October 04, 2010
A large part of the population of South Carolina lives in or close to our larger cities. The good news for these folks is that most are near some excellent crappie fishing. (April 2009)
April is prime shallow-water crappie fishing time in South Carolina and an abundance of lakes in the state produce plenty of big crappie. There is outstanding fishing close to nearly every population center in the state.
According to Ross Self, Chief of Fisheries for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), there are a couple of important points about the crappie fishing in the state.
"Crappie are a cyclic species in terms of numbers of fish, but overall, the crappie fishing in the state is very good," Self said. "There are no major problems that we are dealing with. Normal fluctuations in populations are occurring at some lakes, both up and down, but that is expected.
"Another interesting bit of information we are closely following is the resurgence of crappie fishing popularity," Self said. "Every five years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publishes a National Survey on a variety of topics, including fishing effort. Crappie fishing increased 30 percent in South Carolina from 2001 to 2006, according to this study."
For this focus on good crappie fishing, we'll center the look at lakes near major population areas. Many of the areas will have more than one good crappie fishing lake in the vicinity.
When going by human population, the largest metropolitan area in the state is the state capital of Columbia. Columbia has the obvious excellent fishery of Lake Murray, which is very close. However, within very easy driving distance, depending on which side of this big city you live on, you also have Lake Marion as well as Lake Wateree.
Lake Murray provides a double opportunity: It's a relatively deep, clearwater lake on the lower end and a more river-like setting in the upper part of the lake. The lake has had good spawns of panfish species, including crappie, since the drawdown ended and the lake level rose over all the new growth. Self said the crappie and panfish have flourished in recent years. Many of the post-drawdown crappie are now at the age where they are providing very good fishing opportunities for fishermen.
Look for the fish in shallow water around brush, downed trees and around docks. Many docks will have brushpiles placed in front of them, which will provide excellent fishing during April. In the upper end of the lake, the water depths are such that anglers can work along the creek ledges drifting or slow-trolling tightline minnow rigs or slow-trolling small jigs to make excellent catches as well.
On the lower end of the lake, there are several big creeks that will produce, including Twenty-Mile Creek, Beaverdam Creek and Bear Creek. Good access is located at the public ramp on Highway 6 at the dam. In the upper end of the lake, Rocky Creek and the Little Saluda River are prime areas to target. Little River Marina is good for a launch to begin your search in the upper end of Lake Murray.
Charleston, North Charleston, Mt. Pleasant and Summerville are also big population centers and they have a crappie bonanza right at their doorstep: Lake Moultrie. Not much farther away is Lake Marion.
Lake Moultrie is a huge bowl-shaped body of water. However, this crappie fishing paradise is loaded with untold numbers of humps, drops and submerged woody cover that attract and hold crappie. Except for the spring, when the fish make their annual migration for spawning to the shallows, this is a deep-water crappie fishery. The open expanse of water holds more crappie fishing potential than anyone can fish, but you've got to really be on target to score well.
Even during the spawning period, there are plenty of fish on the open-water brush placed by crappie fishermen. There are also natural stumprows and other debris that will hold crappie. And there are old roadbeds and bridge pilings left from the area before impoundment. The shallow-water fishing around shallow brush and trees is excellent during April.
The number one crappie fishing target here, however, is manmade brushpiles. The best depths will vary with the season but from about 8 feet deep down to 22 feet deep is a prime target area. Depending on oxygen content during the summer, that depth may rise or fall just a bit.
Wind can be a limiting factor on this lake, too, however, because of the expanse of open water. On windy days, you'll need to hug the area where there is protected water, such as Angels Cove, to which there is good access at Angles Landing. The area around Black Camp is also productive and access is available there.
Lake Marion is reasonably close to all of the above-named population centers, as well as well as nearby Sumter. Crappie fishing guide Barry Pritchard (Pritchard's Guide Service, 803/478-7533) said that while Lake Marion doesn't produce the number of crappie it did a few years ago, it's still a productive lake and grows plenty of slab crappie.
"The loss of habitat and some real dry years have seemed to hurt the overall crappie population," Pritchard said. "But if you know where to look, you can still catch crappie and some super slabs as well. We may have to work a little harder, but we've still got good crappie fishing. Plus, the size of the fish is outstanding."
Lake Marion is the sister lake to Moultrie, but there is a tremendous difference between these two lakes in some aspects. Both have plenty of crappie; however, much of the timber was still standing in Lake Marion when the lake was impounded. Plus, while actually a much larger lake in surface area than Lake Moultrie, Lake Marion is longer and offers much more diverse crappie-fishing cover.
But one thing is the same: The fish will orient to brush and other woody cover located on drops and ledges throughout this lake. Pritchard said that's the key for him and he keeps track of dozens of good spots for the spring throughout the summer and early fall months. Plus, there are a large number of big creeks on the lake that harbor plenty of crappie and most will afford some wind protection.
Pritchard guides out of Goat Island on Taw Caw Creek, which also provides a good access ramp.
Rock Hill is very close to several good crappie-fishing locations. Lake Wylie is the closest and most obvious. However, Wateree Lake is only a short drive away, and Great Falls Lake -- which is too often overlooked -- also provides sensational crappie fishing.
Lake Wylie provides outstanding crappie fishing during April. With Big Allison, Little Allison, Beaver Dam and Crowder creeks, pl
us other smaller creeks along the main river channel, there's a tremendous amount of crappie habitat available.
During April, the crappie typically migrate into these creeks and coves. They will be found in huge numbers around shallow cover. As is the case with many of the best crappie lakes, Wylie has an abundance of shallow-water cover, including brushpiles, docks, logs and stumps. There are some points and offshore humps that hold plenty of staging crappie as well.
In addition, the drops and creek channel ledges where brushpiles have been sunken will hold crappie throughout the month. Not all the fish move to the shoreline shallows, and certainly, they are not all in the shallow water at the same time. Tight-lining minnows or slow-trolling jigs along the creek drops will produce consistent results during April. However, this drop-fishing will become even more productive and consistent as the water continues to warm and the fish retreat to deeper water by May and June.
There is an excellent access ramp at the back of Big Allison Creek.
Wateree Lake is considered by some to one of the most underrated crappie fishing lakes in the state. The last lake on the Catawba River chain of lakes, Lake Wateree is an excellent year-round producer of crappie. Not only do plenty of limits come from this lake, but a lot of fish in excess of 2 pounds are caught as well.
Depth is the key factor to fishing this lake throughout the year. During the spring, right now during April, the fish will be moving to the shallow water. They'll be holding around logs, stumps, brush and weeds. One of the best techniques is to use a long rod and swing a minnow-and-float rig around the obvious cover. Often when you catch one fish at this time of the year, you'll catch several more from that spot. Do that a couple of times and you'll have a pattern that holds up for the day (as a rule).
Once the fish retreat to the deeper water, look for them to hold along the drops around woody cover. Many fishermen will place crappie beds to attract the fish. However, many very successful anglers will slowly work with minnows or jigs around the drops in 12 to 18 feet of water during the summer and fall to make good catches. During the winter, after the lake turns over, the fish do get a bit deeper.
Clearwater Cove, off State Road 97 north of Camden, is an excellent launching area in the lower end of the lake. Colonels Creek Recreation Area access is located off State Road 101 on the opposite side of the lake north of Lugoff.
Great Falls Lake is a 3,112-acre lake on the Catawba River that is almost at the back door of fishermen in Rock Hill and is reasonably accessible by Columbia anglers. Plus, it's very much overlooked as a quality lake for crappie fishing.
Much of this lake is a river environment, with a narrow, twisting channel that drops sharply in depth in many places. However, it is loaded with woody cover that can be easily reached with a long pole and live bait or small jig. Anglers here are able to cover a lot of different water depths close to the shoreline.
On the lower end of the lake, the water does widen out and the fishing is much more like that found in typical crappie lakes. However, this lake, because of its size and makeup, usually warms more slowly than Lake Wateree downstream or Lake Wylie upstream. This fact provides anglers with another good option: When the shallow-water action slows at Wateree and Wylie, the best shallow-water action is still yet to come here -- this can be a season-extending lake.
The lower portion of the lake is studded with stumps and woody cover. During April, most of anglers will troll small jigs or tightline minnows around the ledges and humps in the main river and larger creeks near the dam.
As a rule, even when fish are being caught in the shallows, many of the crappie fishermen will stick to fishing water 8 to 20 feet deep. There are times when wind drifting the stump-covered flats in 4 to 10 feet of water will also produce plenty of crappie during April.
There's an excellent public launching site off U.S. Highway 21 on the west side of the lake and Cane Creek access on the east side, off Bethel Boat Landing Road.
The population centers in the Upstate also have very good choices for crappie fishing. Anglers in the Greenville and Spartanburg areas are close to lakes Greenwood and Richard B. Russell, which are both productive crappie fisheries. Also, Spartanburg is not far from lakes Wylie and Great Falls.
Lake Greenwood is known as one of the better crappie lakes in the state, and the proximity to Spartanburg and Greenville is ideal. The entire lake provides excellent fishing, but during the spring, the upper half of the lake is red-hot.
There's a great diversity of woody cover in the lake. In addition to scads of docks with brush placed around them, there are downed trees, logs and stumpflats.
Also, the drops and ledges are loaded with stumps as well as large brushpiles placed by crappie anglers. During April, much of the fishing will be in water less than 8 feet deep. As the weather warms, look for the fish to begin to orient to the drops and ledges where woody cover is found. The later in the spring, the better the fishing tends to be farther downlake.
There is good fishing in the lower end of the lake during April; however, the shallower water depth and incredible diversity of woody cover in the upper end is a fisherman attractor as much as a fish attractor.
Access is easy at Greenwood State Park and there is a fee ramp on the north side of the lake at the U.S. Highway 72 bridge.
Lake Richard B. Russell on the Savannah River is another excellent crappie-fishing hotspot, especially during April. The proximity of this lake to Greenville makes for very easy access and it's also close to Spartanburg.
The lake has a lot of woody cover, ideal for spawning crappie in April. The key to this is timing in terms of when they move to the shallows and stay there, and when they are staging in the mid-depths.
Typically, the early part of the month, there will be some good fishing in the shallow water, usually less than 6 feet deep. This will occur in the creeks and large coves, as well as in the tributary creeks that flow into the large creeks. Rocky creek is an excellent example of this.
Once the fish move to the shallows, working shoreline cover with a long pole and minnows in the backs of the creeks and coves will produce excellent catches of fish. However, except for the week to 10-day period when the spawn is at its peak, working the staging areas, such as points and mouths of pockets, by drifting live minnows or trolling small jigs will produce the most consistent results.
Access to the lake is easy with public ramps located at Calhoun Falls State Recreation area.
The lower porti
on of the state -- around Hilton Head -- is likely the most problematic in terms of having an excellent crappie fishery in very close proximity. However, there are two excellent fisheries not too far away: lakes Marion and Moultrie. Within a respectable drive, anglers can reach either of these lakes and enjoy excellent crappie fishing during April.
According to SCDNR fisheries biologist Chris Thomason, those are likely the best choices for consistent action in that part of the state. Thomason works out of the Barnwell SCDNR office and is quite familiar with the area.
"There's really not a destination crappie fishery in the area other than lakes Marion and Moultrie," Thomason said. "There are crappies in the Edisto River and they are certainly caught by fishermen. However, the fish are not there in high numbers where they can be considered a productive crappie fishery. Another possibility is Lake Warren, a DNR-managed lake in Hampton County. This lake is about 300 acres in size and it does produce some good crappie fishing. However, the size of the lake is such that it doesn't afford tremendous opportunity."
Lake Warren does have a boat ramp, fishing pier and is handicap accessible. Outboard motors up to 10 horsepower are allowed. The lake is located on County Road 41, between S.C. Highway 363 and U.S. Highway 601, southeast of Hampton.
"Finally, Lake Edgar Brown in Barnwell has had good crappie fishing in the past," Thomason said. "However, this 100-acre lake currently does not have good crappie fishing. I would not recommend the lake for crappie fishing at this time."
For the vast majority of South Carolina crappie fishermen, good crappie fishing is close by. The best shallow-water fishing of the year is upon us, so pick a hotpot near you and go crappie fishing.