“Yes.” That’s the simple answer to the question of whether you should take the day and go fishing. Questions that follow, of course, are where to go and which species to target. Fortunately, in South Carolina, there are many excellent answers, and that’s true all 12 months of the year.
With questions such as these in mind, we’ve selected top spots for every month of the year. Destinations are spread all over the Palmetto State and cover everything from panfish to offshore game fish. Wherever you live and whenever you are able to go, here’s what you need to know.
Lake Jocassee Brown Trout
Trout grow big in Lake Jocassee, a 7,500-acre mountain gem in the northwestern corner of the state. In fact, the state record brown trout and rainbow trout both came from Jocassee’s deep, clear waters. When the water is cold, the fish move higher in the water column, making them easier to find and target than at other times.
The most consistently productive ways to target Jocassee trout are to troll with spoons and minnow-imitating lures and to fish live bait under lights at night. The latter approach can be pretty cold on January night, but it’s a very good way to find good trout action, with potential for a seriously big brown. Late in the month, some fish will move extra shallow and become susceptible to small spoons, plugs or inline spinners cast toward the shore.
For more information, check out jocasseecharters.com
Other Options: Lake Moultrie’s rejuvenated striper population commonly yields fast action during January, as pods of stripers chase big schools of baitfish. Meanwhile, at Lake Keowee, the cold weather seems to activate fat spotted bass, which have trouble resisting a finesse worm.
Santee Cooper Blue Catfish
February consistently yields some of the biggest blue catfish of the year at the Santee Cooper lakes, especially in areas with current in Lake Marion’s upper reaches and at both ends of the Diversion Canal. February also brings a crazily fun shallow bite, when blues move into little ditches on shallow flats and take off like racecars when hooked.
Fresh cut shad or herring, fished on the bottom from an anchored position, produce most February blues, whether in deeper current or up on a flat. Fish camps around both lakes carry bait caught fresh from the lakes and can tell you the bait species and size of pieces that have produced best recently.
To learn more: blackscamp.com
Other Options: Late in winter, when Lake Tugalo walleyes begin running up the Tallulah and Chattooga River arms, is the most predictable time to catch these tasty gamefish by bouncing minnow-tipped jigs along the bottom. Near Charleston, Goose Creek Reservoir produces some seriously big bass during February.
Lake Thurmond Crappie
Lake Thurmond, commonly called Clarks Hill, consistently produces some of the finest crappie fishing in South Carolina. Biologists’ surveys reveal that the population is currently in great shape, with big numbers of quality fish and plenty of genuine slabs.
Spring brings the most accessible fishing of the year because the crappie move up into the lake’s many creeks and stray shallow to spawn. Trolling or drifting over brush along creek channel edges and casting to visible cover with jigs or minnows under floats produce well. Making a good thing even better, many excellent areas are accessible from the bank in numerous state and regional parks and recreation areas on both sides of the lake.
Other Options: Tidal Waters in the Great Pee Dee Rive warm early in the spring and yield excellent March fishing. For fast action, head for Lake Wateree, where white bass congregate up the river. Troll small lures while also watching for breaking fish.
Lake Murray Largemouths
If you fish a spring bass tournament on Lake Murray, you’d better return with a pretty heavy bag. Big bass that are nowhere to be found most of the year show up commonly in April catches on this big Midlands impoundment. Lake Murray largemouths, which can chose from shad, herring, bluegills and crawfish, tend to be in good condition, and during the spring they are willing to eat.
The same diverse forage opens a lot of different patterns. Many big fish obviously fall to sight-fishing during the spring. At any given time during April, though, some fish are likely in a pre-spawn mode while others are done spawning.
Therefore, various shallow-water offerings, including floating worms, soft-plastic jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and square-bill crankbaits, produce well around docks, buckbrush and other visible cover.
For more information, go to lakemurraycountry.com
Other Options: For April sheepshead, visit bridges and piers along tidal rivers and creeks and look for these striped fish lurking wherever you find barnacles. At Lake Greenwood, the crappie will be around shallow brush, which you’d find near most docks.
Beaufort Area Cobia
May warming draws cobia to bridges, buoys and other structural features all along beaches and in lower tidal rivers and bays across the entire coast, with some of the best fishing occurring in the Beaufort area.
Finding cobia to target is a matter of traveling from one structure to the next and looking for big dark profile lurking just beneath the surface. Sometimes a cobia will readily grab a live baitfish, bucktail jig or big minnow bait.
Other times, getting one to eat requires quite a bit of coaxing. In either case, the hardest part about catching cobia is landing them after they are hooked. They are brutally powerful fish that never seem to tire.
Other Options: May is transition month for regulations on the delayed-harvest portion of the Chattooga River, creating excellent catch-and-release opportunities early in the month (during the delayed harvest period) and catch-and-keep opportunities later in the month (after the delayed harvest period ends). On the lower Savannah River, it’s prime time to catch channel catfish.
SCDNR Lakes Bluegill
June is bluegill time. School is out, so it’s a great time for family outings, and the bluegills tend to be shallow and feed actively. Bluegill live in most South Carolina waterways, so the best place to fish might be the closest waters to you with public access.
That said, bluegills are an important part of the management plan for the 17 small lakes that the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources manages primarily for fishing, and most of these lakes support strong populations of quality bluegills.
Access is also an important part of the state lakes’ management plan, and several of the lakes are well suited for bank-fishing or for outings in small boats. If you’re bringing young children, then keep strategies simple, with a cage full of crickets or a cup of worms and basic float rigs.
For even slightly more experienced anglers, throwing micro jigs or tiny crankbaits or topwater plugs for bluegills can be really fun. For more information, go to dnr.sc.gov.
Other Options: Summer nights lend themselves to drifting for big and plentiful blue catfish on Lake Monticello. Along the coast, the highest high tides deliver the unique opportunity to wade for tailing redfish.
Broad River Smallmouths
When days get really hot, some of the best places to fish are in cool river corridors, and for summer fun in a river setting, it’s tough to beat the fat smallmouth bass that abound in the Broad River. When many other fish fall into summer doldrums or restrict most activity to after hours, river smallmouths stay feisty and will hammer topwater lures and a host of other offerings.
Smallmouths, once residing in only a modest area near the upper end of Broad’s South Carolina run, seemingly liked what they found. They now abound all the way to Columbia, where the Broad joins forces with the Saluda to form the Congaree River. The best way to fish most sections of the Broad is to float from point to point with a canoe or kayak, possibly getting out to wade-fish shoals or bars.
For Information visit broadriversmallmouths.com
Other Options: Offshore, the wahoo trolling bite tends to get hot when the weather is steamy. In the mountains, night fishing with dark jig or topwater lures on Lake Jocassee can yield four different species of bass, including some very big largemouths.
Coastal Pier Whiting
Truth be told, you’re apt to catch a huge range of species if you fish from a South Carolina beach pier late in the summer. Whiting clearly rank among the most commonly caught species, though, so we’ll rest our official focus with them. Whiting (officially Southern kingfish) average a pound or so and are fun to catch and great on the dinner table.
Numerous piers, which are scattered all along the coast, serve up summer fun, and the approach is as simple as it gets. Use medium-weight spinning tackle and a two-hook bottom rig that you can buy at any coastal bait shop to present squid or shrimp. If you don’t get bit after a half hour or so, pick a new spot on the pier. Sometimes a small move can make a big difference.
Other Options: The big blue catfish that have come on strong at Lake Wylie in recent years serve up hot catches of dog day (and night) cats. On the Savannah River, typically low river levels keep largemouths in the main river, where they tend to be easier to catch than in backwaters, during August.
Edisto River Flatheads
It doesn’t seem like any fish should reach the sizes that flatheads do when you look at the size of the Edisto River in most places. Flatheads grow huge throughout the Edisto, though — even well up into its forks. September bridges summer and fall, and the fishing can be excellent. Flatheads will bite at any time, but the largest fish are largely nocturnal so night fishing increases your odds of success.
Flatheads are predators, not scavengers, so fishing with live bait is the only way to go. Find a hard turn in the river with tangle of timber along the outside of the bend and fish over the deepest water that is close to the cover. Allow flatheads plenty of time to bite.
Use a rod with a lot of backbone, a reel with plenty of torque and heavy braid to turn a cat’s big flat head away from the cover before an exciting start comes to a quick end.
Other Options: Throwing topwater lures over main-lake humps and points at Lake Hartwell will yield stripers (along with hybrids, largemouths and spots) this month. Meanwhile at Lake Wateree, offshore bass fishing can be really productive late in the summer.
Upper Saluda River Trout
The Saluda River has developed a big name as a trout fishery, but most attention goes to tailwater fishery below Lake Murray. During October, when the mountains get painted red, yellow and orange, the Saluda’s headwaters warrant attention. The forks of the Saluda, upstream of Greenville, offer a variety of opportunities that include easy access to stocked trout and backcountry fishing for wild trout.
The best wild trout fishing and scenery is along the Middle Saluda River through Mountain Bridge Wilderness and Jones Gap State Park. Wild rainbows are the main attraction here, but the lower part of this section holds some wild browns, and the upper reaches hold native brook trout.
For information: upcountrysc.com
Other Options: Along the coast, moderated temperatures ignite a really good speckled trout bite in the Hilton Head area. Meanwhile, at Lake Thurmond, the fall bass bite gets going this month, with the fish commonly attacking topwater lures.
Charleston Area Redfish
Fall brings on excellent redfish action in the marshes around Charleston and creates some of the most exciting redfish action of the year. Redfish (spottails, if you prefer) often bite throughout the day and will readily attack spoons, topwater plugs, soft-plastic shrimp imitations and other lures. Instead of putting out bait and waiting, work edges and cast lures as if you were bass fishing.
Unlike other seasons, when the bite only occurs at certain tide stages, fish feed throughout the tides during the fall. They simply reposition, based on the water level and direction. Look for drains, cuts in the marsh, submerged bars that cause rips and similar features that position the fish, and allow tidal currents to help deliver your lures.
For information: fishcall.com.
Other Options: At Lake Murray, late fall conditions draw stripers shallower and prompt them to feed more actively. Meanwhile on the Santee Cooper Lakes and the Diversion Canal, November is the time when the really big shellcrackers bite well.
Lake Russell Stripers
Don’t go to Richard B. Russell if you’re seeking fast striper action. The second of three big impoundments along the Savannah River, Russell is managed for trophy striped bass, both through low-density, infrequent stockings and through special regulations. The result is a modest population of fish that average 12 to 15 pounds, with plenty of 25-pound-plus fish in the mix.
The South Carolina state record striped bass and other big fish actually came from Russell before any stripers had been stocked, apparently having found their way into the lake from upstream or downstream.
Winter creates the some of the best fishing of the year for stripers, with much of the population congregating in the lower half of the lake and following herring and shad. Jigging spoons and bucktails produce some big fish, but slow trolling with live herring is the most dependable way to catch a big Lake Russell striper.
Other Options: Lake Wylie stands out as a traditional winter bass lake, and cold weather brings great opportunities. At Lake Wateree, the crappie bite well through the end of the year.