Summertime can produce some great largemouth bass fishing on Wylie and Russell. (July 2006)
PHOTO BY JOHN NEPORADNY JR.
It was my favorite time of the day, and the day was about to be a good one. I was on Lake Wylie in early July and I was hunting for largemouth bass. The muggy air was a harbinger that the day ahead would be a hot one. But for now, the calm lake and comfortable pre-dawn air felt perfect. I had motored out of Big Allison Creek to an area between two main-lake points where I'd found schooling fish on previous trips. I cut the big motor and allowed the electric kicker to slowly and quietly slip me toward my target as I sipped my coffee.
It was a weekday and all was quiet on this normally bustling lake. In one sense, it was almost a shame a largemouth had to bust into that school of shad. Just kidding . . . I set my coffee cup down in haste and promptly knocked it over as I hustled to get my rod. I kicked the electric motor into high gear and closed on the target. Another fish broke into the baitfish in the same location. By this time I was within casting range. A side-armed, rifled cast put my lure just past the schooling fish. I was hooked into a chunky largemouth within a few seconds.
That action lasted for a few minutes, then some fish broke on the other point. By the time I slipped over to it, the topwater schooling action was over. However, with my trusty June bug Trick Worm, I managed to hook up with two additional hefty largemouths.
When the sun crept over the horizon, the shallow-water action slowed, then died. But it had been a good start to a good day of summertime bass fishing on Lake Wylie. Since I was committing the entire day to fishing at this fertile bass lake, I had good reason to believe it would end in basically the same manner, in the same general location. In between would be a day of probing the depths with worms, crankbaits and spinnerbaits, just to keep things interesting.
Summertime certainly doesn't mean the end of good largemouth bass fishing in South Carolina. There are many lakes that produce quality fishing throughout the summer if you know where, when and how.
Lake Wylie and Lake Russell are two of those potential hotspots. While Russell is a much clearer lake than Wylie, there's plenty of woody cover in the lake and the opportunities to make excellent summertime catches exist. This is especially true if you'll fish during the nocturnal hours for the shallow-water action. But first, we'll take a more detailed look at Lake Wylie.
A good bet on Lake Wylie, if you're not familiar with the lake, is to begin the day by fishing points and pockets. A good choice of lures would be topwaters, such as buzzbaits as well as plastic worms. Under the right conditions, particularly cloud cover or wind, this pattern can hold throughout the day at times. But typically, you'll need to look toward deeper structures as the sun gets higher in the sky.
Fishing the points is one of the proven techniques for Lake Wylie hot-weather bass fishing. But even if you catch a couple of fish early in the day, don't get locked solely into this type of fishing throughout the entire day. In some cases, you'll find it very productive, although you'll generally need to back away from the shallow-water action you can sometimes enjoy right at dawn and dusk. If point fishing for largemouth bass gets slow, mix it up with other techniques.
Working the deep humps is a favored tactic for successful bass tournament anglers during this time of the year. As summer patterns evolve, many largemouth fishermen key on midlake humps, long, sloping points that fall into deep water and the edge lines of drops into deep water in the main Catawba River channel.
One effective way to explore these areas to determine if fish are there is to work across the structure with your electric motor, dragging a bottom bumper along. One successful angler I know relies on a small watermelon-color finesse worm on a Carolina rig. He uses the trolling motor to move along, bumping the rig along the bottom in a potentially productive area. It allows him to cover a lot of ground when searching for fish in practice days before a tournament. Once he catches a fish, he will then work the area in more traditional ways to pinpoint the location of the fish. Thus, on tournament day, he has the position pinpointed and can cast to a specific target.
This tactic works great for tournament fishermen, but it works just fine for the rest of us, too. The biggest difference is if you're not planning a tournament trip in the immediate future, you're not saving the fish for a later date.
Another key to success on Lake Wylie in hot weather, right on through August and into September, is versatility in your choice of structure to fish and lure presentation. Move to new structures or to different parts of the lake if you're not getting bites. Try a variety of lures and tactics with a dose of patience and persistence. Generally, sometime during the course of the day you'll likely hit a productive pattern.
While there's ample room in the South Carolina section of the lake to spend a day, I confess to purchasing an out-of-state North Carolina fishing license if I'm planning on fishing here more than a couple of days. It simply allows me the freedom to move around, especially when I get on a strong pattern. Again, that's not a prerequisite for success, but many largemouth bass fishermen I know do exactly that. It does open up much more of the lake for fishing.
Some fishermen will also choose to work mostly shallow-water areas during the course of the day. With decent water color and taking advantage of shady banks, you can orient your fishing to shallow-water cover with some degree of success.
There are many shallow-water spots with good stumpy or brushy cover in the larger creeks, such as both Little and Big Allison creeks, on the lower end of the lake. Shallow stumps, logs, brush and even steep, sloping shorelines with rock and wood will produce. I have enjoyed some excellent shallow-water fishing on those unusual days when we have cloud cover or a light rain during July.
Another excellent July and summer-long tactic is to fish the deep-water crappie beds in the lake. There are scads of brushpiles, originally placed for crappie, in this very productive crappie-fishing lake that are prime targets for holding largemouth bass from this time of the year right on through fall.
You can get lucky and spot the brushpiles with your graph as you motor along, or if you've been here before, you may recall seeing crappie anglers working these places at other times of the year. Once you get close, you can find them with your graph. Try snaking a Texas-rigged plastic worm through them.
Of course, if you haven't been on the lake a lot, then use your graph to find these manmade, fish-holding areas. Slowly motor across points and along channel ledges in 10 to 25 feet of water in a patterned fashion and you should spot several places in short order. Often, while motoring from one place to another, back off the throttle and keep one eye on the depthfinder. I've found some very good summertime bass hotspots in this manner.
You often don't have to fish real deep water to be successful at Lake Wylie, but the 8- to 16-foot depth range is usually a good zone to start looking in during early summer. As August arrives, you'll perhaps have to hunt and peck a bit deeper for consistent success.
One of the top fish producers during July will be bottom bumpers, but that's not the only way to catch Wylie bass. Of course, the plastic worm rigged either Texas or Carolina style will be a very good choice. Spinnerbaits (the 3/8-ounce and larger varieties) will get down and work ledges and deep cover extremely well. Deep-diving crankbaits worked off long, sloping points and along channel edges, especially if there are some scattered stumps in conjunction with the bottom structure, are also excellent choices.
Some anglers do work the lake at night during the summer. The recreational crowds during the day can create distractions during the summer months, with July being a time period of particularly heavy traffic . . . especially on weekends. The shallow-water action does improve during the nocturnal hours.
The largemouths are more susceptible in shallow water at night and black buzzbaits and dark-colored plastic worms are two popular choices, especially for big fish at night.
Now let's switch gears and look at productive patterns on Lake Russell.
First of all, sandwiched between lakes Hartwell and Thurmond, Lake Russell is a mainstream Savannah River Lake. One big difference is that quite a bit of wood was left in the lake, which does make the bass fishery more interesting. While patterns that work at either of the other two lakes can work here, there are several unique patterns we'll discuss as well.
One thing that is different compared with the other two big Savannah River lakes is the lake level remains relatively stable throughout the year, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Travis Jackson, a tournament angler out of Spartanburg, reports that Lake Russell can be very productive during July.
"There are many different patterns that can work on this lake during the summer months," Jackson said. "We've found good fishing in quite shallow water back in the creek, and we've caught fish from along the main-river channels out of 30 feet of water on a return trip a few days later."
One key, he notes, is local weather patterns. If there's been a good thunderstorm in the area, he'll get in the back of the creeks where there is plenty of cover and work Rattletraps and Carolina-rigged worms around the heavy cover.
"The whole lake can be good, but one of my favorite spots is a small creek up the Rocky River. It sometimes takes a while to wind our way into the back of the creek, but when we get back there, the area opens up. If there's been a recent rain, washing in some fresh water, we've caught plenty of quality bass in those places very quickly. We've won some tournaments in 30 minutes of great fishing in these places. In some cases, it took nearly that long to get to the spots. But it can certainly be worth it," he noted.
Another good pattern is to work the standing timber along the river channel during this time of the year. Jackson notes that working deep with worms and deep-diving crankbaits can be productive. However, there's one tactic that's produced extremely well with the clear water found in this lake.
"We'll usually fish flukes, either in the snowball or rainbow trout color patterns, around the timber along the edge of the channel. Sometimes the largemouths simply can't stand it and will come up out of the deep water to bust our lures. However, on some days, we have to add a bit of the lead weight to our line, or just a big swivel as weight, to get the fluke down. This is more difficult because it's more of a feel situation and the bite will usually be very subtle. But getting the lure down a few more feet can make a big difference some days," he added.
Jackson also fishes humps and shoals that come near the water's surface at this lake. Shoal marker navigation aids will indicate where some of these are, but you can also find some others by doing as Jackson has: Study lake maps and ride around focused on the depthfinder.
"These humps and shoals are more traditional types of fishing structures, but they will certainly produce here during the summer months. Plus, this (pattern) can be very good both during the day or the night. We'll often use Carolina rigs with 6-inch worms. We've had excellent results on different color patterns, but red shad, black grape and bleu bloodline have been very productive at times. In addition, we'll use deep-running crankbaits," he said.
Jackson notes that patience and persistence are important here. He likes to work the areas slowly and thoroughly, but after giving a spot a good chance to produce, he'll move to another area. If an area does produce a fish or two, he'll definitely return to check it periodically throughout the day.
One tactic that worked well for me on a late July trip was to vertically jig spoons along the river channel. I would see a fish rake into a school of shad, but I couldn't get a bite on topwaters or worms. So I dunked the trusty spoon and began vertically jigging it. The action wasn't fast, but it was consistent and within a couple of hours, we put about a dozen bass in the boat. More importantly, it's typically been productive for a few fish on most trips to this lake during hot weather.
Jackson also said the wind can be an asset at this clear-water lake during the summer. He's found that on windy days, the water being churned up will pull bass to the windy points in very fishable depths. Worms, crankbaits and topwater lures can all be productive.
"The Spook can be a real productive lure in a case like this on occasion. The clear water does sometimes make shallow-water fishing tough, but when you get the right conditions, like discolored water from heavy rains in the creeks or windswept points in the main lake, you can often make big catches in shallow water on this lake," he said.
Jackson adds, however, that deep water is often the key, but not the only recipe, for success during July, and throughout the summer, on Lake Russell.
Another great tactic is nocturnal fishing. At night, the fish do migrate into more fishable depths if they have been deep and tough during the day. As the summer progresses, this can become more important, not only from the perspective of putting your baits in front of active fish, but also from the perspective of putting yourself
out of the way of recreational boaters and watercraft.
There are certainly other excellent places for summertime bass fishing in the Palmetto State. But these two fisheries give you options and diversity in your largemouth bass fishing opportunities. Pick one . . . or better yet, try both this summer to spice up your fishing opportunities.