There is no wrong direction to head for good bass fishing in South Carolina, but we've picked some of the best of the best fisheries for 2008. (March 2008).
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
With so much bass-fishing pressure on so many lakes and rivers around the state, sometimes it is a wonder the black bass fisheries are able to thrive and produce at a high level. But produce at a high level they do, and the overall forecast for black bass fishing in South Carolina this year is excellent.
Ross Self, Chief of Fisheries for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, has a very good view of the broad picture of the state's largemouth bass resource. Overall, he said, the lakes and rivers seem to be doing very well in terms of black bass.
"Right now, we're not seeing any major problems with the black bass fishery," Self said. "In fact, in many lakes and rivers, the fishing seems to be exceptionally productive. Perhaps one big concern, at least through the summer and fall of 2007, is the extended drought that's impacting all of South Carolina's lakes and rivers. But that's a concern for the overall fishery and water quality of all our lakes and rivers, not specifically with black bass.
"Probably one concern we have and are looking into is the continued expansion of spotted bass into the fisheries at lakes Jocassee and Keowee," Self said. "We didn't stock these fish, so we're not sure how they got there. Right now, they seem to be added black bass species for the fishermen. However, we're concerned that the spotted bass can become dominant and may eventually have a less than desirable impact on the largemouth population. That's one of the key areas we're watching right now."
One of the reasons the overall health of the black bass fishery is good is that many largemouth fishermen, particularly tournament anglers, enjoy the resource primarily on a catch-and-release basis. Certainly, keeping some fish for the table is fine, but overall, catch-and-release is having a positive effect.
Picking the top spots for bass fishing in 2008 is no small task, primarily because the fishing is excellent. However, there are some lakes and rivers that seem to be at the forefront, based on specific events occurring at those lakes.
A perfect example is Lake Murray. Known for a long time as a quality largemouth producer, this lake is now reaping the rewards of the most recent extended drawdown. That allowed much of the weedy growth to take root along the exposed shoreline and flats, providing great potential for successful spawning and survival.
"I don't have specifics on the largemouths regarding the Lake Murray drawdown and subsequent re-growth of vegetation in the shallows," Self said. "But we do on the crappie and the trend is we're seeing a lot of young crappie that will soon be into the size where they'll impact the fishing in a positive manner. So, the impact has certainly been positive for that species. We're not able to target research on all the species at all the lakes, but that's certainly a good sign."
Other lakes that are capable of producing extremely well this year are some of the more traditional hotspots, such as lakes Marion and Wylie.
In addition, two rivers belong in this list of top black bass fisheries: the Broad and Santee rivers. The Broad River is one of the premier smallmouth bass fisheries in the state -- and that fishery is still expanding, according to Self. Also, the largemouths are often overlooked in the Broad River. Anglers forget, or don't know, that those long, placid pools of water between the smallmouth hotspots harbor excellent numbers of largemouth bass in quality sizes.
Let's begin in the middle of the state with a look at Lake Murray.
According to Ross Self, Lake Murray is in prime condition for largemouth bass. That biological overview is strongly supported by reports from Lake Murray bass fishermen.
According to many local anglers, we are now approaching the time of year anglers who love largemouth bass fishing need to be spending plenty of time on Lake Murray. The mid-March through early-May period is among the best time of the year on this lake for largemouth bass. At least, this is certainly the time when an abundance of bass-fishing pressure is placed on the lake.
Several Lake Murray bass fishermen note they do well throughout the summer. They fish deeper water, such as points, humps and ledges near the channels. Then again, in the fall the shallow-water action perks up. According to several anglers, the fall fishing at Lake Murray is also absolutely awesome, but the fishing pressure is significantly less. Plus, the pleasure boating crowd has dwindled; pleasure boating can have a negative effect during the summer months, especially on weekends.
Access to the lake is excellent, with numerous landings and marinas around the lake. Water clarity is one issue that will influence how deep the fish are holding and the best techniques to catch them.
Typically, during the spring, almost any type of reasonable largemouth tactic has great potential for success. Spinnerbaits in the backs of coves, worms and weightless worms along the shallow cover and docks, and crankbaits off points will all produce well. During the summer, the fish migrate deeper, and deep fishing on humps, ridges and long points will produce. Or you can fish at night and return to shallower patterns.
Ross Self added that other work to benefit largemouth bass is currently ongoing at Lake Murray.
"The SCDNR is working with the Tri-State Bass Club on a cooperative effort of planting water willow and maiden cane in selected areas of the lake," Self said. "These species will hopefully provide long-term shallow-water cover for various fish species, including largemouths."
The next lake we'll consider is Lake Marion. Lake Marion has undergone some weed transformations over the years. Years ago, the abundance of woody cover made this lake very popular and productive for "target-oriented" bass fishermen. Then, the influx of weeds came and anglers had to re-learn the mechanics of catching largemouths in that environment. Now, the weeds have been significantly curtailed, but many of the old patterns and successful tactics are again the norm.
Ross Self noted that there has been some re-growth of weeds in the lake but not to a significant extent. This largemouth bass fishery continues to be very good and certainly continues to be a prime area for taking trophy fish, he said.
n not only remains a quality fishery for big bass, but it has the potential for good numbers of bass. The springtime spawning period is perhaps a South Carolina bass fisherman's best chance of hooking a wallhanger hawg anywhere in the state. Plenty of South Carolina lakes have trophy bass potential. But the shallow, warm and fertile waters of this lake seem to grow numerous big fish. Certainly, the chance for double-digit-sized largemouths exists, but however you define a trophy bass, this lake will give you one of the most realistic opportunities of any.
Local experts are quick to point out that the "big bait-big fish" rule is alive and well at Lake Marion. Some suggest using the 10-inch plastic worms, which may look more like a small snake, when searching for huge largemouths. But oversized topwater lures are effective during late March, April and May. In addition, one vastly overlooked trophy largemouth technique at Lake Marion is the use of live bait. One of the best is monster-sized shiners, which are awesome springtime baits for big fish. But be prepared: I've done this and caught big bass, but occasionally a huge blue or flathead catfish will load on and instead of 8 pounds of largemouth, you have 40 pounds of catfish on the business end of the rod.
That's not a bad thing, just something to be aware of.
The Broad River is a long, winding waterway that is becoming highly touted for smallmouth bass fishing. Originally stocked by the SCDNR, the smallmouths have thrived and are an excellent fishery. However, in addition to the smallmouth fishing, the largemouths provide outstanding action on this river as well.
The largemouth factor is one reason for selecting this fishery as one to watch in 2008. However, the other is the continued expansion of smallmouths down the Broad River. In fact, according to Self, the fishery has expanded as far south as Columbia.
"This smallmouth fishery is really exciting and is continuing to expand," Self said. "We're now seeing smallmouths being caught in the upper end of the Congaree River. Actually, fish are being caught between the Blossom and Gervais street bridges. The biggest issue here is access to the river. It is very limited, so that will have a restricting impact on the fishing. But the species is doing extremely well.
"Also, this area is quite limited in size and overfishing can be a future issue. That concern is actually true for the resource as a whole. We're looking at this fishery to consider ways to keep this great resource from being over-exploited and be maintained at a high-quality level."
The smallmouths can be caught in the Broad River from the upper reaches of the river in the Upstate and downstream to Columbia throughout the year. During the dead of winter, the action can be slow, but for those tough enough to go, smallmouths can still be caught.
The moving water areas, such as riffles, are key to success throughout the year for smallmouths. Behind big rock boulders, below bridge pilings and in eddies formed by the swirling currents are all great places to hunt for the smallmouths.
Shiny, spinner-type lures seem to get the attention of the smallmouths. Use of light tackle, with 6- to 8-pound-test and small to medium lures seems to work best. A good number of smallmouths in the 1- to 2-pound class can be caught. However, larger smallmouths in the 3- to 4-pound class, and even larger, are possible.
In the big pools of slower moving, deeper water, you can find ample numbers of largemouths. Typical largemouth tactics will work, with small crankbaits, Texas-rigged plastic worms and topwater lures producing plenty of the action.
Public access to the river is limited throughout, so you'll need to prepare ahead and have a good game plan. You can check bridge crossings as well as with private landowners for access. Typically, the fishing scenario will be floating down the river in somewhat remote country. Thus, the trip will likely require leaving a vehicle at the pick-up point and then going upriver to where you begin your trip.
Generally, there's not much boating traffic or even much shoreline angling, although shoreline fishing is a consideration if you do not have a boat or only limited time. In addition to quality fishing, you can truly enjoy a highly enjoyable day of fishing away from the crowds.
Lake Wylie is a very popular and productive fishery and despite being so close to major population centers, the lake continues to produce excellent results.
One of the real keys to Lake Wylie is the lake is very productive during the summer months, as well as spring and fall.
The typical shallow-water cover and object-type fishing occurs here during the spring. Spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, worms and crankbaits all produce excellent results for both quantity and quality fish. The shoreline targets are prime places at this time of the year, although fish will be orienting to specific patterns. Be flexible and willing to change as needed to keep up with the largemouths as the spring progresses: You'll need a good game plan to stay current with the fish patterns.
The physical nature of the lake is such that the mainstream Catawba River is full of humps, ridges and flats near deep channels at reasonable depths. This makes Lake Wylie a highly poplar and productive summertime fishery. By working these main-lake humps and ridges, fishermen are able to exploit the bass population in fairly shallow water. A good point here is there are a number of different lures that can be quite effective.
Deep-diving crankbaits are highly popular and productive. In addition, bottom bumpers, such as plastic worms rigged either Texas or Carolina style, will produce. Patience is a real key, according to most local largemouth anglers. This is often feast-or-famine type fishing. If you work potentially good structures but don't get bass action, keep checking other areas, but return to areas where you've caught fish in the past. Generally, at some point during the day, the largemouths will move to the feeding grounds and become active.
Even during midsummer, this action can sometimes occur during the midday stretch of high heat and humidity. The movement of forage and current (if power generation is occurring) will combine to bring the pieces of the puzzle together.
The Santee River is one of the more underutilized bass fisheries in the state. The river not only produces excellent bass fishing in terms of numbers of fish but trophy fish as well.
Ross Self noted that the water flow in the river is a key to the fishing quality. The river, he said, is full of healthy largemouths and it's an excellent resource from the Wilson Dam all the way to the salt water.
The lake is full of debris, such as downed trees, logs and stumps. Safe navigation is a key consideration. However, the flip side of that is there is no shortage of targets for largemouth anglers to fish.
Local anglers rely on topwater
lures and worm rigs. The Tiny and Baby torpedoes, along with buzzbaits, are excellent from spring on through the summer and fall months. In fact, according to some local fishermen, June and July are among the best months to use these lures for both quality and quantity of largemouths.
The worm rig is particularly effective because of the huge amount of woody debris in the river. One of the keys, as it is with any river system, is the water level at the time you fish.
The river is fed from the Wilson Dam at Lake Marion. Generally, even during dry times, there's at least a minimal amount of flow in the river. However, the water depth can change dramatically over the course of a few weeks. With heavy spring rains, you may find the water out of the riverbanks at times and into the flat floodplain along the river. A few weeks later, there may be several feet of bare bank from the water level to the top of the bank that was previously under water.
Thus, anglers often have to apply some common sense and logic in deciding where to fish. The same logs or treetops that produced in May can be high and dry in July. When that occurs, get back to the basics and key on cover and structure near the deeper holes. The deeper, slow-moving pools of water are generally good and sometimes the fish will be very tight in thick cover. Accurate casting can make a huge difference in the potential for bass hookups.
Access is quite limited; however, below the Wilson Dam there is a good landing and at the Highway 52 bridge, there is good access. Also, since this river creates some real navigation and safety issues at times, it's far better to motor slowly and safely based on the existing water level. This is not a "big-boat" type river. Small craft like johnboats are ideal.
While the Broad and Santee rivers may not be prime places for big bass tournaments, the pure enjoyment of bass fishing on highly productive, pristine rivers is enough reward for many anglers.
But these river fisheries have the potential to produce limits of bass as well as trophy fishing throughout most of the year.
This is a limited view of the awesome bass-fishing potential in South Carolina. But it does highlight some of the top fisheries in the state and how you can enjoy them this year.
Pick your hotspot and go now.
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