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Best Bets for South Carolina Bream Fishing

Best Bets for South Carolina Bream Fishing
Guide Kevin Davis hoists a stringer of big Lake Moultrie shellcrackers. Photo by Terry Madewell.

Spring weather can impact the bream fishing to a certain extent, but one thing is usually certain: by late May and throughout June, we're in the peak of South Carolina bream fishing.

For those that enjoy the various sunfish species, there are numerous species in various lakes. The two major species we'll consider here are the bluegill and shellcracker. However a lot of lakes in South Carolina have good populations of other prized fish and we'll see where to catch redbreast, white perch and yellow perch as well. You can catch a true smorgasbord of fish during June.

In this feature we'll take a look at some of the top places in the state to hook into a passel of sunfish species collectively called 'bream'. Many of the lakes we'll discuss will have good fishing for multiple species, but some will have a prime target of one species.


Let's take a look at the best bream fishing in the Palmetto State.


LAKE MOULTRIE

One of the best things about Lake Moultrie is the fact that there is a huge population of both bream and shellcracker in this lake. With the diversity of cover and water depths, some outstanding fishing will occur during the spring during bedding season.

According to Kevin Davis, owner and guide out of Blacks Camp on Lake Moultrie and the Diversion Canal, (www.blackscamp.com; 843-753-2231), bream fishing means both bluegill and shellcracker fishing.

"We've got great populations of both species in Lake Moultrie," Davis said. "Bedding takes place on the full moon cycles predominately, but even when the fish aren't bedding they are caught in outstanding numbers and usually in shallow water. By June, we'll also be catching bluegill in deeper water areas as well. It's literally the best of both worlds."


Davis said the best way to find bream, and bream beds, is to simply go prospecting in the shallow water. From his home grounds of Blacks Camp he basically doesn't even have to crank his big motor: he just starts working the shallow shoreline edges and probing back into the pockets and around the grass and edge lines of the weeds and cypress trees.

"Fishermen can use long bream buster type poles or small spinning or spin-cast gear very effectively," Davis said. "It is important to be able to accurately place your bait where you want it. While both shellcracker and bluegill will bite live crickets and worms, usually I'll fish with red worms when searching for shellcrackers and crickets when hunting for bream. The biggest problem is that if I'm hoping to find shellcrackers and end up on a big bream bed, it's hard to pull away."

Davis does not linger in any given spot long unless he is catching big platter-sized bream or shellcracker. Davis said that at the top end, the shellcracker are certainly the larger of the two species, with lots of shellcracker in excess of a pound and plenty in the 2-pound-plus class caught. But he said a lot of bluegill in the three-quarter-to-one-pound size are caught and when you're catching these hard fighting fish literally as fast as you can get the bait in the water, it's a great experience.


Davis added that casting around trees, brush, weeds and other cover will yield scattered bream, and sometimes you'll run into the mother lode of a big bed of either bream or shellcrackers. The fishing is very productive throughout the month.

"One other pattern that develops in late June and goes though the summer is that the bluegill in particular will get onto deep water brushpiles, which are really intended for crappie, in the open water areas of Lake Moultrie," he said. "Often limits of huge bluegill will be caught, so when crappie fishing from June throughout the summer, I always carry a cage of crickets as well as minnows, and catch some platter-sized bonus bream, often in limit numbers."

CLARKS HILL LAKE

According to Clarks Hill Lake guide Wendell Wilson (Wilsons Guide Service, 706-283-3336), there are several prime panfishing opportunities on Clarks Hill Lake and June is a prime month take advantage of four different species.

"During June there is fabulous fishing for bluegill, shellcracker, white perch and yellow perch at Clarks Hill," Wilson said. "The really cool thing is that it's not difficult to be successful on any of these species and the gear and tackle requirements are simple."

Wilson said the bream (bluegill and shellcracker) will be bedding during the full moon but both species will still be caught around the shoreline throughout the month.

"The bluegill will be found on sandy bottom banks and usually if you find woody cover along that bank in 2 to 5 feet of water you have a potential hotspot," Wilson said. "While live bait is also good, I prefer to use a lightweight flyrod with a popping bug and catch the bream on topwater. It's exciting and very productive.

"For the shellcracker, I have to fish a bit deeper and live bait becomes key to consistent success," he said. "Fish those same sandy banks, but back off into 6 to 9 feet of water. Keep the boat in deeper water and cast toward the shoreline. One rig that works great is a to put a splitshot about a foot above a number four wire hook with a gob of redworms on it. Cast it to the bottom with no float and slowly work it in. When you catch one shellcracker, odds are good there's a bunch more in that immediate area. Another tactic that works great is to use a 1/16-ounce crappie jig — but you need to thread a piece of nightcrawler on the hook and cast it out and work it back. That too is highly productive."

For the white and yellow perch, the technique is the same for both species Wilson said.

"There are flats in the lake in 10 to 20 feet of water that have weeds growing on the bottom, particularly in the upper end of the lake," he said. "I will get on these flats and tightline minnows just above the weeds and move around the flat until I find a concentration of fish. Generally the white and yellow perch will be found together and while there will be some culling of smaller fish involved, some of the white perch will be up to 11-inches long and the keeper yellow perch will be in the 10- to 12-inch class. In both cases those are fun fish to catch and great table fare."

LAKE MURRAY

Lake Murray is another lake that is excellent for multiple species, but while Lake Moultrie is known as a great shellcracker fishing lake as well as for huge bluegill, Lake Murray is certainly a sleeper in the shellcracker department.

While very productive for bluegill fishing, with decent sized fish and prolific numbers, it is the shellcracker that garners much of the attention for 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; www.tayloroutdoors.com).

He said that is an eye-opening remark, but one that the lake can back up.

"The lake is full of huge shellcrackers and really not that many people know about it," Taylor said. "It is a fantastic fishery for those who do utilize it and slowly the word is getting out. But there are lots of shellcracker in the 1- to 2-pound class taken and some much larger are frequently caught. Limits are common and actually, again in the fall the fishing for shellcrackers becomes a very reliable fishery."

When fishing Lake Murray for shellcrackers, focus on the sandy bottom coves and pockets. The small creeks and coves with a slight ditch or depression seem to be the best areas.

The bluegill fishing is also excellent whether the fish are bedding or not. For the bluegill, work the shallow water cover as well as the back of coves and pockets around woody or weedy cover. Often the bluegill will be slightly deeper on the beds, but by June, with the water clearing on Lake Murray, both species are often found a bit deeper.

LAKE WYLIE

While Lake Wylie produces excellent bream fishing, particularly for bluegill, there's another panfish species that is vastly overlooked: the white perch. Considered by many to be a nuisance fish, the white perch is actually a very good fighting fish, provides surprisingly outstanding table fare and can be caught in huge numbers very quickly. They tend to school up in identifiable areas such as points and along drops and ledges.

According to fishing guide Rodger Taylor (803-328-9587; www.catfishon.com), current holder of the South Carolina state record white perch (which weighed 1 pound, 15.2 ounces), the white perch resource is strikingly underutilized.

"I often fish for white perch to catch them for bait for my catfishing," Taylor said. "But the fishing is often so good that I also book parties that want to target this species. Catching a boatload of fish in the half-pound to pound class is common and occasionally we'll catch much larger fish. The action can be awesome and I use a simple 2-hook rig with the weight on the bottom and hooks on leaders using minnows as bait. A modified Sabiki bait catching rig, using only two hook, works great as well and when you get into the fish we do catch keeper-sized fish two at a time as fast as we can get the bait in the water."

Taylor says anglers should key on points, humps and ledges in the larger creeks and in the main river channel. He strongly suggests using a graph recorder to help spot the schools of fish.

Taylor also notes that during June the bream fishing is excellent around the shoreline and docks, weedbeds, brush and stumps are all potential bream hotspots.

"Most of the Lake Wyle bream fishing is for bluegill and we'll catch lots of decent fish," he said. "However for serious bream fishermen, they plan to do a lot of culling to keep a nice limit of fish. Generally catching bream on crickets or worms is not a big problem, but fishermen will need to keep moving around looking for concentrations of larger fish. During the full moon cycle you'll often find them bedding, but you can catch limits of good bream at any time during June."

SANTEE RIVER

For river fishing, it's hard to beat the Santee River. This river is full of downed logs, trees and other debris and provides ideal habitat for bream species, with bluegill and redbreast being among the most common species caught.

The Santee River hits its prime during June. With water releases from the Wilson Dam at Lake Marion feeding the river, the water temperature really gets right during June.

Live bait, including both crickets and worms, is very popular, but small spinners such as beetle spins, Mepps spinners and small Roostertails are also very good for both a variety of bream species as well as redbreast.

Frequently you'll find fish in a small offshoot or pocket of the river and get into some excellent bedding action and be able to target redbreast. On most days, use the current to move you gently down the river in the deeper pools, and use the electric motor or a sculling paddle to keep the boat in position. Cast into the nooks and crannies afforded by the vegetation along the shoreline.

There are ample places where the water depth will be 2- to 6-feet deep near the shoreline and you'll need to experiment for that magic depth on any given day. Plus, rainfalls and amount of water being released from the Wilson Dam will influence how deep the fish will want to hold on any given day. But the fish are there somewhere, so you'll simply need to adjust your depth and targeted areas based on the daily conditions. One thing is for sure, there are plenty of panfish in the river; all you have to do is figure out the right pattern for the day.

Now is the time to load up on panfish species throughout the state. Pick a place and go catch a bunch of fish right now.

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