The fall of 2015's flooding of much of the state created unusual water conditions for a long period of time, but by the spring of 2016, most lakes had settled back out. Overall, South Carolina crappie fishing was back to normal and most lakes had good water conditions during the spring of 2016. No long-term impacts were noted.
Based on the available data, 2017 should be another good year for South Carolina crappie fishing in most lakes.
Ross Self, Chief of Fisheries for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) said the overall status of the crappie fisheries in South Carolina is still good.
"Based on the information from around the state, the crappie fishing is good at most lakes throughout the state," Ross said. "Anglers seem to have accepted the statewide 8-inch size limit and a 20-crappie creel limit, but it's still too early in the process to determine how that's going to impact the fishing."
Ross said he feels the new regulations will take a few years to allow researchers to acquire enough scientific data to determine how well this effort will work
"We believe it will be positive for the crappie fishery," he said. "The quality of the crappie fishing overall on a statewide basis has remained good but the goal with the regulations is to ensure the crappie resource remains productive for the anglers for the long term."
A number of lakes could make the list of top crappie fisheries but we've narrowed down the best of the best. We'll begin in the lower part of the state and work upstate.
The major crappie lakes in this sector of the state are lakes Marion and Moultrie. Additionally, some rivers typically provide some good crappie action.
Both of the two Santee Cooper lakes provide excellent crappie fishing. But high water conditions in late 2015 and into spring of 2016 produced some absolutely sensational fishing in the Santee River below Lake Marion.
The Santee River consistently produces good crappie fishing action in normal years, but the last two years has been extraordinarily productive, with 2016 specifically producing incredible crappie fishing.
Guide Joe Dennis from Bonneau (843-245-3762) spent a large part of the spring crappie fishing in the Santee River in 2016 and his clients recorded two crappie that topped the scales at over 4 pounds apiece — one in February and the second in March 2016. In addition, a large number of crappie over 3 pounds were taken.
"The fishing in the Santee River is exceptional and I think 2017 will be another good year," Dennis said. "We've had a lot of water released into the river from the Wilson Dam impounding Lake Marion and the crappie numbers are higher, and the sizes larger than I ever remember. It's not just that we're catching some monster-sized crappie, it's that we're typically catching limits of crappie. Most days last spring we were able to catch limits (without have to keep any) fish less than a pound."
Dennis said a lot of anglers scored on this fishing in 2016 and he quickly learned to streamline his presentation process to incorporate light line and subtle presentations.
Dennis said he'll use up to six rigs with a number four wire hook and a couple of number 1 split shots. He said he normally prefers 4-pound test but the huge crappie forced him to go to heavier line. Minnows are his bait of choice on these rigs.
"I'll often pull these vertical rigs as I work along the shoreline and the anglers will cast 1/32-ounce jigs toward shoreline cover with tiny grub trailers. The downsized presentation helps with the big fish bite."
Dennis said that in addition to fishing debris, logjams and brush he also works the junctions of small creeks with the river, points and any area that creates current changes. Any of these can hold big clusters of crappie.
The Santee River is producing some monster slabs right now, but that's something Lake Moultrie and Marion do on a consistent basis, especially during the spring months.
One major proponent of the great fishing available in the Santee Cooper lakes is Whitey Outlaw from St. Matthews.
Outlaw is a veteran crappie tournament champion who fishes across the country in tournaments, but he said his home lakes are hard to beat for great fishing.
"I fish all over the country in crappie tournaments but crappie fishing at lakes Moultrie and Marion ranks among the best," Outlaw said. "A good example was last year fishing out of Blacks Camp at the end of the Diversion Canal — we not only caught lots of crappie but more importantly, numerous huge fish. In one half-day trip we had several over 3 pounds and many of the rest were pushing 2 pounds. The population of crappie is good and the size is great. Right now is the time to go if you want to catch big crappie. An actual 3-pound crappie is huge anyplace for crappie. I fish major crappie tournaments and I keep my scales with me so I check all these larger fish. These are not 'eye-balled' 3-pounders — they're for real."
Outlaw said that a primary pattern in Lake Moultrie and lower Lake Marion is deep-water cover of brush and underwater cover which can be marked on his graph. He also said using the right baits was a big key to his success.
"I use a Hummingbird 1199 with sidescan and downscan capability to identify targets with fish and then set up where we can work into the wind and fish the top and edges of the brush or other cover," he said.
Among his favorite tactics include fishing vertically, and in doing so the lures used are a key to success.
"I have a lot of success with the 1/8-ounce Rockport Rattler jig head with a pink tube jig tipped with a medium shiner minnow," Outlaw said. "We also have excellent success with a similar weight Roadrunner jig tipped with minnows. The Roadrunners adds a bit of flash with a small willow blade which seems to help attract crappie at times."
MIDLANDS AND PIEDMONT
According to several crappie-fishing experts and guides, Lake Thurmond (aka Clarks Hill Lake) is in an up cycle for crappie, with quality fish and plenty of numbers. Guide Wendell Wilson targets this lake when he's looking for good numbers of quality fish.
"Crappie action is typically good at Clarks Hill but the past couple of years have been very good and I don't expect things to change in 2017," he said. "The key is to be mobile on this huge lake in order to find the fish. They have a lot of territory to roam with the large main lake and many significant feeder creeks."
Wilson said crappies have an affinity for woody cover but at this lake he often will focus on schools of threadfin shad on the flats adjacent to the river channel.
Wilson (Wilson's Guide Service 706-283-3336) said one early season technique is to slowly move and fish along a clean flat in 30 feet or deeper water — but remain close to the ledge drops into the channel. He uses a 3/8-ounce drop shot rig to keep the bait near the bottom and a short leader about 18 inches above loaded with a number two gold wire hook and small live minnow.
"When I find a school of shad higher in the water column, I'll move my rigs from near the bottom to work that depth," he said.
Wilson will also begin to slow troll the creeks as the crappie begin to migrate toward spawning grounds as the water warms. He'll vary color and sizes of jigs as the daily patterns change.
According to SCDNR fisheries biologists, Lake Greenwood is consistently one of the top crappie lakes in the state for quality of fish and rate of growth. The fishing at this lake is certainly great during the spring spawning season, but many anglers miss out on the pre-spawn fishing in late-February and March.
Rod Wall, a crappie tournament professional, calls Lake Greenwood his home lake. Wall lives in the town by the same name and fishes Lake Greenwood year round.
Wall said the entire lake is very productive during cold weather leading into the spring spawning period. A lot of anglers focus primarily on the upper end of the lake and that area does produce great crappie action in the Reedy and Saluda river arms of the lake.
But that's not the only place to fish.
"I often target the lower end of the lake because I'll usually catch more big crappies in that area," he said.
Wall says the crappie fishing techniques he uses are the same for both areas. He says he will use a two-hook rig on each of his spider rigs, usually consisting of up to eight rods.
"I use B'n'M rods that range in length from 12 to 16 feet long," he said. "This enables me to cover a wide area of water fishing a specific target. I prefer a combination of woody cover along with schools of shad. A sidescan graph is a big asset and I'll often mark fish holding on cover away from the boat. Often these slightly out-of-the-way areas are fished less and can hold lots of big fish."
Wall says one of his favorite tactics early in the season is to use small spoons for vertical jigging. One of the reasons he likes this tactic is the fast action it provides on a variety of fish.
"I use the 1/4-ounce flexible spoons I can bend them slightly for even better action," Wall said.
He said at times spoons can be more effective than the traditional spider rig and have the bonus of catching black bass, stripers, and huge white perch. He adds that it's not unusual to catch a limit of crappie.
Fishing Creek Lake
This smallish lake on the Catawba River near Great Falls packs a big crappie-fishing opportunity in a small package. The cyclic nature of crappie is apparent at this lake, but it seems to be currently on an up cycle and a lot of crappies are being caught here.
Guide Buster Rush says the lake seems like a sleeper lake and while local anglers are working the lake hard, a lot of anglers overlook it.
"I live in Camden and I travel to Fishing Creek Lake a lot from March through May, and again in the fall" he said. "It's worth the trip for both numbers of fish as well as good average size. We do catch some really big fish here, but for me it's the consistent ability to score limits of good fish."
Rush (803-478-4979) says he typically trolls multiple rods for crappie from his roomy pontoon boat.
"I'll vary colors and sizes of jigs to find the right pattern for each day," he said. "This is the most consistent method for me, but I know other fishermen who vertically fish underwater cover using minnows and or jigs. There's a lot of bottom cover in this lake and often it's simply a process of covering territory, changing speeds of the troll and size and color of jigs to determine a pattern. At times, I'll get into a good pattern that will last for an extended period. When that happens we can get limits of good crappie pretty fast."
The top upstate crappie lake in recent years has been Lake Hartwell and that's expected to remain the same 2017. Lake Hartwell is a deep, clear lake and the crappie fishing is different from that experienced on shallower, debris-laden lakes. However the potential to catch very good limits of crappie here make it a very good fishery.
For most anglers, the lack of shallow natural cover is made up for by using brushpiles strategically placed in various water depths.
Seth Owens (Lines Out Charters) guides for multiple species and has placed brushpiles in the lake at strategic depths, enabling him to catch fish consistently.
"One big factor in successful crappie fishing at Lake Hartwell is the water level. It can be up or down significantly from year to year, even season to season," Owens said. "So the crappie fishing can be a hit or miss event unless you know where plenty of brush is located at different depths. We've got some natural cover in places as well, but the key is having woody cover to fish regardless of the current water level. Small jigs as well as live minnows will produce good action."
Owens (864-909-7388) said the cover and shade presented by docks is often an ideal situation for crappie to suspend in fishable depths.
"Often the crappie will be shallow, even over deep water, and hold tight in the shade afforded by the dock," he said. "Work small jigs in out of the away corners and pockets for the biggest crappie. Sometimes a dock will produce only a couple of fish, sometimes many."
Owens says that the excellent striper fishing sometimes overshadows the crappie action, but from February to April the lake produces a lot of big crappie in huge numbers.