If you’re wondering when it’s a good time to go fishing in South Carolina, there’s good news right here waiting on you.
Fishing is great year around in South Carolina. The fish species that offer the best fishing vary by what season of the year it is, but there is always good fishing somewhere in this state.
With coastal inshore and offshore fishing, lakes, rivers and streams for the coastal plains to the mountains, fishing “habitat” is diverse and abundant.
Here’s a look at when and where to go, what species to target and how to find excellent fishing each month of the year.
JANUARY – Lake Wylie Blue Catfish
Lake Wylie is still in the boom phase of a rapid expansion of the blue catfish population, and that means great fishing. The bite is on in January and the fish are aggressive, numerous and, most importantly, huge. The blue catfish population has reached a point where all sectors of the lake are full of big blues, and many experts now target the lower end of the lake in South Carolina for hefty wintertime blues.
There are two basic patterns: anchor fishing and drift fishing. For either technique the start-up is the same — use electronics to locate large pods of baitfish. Next, find the specific underwater bottom contour changes the shad relate to and look for large inverted “V’s” at the base of a ledge or drop on your graph, something that makes you think you’re looking at an inverted Volkswagen.
If you see that on your graph, stop looking and start fishing. Use cut or whole shad or white perch as bait.
Twenty-pound fish are common in January and fish over 40 pounds are certainly possible. January is big blue catfish time.
OTHER OPTIONS: Trout fishing in Lake Jocassee is good and there’s opportunity to take browns and rainbows from the lake’s cold, clear waters. January can be brutally cold in the wide-open waters of Lake Russell, but the potential for catching a trophy striper topping 30 pounds is realistic.
FEBRUARY – Santee Cooper Bass
At the Santee Cooper lakes some of the largest bass of the year are typically caught during this pre-spawn month. The biggest of the big bass typically make their ways towards the shallows during February. They seldom spawn during February but they will stage in fairly shallow water close to the prime spawning grounds.
And the big roe-laden sows will sometimes pull the scale down to double digits. For tournament anglers a five-fish limit typically needs to weigh well in excess of 30 pounds to have a reasonable chance of winning and on good days, even a 30-pound bag may not make you any money.
Tactics are often weather dependent, but spinnerbaits are excellent, as are jigs and plastic trailers, large plastic worms and slow-running crankbaits. Look for fish staging around drops and holes near flats with suitable spawning cover. Lakes Marion and Moultrie are the place and now is the time to catch your best largemouth of the year.
OTHER OPTIONS: Smallmouth bass action at Lake Monticello heats up in February, due in part to the warm water discharge at this pump-back lake. Crappie fishing at Lake Greenwood perks up with slab crappie available from deep channel ledges to the mid-depths.
MARCH – Lake Wateree Crappie
Lake Wateree is a fertile lake with an increasing population of crappie. Croappie populations are famously cyclic, but catching limits is not the only reason Lake Wateree takes the top spot in March. The potential to catch limits of slab crappies seals the deal.
The action usually begins in the upper end of the lake, in the Wateree creek area, and prime shallow-water action progresses down the lake as water warms throughout the month. By mid-month the crappie fishing is wide open as the huge sows stage to make a move to the shallows. Trolling jigs, drifting minnows or casting live or artificial lures around cover, logs, docks and stumps will get crappie in the cooler. Be prepared to cull if you want a limit of truly slab crappie.
OTHER OPTIONS: Lake Marion blue catfish roam the shallows and can be caught using shad or herring. The spotted bass at Lake Keowee are caught near the warm-water discharge using artificial lures and live bait.
APRIL – Lake Thurmond Largemouth
April is largemouth bass fishing time. Although there are few places in South Carolina you can go wrong bass fishing, there are also few better than Lake Thurmond (aka Clarks Hill Lake).
One of the advantages of this lake, in addition to have a good black bass population, is the diversity of water at this time of year. The lake is large and is fed by numerous larger feeder creeks and rivers that provide a diversity of water temperature and color during the spring season. With that available, poor weather or heavy rain conditions can be mitigated with a bit of searching. It also provides good opportunity to find specific water colors and depths for a various styles of fishing.
Typically bottom-bumper lures will work well along the rocky shorelines. Numerous large points and flats offer a great opportunity for crankbaits and swimming minnow lures. April is also the time when topwater action perks up.
OTHER OPTIONS: Shellcracker fishing in Lake Marion is sensational. According to fishery biologists, the upper end of Lake Marion has ideal conditions to grow huge shellcrackers in abundant numbers. Redfish roam the flats around Charleston and are caught with live bait or artificial grubs.
MAY – Lake Hartwell Stripers
May typically produces sensational striper fishing on Lake Hartwell in a variety of fishing styles.
Live bait fishing is the “go to” tactic for many fishermen according to Guide Preston Harden (706-255-5622). Blueback herring are simply more than the big linesided fish can resist. Harden said use electronics to find the fish and forage concentrations and drop the live bait to a depth just above the fish. The fish will often be in large schools but the specific location is almost lake wide. He said stripers are throughout much of the lake by May with many in the mid-lake area; some will be in the lower end of the lake later in the month.
In addition to live bait, topwater fishing with ‘walk the dog’ type lures is great. Harden will motor along the coves and mouths of creeks looking for schooling fish activity and go to the breaking fish. Often these fish can be caught on topwaters and well as live bait. As a bonus, a lot of hefty spotted bass and the occasional big largemouth will be caught topwater fishing, providing a true double whammy fishing a Sammy.
OTHER OPTIONS: Sheepshead fishing along the Charleston Jetties using fiddler crabs as bait is excellent. Drop the bait into and around the rocks at the base of the jetties. Catfishing the Pee Dee River for big blue and flathead catfish is excellent with cut bait for blues and live bait for big flatheads.
JUNE – Dolphin Offshore
A variety of offshore opportunities are available during June and the dolphin action is superb.
The key to success is to discern specific things that attract dolphin. A rapid change in water temperature can be a prime spot. Distinct tidelines, birds feedings on bait and schools of bait that can be visually spotted are keys to finding these fish.
Floating patches of grass are prime spots and essentially anything floating has the potential to attract and hold dolphin. The best fishing will vary from 30 miles offshore out to 60 miles.
Dolphins tend to run in the upper part of the water column, so most anglers keep baits and lures skittering on or near the surface. Artificial lures or ballyhoo rigged with colored skirts are preferred but other natural baits, such as mullet, will work. When trolling a good boat speed is around 5 to 7 knots.
OTHER OPTIONS: Inshore fishing for redfish really picks up now; fish are taken using live and artificial lures all along the waterway and creeks. Shellcracker fishing is excellent at Lake Murray with fish caught off offshore rock humps using red worms.
JULY – Flounder From Georgetown To Myrtle Beach
Flounder are one of the popular inshore fisheries along the South Carolina coast and the area from Georgetown to Charleston is a great stretch of coastline to target. A wide variety of techniques produce good action on these great eating flatfish. Trolling live bait, such as mudminnows, is excellent in the many creeks and flats along this stretch. Look for shell banks and shell and mud bottoms as prime trolling targets. Depth will vary with the tide, but work along areas with definable drops into even slightly deeper water.
Another good technique is to drift live bait 2 feet beneath a cork and allow the tidal current to move the bait along the points of small feeder creeks. Casting small jigs and plastic trailers will produce when fishing around small creek junctions.
OTHER OPTIONS: Bonnethead sharks can often be spotted via their dorsal fins as they cruise for forage. Get ahead of them and drop a blue crab as bait. At Lake Murray the largemouth bass fishing is good, with fish entrenched in deepwater patterns.
AUGUST – Cooper River Bream
The Cooper River ranks among the best big bream fisheries in the state and hot weather puts these fish on a predictable deep-water pattern. The bream in this tide-influenced river rank among the largest in the state and limit catches are the rule. From the Pinopolis Dam downstream for several miles the river produces prime fishing.
Look for junctions of small creeks, outside bends of the river channel with good underwater cover and deep weedlines along the main channel.
The productive depth will vary daily and with the tide, but typically the fish will be in the 8- to 18-foot depth range.
Crickets are the best bait but redworms will also produce and are better for the occasional big shellcracker that roam the river. Fishing along solid walls of weeds at times dictates that 6-pound test line be a minimum. Smaller line doesn’t hold up well when big bream manage to get into the weeds.
OTHER OPTIONS: Largemouth bass fishing is steady and dependable at Lake Monticello using Alabama rigs and dropshot worms, fishing the tops of humps ranging from 15- to 35-feet deep. Lake Wylie flathead catfish provide excellent summertime fishing at night using live bait in water less than 15 feet.
SEPTEMBER – Speckled Trout, Bulls Bay Area
September ranks as one of the best times of the year to limit on speckled trout and the Bulls Bay area is loaded with these tasty fish. One attraction is the abundance of shrimp in the area.
Look for trout around the edges of weedbeds as well as around weed and rock points from creeks and channels entering the bay. Small jigs and grubs are an excellent artificial lure for trout. Also live shrimp and even cut pieces of fresh shrimp will produce good trout action. Use the bait under a float and work in and around small points and inundations along the weeds.
During September it’s not unusual to find several fish in one small area so work an area thoroughly when you catch a fish.
OTHER OPTIONS: Crappie fishing at Santee Cooper is exceptionally good for slab crappie in deep water using small jigs, live minnows or a combination of the two. Largemouth bass fishing at Lake Wylie is good using crankbaits and swimming minnow lures.
OCTOBER – Bass at Lake Jocassee
Bass fishing is excellent at Lake Jocassee for smallmouth and spotted bass, with the realistic potential for trophy largemouth.
Smallmouth and spotted bass are caught working a dropshot rig on shoals, points and steep drops off underwater humps. Use your graph to find small clusters of fish. The bass often will travel in small packs over large flats and humps in 25 to 30 feet of water. If you catch one, keep working the area.
The largemouth bite is good for a few really big fish during October. Look for largemouth around fallen trees around steep shorelines. Most experts recommend fishing large swim baits over these targets. Don’t expect a lot of bites, but most bites will be from large fish.
OTHER OPTIONS: The angling for redfish in the Georgetown area is exceptional. Fish cut mullet along drops that fall from shallow water into 20 feet of water. Shrimping all along the coast is excellent with bigger shrimp than early in the baiting season.
NOVEMBER – Stripers At Santee Cooper
The striper season closes for the summer months at this huge twin-lake system and opens October 1. October produces excellent fishing, but during November the size of the fish caught improves and the action peaks for both live bait and topwater anglers. Last fall 50 to 100 fish per day was common during November. Kevin Davis out of Blacks Camp said November ranks as one of his favorite times of the year. The lakes currently have a 26-inch size limit for keeping stripers and many of the fish are catch-and-release size.
The best live bait is herring. Use your graph to mark schools of fish on the graph and drop bait to the depth or just above where they’re marked.
Topwater schooling action generally occurs early and late, but these fish will school all day on cloudy November days. White and yellow bucktails are productive and as are topwater lures on the schooling fish.
OTHER OPTIONS: November is prime time for huge Lake Wateree blue catfish using cutbait around main channel humps, ledges and points. Lake Hartwell stripers produce good schooling action and some heavy fish can be caught using bucktails, live bait and topwater lures.
DECEMBER – Lake Murray Stripers
The Lake Murray stripers seem to go on a feeding spree during December and the upper half of the lake provides phenomenal schooling action as well as lives bait fishing. Much of the forage has pushed up the lake and the stripers have followed, creating a situation where a lot of fish are in a relatively small area.
Early and late in the day are the prime times for schooling action and often limits are caught quickly. Bucktails, swimming minnow lures and topwater ‘walk the dog’ type lures are excellent. When the action slows, it’s time to move to points, humps and ledges in the mid-portion of the lake and use your graph to pinpoint striper and forage fish concentrations.
Herring are the prime live bait, but gizzard shad in the 5-inch class and larger threadfin shad are excellent. You may need to use cast net to catch your own if you use shad or if herring are not available at bait shops.
OTHER OPTIONS: The spotted bass fishing at Lake Russell is excellent, with catches of 30 to 50 fish per day for anglers using jigging spoons and drop shot rigs. Lake Moultrie will produce huge blue catfish using big chunks of cut bait. Drift-fish the humps and ledges in 20 to 50 feet of water.