January 29, 2018
By Steven Johnson
JANUARY - STRIPERS & HYBRIDS: LAKE HARTWELL
South Carolina and Georgia tag-team on stocking efforts, with annual stockings of both striped bass and striper/white bass hybrids. Results are high numbers of both species. Both feast on Hartwell's abundant blueback herring. The current population includes high numbers of stripers and bigger-than-normal hybrids.
Stripers and hybrids follow the herring, so finding fish begins with finding bait. Vast flats near deeper water provide good winter habitat for herring. Stripers feed actively through the winter. Live herring make the best bait for these fish. Good artificial options include jigging spoons, bucktails and hard baits that imitate herring. Licensing is reciprocal between South Carolina and Georgia.
Other Options: Big schools of tidal flats redfish and clear water create great sight-fishing opportunities. Lake Greenwood produces some giant largemouths.
FEBRUARY - BLUE CATFISH: SANTEE COOPER
February is a great time to target Santee Cooper blue catfish for a couple of reasons. First, it's when cats can be caught in shallow water. It's also when some of the biggest blue catfish of the year get caught. The shallow fish congregate in slight depressions spread across vast flats, often in less than 6 feet of water and sometimes in only a couple of feet. Rig chunks of cut bait on lightly weighted bottom rigs.
Not all February fish are shallow, though. In fact, giant blue cats that tend to be caught this time of year often come from relatively deep water and are relating to current. Likely big-cat areas include the lower end of Lake Marion, the Diversion Canal, and the mouth of the canal.
Other Options: The cool water in the Saluda River that flows from Lake Murray supports a good trout fishery. Lake Tugaloo walleyes congregate up both arms of this small Upcountry lake early in the year.
MARCH - CRAPPIE: LAKE THURMOND
Given the current state of fishery at 71,000-acre Lake Thurmond, it would be tough to find a better place to target spring slabs. Crappie are super plentiful and average 1/2 pound, with plenty of fish up to about 2 pounds and some even larger.
Dozens of creek and river arms split off the main lake and hold most of the crappie during the spring. Pick any major creek arm and treat it like a little lake. Early in the month many fish will be along creek channels. Troll with jigs or minnows to find fish. Later in the month, they'll move shallow, usually in the backs of creeks and coves. Target shallow wood cover or riprap, either by casting and retrieving a jig.
Other Options: Spring bassin' on the Cooper River provides one of South Carolina's best chances for a 10-pounder. March prompts Lake Wateree's white bass run, with big congregations of fish up the river.
APRIL - LARGEMOUTHS: LAKE MURRAY
Bass can turn so finicky that they seem nonexistent in Lake Murray, but during April, this big impoundment produces outstanding catches. Diverse habitat and forage allow largemouths to thrive in Lake Murray. April brings good sight fishing, especially in the relatively clear pockets in the lower lake. Up the lake, fish hold tight to cover and feed aggressively on spinnerbaits, square-billed crankbaits and buzzbaits. A bubblegum-color floating worm, worked with twitches around shallow cover, is also tough to beat.
Access to all parts of Lake Murray is fairly good. Dreher Island State Park provides good mid-lake access, allowing you to reach the upper or lower lake easily.
Other Options: All the SCDNR lakes offer good to excellent bluegill prospects now. Congaree River stripers that run up from the Santee Cooper Lakes provide big-fish prospects right in Columbia.
MAY - COBIA: BEAUFORT COUNTY
Late spring to early summer is prime time for catching big cobia, with much of the best fishing occurring in the Beaufort/Hilton Head area. Cobia spawn in the mouths of bays and sounds beginning late in the spring and commonly stay in inside waters to feed through early summer. Cobia, which are brutally strong fighters and great-eating fish, like structure, whether in the form of something solid like a bridge support or a reef or something floating, like a buoy, a cluster of seagrass or even a sea turtle or stingray. Sometimes you can spot them cruising around floating objects and sight-cast to them.
A live eel or baitfish is probably the best bet for cobia. Good artificial options include eel imitations, bucktail jigs and large minnow-style lures.
Other Options: The Chattooga River's trout fishing in May bridges the delayed-harvest season, with catch-and-release action followed by harvest opportunities. For fun beach fishing action, bring the family, simple bottom rigs and fresh bait to Myrtle Beach Pier.
JUNE - LARGEMOUTHS: LAKE WYLIE
By June, many bass have moved offshore or gone up the rivers, creating concentrations and making patterns predictable. In the main lake, focus on humps that rise close to the river channel and the deep ends of points. Good bait choices include jigging spoons, deep-diving crankbaits and Carolina rigs. Up the river and way up tributary arms, fish laydowns and other shoreline cover with Texas rigged creature baits, jig/craw combinations, spinnerbaits and square-bill crankbaits. One important warning: No reciprical license agreement covers Lake Wylie.
Other Options: Early summer ignites an offshore saltwater bite from a number of fish, with dolphins often providing the most exciting action. If you're looking for steady action with trophy cat potential, drift for Lake Monticello blue catfish.
JULY - CATFISH: PEE DEE RIVER
The Great Pee Dee River offers the best of all worlds for catfishermen. Channel, blue and flathead catfish abound in this big river, and all grow to good sizes, with blues and flatheads offering very good trophy cat potential. Fishing prospects are excellent from the point where the river enters South Carolina near Cheraw to well into tidal waters.
Hard river bends and confluences provide some of the best catfish habitat, with deep water bounded by shallow flats, plentiful cover and a good mix of current lines and eddy areas. Fish with chicken livers or "stink bait" for channel catfish, big pieces of cut fish for blues and live fish for flatheads.
Public access points for launching boats and for bank-fishing are scattered all along the Great Pee Dee River.
Other Options: In the Charleston area through mid-summer, tarpon rule, providing some of the biggest thrills of the year. Lake Jocassee offers great fishing for mixed-bass catches: largemouths, smallmouths, redeyes and spots all grow big in this lake.
AUGUST - SPANISH MACKEREL: NEARSHORE
Hard hitting and lightning-fast, Spanish mackerel are just plain fun, and where you find one you usually find a bunch. In August, good action can be found just a few miles off the beach. The Spanish feed over reefs and wrecks, but you'll also find them schooling in open water. A good strategy is to look at a nearshore reef or two first, and if you don't find action, troll spoons and keep the binoculars handy to watch for diving birds. Once you find the fish, throw a flashy spoon into the school and reel it back quickly. When the school goes down, watch for a while before moving.
Other Options: In the Broad River August typically brings stable water and hot smallmouth action on the Broad. Topwater is the name of the game for bass and stripers in the lower main lake on Lake Hartwell.
SEPTEMBER - CRAPPIE: LAKE WATEREE
Spring is the most celebrated time to target crappie on most lakes, but during the summer Wateree's crappie congregate along the river channel and in the lower ends of major creeks and provide predictable fishing action. A good strategy is to troll with crankbaits that run to about 15 feet. An alternative is to drift or slow troll near the channel with minnows on tight-line rigs. Watch your electronics, and if you find a good concentration, switch to a stationary approach.
Night-fishing also tends to be good during September. Cast into any lit waters around boat docks or set up lights that shine down onto the water.
Other Options: Chattooga River redeye bass, like all redeyes, aren't big, but they are feisty and the setting is spectacular. For big fun and big adventure, gear up heavy and target sharks in nearshore areas.
OCTOBER - FLATHEAD CATFISH: EDISTO RIVER
Flatheads thrive in this long, winding river and grow to big sizes. Flatheads can be caught all summer, but get extra active during the fall.
Flatheads are in much of the Edisto, but some of the best habitat is between Colleton and Givhans Ferry state parks and just upstream and downstream. Live bait works best. Good options include bluegills and bullheads. Focus on deep holes along river bends, and a hole's thickest cover. Flatheads can be caught day or night, but the best action definitely occurs after the sun goes down. After hours, focus on slightly shallower water on the inside bend or just upstream of the deep part of a hole.
Other Options: Fall brings spectacular scenery and active trout to Upcountry mountain streams. Fall is prime time for catching giant shellcrackers from the Diversion Canal on Santee Cooper.
NOVEMBER - REDFISH: TIDAL CREEKS
Late fall is a great time to fish the marshes and tidal creeks because the fish are active and will feed readily on artificial lures. Watch for fish cruising along marsh grass edges and fish drains on falling tides and rips over oyster bars and other structure with any tidal current. During high tide look for fish on top of the marsh. Good lure selections include walking topwater lures, poppers, soft-plastic minnow and shrimp imitations. and gold or silver spoons.
As the water cools and clears, redfish will eventually form big schools. These are fairly easy to spot, especially in clear water.
Other Options: Stripers school all over Lake Moultrie late in the fall, creating major excitement. Cooling weather heats up the spotted bass bite at Lake Keowee.
DECEMBER - BROWN & RAINBOW TROUT: LAKE JOCASSEE
Lake Jocassee supports an outstanding trout population that includes big numbers of rainbows and some high-quality browns. Trout spend much of their time ultra-deep in Lake Jocassee. December's cooler temperatures allow the fish to move up and down with schools of baitfish. The most popular way to target trout at Lake Jocassee is to troll, usually with spoons or minnow-imitating plugs. A good alternative, albeit a cold one during December, is to night fish under lights with night crawlers or minnows.
Other Options: Stripers in Lake Thurmond, along the Georgia border, provide great winter action. Santee Cooper largemouths feed well in backwaters around both lakes during December, especially when the sun shines.