These are some of South Carolina's best fall bass fishing locations.
By Terry Madewell
Fall bass fishing differs from the springtime fishing in terms of which lakes may be best and where to find the bass in those lakes.
Some basic elements that are important to bass and to finding bass, however, remain critical. One of those elements is forage.
Fall black bass are going to eat, so forage and the right habitat for forage in the lake being fished are critical for anglers' success.
Here's a look at some great September bass fishing with information on how, when and where to find these fish.
Lake Wateree is a very popular springtime lake among tournament bass fishing trails and rightly so: The lake has boomed in recent years and now a 5-fish tournament weigh-in bag of 25-pounds-plus is often required to win. And sometimes that's not enough.
But the fall fishing opportunities are often vastly overlooked. The fish are fat after a summer of feasting on one of the most forage-rich lakes in the state.
One of the keys to finding fall bass in Lake Wateree is to understand the impacts of the weather on where the bass will be.
They can be found deeper when the lake is still stratified, but they will roam the shallows if we've had a tropical system drop several inches of rain on the lake in August or early September.
In either case, when you find the bass, the fishing can be outstanding.
If the weather has been stable, it will still be hot in South Carolina and odds are the first part of the month will have bass holding in deeper water. Typically they'll be 12- to 15-feet deep off points, humps, ledges and even main channel ledges.
The "go-to" lure for most anglers are crankbaits that dig to these depths and bump off the stumps, rocks and other debris on the bottom when retrieved. Successful anglers cover water and keep searching until they hit the right spot, knowing that it is likely they will hit several of these offshore targets with little to show for it, and then catch multiple fish on consecutive casts from the same spot.
Another excellent lure is the Carolina worm rig with a 3/4-ounce weight and 7- or 8-inch plastic worms. Colors vary with individuals but red-glitter black, junebug and pumpkinseed are known producers at Lake Wateree during the fall.
Later in the month or if the water has cooled and a big rain flushed the lake, the bass will be back in a shallow to mid-depth mode, and anglers can catch bass in 4 to 8 feet of water.
Crankbaits working these depths are the key, as well as swimming minnow lures on stumpy flats near deeper water. Late in the month and into October, a strong dock pattern revives and plenty of quality fish are caught around docks having 4 to 10 feet of water at the outside edge. Some bass will be holding back in shallower water on the docks, but docks that are close to deeper water tend to be better spots.
When the bass return to the shallower water buzzbaits and twin-bladed spinnerbaits can produce quality fish around the weedbeds early and late in the day.
Lake Moultrie offers tremendous diversity for fall bass fishing. Fishing starts strong in September and continues to be excellent through mid-November.
By September, the bass are really chowing down on forage and one of the places to find plenty of big bass is pockets of shallow water. Target areas where weeds, pads and vegetative growth create the dense, thick habitat to attract bass in hot weather. These weedy growth areas are typically in water from 4- to 8-feet deep and will be full of other aquatic life, which is food for the forage that bass love to eat.
These spots are ideal for topwater lures such as weedless plastic frogs plopped along the top. Soft platics are also effective. In places where the cover isn't too thick, flashy spinnerbaits work well.
As September progresses and water begins to cool, many of the larger fish migrate out of these areas and begin holding on edgelines of weeds, along deeper stumps and along ledges and drops from shallow to deeper water.
The majority of the fish are still going to be in less than 8 feet of water. By mid-to-late-September, shad will be the favored forage, so find the cover areas with plenty of forage and you're likely in business.
A top pick for many anglers is the versatile spinnerbait, which can be effectively used to work multiple depths even on the same cast. This lure is great along the rocky rip-rap areas around Lake Moultrie — a target often overlooked by bass anglers.
Stump flats in 4 to 8 feet of water are very productive areas when worked with the Texas or the Carolina worm rigs. Various hues of green are very good colors for fall fishing.
Finally, the shallow water cover is ideal for topwater lures and buzzbaits, floating minnows and popping lures, particularly early and late in low-light conditions.
As the fishing moves into October and continues into early November, some outstanding schooling action occurs in the shallow water around the lake. Lake Moultrie has huge shallow flats with plenty of woody cover and as shad schools move into these areas during fall bass surface feed frequently.
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The clear water here can create shallow-water fishing problems at Lake Hartwell, but low light creates some shallow-water opportunities and deepwater patterns are productive throughout the day. A lot of anglers work the offshore humps, long points, around underwater roadbeds and old structures such as bridge crossings or building foundations.
Lake Hartwell has a big population of spotted bass, but still has some hefty largemouth as well.
Early and late in the day shallow-water action often occurs around shallow flats, especially those with stumps. The productive flats will also have deep water nearby. The pattern usually is limited to low light with topwater lures, worms and crankbaits. The same pattern returns late in the day as low light conditions return. Normally after the sun gets high most of the fish will move out to 20 to 30 feet of water — or deeper.
During mid-day, work main lake humps, preferably near the main river channel, as well as points that string far into the lake and drop off near the main river channel.
Most of the bass will be eating small forage, most of which will be less than 3-inches long, so match with appropriate sized lures.
Good choices include small flukes, swimming minnows that sink fast and small plastic worms rigged Carolina style. Drop shot rigs are often productive, especially if you mark a school of fish with the graph.
Also use the graph to ensure you have plenty of forage in the areas you are fishing.
Later in the month, as water temperatures cool the bass will move shallower. The same areas fished earlier in the month produce, with fish generally shallower and often more aggressive. As is the case on several lakes, surface feeding sprees are possible anytime of the day late in September and into October. Bass along with the occasional bonus striper or hybrid can be caught when you work schooling fish.
One final pattern that works well in late-September and into October is fishing deep docks with brush. Work shakyheads or plastic worms into the brush and if you don't get bit quick, move on. Success on this pattern is more of a numbers game and hitting plenty of targets is a key. You may not get a lot of bites but you can hit some quality fish.
The Santee River is traditionally one of the top fall bass fisheries in the state despite being a relatively small river. One of the keys to this fishery is that it's below the Wilson Dam impounding Lake Marion. When heavy rains create flood releases from Lake Marion, the Santee River gets a major injection of bass and other fish species. Flooding occurred in this region of the state in both 2015 and 2016 and lots of fish were likely fed into the river via the water releases from Wilson Dam.
While the river doesn't have an abundance of access points, reasonable access is available at several sites. These include just below the Wilson Dam, at the Highway 52 Bridge, at Arrowhead Landing near St. Stephens and along Highway 17 near Jamestown.
Water levels will dictate how far you can travel but all represent excellent starting areas for largemouth bass fishing.
The Santee River is also ideal for anglers with smaller boats too.
One of the top fishermen on the river is Joe Dennis out of Bonneau. Dennis guides on the Santee River and several other waters for various species. But he said the late summer and fall are typically prime times for great bass action.
"Fishing the river is different than fishing a lake because we have to factor in current and moving water," he said. "In the lakes sonar equipment and other high tech tools are important to success and while I use that equipment here, success here is more defined by identifying good targets and casting ability. You've got to be able to put the lure in tight places, under limbs, around shoreline bushes and other natural objects. Depending on the water level in the river, patterns may change in terms of types of cover and depths. But it's more of a lesson in object fishing until a pattern is determined and then working that pattern."
Dennis said the river is full of 1- to 2-pounders, but they provide plenty of action for catch and release.
"The thing about the river is it holds plenty of bass in the 3- to 5-pound class and these larger fish certainly keep us from getting complacent and we're occasionally catching some really big fish," he said. "Fast action and hefty bass make a great bass fishing combination."
Dennis said he gets on the river early, just at first light, to take advantage of some sensational topwater schooling action.
"Most fall mornings for the first hour the fish will usually be schooling and surface lures as well as unweighted floating worms, and white flukes are great," he said. "Get a lure on top of where the fish boils the surface and odds for a hookup are great. Another good topwater lure is the Tiny Torpedo with best colors for the Torpedo varying from black with white stripes, to frog or shad and chartreuse patterns. I think the most important factor is to get the lure on top of the feeding bass quickly and it triggers a bite."
Dennis said that when the topwater action slows the bite does not. He simply switches gears and starts working a Texas rigged plastic worm.
"The worm can be cast in and around the logs, stumps and blow downs on the river or really any object that gives a bass a good ambush point," he said. "I also have success casting to the middle part of the river into deeper holes where bass congregate as the sun gets high."
Dennis said lighter line gets more bites and he is fishing 8-pound test line with a 1/8-ounce slip sinker on his worm rig. His favorite color patterns for worms are junebug and pumpkinseed.
"You'll get bites on heavier line for sure, but the light line and weight does make a difference in bites," he said. "But depending on where you're fishing, it's good to have a second rod rigged with slightly heavier line if you working heavy cover."
Dennis said some of the best areas will be dense, gnarly cover where eight-pound test is not a good option. In areas where you have room to work a fish, the lighter line works best. But he'll use 17-pound test line when casting in deep, thick cover.
"The river is literally full of blow downs, logs, stumps and other bass holding cover, so adjust your presentation and tackle to match the objects you're fishing. But expect to get plenty of bites during a day of fishing."
Read more articles by Terry Madewell