October 04, 2010
From east to west, South Carolina offers a tremendous variety of fisheries to anglers. Here's a look at 36 fine fishing destinations--three for each month--that promise topflight fishing in the Palmetto State.
From mountain streams to Atlantic Ocean reefs, South Carolina offers a tremendous variety of fishing conditions and of species to catch. Such an abundance of opportunities certainly is good for fishermen. However, it can make deciding where to go fishing more complicated.
What follows is a look at great opportunities that exist every month of the year. We offer great choices that may help you make some of your fishing decisions -- or make them harder. Either way, we've tried to pick some options that should help get the wheels turning as you begin to plan your fishing outings for the year.
Crappie: Lake Wateree
It's never too early to begin thinking about crappie fishing on Lake Wateree, a fertile and fairly shallow impoundment that consistently produces fine papermouth fishing. Less fickle than many of their cousins, crappie feed well throughout the seasons. Anglers simply need to consider conditions and fish appropriate patterns.
Through winter, most anglers spend the bulk of their time working the edges of channels -- either the main Wateree River channel or the lower main channels of major creeks. The most popular approach is to troll right along the channel break, putting some baits down in the channel and fishing others over the ledge. Both minnows and jigs have their advocates, and many anglers prefer to mix the offerings.
When strings of sunny days foreshadow spring, crappie will move into surprisingly shallow water to feed. Anglers should explore northern coves, which get a southern exposure and are protected form north wind, and look for concentrations of threadfin shad. Usually, where shad are up on flats under such conditions, the crappie are not far away.
Largemouths: Pee Dee River
Coastal rivers don't get quite as cold as do most of South Carolina's other bass waters, and their shallow waters begin warming quickly with the first sunny days of the year. February can be an outstanding time to fish tidal rivers and blackwater flows just upstream of tidal waters. Some of the state's coastal river fishing occurs in the lower reaches of the Great Pee Dee River and its major tributaries.
Upstream of tidal waters, most fish will be in oxbows and other backwaters where slack waters warm slightly faster. Through the river's far lower reaches, the fish will move up and down with the tides, feeding very tight to the banks on high tides and out around channels on low tides. Throughout tidal cycles, the fish will look for ambush points. Jigs and small crankbaits work well for February fishing.
The Pee Dee won't produce many giant largemouths. However, anglers who figure out how the bass relate to current and then find the right bait can enjoy very good action on these waters, with plenty of good-quality bass in the mix.
Stripers: Lake Murray
March conditions push a lot of baitfish up onto flats, especially in creeks, and stripers follow the baitfish. Anglers who present live baits in shallow water, often by using planer boards, catch some big stripers this time of year. Not all of Lake Murray's stripers move way up the creeks, though. Anglers catch fish from all over the lake, and from a variety of depths.
The most popular approach during mid-spring is to troll very slowly with live bait. The extra slow pace allows the baitfish to swim around naturally, instead of being dragged, and an angler is able to work a larger area than he could by anchoring. Many anglers add floats to control depths or planer boards either to separate baits or to put offerings in specific places. Others simply put live baitfish on free lines, which they stretch out the back of the boat.
Because stripers move constantly, following schools of shad and herring all over the lake, a good starting point for any angler who hasn't fished Murray in recent days is in the bait shop, asking questions. Just getting a general idea of where the stripers have been hanging out and how they have been behaving can shorten an angler's search dramatically.
Whiting: Coastal Piers
Anglers traveling to the coast for vacations can find great fishing off piers this time of year. Whiting, which are great tasting and fun to catch and usually travel in groups, are among the most commonly caught fish this time of year. However, part of the fun of pier-fishing is that an angler never really knows what might latch on when he casts out his line.
A variety of baits, including frozen shrimp and squid and bloodworms, can work well for pier-fishing. A good strategy is to pick up a couple different kinds of bait, based on what folks in the shops recommend, and experiment. Most anglers use two-hook bottom rigs, also available in coastal bait shops, so it's easy to try a couple different types of baits at a time with a single rig.
Pier-fishing is largely a waiting game. Anglers cast out, put their rods down and wait for wiggling rod tips. Typically the wait isn't long, although at times many bites will come from "bait thieves" of some sort that aren't really big enough to catch. At least a few (and often many) whiting and other desirable fish usually show up, making for fun spring fishing with plenty of action.
Largemouths: Lake Thurmond
May pushes largemouths into a post-spawn mode, and on Lake Thurmond that means terrific topwater fishing. The bass hold over points that stretch out from spawning grounds. From these positions, bass bust blueback herring, which move shallower than normal to spawn during late spring. Small topwater plugs fished slowly attract big strikes.
Spring also brings hydrilla to the surface on Lake Thurmond, and by May the fish are solidly in the grass. For working hydrilla, which is most abundant in the lake's lower main body and the lower ends of major tributaries in the same area, many anglers fish jigs along the edges or swim plastic worms on top of the grass, dropping it into holes. A topwater plug will draw big strikes along the edges of the grass, especially early and late in the day.
Lake Thurmond consistently kicks out very good bass fishing. Largemouths grow stout on abundant threadfin shad and blueback herring, and a few grow to jumbo sizes. Bass and anglers have plenty of room to spread out on Lake Thurmond, and anglers licensed by South Carolina or Georgia may fish the entire lake.
Catfish: Diversion Canal
Night-fishing increased in popularity on the Santee-Cooper lakes in recent years, and one real hotpot for the after-hours' approach is the Division Canal, which con
nects lakes Marion and Moultrie. Some anglers drift the canal, bouncing cut pieces of herring along the bottom, and enjoy very good action. Most cats caught are channels or small blues; however, any cat that takes a bait on Santee-Cooper has the potential to be a giant.
Other anglers pick spots, anchor and put out larger baits with big cats in mind. Most anglers target flatheads with several lines, as the Diversion Canal produces some huge flatheads. In fact, South Carolina's state-record flathead and the fish that it replaced in the record books both came from the Diversion Canal. Anglers typically put out either live perch or live bluegills when they target flatheads.
While the Diversion Canal looks very similar from one end to the other, subtle bends create eddies and deep holes that set various spots apart. Anglers should look for those breaks and deeper holes and set up near them. Well-known hotpots include the Rockpile, where boulders are piled on both sides of the river, and the mouth of the canal, where the Diversion Canal opens into Lake Moultrie.
Red Drum: Charleston Jetties
Midsummer brings big excitement to the Charleston jetties and other structure at the outer edge of Charleston Harbor. Beyond jumbo reds, which abound along the jetties in July and serve up thrilling action to anglers who understand the tides and know how to set up for the big fish, jetty anglers also catch sharks and occasional tarpon.
Most anglers contend that the fish hit best when the tide pushes hard one way or the other. The jury is split as to whether incoming or outgoing tides are best. Anglers fish both inside and outside both jetties, moving periodically if the fish don't cooperate. Veteran jetty fishermen have favorite spots for various stages of the tide.
Anglers anchor beside the rocks, cast lines downcurrent on bottom rigs and leave reels engaged. Popular baits include cut mullet, menhaden and blue crab. Most anglers put out a mix and let the redfish decide. Redfish rarely nibble. They bury rods and then pull like freight trains, especially when they weigh 30 or 40 pounds.
Channel Catfish: Lake Hartwell
Catfish get little mention in South Carolina's Upcountry region, but that doesn't mean the cats aren't there for the catching. Lake Hartwell supports a terrific population of channel catfish, with some very hefty channels in the mix. Through the summer, most of the best fishing occurs after the sun goes down. However, anglers can catch a good mess of cats by day or by night.
The best catfishing generally occurs well up creek and river arms, where the lake is generally shallower and a little more fertile than in Hartwell's lower end. Good starting points for anglers who are unfamiliar with the lake are the tops of points that stretch out toward creek and river channels and bends in the channels in the upper reaches of the tributaries. The cats will hold deep during the day, but will rove up points or onto flats adjacent to holes to feed at night.
Cut blueback herring makes great bait for channel catfish in Lake Hartwell. It is oily, and catfish are accustomed to feeding on herring. In addition, herring is readily available around the lake. Alternative baits include cut shad, shrimp and chicken livers. All baits should be fished on the bottom and spread across a range of depths in order to find the cats.
The first cooling nights of September cause crappie to begin moving shallower and to feed more aggressively. Autumn is an outstanding month for catching a big mess of slabs from lakes Marion and Moultrie, as Santee crappie pile up on brush in modest depths.
Fertile and full of food, Santee-Cooper consistently cranks out high-quality crappie. Both lakes offer great fishing. However, the species make-up differs from one lake to the other. Lake Marion, which is the more turbid of the two lakes, produces a mix of black and white crappie, with whites typically dominating the catch. Moultrie, although it is connected to Marion by the Diversion Canal, produces black crappie almost exclusively.
Anglers on both lakes generally fish vertically. They set up over specific pieces of brush, holding boats in place with their trolling motors, and drop jigs or minnows straight down to the fish. On Marion, most brush is scattered along the channels of major creeks or the Santee River or Little River channel. On Moultrie, brushpiles are spread all over the lake on humps and ridges.
Trout: Jocassee Gorges
Brown trout spawn in the fall and wild rainbows tend to feed more actively as the days cool and summer fades. Plus, October is a beautiful time to explore the rugged streams that course the Jocassee Gorges region. The Whitewater and Thompson and Eastatoe rivers, plus Howard and Devil's Fork creeks, all offer interesting autumn prospects.
Most waters in this area require a hike to get to and are difficult to get up and down because of the rugged terrain. Anglers also need to be aware of where the North Carolina line runs, and possessing both licenses is a good idea for fishing the Whitewater and Thompson rivers. For backpacking anglers following the Foothills Trail, a North Carolina license also opens the Horsepasture and Toxaway rivers as possibilities.
Except when tropical systems dump their loads, these streams tend to run low during the fall. That means anglers need to move slowly, stay low and wear drab colors. While trout will spook easily, they will feed opportunistically on anything that is well presented and drifts within range. Flyfishermen do very well with attractor pattern dry flies during October.
Red Snapper: Offshore Waters
Even as fall begins giving way to winter, bottom-fishing remains great off the South Carolina coast. Anglers visiting reefs and wrecks often load up on heavyweight red snapper, plus grouper, black sea bass and a mix of other bottom-dwelling fish. Typically, the biggest question in November is not whether the fish will bite, but whether conditions will allow anglers to get to waters they want to fish.
Good fishing can be found in waters as shallow as 50 feet deep or on reefs that are more than 100 feet deep. Anglers who don't get out to the reefs on a regular bases need to talk with other anglers, look on the Internet or otherwise get current reports before picking reefs to explore. Bait shop owners typically have good information, and it serves them well for customers to enjoy good trips.
Most anglers use squid or cigar minnows fished on heavy outfits. They rig with plenty of weight to get the bait all the way to the bottom, even in deep water and with strong currents. Snapper and other bottom fish typically run in schools of like-sized fish. Therefore, if someone hooks a big snapper not long after arriving at a spot, everyone aboard should be prepared for action.
Largemouths: Lake Greenwood
Lake Greenwood veterans know that after most bass fishermen have packed up their gear for the season, fishing remains outstanding on this old Piedmont reservoir. High-quality bass pile up along channel breaks
and in ditches off the channels during the winter. The same fish will move shallow and bury their noses in the cover anytime heavy rains muddy the water, especially if the rains are followed by a few sunny days.
Assuming the fish are deep, whether in the Saluda channel or along a tributary, anglers often fish vertically with jigging spoons or drop-shot rigs. They make heavy use of electronics, looking for baitfish and bass close to the bottom, and then drop baits among the fish. When conditions cause the bass to move shallow this time of year, a jig-and-pig is tough to top.
One great thing about Lake Greenwood for winter fishing is that it produces some absolute hawgs. While population numbers and average sizes swing from season to season, Greenwood always supports some really big bass. Even during years when most bass caught are small, the potential for a real giant always exists on this lake.