October 04, 2010
April is the time to catch big numbers of crappie in South Carolina, and nowhere is better than the Santee Cooper lakes, Lake Hartwell and Lake Wateree. (April 2007)
The author holds up four big slab female crappie caught in prime condition. Right now is the time to catch crappie in South Carolina.
Photo courtesy of Bennett Kirkpatrick
For South Carolina crappie anglers, April is the month many memories of great fishing are made. Let's look at three outstanding lakes for crappie in what is perhaps the most popular time of year for catching some slabs.
For mid-state crappie anglers, Lake Wateree is a dream destination. This fertile lake is home to some of the best crappie fishing in the state, and is loaded with brushpiles, snags and trees in shallow water. And in the spring, as the water warms up in the low 50-degree range, crappie begin to head for the spawning grounds. The result is perhaps the best fishing of the year at one of the best crappie lakes anywhere.
I will never forget a trip with a friend of mine from Camden, Fred Sheheen. Fred had a cabin on Lake Wateree. It was a Wednesday afternoon in April and Fred wanted to fish for crappie at his lake house. The water was still a little on the cool side, so I donned a pair of waders before stepping into the water. Fred was going to fish off the bank around the cabin; he had never used jigs before, so I gave him a crash course as how to use them.
The water around his cabin was filled with willows, stumps and laydowns that had fallen into the lake. I hadn't gone 50 feet from where I stepped into the water when I caught my first crappie. A snap stringer was secured to my belt and I hung the fish on it. It wasn't long before I rounded the corner of the cove, and could no longer see Fred.
Every piece of visible cover I fished seemed to hold a crappie or two. In about an hour and a half, I had my limit of crappie; my face beamed as I snapped the last fish on the stringer. As I retraced my path to Fred's cabin, I spied Fred putting a crappie into a five-gallon bucket that was hidden behind a tree up in the yard. He held the fish up close to his chest as if to conceal it before dropping it into the bucket. He hurried back to where he had left his rod, and cast again. The float didn't move but about a foot before he set the hook on another nice fish. He repeated this sequence three times before I got to where he was.
"Why are you being so secretive in putting fish in a bucket hidden behind a tree?" I asked. "Why don't you take the bucket down to where you are fishing?" (Continued)
He whispered, "Man, I've stumbled onto the secret weapon. I can't bring a jig by those two stumps out there without catching a fish! I don't want anyone to see what I am doing!"
The shallower part of Lake Wateree is in the upper portion and it warms up a bit quicker than the deeper water. My favorite places to fish this lake are Wateree Creek on down to Dutchman's Creek. Taylor's Creek, Singleton Creek and the Wateree State Park are good bets, too. All of these places are loaded with crappie spawning habitat.
The Wateree Creek Landing at the bridge accesses this area. The Wateree State Park and Taylor's Marina are good starting points for fishing Dutchman's Creek. The Taylor Creek Landing and Sutton's Landing are available on Taylor's Creek.
The dead trees, snags and stumps at the head of Taylor's Creek have been especially productive for me. Anchor your boat up in the shallows, and wade using waders to effectively cover every inch of these fertile waters. Use a small float with a jig suspended 2 to 4 feet below it. My favorite is to use a 10-foot B'n M Sam Heaton Super Sensitive rod for this type fishing. The long rod makes it easy to dabble your jig into the nooks and crannies around the cover without disturbing the other fish there. The 10-foot rod makes for easy casting and it makes even a small fish seem big. When you do catch a big one, you're in for some fun!
Lakes Moultrie and Marion cover a tremendous amount of acreage; that is an understatement for those that fish here. Both lakes harbor all sorts of great crappie fishing; however, I would choose Lake Marion for April because it warms up faster than Lake Moultrie.
Launch your boat at the Goat Island Resort (803/478-8165) and you will be in one of the "hotspots" of the lake for April crappie fishing. Pete Prichard and his son, Barry, are professional crappie guides on Lake Marion (803/478-7533). This father-and-son team fishes the lake on almost a daily basis so they can follow the migrations of crappie as they move about the lake. They have a brushpile system consisting of approximately 300 brushpiles they have "planted" in the lake; most of these brushpiles are oak trees with the butts stuck into the middle of a heavy cinder block to make the tree stand up straight. The magic depth for the Prichards has proved to be water that measures 20 feet deep. Brushpiles in this depth that are large enough to provide cover at 10 to 12 feet are highly productive in April.
"Crappie seem to be bedding in deeper and deeper water these days" Pete Prichard said. "You can still catch spawning crappie in the shallows around cypress trees in April, but each year I find the largest and most crappie in deeper water. Fishing vertically seems to be the best method. If you don't have your own brushpiles in Lake Marion, you can still find crappie by fishing around exposed trees and snags that are in 20 feet of water down in the 10- to 12-foot depths. Fish a spot for five minutes; if you haven't caught a fish in that time, move on! Both live bait and jigs will produce this time of year. Any color combination jig will work as long as it has chartreuse in it. Leave your depth recorder on at all times, and pay close attention to it. When you stumble across something that looks good, drop a marker in it, and fish it."
The day I fished with the Prichards, we fished the Santee River channel around The Brickyard, Sixteen Island and Sandy Island. The fishing was fabulous! Blount's Landing (803/478-2800) and Rocks Pond Campground (803/492-7711) are landings that are conventionally located for accessing this area.
Norman Ledford Jr. likes to fish around the trees he finds across the river from Pack's Landing (803/452-5514) and Elliot's Landing (803/452-5336) in April. By suspending a jig 3 to 6 feet below a float, and fishing around the perimeter of standing trees, his crappie fishing becomes a "sure bet" for him. Not only does he fish the perimeter of this cover, he also gets in among the branches and up close to the tree trunks.
"Be sure to pull your line tight up against the e
ye of your jig to make the jig run parallel to the surface for more strikes," Ledford said. "Have you ever seen a minnow swim standing on its tail? We are trying to imitate a minnow when fishing with a jig, so we want to copy this scenario as best we can."
If you don't have a good map of lakes Marion and Moultrie, you might want to purchase Map No. 312 from Kingfisher Maps (864/654-2207 or 800/326-0257). This map shows not only the creeks and rivers, it shows the marinas, and how to get to them. These maps are also sold at many local tackle shops.
Lake Hartwell was featured in last month's South Carolina Game &Fish, so I will only mention this great destination. Jim Pratt was the featured crappie fisherman whose opinion I hold in high regard. Pratt told me, "Fish Hesters Bottom at Mt. Carmel State Park in the spring of the year at Clark's Hill; this area is the best crappie fishing in the South at that time. The worst problem is that you catch your limit too quickly, and have to start fishing for bass. Motor cautiously here because the trees were left standing when the lake was filled and their remains are just under the water."
To get to Hesters Bottom, go to the little town of Mt. Carmel on Hwy. 81, and then turn south on Hwy. 91 at Todd's Grocery, and that will dead end at the boat ramp in Mt. Carmel Campground. Fishing Creek, which is another great spring crappie destination, can be accessed from this landing, too. Fishing Creek is on the Georgia side of the lake, but a South Carolina fishing license is valid there.
Pratt suggests, "When water temperatures are in the 55- to 58-degree range, fish with a float with the jig suspended 2 to 4 feet below the float. Fish along the banks; check sandy banks, rocky banks, logs and exposed brush. Find a pattern; any bank that looks like a good bass location will likely hold crappie that are ready to spawn. Kingfisher Map No. 305 covers this lake.
You can't catch many crappie sitting on the couch at home. Fish one of these dream locations for the trip of a lifetime!