Looking to get an early start on a cooler full of the main ingredient for a fish fry? Try these three outstanding crappie lakes. (February 2008).
Photo by Marc Murrell
According to Gene Hayes, fisheries biologist for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), Lake Greenwood should be one of the better lakes in the state for crappie fishing this year. Recruitment seems to have been good and the forage base is excellent, so they have plenty to eat.
The growth rate and catch rate are both high in this lake. Two-pound crappie don't even raise an eyebrow here. That is not to say that all your crappie will be that size, but that it is not unusual to catch a 2-pound slab while fishing the lake.
In February and March, you will find most crappie located around creek channels as they prepare to move to the shallows to spawn. Pre-spawn crappie are still in cold water and they are not as active as they will be once the water column begins to warm up. The key to catching these lethargic fish is to fish S L O W L Y! They won't go out of their way to run down a bait, but if you fish slowly, they have more opportunity to catch an easy meal. They use these channels just like motorists use the interstate highway system to drive around the state.
Joey Lindler is the state coordinator for the SCDNR, and a dedicated crappie fisherman. Even though he lives in Chapin, where he has Lake Murray right in his back door, he prefers to fish Lake Greenwood.
"The drive is really not that far and the crappie fishing is fabulous; it's worth the extra time it takes to get there," he said. "Lake Greenwood is my favorite lake in the state to fish. I primarily spider rig when I troll using 1/32- and 1/16-ounce jigs tipped with a lip-hooked minnow."
Lindler likes to "add a little meat" to his offerings to encourage pre-spawn fish to strike. Use light-colored jigs under dark conditions, and dark-colored jigs when conditions are bright. June bug and chartreuse is a dynamite color combination when the water is dark. Blue and white is a better choice when conditions are bright.
Specific creek arms to fish in Lake Greenwood include where the Reedy River joins the Saluda River. The creek channels of both these rivers concentrate pre-spawn crappie, and can easily be accessed from Harris Landing just off Old Laurens Road. (Continued)
Just downstream, where Highway 221 crosses Lake Greenwood, the creek channels on both sides of the bridge can be hot at times, and can be reached by launching at the Palmetto Point Marina just north of the bridge. The fish concentration buoys on both sides of the lake at Puckett's Ferry Development just above the railroad bridge deserve a look, and are not far upstream from the Cane Creek Marina.
Cane Creek, in fact, is another spot to check the channel when the water begins to warm a bit, as is the next creek arm downstream on the north side of the lake leading to T-Roy's Landing. Lower lake destinations are easily reached from the Lake Greenwood State Park located at the end of Highway 41. According to weather and rain conditions, the upper end of the lake usually warms up ahead of the lower part.
Lake Murray is a mid-state destination you might want to try. Hal Beard, freshwater fisheries coordinator for Region 3, said that SCDNR biologists trap net every other year on Lake Murray. In the sampling taken in 2005, 82 percent of the crappie trapped were young-of-the-year. These fish will be 3 years old in 2008, so the fishing should be great! Figures from the 2007 sampling were not available at the time this story was written, but it is anticipated that they will be positive.
Lake Murray had a drastic drawdown to build a new dam. The water was back to normal in 2007 for the first time since the drawdown. Patches of grass, small trees and shrubs that grew while the water was down should be a big plus for spawning crappie. Many local fishermen also took advantage of the drawdown to install brushpiles to concentrate crappie. As the rising waters covered these brushpiles, new feeding and resting areas were available for crappie. Most of the lake is void of vegetation and trees in the water, but the upper part of the lake is blessed with this type structure.
A popular destination for crappie anglers is Dreher Island State Park (803/364-4252) for pre-spawn crappie. By motoring upriver, anglers will be able to access miles and miles of structure that attract crappie. Officer Beard told me that most crappie fishermen spider rig and troll for pre-spawn fish. By spider rigging, you can cover vast amounts of water in a relatively short period of time. Some anglers use sideboards to cover an even wider spread with their offerings. Not only can you cover plenty of water, you can present a vast array of jig weights and colors. When the fishing gets tough, it doesn't hurt to lip-hook a small minnow behind your jig. Most anglers use 1/16- and 1/32-ounce jigs.
Farther upstream from the state park is P&L Campground Restaurant and Landing (803/364-3033) that is convenient to the upper part of Lake Murray -- and it has numerous services to offer. Buffalo Creek runs close to its docks, and is a popular destination for pre-spawn crappie fishermen.
The Little River Marina (803/532-4770) is located just off Highway 391 near the mouth of the Little Saluda River. Where Little Saluda River and the Saluda River join is probably one of the hottest pre-spawn locations on Lake Murray. By trolling the creek channels, anglers can hit action that's downright sizzling at times even though the weather is cool.
For Lowcountry pre-spawn crappie enthusiasts, the Santee lakes of Moultrie and Marion are by far the best bet. Scott Lamprecht is the regional coordinator for Region 4, which takes in lakes Moultrie and Marion, and he rates this fishery as average for crappie numbers -- but the size is phenomenal. Crappie in the 2- to 3-pound category are somewhat common. Crappie numbers are small, but the average size is huge.
To increase your odds for an outstanding trip, you might want to hire the services of a good guide. Two such guides are Prichard's Guide Service (803/478-7533) and L.C. Wolfe (843/753-2044). Both of these professional crappie guides primarily use Lake Marion and they both fish basically the same way: Brushpiles throughout the lake are their mainstay.
Wolf said that during February, if the water is high, "I usually fish fairly shallow water, but if the water is low, look for crappie in the 20-foot depths. Sometimes I use minnows, but quite often jigs are my choice. Let the fish tell you what they want that particular day."
Neither of these guides troll for crappie; they pr
imarily fish brushpiles they have put in the lake. They will motor over brush, and throw out a marker buoy in the top of it. Next, they will motor downwind of the marker, and return using an electric motor. The electric motor is used to keep the boat in position over the brush so that clients can fish straight down over the tree. (The most productive depth for crappie to hold over brush is 10 to 12 feet below the surface in 20 feet of water.) They will continue to fish this brush until the bite slows drastically before moving on to another location.
If a crappie isn't caught within five minutes after they start fishing, they move on. They don't sit in one spot and wait for the fish to show up.
Both guides agree that when a person doesn't have his own brush, all is not lost. Target the channel of the Santee River near the Brickyard, Sixteen Island, Bass Island and Pine Island. Also, check out standing trees and stumps in 20 feet of water, and fish around them. Quite a few such trees will hold a fish or two. Keep your depth recorder on at all times with your eyes glued to it. If you pass over a brush in 20 feet of water, throw a marker in it; circle back, and fish it vertically using your electric motor to keep you in position (or anchor within easy casting range).
Easy access to the upper reaches of Lake Marion can be had from a number of marinas and I won't attempt to name them all. A couple of the major ones on the north side are Goat Island Resort (803/478-8165) and Randolph's Landing (803/478-2152). On the south side are Rocks Pond Campground (803/492-7711) and Bell's Marina (803/492-7924).
The weather might still be a little cold, but the fishing's not. Bundle up and give Lake Marion a try. If you don't have conviction on your own as to where and how to fish for February crappie, call one of the guides mentioned above. They will give you your money's worth, and a trip to remember!