Want some ideas for great year-round fishing in South Carolina? Here are three picks per month for great fishing action.
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Before you read any more, grab your calendar. Too many would-be fishing trips turn into good intentions lost to other plans. Pick the trips you really want to take this year and make your plans now. Got the calendar and the marker? OK. Here we go with a month-by-month look at outstanding fishing options in all parts of the Palmetto State.
Redfish - Inshore Waters
January brings the clearest water of the year to South Carolina's marshes, and the fish herd up in giant schools. Both conditions lend themselves wonderfully to sight-fishing strategies. Schools of dozens (sometimes hundreds) of redfish swim together. That's thrilling if you can sneak up on them and manage a good cast before they get spooked. However, 75 redfish have 150 eyes, and when one fish spots potential danger, they all bolt.
Move slowly and quietly across vast flats or along the edge of the Intercoastal Waterway, and watch for dark areas. Most schools will look like areas of discolored bottom at first. If possible, figure out the direction a school is moving and make a cast ahead of the fish as soon as you get close enough.
You'll typically get only one or two chances before the school flees, and they'll probably scatter when you do hook a fish. They may not go far, though, and sometimes they will re-gather in the same area. Move slowly and watch carefully as you resume your search.
For information, visit www.wilddunes.com.
Crappie - Lake Thurmond
Lake Thurmond kicks out excellent crappie fishing year after year, despite heavy pressure throughout the spring. Good numbers and sizes are the norm, and the fishing becomes very predictable quite early in the year.
February brings the first warm snaps of the year, pushing crappie briefly into very shallow water. Even before the first warm days, though, the fish will begin straying into the dozens of big creeks that flank the Savannah River. Except during unusually warm snaps, they'll be near the channel edges in the lower ends of the creeks, often relating to sunken brushpiles.
The easiest way to find and catch Lake Thurmond crappie is to troll slowly up a creek, pulling minnow-tipped jigs at a variety of depths. Keep a close eye on your graph and be ready to make a return pass through an area when you see something interesting or when one or more rods go down.For more information, visit www.sctravelold96.com.
Largemouths - Cooper River
Most bass fishermen focus their efforts on major reservoirs, and that's just fine with the relatively small number of anglers who spend spring days fishing the Cooper River. Fertile and filled with diverse forage, the Cooper produces some big bass, and spring is prime time for hooking into the biggest bass in the river.
Tidal movements, multiple channels and an extensive network of natural backwaters and broken rice fields combine to make the Cooper a complex fishery. During the spring the fish move very shallow, though, and you'll find them in the places that look like they ought to hold largemouth bass. Match a flipping jig with a big crawfish trailer and work visible cover in backwaters and behind current breaks along the main river.
Use heavy line and a rod with plenty of backbone when you fish the Cooper. Along with growing to big sizes, the bass find plenty of line-breaking stuff to wrap around when they do get hooked.
For information, visit www.santeecoopercountry.com.
Largemouths - Lake Wylie
April is prime time for catching a big bag of bass on Lake Wylie, with the fish relating to countless docks and laydowns up the Catawba River and in tributary arms. Wylie offers an outstanding combination of quality and quantity, along with the possibility of hooking into a really big largemouth.
An important key to dock fishing success is figuring out which docks the fish are using. A dozen neighboring docks will look similar, but the bass might only be around the one that is close to a channel swing and has 8 feet of water and brush off its end. Consider conditions and recent weather and make calculated decisions about the docks to try. Then pay close attention to details every time you get bit.
Remember that there is no reciprocal license covering Lake Wylie, which is divided by the North Carolina/South Carolina border. Either buy both licenses or be careful to stay on the proper side of the border.
For information, visit www.carolinasfishing.com.
Catfish - Santee Cooper
May offers a little bit of everything for Santee Cooper catfishermen, and fishing can be good for flatheads, blues and channel cats. Pick your preferred kind of cat and plan your strategy accordingly.
Flatheads will hold along the main river channel in the lower end of Lake Marion. Ride the channel while watching your graph, and look for big fish that are just off the bottom and tight to flooded timber. Set up directly overhead with live fish dangling just off the bottom.
Drifting the open waters of Lake Moultrie is probably the best way to put blue catfish in the boat with an opportunity to catch a really big fish. Get recent reports about which areas blues have been using when you buy bait, and then look for cats on your electronics before beginning a drift. Drifting will also produce some channel catfish, but a better strategy for channel cats is to anchor in the Diversion Canal and fish with stinkbaits.
For more information, visit santeecoopercountry.org.www.santeecoopercountry.org.
Black Bass Mix - Lake Jocassee
Lake Jocassee is best known as a trout lake. However, a peek into the record book reveals that the state records for three of South Carolina's four black bass species came from this relatively small mountain lake. Jocassee produced the record smallmouth, redeye and spotted bass, and while largemouth habitat is pretty limited in this deep mountain lake, locals know that Jocassee yields some re
ally big largemouths, too.
The biggest largemouths typically are caught at night, with many fooled by large topwater lures worked slowly across the moonlit surface. Of course, night time is the right time for most Jocassee summer fishing because the bass can be extremely fussy by day in the lake's ultra-clear water.
While topwater lures are tough to beat for big largemouths, a dark-colored hair jig is far more likely to produce any of the other black bass. Fishing live bait under lights in the vicinity of the dam also produces a lot of bass, if you don't mind battling trout between bass bites.
For information, visit www.jocasseeoutdoorcenter.com.
Catfish - Lake Murray
If you asked several fishermen to name South Carolina catfish lakes, Lake Murray wouldn't come up very often. Nevertheless, an outstanding catfish population has quietly developed in Murray, and mid-summer is a great time to go after Lake Murray cats. Fat channel cats in the 3- to 10-pound range dominate the population, but Murray also has a developing population of blues and even produces a few flatheads.
The best fishing occurs at night, when the fish move shallow to feed. Anchor over the top of a hump or close to an island in the vicinity of deeper water. Bait bottom rigs with cut herring and spread the lines at a range of depths. If the fish are nearby, they'll most likely reveal themselves very quickly.
An alternative to the after-hours approach is to go way up one of the river arms, where the water is just a little bit cooler and to anchor at the head of a deep hole. Most of the best holes are along hard outside bends or at the confluences of tributaries.
For information, visit www.lakemurraycountry.com.
Tarpon - Charleston
The hottest days of summer bring the year's best opportunities for catching high-flying tarpon. The tarpon, which typically reveal themselves by rolling on the surface or attacking baitfish, can be caught with live menhaden or with baitfish-imitating artificial lures, including flies.
Of course hooking a tarpon is only half the battle! Anglers who target tarpon count both the number of fish they jump (any tarpon that gets hooked jumps) and the number they actually land in a day. Landing usually means bringing the fish boatside and twisting a circle hook out of its mouth.
Although the tarpon understandably draw the bulk of the headlines with their high jumps, blazing runs and flashy silver sides, part of the appeal of summer fishing near the mouth of Charleston Harbor is that the tarpon aren't the only big-game fish in town. Bull redfish provide brute power to complement the tarpon's acrobatics, and various shark species add the opportunity to do battle with an absolute monster.
For information, visit www.fishcall.com.
Largemouths - Lake Hartwell
Big topwater lures are the name of the game at Lake Hartwell during August afternoons. Chunky largemouths, which stay ever on the lookout for roving blueback herring, seem like they come out of nowhere to ambush walking baits and chuggers.
The bass (and stripers as well) sit atop humps and points in the lake's lower main body and the extreme lower ends of major tributaries, always looking up and ready to attack. Veteran anglers hit milk runs of dozens of points and humps, not staying in any place for very long. If the bass are nearby, they typically reveal themselves pretty quickly.
You don't necessarily have to know the hotspots to fish this pattern. Simply run from point to point and from one hazard marker to the next, throwing topwater lures over about 10 feet of water and working them toward deeper water. Also stay on the lookout for breaking fish. Both the largemouths and the stripers often will give themselves away.For information, visit www.theupcountry.com.
Speckled Trout - Inshore Waters
The slightly cooler days of October bring exciting action to South Carolina's marshes, as speckled trout begin preparing for leaner times ahead. The specks feed actively all along the coast during the fall, and a variety of approaches will put trout in the boat.
The most popular way to catch trout during October is to dangle a live shrimp under a popping cork and to call the fish with a pop of the cork. Usually the rig won't sit there long. Arguably the most fun way to catch trout is with a walking topwater lure, such as a Zara Spook. A third very effective option is to rig a leadhead with a grub or other soft-plastic lure and either swim it or fish it under a popping cork.
Trout can be caught anywhere in the marsh during October, but the best concentrations of fish usually will be around oyster bars. Fish the upper half of the tide and pay special attention any rips formed by high oyster beds. Don't be surprised, by the way, if a chunky redfish attacks your offering.
Trout - Jocassee Gorges
There's no finer month to venture into the mountains than November. The weather's usually mild, the scenery is spectacular and leaf peepers have gone home. More importantly, if you plan to wade a creek and cast for trout, the fish tend to feed well during November, with brown trout in particular less cautious than normal.
Either a fly rod or an ultralight spinning rod will do the job nicely. Good flies include traditional nymphs such as Gold-Ribbed Hare's Ears, Tellicos and Prince Nymphs, small bushy dry flies (especially late in the afternoon) and black Woolly Buggers. In-line spinners and micro jigs are good picks for spin-fishing. However, a stealthy approach and natural presentations are more important than the perfect lure of fly in these streams.
With much attention turned to hunting, you're likely to have the remote and beautiful waters of the Whitewater River, Eastatoe Creek or other tumbling streams on the Jocassee Gorge property to yourself this time of the year.
For information, visit www.theupcountry.com.
Striped Bass - Santee Cooper
Aided by more protective regulations, the striped bass have made a tremendous comeback in the Santee Cooper lakes during the past couple of years. December is prime time for running schools on lakes Marion and Moultrie, with action occurring in fabulous flurries. "Running schools," of course, is a relative term on Lake Marion. Often you have to travel at more of a "walk" toward busting stripers that are not that far away, only hoping the school will stay up until you get there.
On Moultrie, school fishing is strictly and open-water propositio
n, and the folks at the fish camps can give you an idea of where to begin looking. The best schooling on Marion is often among the trees in the lower main body. In either lake, watch for birds diving or fish busting the surface.
Once you find fish breaking, you can catch them several different ways. The fastest and most dependable way to hook up is to pitch a free-lined live herring among the breaking fish. If you don't want to mess with live bait, make a lot of noise with a chugging topwater lure and hang on tight or swim a bucktail just beneath the surface.
For information, visit www.blackscamp.com.