South Carolina's Top Bream Waters
October 04, 2010
If you're into rapid-fire fishing, then it's time to get in on the red-hot bream fishing going on near you right now.
By Terry Madewell
Sometimes getting caught up in the middle of a good-natured family feud can be a lot of fun - particularly if it's a bream-catching feud that's going on.
Last spring, one of the most enjoyable days I had fishing involved a family trip for bream. Actually, there were about three families involved and the friendly competition basically came down to guys vs. gals. I was the only guy in my bunch because I volunteered to go with the gals as their "guide." Turns out I was simply their personal "cricket baiter" and "fish remover from the hook" type of guide. They didn't need much help finding the fish.
It was the full moon in May and a bunch of us had gathered at one of our favorite bream-fishing lakes for a weekend of fun and fish catching. We were on Wateree Lake in the midland portion of the state, but it could have just as well been any of several of the lakes that we'll discuss in this feature. One of the best things on that "guys vs. gals" afternoon was that we all stayed in the same cove and kept an eagle eye on one another. The fishing at this time of the year is excellent from the shoreline, and even a small johnboat with a sculling paddle will enable you to get around amply to catch a limit of big "rooster" bream.
I was with Kim Reeser, my daughter-in-law, Jennifer Carter (wife of Walter, normally my friend, but today our archenemy in another boat) and my wife, Jacki. Our competition was our son, Drew, Walter and another buddy, Shannon Gaskins. Observing all the action from the dock was perhaps the smartest of the bunch, my buddy, Mike Cox. Mike had already caught his limit that morning, so we wouldn't let him go again.
May is a peak spawning month for bream across South Carolina, providing excellent action and stringers loaded with fish. Photo by Terry Madewell
It was a classic May bream angling experience: The fishing was so good that neither boat had to leave the confines of the small cove where we began. In fact, at one point about 50 yards from where we started, Jacki and I had time to do nothing but take fish off the hooks for Jennifer and Kim, drop the big rooster bream into the cooler, and re-bait their hooks with crickets. The guys were apparently having the same type of fish-catching action because when we met up about two hours later for the "head count" and championship of the day, both teams had a cooler full of fish. Tough luck for the guys, however: There were four limits of fish in our boat, only three in theirs. Sad to say, the guys had kept a few "smallish" fish to round out their limit.
While that type of fishing is wild, it's really not unusual during this prime-time bream-fishing month. In fact, it's highly possible to get in on this type of action at a number of different lakes around the state.
I doubt if there's anyplace that's wet that doesn't hold a good number of bream in South Carolina. However, there are some places that do produce better and some of the best spots are smaller lakes where fishing can be enjoyed from the shoreline as well as from a small boat.
One of these is Lake Bowen, a smallish lake located just to the north of Spartanburg. It's easy to find: The lake is split by the I-26 bridge that crosses it. Located on the Pacolet River, this lake offers outstanding bream fishing. Plus, as a bonus, if you tire of catching bream, I know that Lake Bowen holds a pretty good bunch of largemouth bass as well.
The lake is certainly large enough for a big bass-type boat, but small enough that you can easily get around in a small boat, including the small plastic boats powered only by electric motors. The last time I fished this lake, I saw two of these boats working on the bream population in different parts of the lake. Both boats had two people fishing from them and they were culling fish, keeping only the very largest. From the time I first saw them until I left the area, they were fishing.
The fishermen were quietly stalking around the shallow water in the coves using small spinning rigs with floats set a couple feet above the bait, which was crickets. They were casting in front of the boat until they caught a fish or located a bream bed, and then they worked on that area until the action slowed. Then they would move on until they found the next hotspot.
As with other lakes, the full moon period is the prime time to find good bedding action, but this lake is also a treasure for fly-fishing late in the evening. Use an 8- or 9-foot light-action fly rod with some white or yellow poppers and you'll likely encounter some outstanding action throughout the entire month. In fact, if the bream are not bedding, that's the way I'll be fishing for them.
Another excellent bream-producing lake is located in downtown Barnwell: Lake Edgar Brown. At about 100 acres in size, Lake Edgar Brown may be small in comparison to some of the big reservoirs in the state, but the size of a lake is not really essential when it comes to prime bream fishing. This lake is managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and offers some outstanding fishing for several species of fish, including bream.
I've seen anglers walking all along the shoreline of this lake catching bream. The real secret to success here is just to get out and work around the lake until you locate the areas where the fish are bedding or holding. This is true whether you are fishing from the shoreline or from a small boat.
I catch more big fish at this lake during the early morning than I do later in the day. I have no scientific explanation for why this is, but it has caused me to prefer to fish here in the morning. As the day goes on, the angler traffic does pick up and perhaps the morning's comparative quiet makes the action more productive. At any rate, the fishing can be good all day, but expect to have more competition late in the afternoon.
Although anglers using nothing but cane poles and live bait and fishing from the shoreline catch plenty of big fish here, I prefer to use light spinning tackle and work around the edge lines with crickets or worms (worms are best if you want to take a few catfish as well) or use a fly rod and popping bug. I've found it best to stay on the move and search out several hotspots rather than wait on the bream to come to you.
Also, beware the difference between beds and "nests" as I refer to them. Beds are spawning areas with bigger fish on them; nests are spawning areas used by smaller fish. Sometimes you will get into a bunch of smallish fish and if you do, you need to move a respectable distance down the shoreline to get away from them. Anglers who stay on the move will catch big fish from this lake.
The Lynches River is another excellent bream fishery and one that can be enjoyed by fishing along the bank in any of a zillion spots, or you can float the river in a small boat or canoe. There are numerous bridge crossings where you can put in or take out a small boat and you can make a half-day or an all-day trip down this scenic and very productive river. The long, winding river flows southeast through a large expanse of territory and winds up entering the Pee Dee River (another place that's known for good bream fishing) east of Johnsonville.
The last trip I made on Lynches River produced limits of hefty fish for both my partner and me. He had found the fish about a week earlier and our basic method was to drift along with the current, using the electric motor to keep the boat in position and quietly swing the redworms and crickets alongside the treetops, blowdowns and other woody debris along the shoreline. We used 10-foot fiberglass poles and when we hit a hotspot, he'd use the motor to hold the boat in position and we would snatch several from each spot.
Generally, we'd catch no more than six or eight really good fish before the fish seemed to spook or the small fish moved in. However, there were so many spots with fish that it wasn't long before we were culling fish and keeping only the largest to put into the cooler.
I will add that these were excellent-tasting fish when filleted out and fried that evening in peanut oil.
The next choice is actually a stretch of water within a much larger lake - a lake within a lake, if you will. The upper end of Lake Marion, in the swampy regions where cypress trees live and the water is generally shallow, offers some of the best bream fishing in the state. When I say among the best, I mean in terms of both size and numbers of fish. During the recent years when the lake has been so low, some anglers have found the fishing much more difficult, but the big bream are still there. Only their favored places have changed.
Some anglers who fished the lake while it was low last May made outstanding catches of fish, but they were fishing in places that in more typical water years would have been much too deep for May fishing on Lake Marion.
In addition to the numbers and average size of the bream in this lake is the abundance of both bluegills and shellcrackers. While several different types of bream are often found in any given lake, these two distinct species apparently have ideal conditions in this part of Lake Marion. These fish generally bed in different areas; however, those areas are certainly sometimes found in proximity to one another at Marion. The key, according to many anglers, is that if you want to focus on the bluegills, then stick with crickets as your primary bait. If you want to hunt the huge shellcrackers, then use worms. Certainly both species will be caught on both baits and the worms will catch plenty of bluegills, but crickets will produce only an occasional shellcracker.
The bream will bed among the cypress trees on sandy or gravel bottoms, as well as in the backs of coves and creeks and even in small bays where there is ample shallow water and sandy bottom. Typically, they avoid a mucky bottom.
Standard gear includes everything from long cane poles to small, sleek fiberglass or graphite poles. I like the graphite poles because of their light weight and ease of maneuverability within the tight confines of numerous cypress trees. I like to get tight to the cover and work well back into the trees, if there's even just a foot or two of water. Sometimes the shellcrackers will bed so shallow it will amaze you that their backs aren't sticking out of the water. By seeking out these types of places, you can work in and around the trees and pull the bream out of spots other anglers pass up. While plenty of fish can be caught around the edges, there are always some untouched hotspots a bit deeper in the cover. Most of the fish will be taken 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 when bream fishing. While that's a bit larger than anglers use to catch bream from most waters, at Marion there are so many snags, trees, cypress knees and other debris for the fish to wrap around that you sometimes need that extra bit of backbone to wrestle them into the boat. Eight-pound-test line can be used successfully in some areas, but that's about as light as I would go at this lake.
Lake Greenwood, in Greenwood County, is usually thought of as a crappie and largemouth fishery, but it also has a high population of bream, making this lake a good choice for lots of action. There are good-sized fish available as well, but it sometimes requires a bit of culling to get a limit of quality fish. Of course, catching lots of fish is one of the major attractions of bream fishing, so for many anglers, this characteristic of Greenwood is not a drawback.
This is the kind of lake that can really get a kid hooked on fishing. Fishing the numerous shallow coves, most of which have lots of shallow water cover in the form of brush, stumps, logs and other debris, you can find plenty of places where bream will congregate.
In addition, it's an excellent place to use a fly rod and popping bug early and late in the day for great topwater action. Also, using a green sponge spider imitation (the type that slowly absorbs water and sinks) is lethal on the big bream in this lake. When other offerings fail to produce the buster-sized bream, try that technique.
There's exceptionally good bream fishing throughout the state - no one will argue that point. The key is to single out the best places close to you to enjoy. Moreover, you can find excellent fishing in about every shape and size of water from big lakes to rivers to small lakes and ponds. While most of our attention here has focused on smaller waters, you can find excellent bream-fishing action at places like Lake Jocassee, Lake Wylie, the Diversion Canal between lakes Marion and Moultrie (huge shellcrackers and bream), plus the Pee Dee and Santee rivers.
Others in my pick of favorite places are the small ponds located throughout the state. I have experienced - and heard some fabulous stories about - huge bream catches from these private waters. Sometimes the lakes or ponds may only be a couple of acres in size, others may be 10 to 20 acres. But the fact is, they can hold huge populations of platter-sized bream.
Some of these places are managed just for big bream and bass production and obviously are excellent places for spring fishing. Others may be almost forgotten places (in terms of fishing) that the owner doesn't utilize. All that may be required is a simple inquiry to receive permission to fish.
Regardless of where you choose to fish, the key to success in bream fishing in South Carolina is to get out on one of these places and simply go fishing. The fish are there and if they're not bedding, they'll be scattered around the shallows in the coves and pockets during May and much of June.
Get your fishing buddy, get the kids or take a one-person boat and go bream fishing by yourself if yo
u must. Now's the prime time of the year for everyone in the boat to catch limits of this feisty and tasty fish. The tackle and techniques are simple but numerous, so something will appeal to almost everyone. And now that you know where to go, you need to get out there, as some of us are probably already there.
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