6 Best Bets For Fall Fishing In Carolina

Pick your favorite species and locations from this list for some great fall fishing in our state! (October 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

Everyone touts the fact that we have year-round great fishing here in South Carolina. But every fisherman knows there are two "special" times of the year for finding fish in what seems to be an extraordinarily active mode: the spring and fall.

And the finest part of the fall fishing is right now. Late September and all of October is the time when largemouth bass, striped bass, crappie, catfish, speckled trout and shrimp are all at a fall peak. We're going to profile seven of the top fisheries available across the state this month. In addition, we're going to give you the scoop on what's hot at these places and how to equip for success.

LARGEMOUTH BASS AT CLARKS HILL LAKE

After a long, hot summer of orienting to deep points, ledges, drops and channels, largemouths are making a big move back to the shallow water at Clarks Hill Lake. Almost any lure in the tackle box has the potential to produce excellent fishing during this time of the year.

Expect fish to surface school on pods of shad at any time of the day. It's a great bet to keep a topwater lure or heavy-bodied swimming minnow plug within easy reach to cast to these surface-feeding fish. Often the success or failure will be how quickly you can present the lure. The best technique is to cast just beyond where the fish school and bring the lure back through. Ripping a tailspinner, such as a Little George, is a great technique for this situation.

In addition, look for fish to be taken on crankbaits in water from the shallows down to 12 feet deep. Again, the fish will be foraging heavy on shad, so shad-colored baits seem to be the most productive, according to local anglers.

Bottom bumpers are a good midday option, but it's often not necessary unless you simply prefer this technique. The crankbait and topwater fishing is typically productive throughout the day.

In addition to shallow-water cover, the stretches of riprap where bridges cross the creeks are always a good bet, too.

The entire lake is productive during this time of the year. However, the upper portion of the lake does seem to turn on first, and as the weeks progress the action improves toward the lower end of the lake. Most of the best fishing action will be found in the larger creeks and coves. Anywhere you find a concentration of shad, you will have a good opportunity to hook a "hawg" bass.

A good backup bet here is crappie fishing. This lake is loaded with crappie and this is a great month to find them holding tight to cover in 4 to 12 feet of water.

STRIPERS AT LAKE MURRAY

As the weather cools, striper action really heats up on Lake Murray. From their warm-months pattern of holding in the lower end of the lake in deeper water, the fish begin to transition to a pattern of roaming about the entire lake.

Some of the action will be topwater schooling early and late in the day. Bucktails and topwaters will score well under those conditions.

Also, the forage fish will begin to congregate in large pods throughout the lake. Finding forage is always a precursor to success on stripers here. Look for the fish to hold at or just below the depth of the forage. Drifting with live bait is an ideal method to take these fish. Often you'll get into sizable schools and catch several from a single spot.

Also, trolling on the midlake and even uplake structures, such as points, humps and around the mouths of the creeks, will provide excellent results.

Some anglers will use deep-diving lures that dig deep, down to the 12- to 20-foot depth range. Others will use the umbrella rigs with jigs and grub tails or live bait. Either way, focus your search on areas where forage is present and where you have an identifiable bottom structure to troll. In the upper reaches of the lake, you'll sometimes find stripers along the old river or creek ledges, suspended just above the old channel where it drops into the deep water.

If you come to a place where you have multiple hookups, consider stopping and casting. This can make your fishing even more effective once you have their exact location and depth determined.

Largemouth bass fishing is your best backup plan here. Lake Murray is also known for great bass fishing and October is excellent.

CATFISH AT LAKE MARION AND LAKE MOULTRIE

October ranks as a favored time of the year for pursuing large catfish for many catfish anglers on lakes Marion and Moultrie. The weather is usually quite stable, the water temperature has cooled a bit and the big blue, flathead and channel catfish are feeding heavily.

Some big catfish tournaments are held during this period of the fall for those reasons. Great weather and great fishing is the norm, not the exception.

You'll need to approach each of these species differently for best success. If you're looking for a real trophy fish, you may want to key on either the blue or the flathead species specifically. The channel catfish certainly get to respectable sizes, but they're more of a "head-count" species. Fish in the 10- to 15-pound class are hefty for the channel catfish, with the average size being in the 1- to 4-pound class. However, you have an excellent chance of hooking a 30- to 50-pound individual of either of the other two species. You have a smaller, but still quite real, chance of hooking a blue or flathead that exceeds the 50-pound mark.

The channel catfish will typically be relating to drops, ledges, humps and points. Generally, they will move to the shallows early in the morn to feed, and then cruise the edgelines and flats during the rest of the day in 10 to 25 feet of water. Cut bait, night crawlers and stink baits are prime weapons for the channel catfish.

Though they don't have the same size potential as the blues and flatheads, you can often catch 30 to 50 of these fish during a day of fishing. Again, there is a smaller, but quite real, chance of catching even more than 50 fish per day.

The channel catfish is a great fighting fish on light-to-medium tackle. Both lakes are excellent for channel catfish, but Lake Marion, particularly the upper half of the lake, seems to be the real hotspot in the fall.

The blue catfish (this time of year) are bottom feeders, and for a big fish, use big bait. They prefer cut bait, and herring, shad, perch or bream will all work well. Some guid

es will drift-fish for them during the fall months, working the underwater hills and valleys until they get a picture of where the fish are holding for the day. Using live bait, you can sometimes pick up blues and flatheads by drifting. Both lakes are excellent for big blue catfish.

The flathead catfish is more of a live-bait catfish, but are occasionally caught on fresh dead or cut bait. If you want to focus on a big flathead, use live herring, bream or white perch. Most guides will look for the big fish by using their graphs to spot them. The flatheads will often be holding near or along a drop into deeper water. It may be a drop into a deep channel, but not necessarily. The drop does not have to be substantial to be productive.

Once the fish is located, drop the bait offering down to the fish, set your rod in a sturdy rod holder, such as a DriftMaster, and give it at least 30 minutes before moving to another location.

A great backup species for these lakes in October is certainly largemouth bass. The fall months bring some great shallow-water fishing opportunities to both lakes. The upper end of Lake Marion is specifically a target-rich environment.

SHRIMPING ALONG THE SOUTH CAROLINA COAST

The shrimp-baiting season actually opens in September and spills over into November, but most shrimpers will tell you that October is the prime time. First, there are still scads of shrimp to be had, and they are just getting bigger every week. For numbers of shrimp and jumbo sizes, October is the time to plan your trip.

If you haven't been shrimping, it's really quite simple. Essentially, it's best accomplished with two people. Specifically, a competent boat driver and a good net thrower make the best team. Better yet, if both partners are proficient at both tasks, they can switch out and keep things interesting.

There are very explicit rules and regulations governing shrimping and you need to read and follow them to the letter. They are not difficult to understand or follow, but they are strictly enforced.

The basic process is to make bait balls filled with fishmeal and clay. These are used to attract and concentrate the shrimp in a specific area. These bait balls are distributed in a (generally straight) line. Long poles, which are driven into the bottom, serve to mark the location of sets of bait balls. Place the bait away from the pole far enough so that you have room to open the net; the idea is to open the net fully with the center of the net over the bait.

Once you find a place loaded with shrimp, you can take a limit (48 quarts) in a relatively short time. However, finding the shrimp in good numbers may require that you move occasionally and try different areas. Most shrimpers will set up one or two poles and try a spot first to see if ample shrimp are present. If so, they set and bait their remaining poles and get on with the process.

One key is to remember that as the tide drops, you need to set the poles in water deep enough so that the poles will have some water on them at low tide. The reverse is true on the rising tide: Set them shallow enough so the water won't rise over them at high tide.

Shrimping is excellent all along the South Carolina coast.

No backup plan is needed for shrimping. Just keep moving and looking until you find them and get your limit. It's worth it.

LARGEMOUTH BASS AT LAKE BOWEN

Lake Bowen is not a large lake, but it has a substantial population of quality-sized largemouth bass. Most important regarding this selection is that Lake Bowen had a sensational spring largemouth bass season in 2007. Odds are great the October fishing will be spectacular as well. This pocket-sized lake has excellent shallow-water fishing around the shoreline, and it has some great drops and ledges out in the middle of the lake.

Spartanburg and Greenville anglers are close and this lake, which passes under I-26, is within easy range of many Upstate and Piedmont anglers. It is well worth the trip even if you have to drive a few extra miles.

A variety of lures and techniques typically prove effective during fall bass fishing.

Carolina rigs fished on the humps and ledges in the open water can be deadly. You do not have to be fishing in real deep water to be successful. Sometimes the fish at this time of the year will be relatively shallow.

Deep-diving crankbaits are prime lures on these offshore places as well. In addition, Texas-rigged worms will be good on shallow shoreline objects found throughout the lake.

Early and during the day, topwater lures such as buzzbaits will produce excellent results as well. Swimming minnow lures work on the flats near the drops and are also a good early-morning way to hook up with a hawg largemouth.

Bream fishing, especially with fly rods and popping bugs late in the evening along the shoreline, is a great backup for Lake Bowen.

CRAPPIE AT LAKE WYLIE

Lake Wylie is known as an awesome crappie lake. After the spring and early summer, the crappie fishing pressure drops off noticeably. However, the crappie continue to bite right on through the fall, with some excellent fishing throughout the South Carolina portion of the lake occurring during October.

The most difficult aspect of this fishery for most anglers is keeping up with the fish at this time of the year. As the weather cools, the fish are in a transition mode from summer to winter. They'll be staging along the creek ledges, drops and points where they have brush and other woody cover. The productive depths may vary a bit from one spot to another. In addition, you'll often find a good number of fish in relatively shallow water. You can literally work the docks, visible brush, stumps and tree tops with a long pole and float and take numbers of good crappie.

The most consistent fishing, however, will generally be along the deeper areas, where the fish have cover and a bottom contour change to which they can relate.

Tight-lining minnows or fishing minnows with a cork is a tried-and-true method for these fish. Also, trolling with jigs and grubs will produce excellent results as well.

A great backup species at Lake Wylie is the sensational channel catfish action. Cut bait drifted on the flats near deep water can produce plenty of catfish action.

SPECKLED TROUT AT THE COAST

The speckled trout fishing really cranks up again during the fall months and October is usually a prime time for these fish. The fish are present in big numbers and hefty sizes and the excellent fishing typically continues right on through November as well.

The trout will be holding in the tidal creeks near holes of slightly deeper water or other identifiable bottom structure. Most anglers will either use live bait under a float or will cast jigs and grubs.

One consistent place to find the fish is where small creeks enter the larger creek where you run the boat. On a falling tide, the water comes out of the grass and out the smaller creeks. This is an ideal congregation point for the trout to stage until the tide becomes high enough a few hours later to go back up the creeks.

If you're casting jigs, cast toward the shoreline above the target. Work the jig slowly along, just ticking the bottom occasionally as it drifts down the creek with the current. Typically, the trout bite will be subtle, but you'll feel it. Set the hook and hold on; these fish are good battlers on light tackle.

If you're using live bait, cast above the target and allow the bait (shrimp are plentiful and make great bait at this time of the year) to drift along the edge of the waterway, near the grass.

A great backup for this pick is fishing for spottail bass (redfish). The same baits and tackle can be effective and sometimes you'll catch the two species together. Usually, you'll need to work the flats at low tide for the best redfish action.

These seven trips are proven winners for outstanding fall fishing. Pick one or more close to you, or head to the coast from anywhere in the state. Any one of these seven will likely be your lucky number.

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