Black bass are the most highly sought-after fish in South Carolina and without a doubt the pressure on the species is great. But despite the heavy pressure, the overall fishery remains excellent.
Ross Self, Chief of Fisheries for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) said the black bass fishing in the state has relatively few problems.
“We continue to see the positive impact that the catch-and-release practiced by many black bass anglers combined with the current length and creel regulations are having,” Self said. “Despite the pressure this species receives, we’re having plenty of fish reproduce to keep fishing at a very high level.”
Self says likely the biggest issue the SCDNR is dealing with is the continued surge of spotted bass populations because of their impact on the native bass fisheries.
“Spotted bass were not been introduced by the SCDNR and they do not show the growth potential that largemouth do in our lakes,” he said. “Plus hybridization is a threat as well, with Lake Greenwood being a lake of concern in that regard.”
But the overall trend is very positive for South Carolina lakes and rivers for black bass fishing. We’ll take a more detailed look at several waters providing excellent bass fishing right now.
Self singled out the Cooper River fishery as one that is well-documented for having an excellent bass fishery and as one of the top bass fisheries in the state. Fisheries Biologist Levi Kaczka for Region IV added information why the Cooper River is a prime fishery.
“The Cooper River has abundant Hydrilla and other submersed vegetation that experiences yearly die-offs and subsequent regeneration,” Kaczka said. “Also the river has banks that overflow onto historic rice fields, which provide a stable base for strong primary production. This base creates a quality bass fishery in terms of quantity and quality of fish.”
Another reason the Cooper River is such a strong and dependable fishery is the reliable water flow through the river.
Joe Dennis (843-245-3762) is a multi-species fishing guide that fishes the Cooper River. Dennis said that dependability of water flow is a key ingredient to the bass fishing on the Cooper River.
“The Cooper River is a large river and one that seems to always have current flow due to consistent water generation at the Pinopolis Dam,” he said. “Water movement is a dependable feature for the excellent fishing here and the amount will change and the river level will move up or down depending on outflow. But having reliable current and deeper water are keys to this fishery being so productive.”
Dennis said another aspect important to many bass fishermen is that the river is large enough for big bass rigs.
“The Cooper River is plenty large enough for big bass rigs and that gives anglers the mobility to move a lot,” he said. “With bass fishing is so good it’s common for multiple tournaments to be held throughout the spring and summer nearly every weekend.”
Dennis said multiple patterns exist, but one deep-water favorite is working mouths of ditches and creeks entering the river. As weather warms and weed growth emerges, the weeds along the shoreline that are near the drop into the channel are prime targets.
Some of the docks on along the river are adjacent to deep water and these are good early season spots fished with jigs and grubs and soft plastics.
Dennis said submerged treetops and other woody debris make excellent bass hideouts when found close to the deeper water.
Lake Hartwell has received a tremendous amount of exposure in recent years by hosting the Bassmaster Classic, and the fishing is strong enough to warrant such exposure.
The early season fishing from February through April is one of constant change, according to tournament angler Glenn Corley. Corley, a former guide, fishes all of the upstate lakes and said the fishing at Lake Hartwell has to be considered a leader in this part of the state.
“With the depth of water in this lake and the influx of water from both the Tugaloo and Seneca rivers, Lake Hartwell has a great diversity of water and water conditions available,” Corley said.
Corley said in February and March most of the bass are locked into pre-spawn mode, but as the water warms they begin to move toward the shallows.
“The primary factor, of course, is weather and water conditions but usually by late February and into March the bass begin to make a move from the deep water,” he said.
“Anglers find fish on the ledges of creek channels and on humps out in deep water in the mornings anywhere from 20 to 40 feet deep,” he added. “They are hooking fish on Carolina rigs with finesse worms in morning at dawn and also by using green pumpkin or 1/2-ounce jigging spoons.
“As the water continues to warm bass move out of the deep water and begin to converge off the points,” he said. “The key is to find these secondary points where the bass are concentrated.”
Corley said during March bass fishermen often must employ a mixed bag of techniques because bass can be either deep or shallow.
“This situation occurs because bass start out in the pre-spawn in deep water and begin to move to the banks for the spawn,” he said. “Since bass are moving in and out of the creek channels, the creek runs are good places to work a worm or fish a drop shot rig in 35-40 feet of water. If fishing a drop shot, use a finesse worm in green or natural shad. Jigs of 1/2 or 3/8 ounce with trailers in green or green pumpkin are also good.”
Next the fish begin heading to the banks. Look for places off the creeks with shallow, sloping banks with scattered rocks or woody structure.
“When casting the shoreline work the bait slow with shallow-running crank baits or jerkbaits that dive from 1 to 3 feet,” he said. “Some favorites include #5 or #7 Shad Raps, the Rapala DTFlat-03 in fire tiger and the Lucky Craft Pointer 78 in ghost minnow or chartreuse shad.”
MLF Pro Tips: Setting the Drag
Lake Wateree on the Catawba River chain offers a diversity of fishing opportunities for bass anglers and the early spring is when this lake really shines for largemouth bass.
Over the course of recent years the lake has morphed from a very good bass fishery to one that during March and April can post eye-popping weights in tournament results. The shallow-water action is still very strong for numbers of fish and there are plenty of quality fish available, too.
The lake is not huge, but its 13,000-plus surface acres have great diversity, with several large creeks emptying into the main river. Wateree Creek on the upper end of the lake is an early season hotspot and often seems to be the place that cranks out excellent catches. The water here is often turbid, even muddy at times during spring, but seems to warm early, prompting an early and substantial move to the shallows by the fish.
Further down lake are Dutchman, Singleton, Beaver and Colonels creeks. All are prime areas for bass. The lower end of the lake is full of large coves and smaller creeks too numerous to mention, but are obvious on a good lake map. And they all offer good springtime fishing.
Longtime angler Chuck Porter from Sumter said to be prepared to fish a variety of targets because the bass are on the move during the early season.
“Points, rocky shorelines that drop in several feet of water and smaller pockets off of the major creeks are all prime areas throughout the spring,” he said. “As spring progresses look for coves with weedy cover and woody objects. Also docks are prime targets during this time of the year.”
Porter said as the lake warms with approach of summer, bass typically stack up on points and mid-lake humps and drops.
“Lake Wateree is absolutely full of mid-lake humps and ledges and once the weather turns warm, many of the big bass will be found in these areas.”
Lake Murray has a strong spring and early summer largemouth pattern and ranks high on the list of many mid-state anglers.
Early spring patterns are varied depending on the specific part of the lake being fished. The upper end of the lake above Dreher Island is often considerably different in terms of bass patterns and depth than the lower end of the lake, due to water color and temperature. In the deeper, clearer lower end bass are typically deeper.
Early season bass tend to move to points in 10 to 2 feet of water as well as on large flats with plenty of cover, usually around ditches and deeper cuts coursing through the flats. Rock piles and shallow humps that come within 10 feet of the surface from deeper water are good targets as well.
As the water warms the fish move to the shallows and a lot of the best action will be forage dependent. Locating areas where shad and/or blueback herring are in shallow water is crucial.
Early morning action is good with shallow-water lures including spinnerbaits, buzzbaits off points and Zara Spooks and Pop R’s back in cover-filled pockets. Mid-day action is deeper and bottom bumpers and crankbaits rule. Late evening fishing patterns typically return to shallow water action with forage again helping anglers to pinpoint the best areas.
As shallow-water spring fishing morphs into summer patterns, good fishing continues with deeper water being the focal point. Mid-lake humps and ledges near the channels are good as well as long points that drop into deep water. Fishing at night, however, usually allows anglers to get away from boat traffic and provides the option of fishing shallower water than by day.
The upper of the two Santee Cooper lakes is prime early season fishing and the lake typically produces monster bass from the February through April.
Inky Davis (803-478-7289), a long-time professional guide on Lake Marion, says the specific places will vary from February through April, but a lot of big bass will be found shallow at that time.
“One reason shallow water is a key area is we simply have so much shallow-water cover throughout the lake, but especially above the I-95 Bridge,” Davis said. “In addition, a lot of natural vegetation is available and that’s another key to shallow-water bass action.”
Davis says he fishes a lot of different lures on any given day, but he has a preference for soft plastics early in the year.
“But I’ll experiment with different lures on different structure and cover patterns until I lock onto what’s happening on a given day,” he said.
“Weather fronts in early spring will change patterns, but if I can adapt to changing conditions the fishing can still be very productive,” he said. “On post-frontal days the bite may not be as aggressive but I’ve found that the opportunity to hook a really big fish still exists. As a basic rule I’ll have to slow down and work heavy cover. And the best depths may drop a bit deeper, but usually not a lot in the upper end of the lake.”
Davis listed a variety of lures that produce, including soft plastics and jigs, plastic worms, spinnerbaits and crankbaits. As the water warms, a variety of topwater lures produce explosive action. They include soft frogs worked through the pads and weedbeds. Other productive lures include the Zara Spook, Skinny Dipper and buzzbaits.
Make a plan now to hit one or several of these South Carolina bass fishing hotspots and take advantage of the outstanding fishing available throughout the state.
NEW BASS SPECIES RECOGNIZED IN SOUTH CAROLINA
According to Ross Self, Chief of Fisheries for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), recent studies and work has led to a new species of black bass being named in South Carolina.
The fish, found in the Savannah Basin, represents a distinct genetic Redeye line called “Bartram’s Bass.”
“The species has yet to be formally described, but South Carolina populations of Redeye Bass are already commonly being referred to as Bartram’s Bass,” Self said. “It is the only ‘shoal loving’ black bass native to South Carolina and occupies an important ecological niche in the streams where it is found as a top predator.”
Self said threats facing this native bass are primarily from introduced species. The Bartram’s will hybridize with smallmouth and spotted bass and the unauthorized release of spotted bass into the reservoirs of the upper Savannah Basin has led to the spread of that species throughout the system. The impact of this non-native species to Bartram’s Bass has been catastrophic in those reservoir habitats.
“Most recent survey work by the SCDNR has shown that through hybridization Bartram’s Bass have been eliminated from Lakes Keowee and Russell and are in sharp decline in Jocassee and Hartwell,” Self said. “Except for isolated tributary streams separated from reservoirs, pure Bartram’s Bass populations may no longer exist.”
Self said the Bartram’s Bass is valued not only as a species of concern, but also because it is an excellent game fish. It is a hard-fighting fish and even small individuals are a lot of fun to catch on light tackle.