For a true "smorgasbord" of angling opportunities, you can't beat South Carolina. There are freshwater lakes and rivers and great saltwater inshore and offshore fishing. Here are the best of the best.
By Terry Madewell
If you love to fish, South Carolina is a good place to live. Regardless of what your preferred style of fishing is, there's plenty of it in the Palmetto State. At any time of the year you can expect to find great fishing opportunities somewhere - and, in some months, everywhere - in our state.
Big lakes or small lakes, big rivers or small rivers, mountain streams or mountain lakes, freshwater or saltwater - no matter what you like, your biggest decision is to decide which of these you want to enjoy.
To that end, South Carolina Game & Fish magazine has compiled a list of 36 of the top fishing trips across the state for your consideration. They include all types of trips in all 12 months of the year for a wide variety of fish species.
Let's go fishing.
JANUARY If you're looking for red-hot striper fishing in the freezing winter, Lake Murray is the place to be. Access is a challenge due to the two-year lake drawdown, but lower lake levels only serve to concentrate the fish into smaller areas.
Gulls will tell you where the fish are schooling; fish there if you're close enough and fast enough. Bucktails, deep-diving crankbaits and spoons are all very effective. Look for the stripers to work off points and the bends in creek channel ledges. The action is best early and late, but often goes on all day. When the fish sound, stay in the area and jig spoons.
For the big blue catfish on Lake Moultrie, use shad (readily obtainable with a cast net) and lower the bait to the depth you marked the fish on the graph. On typical years, the fish will be holding somewhere between 15 to 35 feet deep along the drops. If you don't get bit quickly, haul in the lines and move on. When you get on the fish right, it will be super-fast action.
The white perch at Wateree will be over mid-lake ledges and humps and are best taken with small spoons; the 1/8-ounce size seems to work best. Live bait such as worms and minnows work well, and you can take a limit of fish quickly from one spot when you locate them. Cull out the small fish; there are some big schools of 1/2- to 1-pound fish roaming all over this lake.
South Carolina is one of the top states in the nation for crappie fishing. Photo by Ron Sinfelt
FEBRUARY Get offshore on the coast and find either live bottom or artificial reefs and you may be in for some of the fastest black sea bass fishing action you can handle. My last trip at this time of the year was short; we had five fishermen and we quickly all limited out on the first place we stopped. Of course, having a huge cooler full of sea bass up to nearly 4 pounds each would make anyone a happy angler. Shrimp, cut or whole, make excellent bait.
The crappie fishing at Lake Wylie is excellent throughout the spring, but the early anglers in February usually get in on some of the fast-paced early-season action that others miss by waiting until March. The best bet is to troll deep along the ledges using small jigs or minnows. Most anglers use a multi-rig trolling setup to cover as much ground as possible. When you find fish at this time of the year, work that same general area hard - crappie bunch up in good-sized schools, so where one strikes, more are feeding.
Big largemouth bass are on the move in the upper reaches of Lake Marion in February. A top technique is to fish live bait around the grassbeds or shallow ditch lines. Also, if the weather warms early, the big bass will move into spawning country during this month and you can catch them in the black-water ponds and other traditional spawning areas using plastic worms and big spinnerbaits. Hold on to that rod tight: you are in hawg country down here in February.
MARCH In typical years, the big sows at Lake Moultrie get into the spawning mode in March, and when they do, you can experience the bass fisherman's dream come true. Get back in the boonies and look for the old black-water ponds, many of which are ideal spawning habitat. Worm these areas with outsized plastic bottom-bumpers or toss spinnerbaits and you have a chance to hook into the hawg of a lifetime. Even if you don't, you can find yourself having to "settle" for several 4- to 6-pounders. Timing your trip with the spawning season is the key, so plan on going more than once to get into the red-hot action.
The hybrids at Lake Hartwell will be on the move in March and you can usually find them in the creeks and off main-lake points this month. Look for them to congregate near junctions of two creeks or along old roadbeds inundated by the lake. The entire lake is good, but the major tributaries in the mid-portion of the lake seem to produce best.
Lake Greenwood is the place and March is the time for prime crappie fishing. Trolling is a very productive method and as the month progresses, the depth you'll find the fish will generally become more and more shallow. Live minnows fished around visible cover will begin to produce excellent results around mid-March and on into April.
APRIL There's almost no lake in the state that won't have good crappie fishing during the month of April, and Lake Thurmond certainly ranks among the best. Thurmond has so many places to fish that even if there are scads of anglers about, you can still find plenty of room - and plenty of fish. Try working the visible cover with minnows or jigs or trolling the same baits and lures around the points and coves until you locate some crappie. Then work that area hard.
The smallmouth bass in Lake Jocassee just keep getting larger. The lake holds the current state record - a world-class fish - and maybe someone will set another state record this year. Certainly April would be the prime time to do it. Work the points and rock outcroppings in the backs of the creeks and coves with small jigs, spinnerbaits and crankbaits. This is the best time of the year to find the fish in reasonably shallow depths, which makes them more accessible to anglers.
The crappie action on Lake Moultrie will generally differ from other lakes. Most of the fish will have left the spawning beds on this lake by now, but you can catch them stacked in like cordwood on brushpiles in 12 to 25 feet of water. Look for these places along the many drops and ledges around the lake. Fish vertically with small jigs or live minnows. When you find a place that holds fish, you can sometimes catch limits from that single spot. If you don't limit out, go find an area simil
ar to it and you can finish the job.
MAY The shellcracker and bream fishing action around the Diversion Canal that connects lakes Marion and Moultrie is simply sensational. The fish will be bedding hard on the full moon, and for some of those outlandish-sized shellcrackers that may have bedded earlier in the year, you can fish the deeper water along the canal. The many coves and flats adjacent to and on either end of this seven-mile stretch of water offer additional prime habitat and deserve some fishing attention as well.
Offshore trolling for dolphin is excellent during this month and catching some wahoos on the same trip is a distinct possibility. The big bulls are the prime draw, but for eating quality, getting into a mess of "peanut" dolphin - those 3- to 7-pound fish that roam in huge schools - can be hard to beat. When you get into the peanuts, keep one hooked all the time and the others will stay excited. You can catch a bunch of fish in a hurry like this and their aerial acrobatics are hard to top.
If you prefer the solitude and peace of the mountains, you can work a multitude of mountain streams that hold trout. The purist will rely on flies and artificial offerings, but live bait can be productive as well. Beware of heavy localized rainfall that could mess up your favorite stream.
JUNE For exciting, fast-paced topwater action, give the largemouth bass a shot on Lake Hartwell. The big fish will be working the mid-lake humps and long sloping points and flats in June. These fish are primed to take in those big stick bait topwater lures. In fact, a variety of lures will do the job, but the topwater action seems to rule. On days when topwaters don't draw strikes, you can still catch plenty of fish using the trusty Carolina worm rig. Stay on the move until you find some cooperative bass; a lot of fish in the 3- to 5-pound class are there for the taking.
For scenic beauty and lots of panfish, the Edisto River and redbreasts are hard to beat. Use live bait or small beetle spin-type spinners for plenty of action with these feisty panfish. Don't hesitate to cull the smaller ones. You should be able to catch plenty of hand-sized redbreasts during a day of fishing.
The flounder fishing is excellent all along the coast during this month, and for the remainder of the summer. Trolling mud minnows around the mouths of inlets as well as along the deeper holds of the major creeks will put you on some fish. Fishing live shrimp under a bobber, letting the offering drift over the shell beds, is another excellent way to hook up with founder - and an occasional bonus redfish.
JULY The July smallmouth bass fishing on the Broad River is sensational for anglers using small crankbaits, spinnerbaits and even topwater lures. Most anglers prefer to float the river in canoes or johnboats. FM Outfitters is an excellent guide service (864-472-2006) that specializes in these trips. Most of the small jaws will be in the 1- to 2-pound class, but last summer a number of 4-pound-plus fish were caught. A smallmouth this size in a river environment is about all any angler could ask for from a black bass.
If you're looking for a combination of size and head count, then Lake Wateree is a great place to fish for bream during July. While the bream fishing has slowed considerably at other lakes, there's always good bedding action around the full moon at Wateree. In the summer, however, you need to fish slightly deeper than during spring. Another fun way to catch these fish is to use a fly rod along rocky shorelines early and late in the day.
Schooling Spanish mackerel in Charleston Harbor, both inside and just outside the jetties, is a good bet this month. Use spooks and jigs on these surface-schooling fish. The action can be fast-paced, with breaking fish all around you. If you can keep your cool, you'll hook up with some feisty fish.
AUGUST Spadefish are biting all along the South Carolina coast, especially around the wrecks that have been sunk a few miles offshore. These hard-fighting fish will roam in huge schools near the surface and you can chum them in with a jellyball on a line behind your anchored boat. When they come up to feed on the jellyball, cast another piece of jellyball or a piece of shrimp with hooks in them and you'll hook up quickly and often. These are good-eating fish as well.
The catfish action at Lake Wylie is outstanding during August. Good numbers of channel catfish and bullheads will make up the catch. While the fish are not huge, their numbers more than make up for their size. Lots of fish in the 1- to 6-pound class are taken and occasionally larger channel catfish are caught. Use mussels you can gather from the shallows before you start fishing or use stink baits and worms.
The striper action at Lake Murray is great and often overlooked by many angers during the heat of the summer. Some of the action is shallow-water lure fishing around the weeds. Much of the best fishing, however, is had by trolling deep with the "umbrella" rigs, which are becoming very popular on this and other lakes. A favorite lure to troll is a large jig.
SEPTEMBER While many outdoorsmen are in the woods deer hunting in the Lowcountry in September, some knowledgeable anglers are pounding the Santee River for some outstanding largemouth bass fishing. The cooler mornings of September put the fish in the biting mood, and spinnerbaits, shad-pattern crankbaits and the trusty Texas-rigged plastic worm are all excellent choices. Some early-morning and late-evening topwater action can be enjoyed as well.
Fishing the surf is a favorite September technique all along the coast, and in the surf you'll find a lot of black drum, as well as a smattering of redfish, trout and whiting. Use shrimp or mud minnows as bait and focus on areas around the mouths of inlets or where there are small drops or shelves near the shore.
If you do head to the salt water this month, another good bet is to go to the jetties around the Charleston and Georgetown areas, where sheepshead are ready to provide some light-tackle sport. These light-biting, but hard-fighting fish are roaming the rocks. Use fiddler crabs you can catch yourself or pieces of shrimp as bait and light- to medium-action tackle for best enjoyment.
OCTOBER October is a big catfish time at the Santee-Cooper lakes of Marion and Moultrie. Both the big boss blues and the frisky flatheads are on the prowl and can be taken in good numbers - and, most importantly, huge sizes. The blues are generally taken on cut bait drifted on the ledges and underwater islands in both lakes. The flatheads, on the other hand, are taken on live bream or white perch, fishing primarily in Lake Marion. Use heavy tackle and you can catch some 40-pound-plus fish during this time of the year.
The largemouths are schooling in the coves and off the points at Lake Wateree during October, and by mid-month you can usually find some striped bass mixed in as well. In some instances, you can take both
from the same schooling action. Plastic worms and topwaters are great for the largemouths; large jigs and spoons work best on the stripers.
If pure striper fishing is to your taste, keep in mind that Lake Thurmond stripers are feeding well in schools during October. Use topwater lures or live bait for plenty of rod-bending action throughout the month.
NOVEMBER Redfish along the entire coast move and feed across the shallow flats, making for some classic drum fishing. Look to the last two hours of a falling tide and the first two hours of the rising tide for the best action. You can use live bait on these fish, but for great sport during the cooler weather, you can also employ gold spoons and cast in front of the schools of moving fish as they work across the flats.
The spotted bass at Keowee offer a great opportunity for fishing at a beautiful lake. Angling pressure is much lower during this time of the year than in the warmer months and you can find these feisty fish in good numbers off points and steep rock banks. Use jigs, small crankbaits or sliders for best results.
The speckled trout fishing is really strong this month on the coast. Live bait or green jigs worked along the grassbeds during the rising tide should put you on fish. When the tide is low, look for the trout along the inlets and mouths of creeks.
DECEMBER Striper fishing at Lake Hartwell is always an excellent choice during the final month of the calendar year. Schooling stripers can be tempted with topwaters, jigs and live bait. When the fish are not schooling, both trolling and drifting live bait will produce good results.
Large numbers of blue catfish in the 2- to 12-pound class, known as "Christmas catfish," are active this month on Lake Marion. Using your graph, look for big pods of shad and typically you'll find the marauding blues right there feeding on their favored forage.
The striper action at Lake Greenwood is another red-hot bet in this cold month. The schooling fish are plentiful during typical years and anglers who plot the right strategy to be at the right place at the right time can take limits quickly.
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Those were 36 of the finest fishing trips in South Carolina for your consideration. While this listing is by no means all of the best, they are certainly blue-chip opportunities and will serve to guide you in the right direction. Good luck and good fishing.
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