South Carolina offers plenty of great fishing waters, and most anglers have their favorite spots to cast for trophies. But with temperatures warming up and the school year winding down, this is the perfect time to focus on a different kind of destination: the best locations for a family fishing trip. The goal this month is to find waters where your kids can actually catch fish, and perhaps enjoy some fun diversions along the way. Here are a few places where you can make some memories.
A cross the state, South Carolina is home to a wide variety of fishing opportunities and a great many of them are ideal for an entire family to enjoy, whether for a short trip, all day or even multiple days of enjoyment.
We've selected some of the best opportunities for a combination of fun and fishing success. In each case you'll also discover more to do in that area than just fish — because a variety of things to do is often a key factor in a successful family trip.
BLUEGILL AND CATFISH ON LAKE WATEREE
Lake Wateree on the Catawba River just northeast of Columbia offers families an ideal "twofer" opportunity with both bream and catfish action sensational during this month.
And May is the prime bream bedding month of the year at Lake Wateree.
Targeting bream is easy on this lake and local angler Frankie Jacobs said catching big numbers of bream is easy whether they are on the beds or not.
"I really love fishing the beds on Lake Wateree and all you need is light action rods and reels — even bream busters will work with a family in the boat. Use crickets for bait along with 8-pound test line, a number six hook and a small bobber and you're in business."
Jacobs said when bream are bedding his tactic is to slowly ease the boat along the shoreline in coves and pockets with sandy/gravel bottoms and fish the crickets around the weeds, docks or downed trees. When a big bream is caught, slip the anchor over the side — often multiple bream can be caught from that spot.
When bream are not bedding, work the coves and the rocky shorelines in the major creeks in the same fashion and action will still usually be steady.
"I don't catch as many from a single spot when they are not on the beds, but by slowly moving around the shoreline, my wife and I will cull out good limits of bream pretty quick."
Lake Wateree is also known for big blue catfish and that's always an option, but the lake is teeming with channel catfish in the 1- to 3-pound class.
The best technique for channel catfish is to anchor in 5 to 10 feet of water on points in the creeks or main lake. Fan cast the bait around the boat in water from shallow to deep and bait with worms, minnows, stink baits and small chunks of cut bait. Expect small blue catfish to readily bite these baits as well.
If you don't have rod holders, let everyone hold a rod or you risk getting the rig snatched into the lake. If you go 15 minutes without catching a fish, move to the next point. Sometimes a short move will put you on fast catfish-catching action.
It's really that simple for both species.
If you want to think bigger and hire a guide, Justin Whiteside is an ideal family fishing guide. Contact him at 803-417-0070.
Along The Way
In addition to the fishing, the Lake Wateree State Park offers families multiple opportunities. The park has a large campground with bathhouses, and there are several day-use opportunities with picnic areas for a mid-day family break. There is also a store for supplies.
The roads in the park offer opportunities for bicycle riding and the wooded and natural setting of the area is ideal for bird and wildlife watching. The park has plenty of deer and other wildlife species. In addition, boat launching is available and fuel can be purchased here, one of the few places on the lake where it's available. The park is located 881 State Park Road, Winnsboro, SC 29180. For more information call 803-482-6401.
BLUEGILL AND SHELLCRACKER ON LAKE MURRAY
Lake Murray is a great panfish destination and in addition to excellent bluegill fishing, it's one of the premier shellcracker lakes in the state. During May anglers can catch both of these sunfish species by working the shoreline in the creeks and coves. The mid- to upper end of the lake is often best for smaller boats, but the fishing is excellent throughout the lake.
The only difference in targeting a specific species is the bait. Local anglers prefer crickets for bait when looking for bluegill but switch to redworms or nightcrawlers for shellcrackers. Both species, however, will be caught on either bait.
The best technique is to fish crickets on some rigs, worms on the others and when you find a hotspot for one of the two species you can select the best bait for that species.
While very productive for bluegill fishing — with decent size and prolific numbers — the lake's shellcrackers garner much of the attention of local anglers.
"The spring fishing for shellcrackers at Lake Murray will rival anyplace in the state," said Brad Taylor, a professional guide for several species on the lake (803-331-1354).
Taylor said a lot of shellcracker are caught in the 1- to 2-pound class, but some much larger are frequently caught. Limits are common at this time of the year for both species.
When fishing Lake Murray for shellcrackers, focus on coves and pockets with sandy bottoms. The small creeks and coves with a slight ditch or depression are often the best areas.
The fishing is excellent whether the fish are bedding or not. By May the shellcrackers will begin to move to open-water shallow humps, many of which are marked with marker buoys if you don't have a depth finder. When fishing these areas with worms for shellcrackers you also have a good chance of hooking some hefty channel catfish.
Along The Way
Non-fishing family activities in the Lake Murray area are likely among the best in the state. Nearby is the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, a 170-acre zoo, aquarium, and botanical garden located along the Saluda River in Columbia. The address is 500 Wildlife Pkwy, Columbia, SC 29210 and the phone number for additional information is 803-779-8717.
Multiple events and family opportunities occur throughout the year on Lake Murray and the best source for details at any given time is the Lake Murray Country Visitor Center. The Lake Murray area is a haven for all types of water-related fun. Canoeing on three rivers or exploring the Congaree National Park are among the many outdoor opportunities here. The Visitor Center staff will help you plan your trip. Call them at 1-866-SC-JEWEL or local (803) 781-5940.
CRAPPIE ON LAKE MOULTRIE
One of the very best crappie fisheries in the state is Lake Moultrie, the lower of the two Santee Cooper lakes. By May, most of the shallow-water fishing slows down but the crappies are orienting to the submerged deepwater brush. Many of these brush piles are marked with buoys, so anglers can easily locate them.
These are large, artificial fish attractors intended for public use and provide excellent fishing.
Mary Shriner, Director of the Santee Cooper Counties Promotion Commission, said that the fish attractor project officially started placing materials in the lake to enhance previous fish attractor sites in May of 2014. The two-year project enhanced and upgraded these sites for all fishermen to enjoy. You can get the latitude and longitude of the sites from the South Carolina department of Natural resources website as www.dnr.sc.gov or call the promotion commission at 803-854-2131.
Kevin Davis, a crappie guide out of Blacks Camp on Lake Moultrie (843-753-2231), said the fishing in May offer a chance for both for quality fish and large numbers of fish.
"A lot of the fish will have spawned but early in the month some will still be in the shallows," he said. "The fish begin to make a move toward the deeper water and by May a lot of the fish are piling up on the fish attractors and brushpiles. This fishing simply gets better as the month and summer progresses."
The basic method is to locate the depth of the brush using a graph and often the fish will be holding just above and along the edges. Use an electric motor to move along and slowly work over and around the sunken brush with minnows on tightline rigs. Davis said that it's a good idea to perhaps use a cricket on one of the rods fished because these fish attractors also hold huge numbers of big bream throughout the summer and fall
"A good thing for a family fishing trip is you don't have to get out at dawn or dusk to be productive on crappie on these fish attractors," Davis noted.
Along The Way
An excellent family activity is to visit the state-of-the-art fish lift at the St. Stephen Powerhouse on the Rediversion Canal in Berkeley County. Unique to the state and the Southeast, the fish lift at St. Stephen dam affords safe passage for fish migrating upstream to spawn and permits visitors a close-up, underwater view of these fish through a glass window. The fish lift, which is actually a lock designed specifically for fish passage at the site, was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1985. The lift is operated by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and allows migratory fish like American shad and blueback herring to move from the Santee River to Lakes Moultrie and Marion and into the Congaree and Wateree rivers during their annual migration.
The fish lift is capable of transporting thousands of fish over the dam daily, and the viewing window that gives visitors a unique underwater view also allows biologists to monitor fish passage into the lakes. Fish migration is a natural phenomenon though, and so is subject to changing environmental conditions including water discharge. For more information call 843-761-8820.
BREAM, CRAPPIE AND CATFISH AT LAKE HARTWELL
Lake Hartwell is a great upstate family-fishing destination with multiple opportunities for various species of fish.
Bream are typically still on the beds during May and fishing the back of coves and pockets with crickets is a great tactic. Simply ease the boat along the shoreline and cast to the shallows. Because of the water's clarity it's usually best to back off a bit and make longer casts with spinning or spincast rigs.
The crappie action is very good in May with crappie being caught off points where brush and stumps are located. Use a tightline rig to drop live minnows to the top and sides of woody cover marked on your graph. Also, an under-utilized tactic for crappie is to cast small 1/16 ounce chartreuse jigs around floating boat docks and slowly swim the jig back to the boat. Crappie will suspend under these docks and you may only need to fish 4 to 6 feet deep, even if the water is 20 feet deep or more. The shade provided by the docks is the key.
Catfish are abundant in this lake and channel catfish will average from 1 to 5 pounds and usually congregate in big numbers during May. Anchor on points in the major creeks anywhere along the lake. Fish worms, minnows or stink baits and even small chunks of bluegill you have caught earlier in the day. The channel catfish bite is usually excellent but the occasional blue catfish will bite these baits as well. A lot of blue catfish in the 5- to 15- pound class live in this lake, and plenty of blues of tackle-busting size provide potential for the 'one that got away' stories here as well.
Ample opportunities exist for taking a break and swimming during the mid-day in the many protect pockets and coves and around islands.
If your family is interested in striper and hybrids, this is among the best times of the year and one of the most productive lakes in the state to hook into fast-paced limits of these big fish. Most of the hybrids will be in the 3- to 7-pound class, with the stripers running 5 to 12 pounds. If you have a boat that can get into the open water safely, you can mark these fish with the graph over points, humps and ledges and drop live herring to the depth fish are marked. If not and you would entertain hiring a guide, this has the potential to be an incredible adventure for the entire family.
I have done exactly that with family members and enjoyed some of the most fast-paced and fun fishing in years.
Guide Preston Harden excels with family fishing trips. You can contact Harden at 706-255-5622 for the family striper trip of the year.
Along The Way
The South Carolina Botanical Garden offers families multiple opportunities. The 295 acres offers a diversity of natural landscapes, display gardens and miles of streams and nature trails. It is home to an official American Hosta Society Display Garden, a 70-acre arboretum, miles of nature trails and streams, a butterfly garden, a wildflower meadow and many specialty gardens. The Garden is also home to over 300 varieties of camellias, as well as an extensive collection of hollies, hydrangeas, magnolias and native plants.
The Garden is open every day, dawn to dusk, free of charge. The Bob Campbell Geology Museum is open Monday through Saturday, 10:00am to 5:00pm, and Sundays 1:00pm to 5:00pm. Admission is free. The Garden is located at 150 Discovery Lane, Clemson, SC 29634. Phone 864-656-3405.