Springtime means shallow-water bass action on Russell and Wylie. Here's how to find the hotspots. (April 2010)
Black bass fishing is ever changing on any lake in South Carolina. But the process of change has been more marked than usual on Lake Russell on the Savannah River since its impoundment. One angler has followed the changes from Russell's early "boom lake" period right through modern times. One of the big changes has been that the spotted bass has now become a crucial consideration in the black bass fishing at Lake Russell, along with the largemouth.
Wendell Wilson has been fishing the Savannah lakes since he first started fishing on Clarks Hill back in 1973. He began fishing on Lake Russell about 1987 and started a guide service there in 1990 (706-283-3336; www.wilsonsguideservice.com).
"When I first began fishing Lake Russell, we only had largemouths and the fishing was fantastic, typical of a new impoundment," Wilson said. "There were lots of fish that over a period of a few years turned into good numbers of very large bass as well. Back then, it wasn't uncommon to occasionally catch largemouths in the 8-pound-plus class. Of course, a number of largemouths much larger than that were also caught. However, the largemouths don't get quite as large on the top end as a rule now. We'll still catch plenty of 5- and 6-pound-class largemouths. But the spotted bass have taken up residence in Lake Russell and offer a great black bass fishing alternative. Between largemouth and spotted bass, there's a wide variety of black bass fishing opportunities."
Wilson added there are very basic differences in the habitat requirements and other needs for largemouth and spotted bass. Because of that, the April fishing scenarios must be broken down into distinct patterns for each. In fact, Wilson breaks down his tactics again for the smaller spotted bass, such as 14 inches and under fish, from the patterns for larger, 3- to 5-pound spotted bass.
"The different fishing patterns provide a lot of diversity and fun fishing, particularly since we have lots of spotted bass in the lake now," he said. "But the successful April patterns are clearly very different. I've found that I've got to target one or the other because there's not much overlap in the April fishing patterns."
Wilson said the largemouth bass fishing patterns during April are solidly linked to shallow water throughout the month.
"April is largemouth spawning time at Lake Russell (€¦)," he said. "They won't all spawn at once, but there will be ample shallow-water largemouth bass fishing throughout the month."
Wilson said some of the factors to consider when planning where to fish include the stability of the water. If it's stable or high, fishermen need to go into the timbered areas and fish toward the shallow water near the shoreline.
"Some of the most productive areas of the lake for me are the Heardmont, Selkel and Allen creek areas," Wilson said. "All of these areas are full of timber. There's a boat lane, sometimes quite narrow but just big enough between the timber and shore. If the lake is high and stable or rising, I'll work my boat though that lane and fish toward the shoreline and fish the grass, stumps, logs and other debris.
"During April, my most productive lure in this water situation is a 6-inch Zoom lizard," he said. "I fish with no slip weight on the rig, just a swivel and a hook being plenty of weight. This enables the rig to fall slowly when cast into the shallow water."
Wilson said that depending on the water temperature, at some point topwater fishing will begin to get very good for largemouths during April.
"During this time of the year when the fish are so shallow, I use a small, slim topwater lure," he said. "I'll use the floating-diving Rapala in a blue back, silver sides color pattern. I'll cast the lure to the shoreline around cover and twitch the lure slightly a few times. If that doesn't work, I'll reel it back in at a pretty fast pace to see if that triggers a bite. The lure only runs a few inches deep, so keep it around shallow water cover. Later on in the year, beginning in May, as the water temperature warms the larger, more traditional largemouth topwater lures will work well. But I've found for the shallow-water bass during April, this is the best topwater lure for consistent action."
Wilson noted that traditionally the buzzbait and crankbaits are not good lures for April.
"Those lures are normally very effective lures for largemouths on many lakes," Wilson said. "But I've tried them a lot and finally concluded that they are not the best choices for Lake Russell, especially at this time of the year."
Wilson said that if the water level is not stable or is falling, the largemouths will often pull away from the shoreline cover noted on the previous pattern.
"It's not all that difficult to stay on the fish," he said. "What usually works well for me is to just turn around and fish the opposite side of the boat lane, away from the shoreline. I'll work the first row of stumps and logs. The fish will still be in fairly shallow water, but they will have backed away from the shoreline.
"I'll also switch to a Carolina worm rig with a 1/4-ounce slip-sinker as weight and a 2-foot leader," he said. "I'll cast it to or beyond my target and work it back slowly. Generally, the fish will not have moved far from the shoreline."
Wilson noted that in the areas he named, and in most creeks, there will be an inundated creek channel that winds through the timbered flats.
"During April, I don't fish those creek drops and ledges, unless I'm in the extreme upper end of the lake," he said. "However, most of my fishing at this time of the year will be in the mid to lower portion of the lake. Later in the summer, my fishing efforts will migrate toward those old creek ledges. I'll occasionally fish upriver later in the year as well when working areas for largemouth bites."
According to Wilson, the spotted bass now make up about 60 to 70 percent of the black bass population in Lake Russell. He also thinks the population of spotted bass is on the increase.
"There's no doubt that the spotted bass have found a lake with the right habitat for their needs," he said. "There are several good things about having spotted bass in Lake Russell. One is you can break down your tactics into two distinct methods to target numbers of fish or quality spotted bass.
"If I have a client that wants to enjoy a lot of action on bass in the 14-inch and smaller size class, we'll fish for them differently than if looking for
a large spotted bass," he said. "It's not unusual to get 20 to 25 good bites a day with the smaller spots with larger fish possible.
"On the larger spots, the number of bites will be less, of course, but we'll be fishing for fish in the 3- to 5-pound class," Wilson said. "On a typical day, we'll encounter several fish that size during April."
Targeting spotted bass means fishing main-lake rocky points, Wilson said. He said he'll be fishing the points differently for the targeted size of spotted bass, but the same general areas will be productive. But the fishing pattern will be deeper for the spotted bass than for the largemouth.
"My main target areas for the spotted bass, regardless of size, will be rocky points along the lower part of the Rocky River and all of the Savannah River," Wilson said.
"For the average-sized spotted bass I'll have the boat in about 20 feet of water, casting toward the shoreline," he said. "However, I'll be fishing the 12- to 15-foot depth range. There are various commercial rigs available that work well for this fishing, but I'll use a basic jighead and hook with a straight 6-inch finesse worm trailing. My favorite two color patterns are cotton candy and green pumpkin. I'll allow the rig to sink to the bottom and slowly hop it back to the boat."
Wilson said one of the advantages of this style of fishing is that he frequently encounters schools of fish.
"It's not unusual to catch several fish from a single place, which can be quite exciting," he said. "But patience is also a key, as we may fish a few points with no bites at all. But when you get on fish in this size-class, you can have some fun and fast action."
When targeting the larger spotted bass, Wilson said he will stay on the rocky point pattern, but searches out the ones that have some underwater timber.
"Typically, I'll keep the boat in 20 to 25 feet of water," he said. "The timbered area should have the tops of the trees in about 15 feet of water for best results this time of the year. The lure I use is a Fish Head Spin in 3/8-ounce size. To this jighead and hook I add a Zoom fluke trailer, with pearl being the best color pattern. However, white is also a very productive color. The lure is simply a jighead with a hook and a willow-leaf spinner. The bait, with the fluke trailer, imitates a herring, which is the favored forage of the large spotted bass all year.
"Those 3- to 5-pound spotted bass thrive on herring, so this is an ideal lure for them," he said. "I cast it over the timber and let it sink to just above or right at the top of the trees and swim it in. This is actually a pretty consistent pattern for most of the year."
Wilson said some spots in the 6-pound class are now being caught in Lake Russell.
"April is big-fish month for both the largemouth and spotted bass," Wilson said. "Plus, the action is excellent for numbers of fish as well. It's an ideal time to be fishing Lake Russell for black bass."
Check out Wilson's Web site for more information. (706-283-3336, www.wilsonsguideservice.com). If you want to plan a trip, call him on the phone. He prefers talking with prospective clients rather than trading e-mails.
Lake Wylie is another lake for springtime black bass action. Largemouths are the primary black bass species here and, as at Lake Russell, largemouth fishing in April on Wylie is primarily a shallow-water fishing experience. This Catawba River Lake will produce plenty of hefty fish, and the South Carolina portion of the lake has a wide diversity of cover for fishing shallow water.
Many largemouth bass anglers focus their efforts on the major creeks during the spring. Many will key on specific targets, including points, pockets, shallow flats, humps and also docks and sunken brushpiles.
One of the top fish-producing lures during the late-March until early-May period will be bottom bumpers. Both Texas and Carolina rigs are good choices, with 6-inch worms or lizards being very effective. Color patterns that work well include junebug, black with blue tail and watermelon.
In addition, since much of the fishing is shallow, spinnerbaits are very productive as well. Many prefer the 1/4-ounce spinnerbait with 3-inch twister trailer in white or chartreuse. However spinnerbaits in the 3/8-ounce and larger varieties will enable fishermen to work slightly deeper off points, down ledges and around slightly deeper cover extremely well.
Another favorite lure type at Lake Wylie is crankbaits worked off shallow, sloping points and along dock edges. They also excel at taking bass around the scattered stumps on some of the shallow flats near creek channels.
A good topographic map of Lake Wylie will help you pinpoint many of these potential target sites.
One technique that's worked well on this lake during the spring is flipping the docks. There are times the bass get on a strong dock pattern and if you can effectively flip, by using the 7 1/2-foot flipping stick, you can cover a lot of potentially good bass-holding cover quickly and effectively.
The most productive docks can be learned over time, but check out a good Lake Wylie map and work the docks that are located on steep banks. Use a 3/8- to 5/8-ounce banana head jig and grub rigged weedless, or a 7-inch Texas-rigged worm with 3/8-ounce or larger pegged sinker. There are a lot of docks with brush placed around them, intended specially for crappie fishing, but these are ideal springtime largemouth areas as well.
While considering brush, there are many other crappie beds and brushpiles placed in the lake, and a high percentage of them are in water 6 to 8 feet deep. While that's not considered shallow water, plenty of largemouths will orient to these places throughout the spring. These places can be particularly good right after a cold front pushes through. Often the fish will back off the shoreline for a day or two and hold in these kinds of places.
There are almost unlimited cover and structure options on Lake Wylie. If you don't fish the lake a lot, one way to hedge your bet is to begin your day focusing on points and pockets. Most of the major creeks are loaded with these obvious features. A good choice of lures would be plastic worms or lizards rigged for shallow presentation, and topwater lures, such as buzzbaits.
During April, it's reasonable to fish shallow-water areas throughout the course of the day. With decent water color and by taking advantage of shady banks, you can orient your fishing to shallow-water cover with a high degree of success.
Most of the schooling fish action takes place later in the year, but some consistent topwater schooling activity will begin to occur by the middle of the month. For this reason, have a heavy, minnow-imitating lure ready that can be cast long distances. Often a bass or two will bust into shad but only offer a short window of opportunity to
catch them. A quick cast and a lure worked though the places they have just surfaced will result in a quick fish or two. While it can occur throughout the spring, the latter part of April usually offers plenty of these types of opportunities.
One other pattern during April is to fish at night. While some anglers do work the lake at night during the spring, there's usually not a lot of boating activity. There are a couple of advantages to fishing at night. One certainly is less competition. On weekends, the lake can receive considerable pressure from the bustling Rock Hill and Charlotte communities. Another is simply the opportunity to find more large fish feeding in the shallows.
The big largemouths are more susceptible in shallow water at night, and black buzzbaits and dark-colored plastic worms are two popular choices.
While these two lakes, Russell and Wylie, have many differences, they do have a common thread of being productive black bass lakes. Between the two of them, they will offer a large diversity of fishing styles that should suit just about anyone.
Make your plans and head for one of these lakes now. Or better yet, plan an April trip to both.