October 04, 2010
The outlook for crappie fishing in South Carolina is strong for 2007. Here are some top lakes to consider fishing this year. (February 2007)
By Terry Madewell
Bill Garner holds up a fresh example of Wateree crappie taken on a jig in the early season.
Photo by Terry Madewell.
Crappie fishing in South Carolina is generally right where fishermen and fisheries biologists want it to be: outstanding throughout the state. After an excellent spring fishing season in 2006 at many lakes around the state, any effects of the long-term drought of a few years ago seem to be gone. According to several SCDNR fisheries biologists and technicians, the much improved water conditions in the past couple of years have provided excellent spawning opportunities in most lakes. That combined with water conditions suitable for successful fishing during the spring has seen crappie catches rebound from a couple of off years. Overall, the fishing is great at most lakes.
"From a big picture, statewide, perspective, it's difficult to single out one or two lakes, when the overall picture is so good," said Val Nash, Chief of Freshwater Fisheries for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). "But there are always some lakes that seem to be ideal for crappie fishing."
Nash agreed that some of the lakes that are traditional crappie hotpots include lakes Wateree, Greenwood and Russell. However, he is quick to point out that many other lakes will provide outstanding crappie fishing during the spring of 2007. He noted that as always, the local weather conditions during the spring can cause the fish-catching conditions to change, but the crappie population is good enough throughout the state that with decent weather, fishermen should be in crappie heaven in 2007.
We'll take a closer look at each of the above-named lakes and explore how to fish each one successfully. We'll consider the best lures and baits for success and the structure patterns of where the fish are likely to be found.
Bill Garner lives near Lake Wateree and is on the lake several times a week from the end of deer season in January, until it's time to re-work his deer stands in the summer. According to Garner, the 2006 season was outstanding and he thinks the 2007 season may be one of the best in years.
"I caught crappie of all sizes in 2006, in big numbers. That lets me know we've got a great overall population of fish in the lake and I'm really excited about the 2007 season. In addition, we caught a lot of really big crappie last year, with a number of fish topping 3 pounds and many, many slabs over 2 pounds each. A lot of fishermen don't realize how many slab crappie are in this lake," Garner said.
"I think a lot of fishermen know Lake Wateree is a good lake for numbers of fish, and it certainly is. But if you're patient and work the right places in the right manner, there's a lot of huge fish that are caught from the lake as well," Garner added.
According to Garner, the water temperature, depth and speed are keys for finding fish during the early spring at Lake Wateree.
"A lot of fishermen try to rush the spawning season and fish the shallows too early. Plus, they tend to fish too fast while the water temperature is still too cold," Garner noted.
We witnessed what he called a good example of that last spring. There were several boats working the same dropoff he was. He knew most of the fishermen and he knew that most of them were fishing the right depths with the right rigs. However, they were simply moving too fast.
"They would ease by my boat as they trolled along with their electric motors and were only catching occasional fish. Typically, they were not catching a lot of big fish either," he said.
He caught a nice limit of fish in about three hours, including two fish in the 3-pound class from the same place.
"The only thing I was doing different was fishing much slower," he said. "When the water is still cool in the early season, you've got to slow the lure presentation down a great deal. By doing this, you'll not only catch more numbers of fish, but you'll hook into some of those huge slabs as well."
Another technique that Garner uses is his bait and lure selection.
Early in the season, when the fish are still holding deep on the drops, he fishes mostly live minnows, or jigs tipped with minnows. He will use 1/2- and 3/4-ounce sinkers with swivels to keep the bait near vertical under the boat.
"That helps me see those light bites better, by keeping the bait nearly vertical under the boat as I move along. I usually don't get more than a 10- to 15-degree angle from vertical in the lines as I motor along. That also helps keep me at the right speed by watching the angle where my line enters the water."
While he admits that jigs alone are great on Wateree, with an assortment of colors producing really well, he also points out that jigs produce best right at the pre-spawn and spawn. During the early season, he's found that it's best to use live bait for more bites and bigger crappie.
"Once the fish begin to move more shallow and into the many coves and creeks for spawning, then jigs work much better," he said. "Plus, you can somewhat speed up your pace then as well."
While the fish patterns will vary during the spring, Garner said that a great place to begin any trip on Lake Wateree, before the spawn, is to start fishing 13 to 15 feet deep in water depths ranging from 18 to 22 feet deep. If the water temperature is on the rise, then he'll begin to check shallower water if this doesn't produce. If a cold front has blown through the area, he'll gradually work deeper until he patterns the fish on that day.
"As we approach the spawn, the general pattern will be for the fish to move more shallow on the ledges and then move to the shallows to spawn," he said. "However, I have found that not all the fish will spawn at once. You can generally catch a lot of fish in the 10- to 20-foot depths right on through the spawn. However, the action in the shallows on this lake can be great, so when it happens a lot of fishermen will go shallow with the fish and make outstanding catches."
Garner noted the entire lake is productive, with the upper end of the lake, in the Wateree Creek area, usually getting good first. Garner primarily fishes the mid-lake sector from the Beaver Creek area down to the Clearwater Marina area. Other prime areas include the Dutchman and Singleton creek areas slightly farther up the lake.
There are numerous launching ramps throughout the lake and the Lake Wateree State Park, adjacent to Dutchman's Creek, has excellent facilities for launching, picnic and camping.
Lake Greenwood has long been one of the premier crappie fishing lakes in South Carolina. The lake appears to have had an outstanding season in 2006, and according to local experts, there is no reason to expect the lake will be anything short of phenomenal again in 2007.
Ray McGowan, owner of McGowan's Marina on Lake Greenwood, noted that this lake produces crappie on a year-round basis.
"The fishing on Lake Greenwood is great for crappie almost anytime; however, as we get into the spring season and the water begins to rise, the fishing gets absolutely sensational," McGowan said. "Not only do the fish bite well during the day, they are caught in equally or even better numbers at night. It's almost 24- hour, 'round the clock, crappie catching, during the spring season."
During the early portion of the year before the lake gets into the pre-spawn and spawn mode, many of the crappie will still be orienting to deeper water, such as along the ledges, points and creek channel drops. McGowan noted that it's best to look for cover, such as brush, logs, stumps and fish hides placed by anglers for best results.
"Another good bet is the docks around the lake that have deep water near them. Early in the season, these places can be dynamite, especially here in the upper end of the lake. Find a dock with good water depth around it and you might find a crappie-fishing honeyhole," he said.
The favorite technique is to use live minnows with either a cork rigged a few feet above the minnow or, for fishing deeper water, a tight-line approach.
Even as early as February and right on throughout the spring, McGowan noted that there is excellent fishing around many of the bridges on the lake, both day and night.
"Probably one of the most popular is the Rabon Creek Bridge. Some days, and at night, fishermen will be fishing almost shoulder-to-shoulder catching limits of crappie," he said. "It is absolutely amazing to me how many crappie this lake produces. Plus, the size of the crappie remains excellent as well. It's hard to imagine a better crappie fishing lake in the state, especially during the February through April time period."
McGowan noted that even if anglers do not have a boat, they can fish from the bridges using lanterns at night, and can fish effectively from the shoreline in some places, to make excellent catches. Of course, fishermen with boats are more mobile and can try many different places if they need to. But the point is if you don't have a boat, you can still catch crappie at this lake.
As the fish enter the post-spawn period, they will briefly return to the pre-spawn areas and stage for a while. Then they will return to their deep-water haunts. However, even in deep water, they still eat and therefore are still available for good fishing, and night-fishing in the late spring and early summer continues to be very productive.
The Reedy River and Saluda River arms of the lake are great places for crappie on this Greenwood. In fact, most of creeks and coves will produce outstanding results through the spring season. The Greenwood State Park area, with an abundance of creeks and coves on both sides of the lake, is also known as an outstanding crappie-producing area.
There are numerous boat-launching facilities on the lake making access to any section of the lake easy.
LAKE RICHARD B. RUSSELL
Lake Russell, located on the Savannah River chain of lakes, is particularly well known for its crappie production. One of the key features that make this lake so good for crappie is its abundance of woody cover throughout the lake. Plus, the water depths are good and the annual lake fluctuation (barring unusual weather patterns, of course) is much less than Lake Hartwell upstream and Clarks Hill Lake downstream.
Many crappie fishermen have the same question as I did the first time I fished the lake for crappie: Where do you start with all this obvious woody cover to fish?
The key is, as it usually is for good crappie fishing, is what lies underneath the water's surface. Specifically, I'm referring to drops or ledges, creek channels, points, humps and other bottom contour changes.
With so much woody cover, unless you employ the underwater contours to your advantage, you will be hard-pressed to find a repeatable pattern on this lake. This can be particularly true during the spring when water and weather conditions are changing and the fishing pattern changes as we go through the early cold-weather fishing season, pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn.
A pattern used by many anglers in the early season, or when a cold front pushes the spring migration back, is to fish minnows vertically alongside the standing timber in deep water. Usually the trees along the channel drops are ideal and you can change the bottom depth quickly by moving only short distances. When you connect on a productive depth pattern, you can quickly move around catching fish from similar spots.
While many anglers have their favored areas, the many parts of this lake will produce excellent results throughout the spring. One of the keys that local anglers have shared with me is to keep on the move, working different depths and different forms of cover until you connect. Most agree that once you identify a productive pattern, odds are great you can consistently catch fish repeating the process in similar areas.
As the water warms, many anglers will use a long pole with a slip-float. This tackle enables anglers to cover an area quickly and to quickly adjust the depth they're fishing. Many times, a very productive pattern, especially as you near the pre-spawn and spawn, is to fish 4 to 6 feet deep in about 8 to 10 feet of water around cover. As the spawn approaches, you can go even shallower and in the coves and creeks that may have slightly better water color. In these cases, you can go quite shallow and be very successful.
The state line runs down the center of the lake and there is often some excellent fishing on the Georgia side of the lake. Georgia and South Carolina have a reciprocal license agreement on Lake Russell. This means if you have a valid South Carolina license you can legally fish on the Georgia side of the lake. While this is a crappie fishing article, for your information, live bait will often catch a largemouth bass when crappie fishing. If you do, keep in mind that there is a 12-inch size limit on largemouth bass in the Georgia waters of the Savannah River and associated reservoirs.
Nocturnal fishing is also a good bet at Lake Russell during the entire spring. Fishing from boats along the edges of creek channels, as well as from bridges, will produce outstanding results. Some anglers will use their boats to get under the bridges along the pilings and fish around these areas.
By no means is this a rundown of all the great crappie fishing places you can enjoy in 2007.
Lake Monticello, just north of Columbia, has been enjoying some outstanding crappie fishing during the past few years. The lake seems to have escaped the attention garnered by many other lakes. Trolling multiple rods is a very productive technique at this lake. This is one of the better "sleeper" lakes in the state.
In addition, Lake Murray is enjoying a big resurgence since the lake level came back up. Fishing is expected to be outstanding there as well in 2007. Typically, the upper end of the lake will start the crappie boom early in the season and the excellent fishing progresses down the lake as the water temperature warms.
Also, Lake Moultrie has been producing some huge catches of slab crappie in recent years, with good numbers of fish reported as well. While some anglers note the numbers of crappie are not as prolific as in the past, there are still plenty of crappie, according to local anglers. Much of the fishing on this lake is along the ledges of the humps and channels where old stumprows exist and where brushpiles have been placed. When the spring spawn is underway, the fish will flood into the shallows around this large, open lake.
There's going to be outstanding crappie fishing close to about everyone in the state this spring. These lakes are certainly among those that will have great crappie fishing seasons, weather permitting. But frankly, it's hard to go wrong when crappie fishing in the Palmetto State.
Unless you just don't go. So, go now!