Photo by Terry Madewell
Lying in the bottom of the boat, the tube of squirming crickets reminded me of dove hunting.
I usually go afield for doves with a dove bucket full of shotgun shells in an attempt to gather a limit of birds. I thought if I use this tube of crickets on this fishing trip, then I’m going to have a load of bream to fry.
My destination was a quiet strip of the Santee River along the Berkeley and Williamsburg county line below Arrowhead Landing and the confluence of the river with the Rediversion Canal flowing out of Lake Moultrie.
It was a gorgeous spring afternoon in the middle of May. Only a remnant flowering dogwood could be seen in the river’s floodplain, and most trees were already awash in fresh green foliage that was not yet withered by the heat and humidity of the upcoming summer.
Flooding on the Santee River dictates the quality of fishing one can expect on the river. When the river overflows its banks, nutrients locked in the swamp are added to the water. This makes the water more productive and fish populations thrive on the added smorgasbord.
The river was not flooding on this particular day, but it had flooded a couple of times during the previous calendar year, and most recently during the preceding winter. The bream population should, I thought, be in fine shape.
After motoring down the river a ways, I tied the boat to an overhanging limb, careful to avoid any wasp nests that might be hiding under the foliage. The river level was medium high, but the current was not flowing extremely strong. Because of the height of the water, many tree skeletons of former river sentinels were submerged fore and aft of my position. I could already picture in my mind the myriad pods of hungry bream positioned in the woody debris.
With one shake, a cricket came out of the burgeoning tube of bait. He was threaded on the No. 6 hook and suspended below two tiny split shots and a small float.
I dropped him down off the boat’s stern, and before the ripples of the float had drifted a foot, the float was jerked underwater. The ultralight featured a nice bend, but the average-sized bream was boated without much fanfare.
My fishing partner quickly added a fish to the cooler. Despite it only being early afternoon, the bream bite was constant. What had been envisioned as a long afternoon trip looked like it was going to be cut short by a diminishing supply of bait and growing pile of fish bodies in the cooler. A person only needs so many fish, and certainly doesn’t want the job of cleaning fish to become a chore.
We started releasing the smaller bream, and began boating only premium hammerhead fish. With about two dozen fish in the cooler, we wrapped up the trip and headed back to the landing. We would be home in time to clean the fish and stow gear all before suppertime.
It does not matter whether your objective is to land large bream or a mess of fish, or both — there are plenty of opportunities across the state for both shore-bound and boat anglers.
“What immediately comes to mind for me,” said Scott Lamprecht, freshwater fisheries regional coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resource’s Region 4, “is the fall fishing for bream on brushpiles in the Santee Cooper lakes.
“These are usually nice-sized fish. An added bonus is fishing pressure is usually lighter because most sportsmen are consumed with deer hunting that time of year.”
Lamprecht said that two other bream-fishing scenarios grab his attention on Santee Cooper. The fall shellcracker bite is hard to ignore. He said these are generally very large fish that are found on the lower end of the Diversion Canal between the two lakes. These fish will be feeding on the abundant clam population found in that area.
The other fishery that Lamprecht recommended on the lakes is fishing for bedding bluegills during the spring. He explained that anglers would do well from late April until early June fishing in any of the lakes’ shallows around brush and cypress trees. This is primarily accomplished by boat anglers, but where fishermen can find bank access to the lake, they can wade for quite some distance.
Lamprecht noted that some vegetation is returning to the Santee Cooper lakes and bream populations are responding favorably.
“You can hardly beat the bream and shellcracker fishing on the Cooper River,” Lamprecht said. “This bite is mostly in the spring and fall, but summer can be productive at times. It is usually over for the year by November.
“You will want to fish at slack water at the edge of hydrilla beds, especially shallow areas when the fish are bedding. Be certain to be in an area that does not dry up at low tide,” Lamprecht cautioned.
Lamprecht said you could also pick up bream along the main channel of the river by fishing breaks in the rice fields and at the mouths of small creeks. He also said that bream normally can be found in a ribbon of open water between the bank and hydrilla beds in the main channel.
Despite success in the past on the other river that empties the Santee Cooper lakes, Lamprecht said the lack of any recent floods and high catfish populations on the Santee River has limited the bream-fishing opportunities on the river.
There are a host of other spots in the coastal region that Lamprecht mentioned, with some being sleeper spots.
“The Black River can be good if there is inundation of flows into the floodplain,” he said. “I would concentrate my efforts, however, on the upper end, since the lower reaches support a good catfish population, particularly flatheads. Nearby, the Pocotaligo River can be hit or miss for panfish.”
Lamprecht said good bank-fishing opportunities exist on Hwy. 402 just outside of Moncks Corner where the road crosses over Wadboo Creek. Although designed for the paddling community, checking the Web site can provide anglers with a host of backwater areas for panfish in Berkeley County.
Three often-overlooked panfish locations are James Island County Park, Bonneau Ferry Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and the Goose Creek Reservoir.
“The pond at James Island County Park is only about 6 acres in size,” Lamprecht said. “It’s not much of a pond, but it has virtually no pressure.
“The Goose Creek Reservoir supports both bluegills and shellcrackers. There is a lot of structure and vegetation and the reservoir is very productive. I expect it to be a good producer of bream.
“Bonneau Ferry WMA is a youth-fishing area that is open at limited times. There are two smaller ponds, Hog Pen and Nimitz, that offer good bank-fishing, but the larger pond, Quarterman Pond, is more conducive to anglers in small boats,” Lamprecht said. “We hope to open an additional pond in about a year that is currently closed for renovation and restocking.”
As you move inland, Gene Hayes, a fisheries biologist for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) in Greenwood, said panfish anglers would do well to seek out many of the state lakes in that area.
“Around here, the state lakes would be your best bet for bream,” Hayes said. “Bream seem to do much better in smaller water bodies that are actively managed and do not have a multi-species dimension to the fish population. With all those other species in the water that you find in larger reservoirs, that creates a lot of competition.”
The first state lake that Hayes suggested was Star Fort Pond, a 27-acre lake located in Greenwood County about two miles south-southeast of Ninety Six.
“Star Fort Pond is only open on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from April 1 to Nov. 1,” Hayes said. “The closure controls pressure on the small lakes and creates a high-quality fishing experience once the lakes open in the spring.
“Most of the anglers there are targeting bream. The lake features both bluegills and shellcrackers, and some of the fish are quite nice. Fishing is from the bank mostly, but there is a pier located on the lake.”
Hayes said he hears good things about the 80-acre Lake Long in Union County, a state lake, and 40-acre Johnson Lake in Spartanburg County.
“Jonesville Reservoir in Union County is a 25-acre state lake that is intensively managed by the department,” Hayes said. “The lake is fertilized and limed and features both shellcrackers and bluegills. Due to its small size, it’s open only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, but year ‘round.”
The last state lake that Hayes recommended was Lake Oliphant. This lake is 40 acres located on the northeast side of Chester County near the York County line, which places it about a 30-minute drive from Rock Hill. Hayes said Lake Oliphant is no longer in his region, but he does recall some great bream fishing on it.
“As big reservoirs go, I would suggest Lake Greenwood,” Hayes said. “It is known for good bream fishing for reservoirs. The best fishing for bream takes place on bedding fish in late May and early June after the full moon in May. Around Memorial Day is a good time.”
Over the last two decades, Lake Greenwood has gone through some major changes. Woody shorelines have been cleared as residential development expanded on the lake. While some good bream-holding spots of natural vegetation remain, Hayes felt anglers should look for bream around docks.
Hayes said the bream fishing below Lake Greenwood ranks right up there with other species in that area.
“We conducted a creel survey on the Buzzard’s Roost tailrace and Saluda River below Lake Greenwood,” Hayes said, “and the panfishing success was right up there with striper and largemouth bass fishing.
“Anglers will find mostly bluegills and redbreasts on that section. Due to re-licensing of the hydropower operations, there are a lot of new access areas for fishermen.”
Sticking on the small-water body theme, Hayes said anglers should investigate ponds located on the Sumter National Forest, specifically the 28-acre Parsons Mountain Lake and the 12-acre Lick Fork Lake in the Long Cane Ranger District. You can contact the U.S. Forest Service at (803) 637-5396 to obtain additional information.
“Many of the state parks have lakes that offer great bream fishing,” said Dan Rankin, SCDNR freshwater fisheries regional coordinator for Region 1.
“Oconee State Park features two lakes, one 20 acres and the other 12 acres. The 12-acre lake in the campground was just limed and fertilized, renovated and restocked, so it won’t be open until probably the spring of 2008.”
You can find out more about the fishing opportunities at Oconee State Park near Mountain Rest by calling the park at (864) 638-5353.
“Table Rock State Park features bream fishing at 36-acre Pinnacle Lake and 67-acre Lake Oolenoy,” Rankin said. “There is boat access at both lakes, and Lake Oolenoy can be easily covered with a trolling motor. Bank access is excellent at both lakes and there is a handicapped-accessible fishing pier on Lake Oolenoy.”
Contact Table Rock State Park, located outside of Pickens at (864) 878-9813 for further information.
Farther east, Rankin said great bream fishing can be found in a series of SJWD watershed lakes (www. sjwd.com).
“Lakes Cooley and Lyman are mostly shellcracker lakes,” Rankin said. “Use permits are required for both lakes, but they provide excellent fishing. Lake Lyman near Greer was a private lake before SJWD acquired it, and it is a good sunfish lake.”
Boating fees vary based on horsepower and physical address of anglers. Spartanburg County residents can expect to pay $60 for boats with motors exceeding 15 horsepower. The fee for South Carolina residents outside of the county is $120 and non-residents would pay $240 for an annual permit. Fees for boats with motors 15 horsepower and less are $40, $80 and $120, respectively, for Spartanburg County residents, South Carolina residents outside of Spartanburg County and non-residents.
Users also have to obtain a copy of the boat and motor policies from the SJWD lake warden.
“Another recommended water system lake is Lake Blalock,” Rankin said. “This 700-acre lake is owned by the Spartanburg Water System, and it has a lot of snails and clams, which benefit the lake’s good shellcracker population.”
Lake Blalock, located five miles northeast of Spartanburg, was constructed in 1983, and recently underwent some work. The lake just reopened in spring 2006 after the water level was raised 10 feet. The lake features about 35 miles of shoreline.
There is a use permit required on Lake Blalock as well. Daily fees, depending on motor horsepower and location of anglers, range from $4 to $15, while annual permits range from $30 to $85. You can contact the la
ke warden office at (864)-578-5442 for additional information about the lake.
“Stevens Creek Reservoir is not your typical Savannah River reservoir,” Rankin said. “Most of the reservoirs tend to be very deep. Hartwell, Keowee and Russell just don’t seem to provide good sunfish populations. The fish seem to be stunted.
“Stevens Creek, on the other hand, has a good shellcracker population and large redears. The lake, located below Lake Thurmond, is shallow in the upper end and features lots of submerged aquatic vegetation, which benefits the panfish populations.”
Two other lakes in the Upstate that Rankin mentioned for bream were Lake Yonah and Lake Tugaloo.
Lake Yonah is a 325-acre lake on the state line with Georgia. The lake was constructed in 1925, and the dam is actually the start of Lake Hartwell. Rankin said that the only access to the lake is on the Georgia side, but the two states do have a reciprocal license agreement.
“To be in a mountain setting, Lake Tugaloo is more fertile than you would expect for other lakes in the region,” Rankin said. “The reason is the lake’s proximity to Clayton, Georgia.”
Located seven miles south of the town, nutrients from Clayton directly enter the 575-acre lake, enriching the water and resulting in a good bream population.
Rankin said another set of water system lakes in the region are better off for other species.
“Lakes Robinson and Cunningham, owned by the Greer Commission of Public Works, are more of crappie fisheries,” Rankin said. “There are some sunfish in each lake, but the size is not as impressive as other lakes.”
No matter where you decide to go fishing, it is wise to consult the SCDNR Rules and Regulations brochure for fishing regulations and license requirements or call your local SCDNR regional office.