October 04, 2010
There's a wide range of quality fishing for crappie in South Carolina. This forecast can help you target the best fisheries near you. (January 2008)
This fat pre-spawn crappie was taken by the author in Lake Greenwood.
Photo courtesy of Bennett Kirkpatrick.
Some while ago, a close friend of mine from Winnsboro brought a game warden with him to fish for crappie one day on Lake Wylie. I had just put in my fall brushpiles the week before and they were full of fish.
The weather was quite warm for that time of year and we were still fishing with small minnows. We motored over to a long sandbar on Big Allison Creek, and seined up our minnows for the day. Minnows about the length of a matchstick were thick as the hair on a dog's back there; in two dips, we had enough to fish with.
It wasn't very far to one of my new brushpiles and we were fishing within minutes. After putting out anchors fore and aft, I described the perimeters of the brush to my guests. The water was 20 feet deep there with the top of the brush just 12 feet below the surface. With 8-pound-test line weighted with a split shot about the size of an English pea, the bait will fall through the water column about a foot per second. After telling the group to start off with a 10 count, we all cast beyond the brush. After a count of 10, we started to reel slowly in an even cadence.
All three of us each caught a nice crappie on our first cast. In the ensuing half hour, we boated around two dozen fat crappie. We only fished four brushpiles that fall morning before we limited out with 90 crappie. The game warden fishing with us that morning made a statement that I will never forget. "I didn't know that you could legally catch crappie like that with a hook and line," he said.
Well, obviously you can. In fact, across South Carolina, you can find places to put limits of decent crappie in your boat. We talked with fisheries biologists and other experts for each region of the state to see what they had to say about crappie populations. Here's the outlook for the year in South Carolina.
The major lakes in Region 1 are the Savannah, Jocassee, Keowee, Clarks Hill, Russell, Hartwell, Greenwood and Lake Secession.
I talked with Officer Gene Hayes, fisheries biologist for the SCDNR, and asked him how he would rate these lakes for crappie fishing potential and prospects. Some of the best lakes are Lake Greenwood, Clarks Hill, Lake Hartwell and Lake Russell. Officer Hayes' favorite lake for crappie is Greenwood. There are several reasons for this. The growth rate and the catch rate are high, and when both of these quality indicators are high, you have a good crappie fishery on your hands.
Additionally, Hayes fishes Greenwood for much the same reason that many anglers fish their favorite crappie lakes: It's close to home. (In this case, Hayes lives 10 miles from Greenwood.)
Officer Hayes' favorite lures are mini-jigs in the 1/16- and 1/32-ounce sizes. The most popular colors are chartreuse, white, blue and red according to water conditions.
Of course, live bait is both traditional and effective for crappie. Small to medium shiners are an old standby that many anglers choose.
When asked about studies done on the lakes in his region, Hayes reported that Lake Secession and Lake Greenwood were the only recently studied lakes. This study took place in 2005; in that year, Secession had a weak recruitment year. A weak recruitment year in 2005 will translate into just an average year for 2008. Lake Greenwood had a creel survey in 2005 and 34 percent of the fishermen who fished there targeted crappie; that means one out of three persons that fished there were crappie fishermen.
Joey Lindler is State Lakes Coordinator for the SCDNR, and is a dedicated crappie fisherman who lives in Chapin, S.C. He primarily trolls using a spider rig. His favorite lure is a 1/32- or 1/16-ounce jig with a lip-hooked minnow.
Like Hayes, he prefers to fish Lake Greenwood. Where he plans to fish on the lake on any given day will determine what landing he will use. The State Park and Reeder's Landing are two good mid-lake landings. When fishing the upper part of the lake, he will use the Boy Scout Landing or the Phillips Boat Landing No. 4.
Lindler targets crappie along the creek channels in February and March. April finds him fishing around docks and shallow brush. During the summer and fall months, he fishes deep creek channels and brush in 25 to 30 feet of water.
Billy Hoole runs The Sportsman's Friend in Greenwood. He is a good contact for water conditions, current fishing reports and what the crappie are biting this week. Give him a call at (864) 229-7061.
Jim Pratt lives in Greenville and is a "regular" who fishes for crappie in Lake Hartwell and Clarks Hill. During the hot months of summer, he targets boathouses that house pontoon boats in 15 to 20 feet of water at Lake Hartwell. Shade and deep water are what he is looking for here. He "shoots the docks" with hair jigs that he ties himself. He "shoots" every nook and cranny of the dock to include under and beside the pontoon boat. The spaces between the flotation for the dock are another prime target for Pratt.
A destination he highly recommends for spring is the Hester's Bottoms at Mt. Carmel State Park on Clarks Hill.
He said, "This area is the best crappie fishing in the South at that time."
He recommends fishing with a float with the jig 2 to 4 feet below the float. Be sure to run your clinch knot tight on the eye of the jig's hook so that the line is 90 degrees away from the main shank of the hook; this makes the jig run parallel to the surface like a live minnow swims. If your jig hangs vertical as opposed to horizontal, this will drastically cut down on strikes. Fish down the banks. Sandy banks, rocky banks, exposed brush and logs are prime places to fish, too.
Region 2 is primarily made up of lakes on the Catawba River chain. Lake Wylie is the northernmost lake of this chain, followed by Fishing Creek. Stumpy Pond is next along with Lake Wateree. Lake Monticello is also in this region.
All of these lakes are on the Catawba Chain of Lakes except Lake Monticello, which is in the western part of Fairfield County.
Elizabeth Osier, Region 2 coordinator, noted that, "Some smaller lakes in the region are Wallace in Marlboro County and Dargan's Pond in Darlington County. Electrofishing samples in the spring there show
a poor yield. Trap-netting is done for Lake Wylie in the fall, and is more effective than electrofishing in the spring, which is done on smaller lakes."
Officers Osier and Stroud were kind enough to share trap net data with me for Lake Wylie. The total crappie captured during the 2006 study was 167, covering 120 trap set nights. Crappie captured during the 2005 study totaled 136 in 24 trap set nights.
Note that in 2006 only 31 more crappie were collected than were collected in 2005 despite the fact that three times the number of night sets were in the 2006 sample. Numbers per night set were down drastically in 2006.
The total crappie aged in the 2006 study was 258. Males comprised 48.4 percent of the sample; females were 50.8 percent; 0.8 percent were sexually immature. Black crappie captured during the 2006 sampling season ranged from 2 to 10 years old. No young-of-the-year (age 0 or spring 2005-06 spawned fish) were captured and no 1-year-old fish were captured, either. Trap net studies on Lake Wylie have shown poor recruitment. Trap netting on Lake Wylie is targeted to run for three consecutive years starting in 2006.
Crappie fishing in this region has progressively slowed down in the past couple of years. Part of the reason for this is poor recruitment, but there is also an unknown factor involved.
There is no scientific evidence to support some of the theories, but many local fishermen share a common theory. White perch, blue catfish and stripers have a good foothold in the waters of the Catawba Chain of Lakes.
Robert, who works at Catawba Bait and Tackle in Rock Hill, is an ardent fisherman in his own right. I was lamenting poor crappie fishing on Lake Wylie for the past year or so when he made this statement: "When blue catfish and white perch are introduced into a fishery, watch what happens to crappie fishing in the next couple of years; it usually shows a drastic decline."
Blue catfish love to eat crappie almost as much as flathead cats love to eat redbreast bream. Flatheads' preference for redbreast bream has severely curtailed this fishery on the Edisto River -- so much so that a restocking program had to be put into effect.
White perch, of course, do not eat adult crappie, but they do have a ravenous appetite for crappie eggs. Is this a major part of the poor recruitment of crappie on the Catawba Chain?
Bill Nichols and James Covington of Rock Hill are of the same opinion as I am. I have fished Lake Wylie in excess of 100 days a year since the 1960s, and the current crappie population is the lowest I have ever experienced. I keep a daily total of fish that the fishermen in my boat catch, and have records for many seasons. Our catch rate is down around 90 percent. White perch showed up in Lake Wylie several years ago and crappie numbers being caught started on a downhill slide.
I talked with Officer Robert Stroud of the SCDNR about this problem. He told me that there was no official data to support this, but that white perch had the reputation of raiding crappie bedding sites. He said when white perch were introduced into a fishery that is shared with white bass, records show that white bass numbers decreased.
He thinks that our crappie cycle is "At the bottom of the pendulum swing," and expects it to start back uphill shortly. When quizzed about the connection of white perch eating crappie eggs, he said, "I don't have any data to support this, but white perch have a reputation for being ferocious crappie egg eaters."
Crappie fishing on the Catawba Chain of Lakes has been outstanding in the past, but something is happening to cause a decline, starting in 2005 and continuing through last year.
Up until 2005, I experienced outstanding crappie fishing in Lake Wylie, as did many others who fished brushpiles there. I have in excess of 200 brushpiles in Lake Wylie located at various depths, so I can fish at almost any depth crappie are holding. Crappie migrate from the depths in the late fall, and in winter months follow creek channels to the mouths of coves throughout the lake as the temperatures of spring began to heat the water up.
Typically, fish would stage in 8- to 12-foot depths before spawning. Once the spawn occurred, crappie primarily went to the shallows; however, in the past 10 years or so, they seemed to spawn in deeper and deeper water. Once spawning was completed, crappie would reverse their routes, and end up in deep water for the summer. Late August was generally when water temperatures begin to cool a little and crappie start migrating back into water depths in the 20-foot range. This trend would continue until mid-November, when they typically start toward winter depths. Sometimes, they would visit the shallows (5- to 10-foot depths) for a week or two before going to deep water for the winter.
Some of the main lakes in Region 3 are Lake Murray and the Parr Reservoir. Lake Murray is a good bet for crappie. Parr Reservoir has crappie, but the quantity is low. The upper forks area in Lake Murray is probably your best bet for crappie. Most crappie are caught by spider rigging with jigs.
Hal Beard, Freshwater Fisheries Coordinator for Region 3, said that the SCDNR trap nets every other year on Lake Murray. The last sampling took place in the fall of 2005. Trap netting was done again in October of 2007. A total of 223 black crappie were caught and 82 percent of these were young-of-the-year fish in the 2005 sampling. This is a tremendous young-of-the-year catch!
Those crappie will be 3 years old in 2008, so fishing should be great this year. Lake Murray had had a drastic drawdown to build a new dam; the water was back up to normal in 2007 for the first time since the drawdown. Most of Lake Murray is void of vegetation and trees in the water. This is not true for the upper portions of the lake. There are 22 fishing attractors in the lower part of Murray that crappie fishermen use.
Officer Beard also noted that during the winter months, biologists trap net in open water, primarily for stripers, but they catch a good many crappie in the 1 1/2- to 2-pound class in these nets accidentally. Crappie fishermen who fish the lake regularly quite often put in their own brushpiles, and have good success fishing there.
Crappie habitat in Region 4 is primarily composed of the Santee Cooper system of lakes Moultrie and Marion.
Biologist Scott Lamprecht rates the Santee Cooper as average for crappie. Studies have shown that recruitment is low, but also that these waters have an extremely high growth rate, which results in catches of low numbers of very large crappie.
"If you are satisfied with catching 10 quality crappie in a day's fishing, the Santee is the place to go; 2- and 3-pound crappie are not uncommon," Lamprecht said.
You might want to fish the inshore areas of Lake Marion in the spring, and switch to open-water sunken brushpiles in both Moultrie and Marion later in
the year. Minnows and 1/16-ounce chartreuse jigs are good producers here.
Another method of increasing your catch and learning the water in this complex fishery is to hire the services of a knowledgeable guide. I have personally fished with Pete Prichard and his son, Barry. We caught plenty of crappie that day. The Prichards have a brushpile system of about 300 trees to choose from. If you are interested in fishing with them, phone (803) 478-7533. Although I have never fished with L.C. Wolfe, his services as a crappie guide have been highly recommended to me; he can be contacted at (843) 753-2044.
REGIONS IN SOUTH CAROLINA
Region 1 is Oconee, Pickens, Greenville, Spartanburg, Anderson, Laurens, Abbeville, Greenwood, Union, Cherokee, McCormick and Edgefield counties. Phone is (864) 654-1671. Dan Rankin is the regional coordinator.
Region 2 is York, Chester, Fairfield, Lancaster, Kershaw, Lee, Chesterfield, Marlboro, Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Marion and Williamsburg counties. Phone is (843) 661-4767. Elizabeth Osier is the regional coordinator.
Region 3 is Newberry, Saluda, Aiken, Lexington, Richland, Calhoun, Orangeburg, Barnwell, Allendale, Bamberg, Sumter and Clarendon counties. Phone is (803) 955-0462. Hal Beard is the regional coordinator.
Region 4 is Horry, Hampton, Georgetown, Berkley, Charlestown, Dorchester, Colleton, Jasper and Beaufort counties. Phone is (843) 953-5160. Scott Lamprecht is the regional coordinator.
It seems as if the Catawba Chain of Lakes will be below average for crappie fishing in 2008, but the majority of the other main lakes in South Carolina hold good promise. You definitely can't catch crappie if you stay at home! Get out to the lake and try.
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