If you're not already in bass fishing mode, it's time to get your gear and go. Bass are on the move and soon will be in the shallows on most lakes and rivers.
It's important to get on good bass patterns right now and follow these fish as they transition from deep water through pre-spawn and spawn, then back to post-spawn and hot weather patterns. The waters covered here are known for excellent bass fishing throughout of the year.
The largemouth bass fishing has been strong for the past several years at Lake Moultrie, and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) Regional Fisheries Biologist Scott Lampretch said the influx of enough water and growth of native vegetation has been a key to improving bass habitat.
"Ample water flow and the expansion of native aquatic vegetation have brought the bass fishery back to a very high level," Lamprecht said. "Plus the vegetation gives fishermen definable targets to fish for bass."
Shallow water and cover-oriented fishing is the name of the game at Lake Moultrie throughout the spring and even into summer. March is usually the prime month for bass to spawn here, but February will produce good shallow-water largemouth fishing in pre-spawn patterns. With a warm winter, some big bass may spawn in February, but good numbers of bass will be quite shallow and others staging in slightly deeper water, ready to make the shallow water move.
Lake Moultrie in early spring offers bass fishing diversity with quality largemouth bass in pre-spawn, spawn and others in post-spawn patterns. This broadens the potential for an angler to employ their favorite shallow-water tactics to catch bass.
Linwood Thornhill, (843-753-2231) a veteran guide out of Blacks Camp, said that shallow water fishing is excellent throughout the spring, but anglers need a plan of action because of the bass transitioning through the spawning cycle and the impact of spring weather.
"Weather and water conditions can change quickly during this time of year, and with bass in relatively shallow water being able to adapt is crucial," Thornhill said. "I'll get on a good pattern and for a few days of stable weather the fishing can be great. A front or big rain event blows through and it may change the situation. I don't get locked into any single pattern at this time of year. I'll ride a strong pattern as long as it's working. But bass are constantly changing their patterns too, regardless of weather. If they are in pre-spawn, they'll be making a transition to spawn and then post-spawn."
Thornhill said that the spawning bass offer the opportunity to catch huge fish and they are often in very shallow water. But big bass on a pre-or-post spawn pattern will also be shallow, perhaps not quite as shallow.
Thornhill recommends looking for the edges of habitat or cover — for example, any place where two types of vegetation meet, blending as one specific target.
"This is a classic example of a feature that will attract bass that can be visually identified by fishermen as a prime target," he said. "Many more unique features are available if you're looking for them."
No shortage of excellent areas exist with the Angels Cove, the shallow areas near Blacks Camp, Russellville Flats and the Hatchery near Moncks Corner, all of which offer ample shallow water cover with slightly deeper water areas mixed in.
"One very positive feature about Lake Moultrie is when the spawn and post-spawn patterns end, largemouth fishing remains productive throughout the summer and fall," Thornhill said. "Patterns and tactics change from a primarily spawning pattern to warm weather patterns, but shallow water, with slightly deeper water nearby, are still important."
Lake Greenwood produces excellent largemouth bass fishing from spring through the summer and fall. The key to this lake is following the bass migrations from deep water in February, though the shallow water spawn from March and April and back out to deep water as water temperatures continue to climb.
Except for the spring spawn, a lot of the best bass fishing in this lake is in the form of offshore targets such as humps, ledges and long sloping points into channel drops.
Region I Fisheries Coordinator Dan Rankin said SCDNR studies have shown the lake to be a consistent producer of largemouth bass, both in good average size and quantity. He noted that Greenwood is a fertile and forage-rich lake.
Early spring tactics include working steep shorelines and deep points with various jig rigs, as well as working swimming minnows around deeper cover.
During the spring, anglers should target the lake's stumps, docks and other shallow-water cover. As the weather warms, fishing deep-diving crankbaits and large plastic worms around deep brush, stumps on points, humps and ledges are excellent patterns to try. Nocturnal fishing on this lake turns on during late spring and continues through the summer. The bass will work shallower at night but usually don't stray far from deep water. Lighted docks near deep water are prime big-fish hotspots at this time of the year.
Lake Monticello is a prime example of a "two-fer" lake, with good populations of both largemouth and smallmouth bass. The early season from February through April provides excellent fishing for both species, though conditions typically favor catching smallmouths. Smallmouth bass in the 4- to 6-pound class are caught. Catching a big largemouth — fish that are 7 or more pounds — is realistic.
The lower end of the lake, near the warm-water discharge on this pumpback lake, seems to hold the best smallmouth fishing early in the season. The warmer water attracts the forage and thus the black bass. Smallmouths orient around rock structure, frequenting the rocky humps and points that drop into deep water. Jigs and plastic trailers, along with the dropshot rig and slow-moving crankbaits, are excellent lure choices. Look for fish to hold in water 8 feet deep and deeper this time of year.
As the water warms throughout the lake, smallmouth fishing is good in water from the shoreline down to 15-feet deep.
The largemouth action is good early in the year but improves rapidly from March through May.
Monticello is very clear lake and requires anglers to cast long distances, whether they are fishing the shoreline or offshore humps.
As water warms, the largemouth bass fishing continues to be very productive, but smallmouth fishing gets tougher.
Bass fishing from May through the fall consists of working deeper points, humps and ledges away from the shoreline. Shallow-water fishing can still be good at night and during low-light conditions.
The dropshot rig, vertically jigged spoons, deep diving crankbaits and Alabama rigs are all hot weather favorites at this lake.
It's not unusual to fish several humps or points with little success and then find several aggressive bass stacked on one hump. You can get happy in a hurry in this situation — and it's a strong argument for using a graph on this lake.
Visual cover is scarce in most areas and successful tournament anglers use a graph to find bass before they fish a specific area during warm weather. But they may catch a limit of 4- to 5-pound fish from one spot.
If you believe patience should be rewarded with good bass fishing, this is a good lake to fish.
FISHING CREEK LAKE
Fishing Creek Lake is a hidden jewel of a bass lake, situated between higher profile lakes on the Catawba River. Fishing Creek Lake is small and isolated, but the bass fishing can be awesome. Not only is the lake productive for overall numbers of largemouth, but will produce quality bass as well.
Robert Stroud, fisheries biologist with the SCDNR, said Fishing Creek largemouth bass have flourished in recent years in terms of recruitment and overall health. The most recent sampling data at Fishing Creek outpaced several others lakes in his region, including lakes Wateree and Wylie.
"Based on our sampling, Fishing Creek largemouth bass were in good condition and actually more plentiful than in lakes Wateree or Wylie," said Stroud.
Another feature of this lake that endears it to many bass fishermen is that Fishing Creek Lake offers unique characteristics of both lake and river fishing situations. The lake does get some fishing pressure and smaller bass tournaments are held here. But overall, because of the size of the lake, the pressure is not as intense as many other lakes.
Fishing Creek is still plenty big enough for big bass rigs, and Duke Power data indicates the water depth at the dam to be about 60 feet.
While deep water is available, a lot of shallow humps and stump-laden flats provide potential navigation hazards. If you are not familiar with the lake, get a good topo map and run at safe speeds and learn the lake. ON the positive side, these potential hazards are also prime largemouth fishing spots — you don't want to avoid them, but use caution and common sense when learning the lake.
A number of patterns will produce and enough shallow and deep-water structure exists that a diversely of lures and techniques will work. The lake is loaded with stump flats and blowdowns along the shoreline, so it's an excellent lake for jigs and trailers as well as plastic worm rigs. Spinnerbaits are lethal on the fallen trees along the shoreline and the stump flats will vary in depth enough that anglers can work medium- to deep-running crankbaits.
Both the Santee and Cooper rivers are excellent bass fisheries, but the Santee River may have a higher bass fishing upside in 2017. Abundant water releases from Lake Marion late in 2015 and early in 2016 replenished the river with plenty of bass and other fish species.
Without a constant flow of water as the Cooper River gets from Pinopolis Dam, the Santee River endures peaks and valleys in bass fishing. Low flow several years ago slowed the bass fishery to a crawl, but it's been red hot for the past three years.
Multi-species guide Joe Dennis out of Bonneau fishes the Santee River regularly and said the bass fishing was outstanding in 2015 and 2016 and he expect bass action to likely be sensational in 2017.
"We had a tough fall in 2015 with all the flooding, but the silver lining was all the water dumped from Lake Marion replenished the bass in the Santee River," Dennis said. "2016 was great from early spring right on through hot weather, with plenty of large fish, and we caught 30-plus bass on many mornings."
Dennis (843-245-3762) said to look for breaks in current flow from small creeks, coves and even downed logs as prime targets. His favored lures include topwaters such as Tiny Torpedo and white flukes worked just under the surface. Plastic worms and spinnerbaits are also excellent choices when fishing tight targets.
Dennis said the Santee River does get some fishing pressure but not much from tournament anglers.
"A lot of the fishing pressure here is for big bream and catfish," he said. "The bass fishing is utilized by some local anglers, but overall fairly long stretches of water are not heavily bass fished. The Santee River gets some fishing pressure on weekends, but fishing during the week is much less crowded."
Dennis said because of the many shoals and hazards in the river, it's not conducive to large tournaments with mega-sized bass boats, another reason for less pressure.
Lake Thurmond, (aka Clarks Hill Lake) provides excellent black bass fishing, with good numbers of spotted bass as well as largemouth. The largemouth bass also offer the potential for some serous big fish action.
In very early spring, anglers find bass on the main lake and near the mouths of the tributaries. As the season progresses to spawning time, bass will flood into the larger feeder rivers and creeks and fan out into the shallows.
That leaves a tremendous amount of water to potentially cover, but the bass fishery is strong and typically anglers will use search lures such as crankbaits or spinnerbaits to quickly eliminate areas until they develop patterns for the day.
As spring progress, the topwater bite over points and humps improves for early and late fishing; during the mid-day the bass are caught on drop shots and bottom-bumping worm and jig/trailer rigs. One hotspot overlooked by some, especially during full-moon periods, are the prolific number of bream beds on this lake. These beds often have a large bass or two lurking in the vicinity.
Schooling bass can provide excellent fishing during spring and into summer. Lures such as white or chartreuse flukes and "walk the dog" lures are lethal.
One interesting point to remember is that typically during the blueback herring spawn at Lake Thurmond, the bass will feast on this forage and that's a key to success and big fish. Expect heavy limits to rule during this time period. As with any spawning species, the herring spawn will be water-temperature oriented.
Summer will produces topwater activity off points, particularly early in the morning. The fishing can be good for short periods with various topwater lures and flukes. The best bet is to fish several targets quickly and often one or two will produce several quick bites. In the heat of the day fish are caught on offshore humps in 12-20 feet surrounded by deeper water. Jigs and trailers and big plastic worms fished with either the Carolina or Texas rig are top choices.
Excellent fishing exists throughout the lake with many anglers focusing in the mid-lake around Plum Branch and the South Carolina Little River, as well as the Little River arm on the Georgia side in the lower end of the lake.