow-water cover. Look for small pockets and coves that are slightly isolated. These are sometimes the preferred habitat for big bream and shellcrackers. Also, when you find a bream bed, don't get too close or you'll spook the fish."

When the fish are not on the beds, Porter explained that it's best to just move around, probing the shallow-water cover as described at the beginning of this story. You may catch a handful of bream here, a couple there, but the action will be fairly consistent. You can still cull through the smaller fish and end up with an excellent cooler of fish within a few hours.

"Plus, it's a great time to be on this magnificent lake," he added.

Another feature of this lake, especially by late May and on into the rest of the summer, is mayfly hatches. The places where these insects hatch will produce awesome bream fishing, not only for live bait but artificial lures as well. The use of small beetle spin spinners on ultralight tackle is a great way to enjoy these bull bream. In addition, fly rods and popping bugs are lethal as well around the mayfly hatches.

Standard gear includes everything from long cane poles to small, sleek fiberglass or graphite poles. I like the graphites because of their lightness and ease of maneuverability within the tight confines of numerous cypress trees. I like to get in "amongst" the trees and bream and ferret them out of places other anglers often pass by. While plenty of fish can be caught around the edges, there are always some untouched hotspots a bit off the beaten path. Most of the fish will be in very shallow water, from a few inches deep, down to 3 or 4 feet. Generally, there's little need to fish much deeper than that during this time of the year.

Most Lake Marion anglers go with 8- to 10-pound-test line. While that's a bit larger than most would prefer, there are so many snags, trees, cypress knees and other debris for the fish to wrap around, anglers sometimes need that extra bit of backbone to wrestle the big bream into the boat. Eight-pound-test line can be used successfully in some areas, but that's about as light as I would g

o at this lake.

On all the lakes we'll discuss, the same basic techniques will work just find for bream fishing. The live-bait techniques, whether employed on a long pole or presented with ultralight gear, will produce plenty of action. The same is true of the small spinners and fly rod gear. The focus of this story is primarily to give you where-to-go spots for great bream fishing in our state. The "how to" during May and even through June is pretty simple.

If you want a change of pace from a shallow, fertile lake with big bream, move upstate to a clear body of water, Lake Jocassee. In terms of excellent size and numbers of bream, you don't lose a thing here. But you certainly have to go about catching them differently than you do at Lake Marion.

Lake Jocassee is a deep, clear lake, and the opposite of what many bream anglers in South Carolina are accustomed to fishing when searching for big bream. An angler must employ a specialized approach in terms of tackle and bait presentation. Not only is lighter line a plus in these clear lakes, it is essentially mandatory for consistent success on big bream. Ten-pound-test line looks like anchor rope to a big bream in this water. Most anglers recommend six-pound-test line as a maximum and they suggest 4-pound-test line as an even better choice. If you're really frisky, try 2-pound-test. You'll probably hook more fish and your skills in playing fish will be tested.

While the number of 10- to 12-ounce bream rivals that of almost any lake in the state, the deep water offers anglers ample room to maneuver and fight fish with light-action spinning rods.

The bream here may be found somewhat deeper on the beds than in the more dingy lakes such as Marion. Plus, they prefer to spawn in the backs of coves and pockets with hard bottoms. However, in addition to the traditional method of casting a small bobber and cricket or worm, local anglers have devised other methods for taking these fish.

One technique that works very well early and late in the day is to slip around the shoreline of the creeks and coves, casting small popping bugs to the bank on ultralight spinning gear. A clear, plastic float is added to the line above the popping bug as weight and enables the angler to make long casts while keeping the boat well off the shoreline.

Good fishing is found throughout the lake with the best action found in the creeks and coves because of the warmer water temperatures. While May is a prime month, June is also a particularly effective time to fish here as well. The water temperature doesn't get as warm as fast at Jocassee as it does at Lake Marion or most other lakes in the state. Thus, there's usually excellent fishing right on through June, before the fish get really deep.

Another excellent upstate lake that is often overlooked is Lake Bowen near Spartanburg. This small lake has excellent access, with a public launching area. The public use area also offers excellent shoreline fishing. Warm spring days will usually find several anglers fishing around the shoreline here. My last trip here was actually in June and I was largemouth bass fishing. But we were on the full moon and there were a lot of smiling faces on bream fishermen around this lake.

If you use a boat, you can probe back into the coves and small creeks looking for bream. There's nothing really challenging about finding bream here. The biggest issue will likely be keeping on the move until you find the larger size class of bream. Generally, during the spring you'll have no problem catching fish, you'll just need to stay on the move until you get into larger fish.

Lake Russell is another prime bream hotspot during the spring. This Savannah River lake is full of coves, creeks and pockets that offer great shallow-water bream fishing. There's plenty of cover around the lake as well as in the middle of many of the coves over shallow water. Much of the bedding action may occur away from the shoreline in the pockets and coves. Considerable woody cover was left when the lake was impounded and it doesn't take but a few random casts in the 1- to 5-foot depth range in the back of the coves to check it out. You can often find great bream action in these places on Lake Russell.

The Santee River ranks among my personal favorites for bream fishing rivers. There are other good rivers to be sure, but this one is consistently productive from May throughout the summer. The primary issue with any river is the water level and flow, but if conditions are anywhere near "normal," then you can expect to enjoy outstanding fishing here.

The river is productive all the way from the Wilson Dam, which impounds Lake Marion, to the saltwater. There are launching areas located at the Highway 52 bridge not far from Greeleyville and the Highway 41 bridge near Jamestown.

A favored technique is to work your bait around the deadfalls along the shoreline. However, a method that works just as effectively is to tie up to one of these deadfalls and fish among the limbs with a tight-line rig.

Wax worms seem to be a locally favored bait in the Santee River. While wax worms are certainly productive anywhere on bream, many anglers use them exclusively on the Santee River. I think it's partly because they're also lethal on catfish. Blue and channel catfish are especially abundant and grow large in this river. In fact, on numerous occasions, I've barely been able to hold onto my rod while letting a behemoth catfish strip drag from my reel and bust my line. That's a good "side" benefit to bream fishing on this river.

I'd strongly suggest you employ the use of a good rod holder, such as the locally manufactured DriftMaster model, or you'll have rods snatched out of the boat before you can react. I don't care how quick your reflexes are, you will lose rods if you don't put them in rod holders on this river.

Generally, if I don't get into some good action within 10 minutes or so of fishing a spot, I'll leave that area and try another spot. It usually doesn't take many moves to locate plenty of fish action.

Lake Murray is certainly receiving plenty of attention right now for fishing success on several species. The long-term drawdown and subsequent filling of the lake inundated much of the growth along the shoreline. According to SCDNR fisheries experts, this has created a real boom in the fisheries of the lake. Panfish species, such as bream, are among those most benefited.

No roundup of bream hotspots in South Carolina would be complete without mentioning this lake as a red-hot prospect. The biggest issue you'll face is that it now has so much cover along the shoreline, you may have to move around a while before you get into the action you want. But you can be sure that the fish are there, and finding plenty of bream action is merely a matter of hunting them down.

Lake Edgar Brown, a 100-acre lake essentially located in downtown Barnwell, is a great bream fishery. This lake is managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and is ideal for shoreline fishing or from a boat.

There are no hidden secrets to fishing this lake, you just need to get out and work around the lake until you locate the areas where the fish are bedding or holding.

While fishing from a boat is great on this lake, a large amount of the lake's shoreline is accessible by shoreline fishermen. This, in my opinion, is one of the best shoreline fishing opportunities in the state, especially during this time of the year.

Cane poles and live bait are ideal for Lake Edgar Brown. However, if you want to make things a bit more interesting, I've seen anglers using light spinning tackle working around the shoreline. This is effective with crickets, worms or small spinners. Also, in some places, there's room to even use a fly rod and popping bug from the shoreline.

Great bream fishing is essentially available statewide if you can get access to small private ponds and lakes. For shoreline fishermen, there are always plenty of small ponds and lakes scattered around the state on private property. You can often get permission to fish these lakes from landowners, but always get permission before fishing. Treat the area with respect and you can perhaps get invited back. Some of these little ponds tucked away in isolated areas can produce some incredible fishing opportunities. It's doesn't take a big pond to grow outlandish-sized bream.

Now is the time to go bream fishing in South Carolina. Bream will be caught throughout the spring and summer and well into the fall. For some of the best fishing of the entire year, now's the ideal time to focus your efforts on these feisty panfish.

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