As the weather cools, fishing action heats up, and fall's the time to make plans to fish the top places for South Carolina bass.
South Carolina has a lot of areas with great fall bass fishing opportunities, especially in lakes with a high upside for September fishing patterns. Typically, water conditions, forage and overall bass population are reasons these fall hotspots excel.
From the mountains to the coast, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources manages 14 major reservoirs, along with countless smaller areas for freshwater species, including bass. All this acreage provides a lot of areas for anglers, of course, some areas are better than others, particularly in the fall.
Black bass fishing on Lake Russell is excellent in September and actually gets better in October and November. The bass fishery on this Savannah River Lake has morphed over the years and now offers excellent opportunities to catch huge numbers of spotted bass, as well as quality largemouth. Largemouths are present in decent numbers and good sizes, but according to many experts they now comprise perhaps 30 percent of the bass population.
"Looking for largemouth at this time of year is often an early and late in the day affair," said Jerry Kotal, a guide on the lake (706-988-0860). "Crankbaits, worms and heavy spinnerbaits will produce early around points dropping into deeper water — offshore humps, especially those near the main Savannah River channel, as well as the large tributaries. As the day progresses, bass retreat to deeper water and typically will associate with woody cover found throughout the lake."
However, for fast-paced action, spotted bass are plentiful and aggressive, typically caught in the 2- to 3-pound class, with larger fish available.
The key to both spots and largemouth later in the day is the proximity of forage. Kotal uses his graph to find schools of shad on humps, drops and large flats near major creek and river channels. Once he locates ample forage, he knows black bass are usually nearby.
"I'll have topwater rigs ready in case fish push shad to the surface to feed, but much of the fishing will be on and near the bottom," Kotal said. "I'll use drop-shot rigs, Carolina rigs and small jigging spoons. The use of the jigging spoon actually becomes more important as the fall progresses, and by October and November the jigging spoon will account for the bulk of my catch."
Kotal doesn't linger long in an area without some bass action; however, if he marks an abundance of baitfish on a hump but gets no action, he'll likely return to that spot later and work it again.
The upper of the two Santee Cooper lakes is prime largemouth territory. After a hot summer, September fishing begins to change for the better with largemouths getting much more active.
Bass guide Inky Davis (803-478-7289) considers September a transition month for largemouth bass and it initiates a pattern that ranks among his favorites. He fishes hard year 'round and considers spring great for hawgs, but says September begins a stretch where numbers, as well as quality fish, are taken.
"As the water begins to cool during September, the typically abundant crop of baitfish moves into the creeks and shallows," Davis said. "This starts a chain reaction that's great for fall bass fishing. Baitfish are always a key factor, but when they flood back into the shallows, the largemouth gang up and I'll see a lot more surface schooling."
Davis points out that September is not all about topwater action, as bass begin to stage more on the edges of heavy cover and around trees where they are much more accessible to anglers, and get more aggressive.
"I find they are often in much more of a chasing mode with forage readily available," said Davis. "I'll fish cypress tree points, scattered cypress and gum trees on the flats, as well as around deeper pockets of water."
Davis uses a variety of lures during September and it's not unusually to see him with eight or more rods rigged and ready. He'll fish topwater lures, as well as a variety of crankbaits in shad and chartreuse patterns that dig down to 6 feet deep. He also relies on plastic worms, rigged both Carolina and Texas style. His trademark lure for fall fishing is a Little George spinner he keeps rigged and ready to make long, accurate casts to schooling fish.
The Cooper River is a prolific producer of both quality and quantity largemouth bass that's no secret to anglers in the Charleston, Summerville and Moncks Corner areas. The river gets plenty of pressure during the spring and summer. But during the fall, the pressure drops considerably even though the bass fishing action remains excellent.
"The Cooper River is a large river compared to most coastal rivers and one that seems to usually have current flow with generation at the Pinopolis Dam," said Capt. Joe Dennis (843-245-3762). "Water movement is a dependable feature and the amount may change and the river level will move up or down depending on outflow. But having reliable current is important to bass fishing in rivers."
According to Dennis, shallow water along the river's edge can be very productive early and late in the day, with topwater action often occurring at dawn and dusk.
"The lure preferences and patterns will change but I'll usually start with white and pink flukes, as well as Tiny Torpedoes in a black and silver shad pattern," Dennis said. "Also, the plastic worm rigged Texas style is ideal for fishing the edges and I like the green shades of 7-inch worms, as well as the Junebug pattern. As is often the case in spring, during September I look for big fish in the shallow water, often back in pockets and coves just off the main river."
According to Dennis, time has a big impact on success, so he gets on the water before dawn to work the shallows for active bass.
"I'll fish cover such as trees, logs, docks or other structure along the shoreline that are near the drop into the channel," Dennis said. "Bends in the river are good with the outside bend usually best. The boat may be in deep water, but the targets can be very shallow. Work a fluke or lure over or around the shallow cover and around the edges where the water drops into the river. Treetops and other woody debris make excellent hideouts for big bass if they're close to the deeper water."
Most local anglers prefer the area from the Dreher Island area and up the lake during September and October. The clear, deep water at the lower end Lake Murray can make fishing difficult and when the lake undergoes fall turnover, fishing in the lower sector of the lake can get quite tough. From Dreher Island and up the lake offers plenty of deep water access but is shallow enough to provide excellent fishing at reasonable depths, and is much less affected by fall turnover.
The early and late bite is typically productive. Begin the day working points, ditches, pockets and gaps between islands with spinnerbaits, plastic worms and squarebill crankbaits. Look for spots with woody or other forms of cover to enhance odds of success.
By mid-morning this shallow water pattern usually slows with the typical sunny, bright weather of September. From then through mid-afternoon work jigs, finesse worms, shaky heads and even single-blade spinnerbaits slow and near the bottom. Probe deeper water on steep shorelines and around cover provided by downed trees, docks and any shade that's available.
FISHING CREEK LAKE
A small but very productive fall bass fishery is Fishing Creek Lake, located between lakes Wateree and Wylie, sort of tucked away and hidden.
Fishing Creek is an old Duke Power lake, built in 1916 with 3,370 surface acres of water and 36 miles of shoreline. Obviously not a huge lake, but its still is plenty big enough for bass rigs.
Several local experts suggest anglers use caution on their first trip until they learn where they can safely navigate. The same things that make the lake excellent for bass also creates hazards, as the lake is full of stumpy flats, often in shallow water adjacent to deeper channels. The lake does have a main-channel run along Catawba River.
Veteran bass fisherman and former guide Chris Heinning says Fishing Creek is one of his "ace in the hole" lakes, especially during the fall when bass fishing pressure on the lake is low.
"Fishing Creek usually has an excellent forage base of shad and offers good fishing for both numbers of fish as well as trophy-size bass," Heinning said.
Heinning says some very predictable patterns work for September and into the fall. The basic pattern for early and late fishing is working very shallow water, from 2 to 6 feet deep. Fish rocky banks, especially if a good current flow exists, with topwater lures like a spitting hard bait or buzzbait. By mid-morning, transition to slightly deeper water but usually less than 10 feet deep will be sufficient.
Focus effort on shorelines providing ample shade from the sun, and fish downed trees, stumps, rocky points and shoreline grass. Look for places where deep water, such as a creek or river channel bend, comes close to shallow cover.
As noted, the lake is full of stumpy flats, so search for those holding baitfish and work the areas near the deeper water and gradually back onto the flat.
A multitude of baits work for bass, with crankbaits, spinnerbaits and plastic lures, such as worms, creature baits, tubes and soft stickbaits, being good choices.
During early September, some larger fish may still be in a deeper water pattern so fish a bit deeper mid day, especially points with rocks and stumps in the 8- to 15-foot range.
"When fishing the deeper areas, I'll use lures such as big shaky head worms in the 5/16- or 1/2-ounce size in green pumpkin or junebug color patterns," Heinning said. "Also, 3/4-ounce football jigs in brown can be slow worked in deep cover with good success. I'll mix up the presentation with a deep-diving crankbait in a shad or chartreuse color pattern as well."
In-Fisherman: Southern Reservoir Bass & Crappie