January 30, 2018
South Carolina bass fishing remains excellent throughout the state. Here's how the fisheries are at some top locations.
Quality black bass fishing is available year-round in South Carolina. Spring — roughly, February through May — ranks as a highly popular time to fish, but it's not the only time you can catch bass.
According to Ross Self, Chief of Fisheries for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), there aren't many problems with black bass fisheries in the state.
Self said that despite high pressure on so many lakes and rivers, the black bass fisheries are thriving and producing at elevated levels.
"The catch-and-release practiced by many black bass anglers, as well as the creel and length limits that went into effect in 2012, seem to be making a positive difference," he said. "The regulatory changes occurred just as the state was coming out of a drought and a drought situation is sometimes a difficult one for fish species to thrive in. But our data shows the creel and length limits are having a positive impact so I'd call it a 'harmonic convergence' of good science with the regulatory changes and good luck with the drought ending concurrently."
Self said the primary focus regarding problem fisheries has been at Lake Wylie, where several bass fishermen lodged concerns about the health of the overall fishery.
"This is an area we're going to focus on and meet with the concerned fishermen to better determine what's going on at Lake Wylie," Self said. "We've looked at the most recent data we have and we're not seeing a big shift in population numbers, but the data does indicate fewer 'memorable' fish at Lake Wylie. We'll have a better idea once we meet with the fishermen and try to better define the situation."
So many excellent bass fisheries exist that it's difficult to pick the top South Carolina waters for 2018. The criteria used here is to select lakes providing good year-round fishing with a heavy emphasis toward excellent spring and early summer action.
In-Fisherman: Southern Reservoir Bass & Crappie
Lake Murray's consistent black bass fishing has certainly ranked among the top in the state over the past few years. The lake is a highly popular stop for many bass fishing tournaments, and in August of 2017 Lake Murray hosted a three-day FLW event that produced some astounding catches.
Ross Self and several other fishery biologists with the SCDNR attended the event. Self says he was not only impressed by the weights of fish anglers brought to the scales, but also by how obvious it was that the bass were in excellent condition.
"The tournament was held in August, normally a tough time of the year for bass fishing in some lakes," Self said. "But the bass were apparently on a strong pattern of feeding on herring and the fish weighed were heavy, plump and healthy bass. It was very impressive and indicative of the excellent bass fishery at Lake Murray."
The weights of the top five fishermen's catches all exceeded 51 pounds for three days, with 59-pounds-plus winning. Lake Murray is also known for excellent spring fishing. By late February and into early March, anglers are typically catching hefty fish from shallows throughout the lake. Spinnerbaits, jigs and crankbaits all produce good results.
During pre-spawn look for big fish to begin moving toward the shallows, staging on points, flats with cover and the back of creeks as the water warms. The fish may be anywhere from shallow down to 12 feet. Crankbaits are productive — they allow anglers to cover plenty of water. Slow-moving spinnerbaits, however, also can be lethal on big bass at this time of year.
The action in and around shallow-water cover increases by mid-March and into April. After the spawn, bass will linger in the shallows for a while, especially in the upper end of the lake above Dreher Island.
It's tough to tell whether Lake Moultrie or Lake Marion will provide better fishing over an entire year. Both are well worth a visit. At times, one will produce better than the other, but the best fishing trades off throughout the year.
During the spring of 2017 when sampling largemouth bass numbers at Santee Cooper lakes, SCDNR Regional Fisheries Biologist Scott Lamprecht noted that the number of adult shad that survived the previous winter (2016/2017) was very high, providing outstanding forage for black bass and other species. He says this forage base is a key to healthy largemouth bass and stripers.
"In addition, the summer season produced many large mayfly hatches, more than I've seen before," Lamprecht said. "While I don't know why we had all these mayfly hatches I do know that they provide a tremendous food source for many gamefish."
The mayflies would be ideal for smaller bass and stripers and promote good growth for fish spawned in 2017.
For many anglers, the very early spring action in Lake Moultrie can be absolutely great. Last spring around the lake bass moved to relatively shallow water, specifically into 4- to 6-foot depths, and anglers caught them on pre-spawn patterns for several weeks until the fish moved shallow to spawn. Of course, the action was great in the shallows at that point.
According to many anglers, this early-season, hot action is quite normal.
Bottom-bumping baits certainly are one of the top lure categories: The jig and plastic grub, Texas- or Carolina-rigged plastic worms and plastic worms rigged 'wacky' style all produce good action. With the water temperature still quite cool, think "slower" and "cover" when bass are in a spawn or post-spawn timeframe.
If you want to use a search bait, crankbaits that run 4 to 6 feet deep are excellent.
By March and through the spring, both lakes produce excellent bass and the upper end of Lake Marion typically produces plenty of quality bass as well as excellent numbers of fish.
Inky Davis, a long-time bass guide at Lake Marion, said one of the keys to a trophy bass is simply patience and putting in the time.
"All types of bottom-bumping baits, jigs and worms as well as spinnerbaits and slow-moving crankbaits will produce huge largemouth," he said. "The last couple of years I've seen a lot of really big bass caught and released so I'm really confident about the bass fishery in the lake."
Davis (803-478-7289) said he works cypress trees, close to deeper water, as well as weeds and grass near drops and ledges. He said to keep moving, working different depths and lures because patterns are constantly changing with the unpredictable spring weather.
"Around the heavy cover we have in Lake Marion we'll catch big bass any time of the day," Davis said.
Lake Wateree consistently produces quality fish throughout the summer and fall, but it's the springtime when tournament anglers love to fish this lake.
One reason for the quality largemouth fishing is a strong forage population.
SCDNR fisheries biologist Robert Stroud says the forage base of threadfin and gizzard shad remains very good in the lake. Stroud has worked Lake Wateree for years and says the lake continues to produce plenty of forage.
Big bass typically make a move in February toward the shallows and a few really big fish can be caught. Most of the big bass are caught in 8 to 14 feet of water, where jig-and-grub combos, along with plastic worms and slow-rolling big, single-bladed spinnerbaits produce good results. At this time of the year the bass fishing is not a numbers game as much as an opportunity to hook a few big bass.
By March and continuing into May, the action speeds up and lots of fish in the 3- to 6-pound class are taken in the shallows on the same lures noted above, as well as crankbaits. By mid-April the grass beds become a prime target for anglers working buzzbaits and other topwaters, as well as spinnerbaits, through the shallow weeds.
The action stays excellent in the shallows for several weeks and slowly tapers as bass move toward deeper water. At this time, points and the myriad of mid-lake humps and ledges begin to dominate bass fishing. Anglers at this point are targeting fish that are 12 to 16 feet deep.
For non-tournament anglers, the nocturnal hours produce some outstanding bass fishing — and they give anglers relief from the recreational boat traffic on the lake.
Lake Hartwell on the Savannah River chain has earned the reputation of both a largemouth and spotted bass factory.
The fishery is such that the 48th annual Bassmaster Classic will be held at Lake Hartwell March 16-18, 2018. This is the third time that this mega-championship has been held at Hartwell — the event was here in 2005 and again in 2015.
Lake Hartwell has a vast diversity of structure and cover for both largemouth and spotted bass. Both species are thriving. Lake Hartwell can experience a large drawdown depending on rainfall and other conditions, so the lake level can change considerably from one year to the next.
Good fishing exists throughout the spring, but compared to many South Carolina lakes, at Lake Hartwell that fishing can be relatively deep. The lake itself is very deep and, typically, clear — so bass are often found on patterns somewhat deeper than on other lakes in most of the state.
Points and ledges are good areas to fish throughout the spring. Anglers should try working jigs and grubs or plastic worms deep around these structures. Drop-shot techniques work also work, and many of the lake's bluffs and deep pockets hold fish during the early season, providing excellent targets for this technique.
Other excellent lures are deep-diving crankbaits and Shakyhead rigs.