October 04, 2010
You can catch bream in a lot of water in South Carolina, but a bream angler who could only fish these five waters would still die a happy man.
Photo by Michael Skinner
Of all the species of fish in South Carolina, the bream is the one that anglers can most easily find in abundant numbers in just about every lake, pond or river. From the big bull bream of Lake Moultrie to the scads of bream found at Lake Wylie, South Carolina is a bream fisherman's paradise.
Before we talk about what parts of paradise have the best bream fishing, though, a quick definition of exactly what we're talking about when we use the term "bream." For matters regarding this story on bream fishing in the Palmetto State, bream serves as the collective name given to a wide variety of sunfish species. The list is long, even complicated, if you get technical. While this list is not intended to be a complete overview of the myriad of species, by referencing bream we're collectively discussing bluegills, shellcrackers (redear sunfish), pumpkinseeds, long-eared sunfish, redbreast sunfish and a host of others. We're not including crappie, white bass or white perch for the purposes of this article.
Different species will be more prevalent in different lakes, but the collective species of bream are well represented in the big lakes, little lakes, rivers, streams and ponds throughout the state. In many smaller waters, if the bream are not fished reasonably hard, the fish species can most definitely overpopulate and their growth rate can be diminished. There's a limit of 30 bream per person in most lakes in the state, and on the bigger lakes, such as Wylie, Keowee and Moultrie, keeping your limit can actually be good for the lake.
The other good news is that on the lakes, rivers and other waters we'll discuss, it's quite common to catch limits of these hard-fighting, great-tasting fish. We'll look at lakes where big fish are the rule, and we'll look at some lakes where "head count" is the major factor (but good fish can be caught as well) and some that have an excellent mix of both numbers and size of fish.
Lake Wylie is an excellent bream lake and is loaded with these fish. While the average size may not be as large as on some lakes that we'll discuss, such as Lake Moultrie, the sheer numbers of good-sized fish present more than compensate. But don't underestimate the size potential on this lake merely because its reputation rests on its ability to produce limits. I've caught some really big bream on this lake and you, too, can catch them with some consistency. However, you'll typically have to be willing to cull out a lot of otherwise "decent-sized" fish or you'll have your legal limit and only a handful of bull bream in the cooler.
The major creeks, such as Big Allison and Little Allison, as well as the myriad coves and pockets along the main river, offer more fishing possibilities than you could fish in an entire weekend. However, during May, the creeks are prime places to seek fish on the beds and around the shoreline. Plus, the lake is loaded with coves and pockets that offer ideal spawning and shallow-water fishing habitat.
Occasionally I'll motor to a known hotspot only to find someone else working the area. Rather than crowd up the place, I'll simply motor to another nearby cove or pocket, and most of the time, I'll end up learning some new bed fishing hotspots that no one has yet touched. The sandy/gravel bottomed pockets and coves are ideal spawning places.
May is typically the prime month on this, and most lakes in the state, for bream spawning. However, on the full moon cycle, you'll enjoy good bedding action throughout the summer.
Key your efforts to pockets and sloughs where the fish have some calm water and hard sand or gravel bottom. The water color will vary according to rainfall, but the turbidity is usually good enough that you can fish with 6- or 8-pound line comfortably.
While long, light-tipped bream poles in the 9- to 12-foot length are frequently used here, many anglers prefer to use light spinning reels and cast the light rigs into the potential bedding areas. One favorite method is to get two anglers in the front of the boat, working almost parallel to the shoreline, fishing in front of the boat. When they catch a big male bream, they move the boat out to slightly deeper water, anchor, and cast into the area until the action slows.
This tactic works well on most any lake we'll discuss and is one of the best methods I've found to quickly find new bedding areas on a lake.
There's so much shallow-water cover for bream in the form of weeds, stumps, docks, brush and rocks that it is ideal for fly-rodding. Working a shoreline with the fly rod and popping bug, or a sinking green sponge spider, is a great way to fill a cooler with bream. I prefer late evening, but time of day is of less importance during May or any month when the few days of prime bedding action is ongoing. This fly-rodding action lasts all summer on Lake Wylie. Work moderately sloping shoreline with interspersed rocks and woody cover and not only will you generally take plenty of hefty bream, but you'll usually score on an occasional largemouth bass as well.
Lake Moultrie, the lower of the two Santee-Cooper lakes, is a real hotspot for big bull bream. This lake makes the list as a big bream producer, although limits are not difficult to come by here for sure. While the sister lake, Lake Marion, specifically upper Lake Marion, may receive more focus from anglers searching for big bream, Lake Moultrie is dynamite.
In truth, the main lake is wide open and not known for springtime bream action. But the shallow-water ring around the lake is ideal bream territory and offers the kind of incredible bream fishing opportunities thought by many to only occur in Lake Marion. The area around Blacks Camp, Angles Cove and Russellville Flats, and many other similar locations on the lake, provides sensational fishing and plenty of elbowroom for anglers.
One spring day, a buddy and I spent the entire day working from tree to tree in front of Blacks Camp and we enjoyed a tremendous day of catching big bluegills and huge shellcrackers. Moreover, we didn't feel we even scratched the surface of fishing potentially good areas in this spot. It was during May, a peak bedding season, and while we did see some bass fishermen, we noted only one other boat with anglers bream fishing. Those guys had a hotspot and they were anchored on it and we watched them catch plenty of big fish from that single spot.
The bream will bed among the cypress trees on sandy or gravel bottoms as well as in the backs of coves and creeks. Another prime area is Angels Cove where there is ample shallow water and sandy bottom.
e bream avoid a mucky/mud bottom for bedding. But it's not all about bed fishing. When not bedding, especially during May and June, the bream will stay in the same general area as their beds. Their tendency is to hold tight to the cypress trees, lingering around the underwater "knees" and other woody or weed cover. You can quietly slip along the trees and find them scattered throughout the area. When the weather really gets hot, you'll begin to find the big bull bream in deeper water.
Standard gear includes everything from long cane poles to small, sleek fiberglass or graphite poles. I like the graphite because of their light weight and ease of maneuverability within the tight confines of numerous cypress trees. I like to get in "amongst" the trees and bream and ferret them out of places other anglers often pass by. While plenty of fish can be caught around the edges, there are always some untouched hotspots a bit off the beaten bream path. Most of the fish will be taken in very shallow water, from a few inches deep, down to 3 or 4 feet. Generally, there's little need to fish much deeper than that on this lake during this time of the year.
Most Lake Moultrie anglers rely on 8- to 10-pound-test line for bream. While that's a bit larger than you would use in many lakes, there's a valid reason for it. There are so many snags, trees, cypress knees and other debris for the fish to wrap around, you often need that extra backbone to yank the big bull bream you'll likely hook. Eight-pound-test line can be used successfully in some areas, but that's about as light as I would go at this lake and you'll still sometimes wish you had bigger line, I suspect. That's especially true for me when one of those ever-present catfish loads on to my light bream rig.
One unique feature of this lake is that while crickets and worms are excellent baits, some anglers go completely natural. The grassbeds around the lake are loaded with grass shrimp, a tiny delicacy for all types of panfish. These freshwater baits can be caught with nets sold around the lake just for this purpose. While these live baits are lethal on bream, you can expect to catch crappie, catfish and often a chunky largemouth or two.
And of course, flowing into this lake from the upper Santee-Cooper Lake, Lake Marion, is the Diversion Canal, home to some monster shellcrackers. Actually, the shellcrackers are caught in excellent numbers in Lake Moultrie during the spring. But the best shellcracker fishing during the remainder of the summer seems to be in the Diversion Canal area.
Lake Murray is certainly a very good bream lake even without the advantage it now has: With the lake level up after a couple of years of being low, there are miles and miles of thick, ideal bream-holding shoreline cover.
Lake Murray's production of bream this season and for the next few years should be outstanding. It's been a very productive lake, both for numbers and size in recent years. The long-term drawdown for repair on the dam has enabled a wide variety of weedy growth on exposed areas usually covered by water. While much talk has been made regarding the largemouth bass anglers being eager to fish these areas, bream fishermen should be just as enthusiastic.
This drawdown has enabled a tremendous surge of vegetative growth to occur and you can expect the bream to flood into these areas this spring.
Additionally, the spawns for the next couple of years should produce bumper crops of bream for future fishing, at least based on my past experience with this type of event. The same prediction comes from fisheries biologists at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. The bream numbers should increase noticeably in the next few years.
Before the drawdown, a lot of bream fishermen on Lake Murray seemed to prefer the mid- to uplake portion of the lake. The clearer water on the lower end of the lake created a more difficult fishing situation, but the new vegetative growth should eliminate much of that problem. However, with the cover available throughout the lake, the fish should be found about anyplace you're willing to search.
Again, the abundance of cover may require that you spend a bit of time working the edges and back into the pockets in this new cover, but you should find scattered pockets of bream throughout. At least, that's been the pattern on several lakes I've fished in the past that underwent this pattern of drawdown, vegetative growth and inundation. I think we're all going to like what happens on this lake for the next few years.
Another lake that I like for bream is Keowee Lake. This clear, deep-water lake is home to plenty of big bream. My bream fishing experience on this lake is limited to only a few trips, but each time I caught plenty of really big bream. The action was never spectacular in terms of numbers, but there are plenty of fish to cull out a nice limit of bream.
The very clear water that you should expect to encounter here does dictate your fishing style to an extent. Tackle and presentation requirements are a key to success and you need to think light. Not only is lighter line a plus in this lake, it is essential for consistent success on big bream. Where I commonly use 10-pound-test line at Lake Moultrie for similar-sized bream, 10-pound-test line is anchor-rope material for these bream. Most anglers recommend 6-pound-test as a maximum and I'd suggest 4-pound-test line as an even better choice. If you're really into a challenge and lots of fun, try 2-pound-test. You'll probably hook more fish and your skills in playing fish will be tested.
Compared to the other lakes we've discussed, the bream at Keowee during May will generally be found deeper on the beds. They prefer to spawn in the backs of coves and pockets with hard bottoms. However, in addition to the traditional method of casting a small bobber and cricket or worm, local anglers have devised other methods for taking these fish.
One favorite that works very well early and late in the day is topwater fishing. It is especially effective during May and June, and the angler simply eases the boat around the shoreline casting small popping bugs to the bank on ultralight spinning gear. A clear, plastic float is added to the line above the popping bug as weight and enables the angler to make long casts while keeping the boat well off the shoreline. I learned this tactic at Lake Jocassee, but discovered it works equally well here.
Good fishing is found throughout the lake, but the best action is in the creeks and coves because of the warmer water temperatures. While May is a prime month, June is also a particularly effective time to fish this lake as well. But from June throughout the summer, you'll have to really get into a deep-thinking frame of mind to consistently catch big fish. Drifting the steep banks with worms or crickets is a great way to cover a lot of territory and locate the deep-water hotspots. Once you locate a productive area, you can stop and cast.
I admit to having a deep connection with the Santee River and the bream fishing there. The entire river offers outstanding fishing, from the Wilson Dam that impounds Lake Marion down to the saltwater lien. But my personal favorite area for bream is the area near Jamestown and the Highway 41 brid
ge. I've fished it numerous times for many years. Unless the water conditions were terrible, I have found the area to be a classic big and abundant bream water.
It is, in my estimation, the best of both worlds. Plus, there's a wild card bonus in terms of catfish. You're going to most likely hook some hefty catfish most any time you fish here as an added bonus. I'd rate the Santee River as one of the premier bream fishing waters in the state because of the combination of size and number of bream. Some enormous bream are taken from this river, but equally important, the average size of the fish caught is exceptional.
On some occasions I fish the stretch from Highway 52 up toward the Wilson Dam that impounds Lake Marion, and on others I'll work the stretch of water from the Highway 52 bridge just south of Greeleyville, down to Highway 41, just north of Jamestown. There are launching areas located at each of these bridges. I'll often launch at Highway 41, motor up the river fishing one side and work back down the other side. Sometimes the cooler gets full or the limit reached before I finish working up one side.
Water level, as you would expect on a river during spring, plays a role in success. After heavy rains, the river can flow too fast and be too muddy to effectively fish. Lake Moultrie is nearby, so all is not lost if you encounter these conditions.
Generally, however, by May the weather has settled enough so the river fishing is typically excellent. Plus, it usually stays consistently good throughout the summer.
A common technique is to work the many deadfalls along the shoreline with worms or crickets. One method that many effectively employ is to tie up to one of these deadfalls and fish among the limbs with a tight-line rig. This may require a bit of patience to let the fish come to you, but is popular with many anglers. I prefer to keep moving until I locate a passel of bream and then work that area over carefully. As soon as the action slows, I'm back on the move.
Another good method is to anchor away from the shoreline on a sandbar near the river channel and cast your bait out downstream of the boat in a flat-line manner. You're more likely to tangle with catfish doing this, but some of the biggest bream and shellcrackers I've caught here have been via this method.
Waxworms are an excellent choice of bait on the Santee River and are great on either bluegills or shellcrackers. Of course, crickets and red worms are also good baits anytime. And if you're thinking topwater popping bugs late in the evening, you are thinking right.
In closing, I also suggest you never overlook the many farm ponds and small waters that dot the entire state. From an aerial perspective, if you haven't seen them, you will be amazed at the many ponds in this state and most of them hold excellent populations of bream. Often, all that's required is to seek landowner permission. You probably know people who have ponds, so get busy.
Remember, you're never far from great bream fishing in South Carolina. The gear can be very simple and the rewards high. Even if you've but a short time to fish and want some red-hot action, choose bream. They're ready and willing, how about you?