36 Great Carolina Fishing Trips
October 04, 2010
From the coast to the mountains, there's great fishing year 'round in South Carolina. We've picked three of the best trips for each month of the year.
|2004 FISHING CALENDAR|
The calendar is in PDF format. The Adobe Reader can be downloaded for free here.
By Jeff Samsel
In South Carolina there is plenty of fishing to dream about. With trout streams at one end of the state and an ocean at the other, angling opportunities are extensive and wonderfully diverse, and there are great things to do every month of the year.
We've gone through and picked out the best of the best, from January through December. Let's take a look.
JANUARY There's nothing quite like hot crappie action for breaking the chill of a winter day and nowhere quite like Lake Wylie for finding that sizzling slab action. Big crappie abound in Wylie's fertile waters, and the fishing can be excellent all 12 months of the year.
During January, most fish will be close to a major channel, holding either in deep brush or at the ends of boat docks (or in many cases, both). Anglers who know the locations of offshore brushpiles on Wylie simply go to their pet spots and either fish vertically or cast and count baits down to the brush. The rest of us have to find the cover and the fish.
One good way to locate the best docks is to work fairly quickly from dock to dock, fishing minnows under slip corks and setting a few lines at different depths and fishing each dock for five or 10 minutes. An alternative technique is to troll slowly with several lines behind the boat, either following a channel edge or trolling just off the ends of a row of docks. Once the fish-holding docks or brushpiles have been located, it's easy to figure out the best strategy for fishing them effectively.
Spring is the prime time to catch big largemouths on lakes throughout South Carolina. Photo by Jeff Samsel
FEBRUARY High fertility, hydrilla and a heavy dose of crawfish and various forage fish species combine to make the Cooper River a haven for largemouth bass. Early spring, beginning with the first warm days in February, always produces some double-digit-weight largemouths for Cooper River bass fishermen.
Anglers work both along the river's banks and within vast wetlands formed by broken rice fields, where dikes have long been breached. On high tide, the best action occurs up in the rice fields. On lower tides, fish feed more actively in the river itself, often around blowdowns or up in the reeds. During falling tides, fish stack up just outside of breaks in dikes, where tidal currents carry food pulled from draining fields.
Jigs probably account for the most big bass on the Cooper River, especially during the cool months. Other good bets include crawfish-colored crankbaits and tubes, which effectively imitate both craws and natural forage fish. Good bass waters on the Cooper extend from the mouth of the Tailwater Canal well into brackish water and include several tributaries and backwaters.
MARCH Lake Greenwood supports a great crappie population, and during March the fishing tends to turn pretty easy. Docks, brushpiles, stumps, bridges and blowdowns are all apt to have fish on them, and anglers typically can catch all the crappie they need by simply casting minnows around visible targets within creek arms and then waiting for corks to dart under.
If the fish aren't tight to obvious cover, drifting or slow-trolling comes into play. By putting out a handful of lines rigged with jigs, minnows or jig-tipped minnows, anglers usually can zero in on some crappie. During cold fronts, the fish might be down in a creek channel, but most March days will find the crappie up on flats.
Early in March, a lot of the fish will be in the lower ends of creeks. As the month progresses, the fish are apt to move up the creeks and into shallower cover. Pockets along the main body through the lower half of Lake Greenwood also hold a lot of crappie during March, and many of those pockets have docks in them and other cover around them.
APRIL Spotted bass aren't native to South Carolina waters, but they sure seem to like Lake Keowee's habitat offerings. Spots that grow to big sizes in Lake Keowee clearly have become this deep, clear lake's main attraction. Despite supporting a good population of decent largemouths, Keowee has built its reputation on big, fat spots.
A few different approaches work well for putting spotted bass in the boat on Lake Keowee during April. First - and the most fun - is to throw topwater plugs over major structural features like humps and points. Spots will tear from their lairs to devour plugs some days.
Other popular and very effective approaches, all of which use soft-plastic baits, are Carolina-rigging, shaking finesse-sized baits in brush and twitching soft-plastic jerkbaits. For someone who doesn't know the lake, dragging a small worm or lizard over points, through treetops and past the ends of docks with a C-rig is probably the most dependable way to get Keowee's chunky spots to bite.
Because of Keowee's clear water and green hue, most anglers like transparent green colors like watermelon seed. White is also popular for soft-plastic jerkbaits.
MAY Hand-sized bluegills and shellcrackers combine to create an outstanding bream fishery on Lake Murray, although other species like largemouths and stripers tend to keep the big bream from getting much acc
laim. Bluegills and 'crackers up to a pound are fairly common on Murray, and much larger bream show up from time to time.
By May, most bream have moved shallow and are getting ready to spawn. Bluegills will be in the backs of pockets or holding tight to cover throughout Murray's many creeks. Shellcrackers spawn a little deeper and are most commonly caught off the ends of docks, often with live worms fished right on the bottom.
Crickets dangled under floats provide the surest bet for the fastest bluegill action, but fishermen can use a lot of different techniques for catching bluegills from around shallow cover. Among the most fun techniques is to cast little poppers or foam spiders around shallow cover with a fly rod, and doing so doesn't require great fly-casting skill. A nymph fished as a dropper a couple feet below the popper will at least double the action most days.
JUNE At times, only a narrow fin breaking the surface reveals a jack crevalle's presence. More commonly, a vast area of Charleston Harbor's surface boils as frantic baitfish flee and gulls dive and scream. Any plug or popping bug cast into the melee gets devoured almost immediately, and the drag goes to screaming like a badly scalded ape.
Huge jack crevalle cruise Charleston Harbor in big marauding schools every summer, terrorizing schools of menhaden as they go. Anglers who enjoy explosive strikes and backbreaking battles cast surface offerings to big jacks. Fly rods and conventional rods alike will work - just hold on for dear life when the fish hit.
Blind casting in areas that jacks have been using will produce an occasional fish, but most anglers agree that the most efficient way to target jacks is to simply ride and watch the water until a school reveals itself, whether by a fin or a frenzy.
Twenty-pound-plus jacks are common and 30-pounders show up fairly frequently. The state-record jack crevalle, which weighed an impressive 40 pounds, 1 ounce, came from Charleston Harbor.
JULY Once summer sets in, Lake Richard B. Russell becomes a night-fishing lake. Bass can still be caught in the light of the day on this Savannah River impoundment, but the best summer action occurs in the dark. After-hours anglers typically enjoy good success with good quality bass overall and an occasional hawg.
Most night-fishermen on Lake Russell fish either with spinnerbaits or soft-plastic baits. Spinnerbait slingers work main-lake structure with big nighttime baits that have single oversized Colorado blade configurations. Most anglers throwing plastics fish big, bulky creature baits, tubes or 10-inch worms on Texas rigs, fishing them through a lot of shallow brush.
Over the past few years, smaller plastics have also found a place among night-fishermen on Lake Russell because spotted bass have become quite prevalent through the lower half of the lake. Russell's spots are plenty big to provide good sport, so fair numbers of anglers target them by using smaller baits and fishing deeper.
Lake Russell also offers amazing solitude for a big Southern reservoir. No houses border the big lake, and pleasure boating traffic is virtually nonexistent. Most people on the lake any given night are fishermen.
AUGUST Anglers who put big catfish baits out in the Great Pee Dee River need to be loaded for bear. The Pee Dee supports a great population of heavyweight flatheads and blues, with high numbers of channel catfish to round out the river's great offerings.
Great Pee Dee River
Big cats abound from the North Carolina border all the way to the coast. The lower two-thirds of the South Carolina portion (roughly from the Interstate 95 bridge downstream) offer more practical navigation for most boats than waters farther upstream.
Every big bend in the river forms good catfish habitat, with a deep hole in the outside bend and trees toppled into the hole, more often than not. On summer nights, anglers set up at heads of the big holes and put baits down on the slope. As the night progresses, some anglers like to move shallower.
Big pieces of cut shad or bream are the bait of choice for blue catfish. Flathead specialists use the same species, but put live versions down for the cats. Pee Dee River catfishermen need heavy catfishing gear and at least 40-pound-test line.
SEPTEMBER Late summer is a fabulous time to fish with children in the surf or from piers because so many species are in close and active. Dancing rod tips are almost guaranteed this time of year, and pompano are among the species most apt to set the rods to dancing.
Piers & Surf
Pompano, which are smaller kin to jack crevalle, are thick in the South Carolina surf during late summer. They typically stay fairly close to shore where they dine on small crabs, sand fleas and other sandbar critters. Small pieces of cut bait on very simple rigs will catch pompano, along with a host of other species that fill the September surf.
Probably the biggest mistake that anglers make when they fish for pompano is to cast past the fish. Pompano generally are right where waves break or in a trough just inside or outside of the first sandbar. They lie in the wash of the breaking waves and grab food that gets swept their way.
Florida pompano, which are the kind that commonly get caught form the surf, don't grow especially large. The state record is 8 pounds, 12 ounces, and most fish weigh a couple of pounds or less. They bite willingly, run fast when hooked and are simply fun to catch.
OCTOBER For often-fast action and big-fish potential, fall striper fishing on Lake Hartwell would be tough to top. The breaking of summer's grip turns the fish much more aggressive and serves up some terrific days. The stripers even school on the surface some days, although schooling is sufficiently unpredictable on Hartwell, so guides never count on fish coming up.
During fall, the fish can be virtually anywhere on Lake Hartwell. Getting local reports as to where the fish have been biting is valuable, as is paying attention to signs on the water like bird activity and the abundance of shad. Usually, if a lot of shad are rippling the top and seagulls are lingering nearby, stripers have been feeding in that area.
Guides and other striper/hybrid regulars typically will move slowly about fishing live blueback herring, putting a couple of free lines directly behind the boat and a handful of down lines straight down. If the wind is conducive to a good drift, they will allow it to carry them across a variety of areas. If not, they'll use the trolling motor to move the boat at a very slow speed.
Everything looks like it ought to have a bass on it at Santee-Cooper, and during late fall, the fish tend to be right where they look like they ought to be. The lakes' largemouths move shallow to feed up prior to winter and hang on cypress knees, blowdowns and grassbeds.
Anglers still have to figure out which baits the bass want, the best presentations and the specific types of cover that are holding the most fish. The bass are shallow, though, holding on the kinds of stuff the books say they are supposed to be on in shallow spots like the Cowpasture, Jacks Creek and the Rocks Pond area.
Generally speaking, fast-moving baits like spinnerbaits and shallow crankbaits work best in late fall because the fish are aggressive and anglers can locate bass more readily with fast presentations. The bass also relate heavily to shad this time of year, so many of the best baits for fall imitate baitfish.
Covering more than 170,000 acres, lakes Marion and Moultrie offer tremendous variety for anglers, and they remain two of the best bass lakes in the South.
DECEMBER Last year's establishment of a delayed-harvest section along the Chattooga River added a great element to an already fabulous trout stream. During the winter, the delayed-harvest section is heavily stocked, and only catch-and-release fishing is permitted. What that means to anglers is that the three miles of river immediately upstream of the state Highway 28 bridge on the Chattooga are loaded with trout.
Only single-hook artificial lures may be used on the delayed-harvest section, and most anglers fly-fish, dead drifting nymphs through the bottoms of pools or stripping big streamers in hopes of hooking into a big trout. Spin-fishing is also permitted, however, but only single-hook artificial lures are permitted in an angler's possession.
Upstream of the delayed-harvest section, the Chattooga still offers more than a dozen miles of fine trout water, the upper portion of which contains a great population of wild brown trout. A National Wild and Scenic River, the Chattooga is also a spectacular place to spend a December day.
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