February 16, 2018
There are a variety of South Carolina crappie waters that should continue to be productive.
A significant percentage of South Carolina crappie fishermen enjoyed a very productive year in 2017. Given that the state had no shortage of water in the lakes and rivers in 2017 — it was a year without the negative effects of drought — overall the fishing looks very promising for the 2018 season.
According to Ross Self, Chief of Fisheries for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), the crappie population statewide looks healthy and, barring unusual weather situations, the 2018 crappie fishing forecast is promising.
"First, the overall crappie fishery in South Carolina looks good," Self said. "The statewide 8-inch size limit, along with a 20-crappie creel limit established a few years ago, seem to be helping based on our studies and on feedback from crappie fishermen. Crappie fishing is one of our focus areas right now and we're taking a critical look at putting a concerted effort to learn more about the impacts the size and creel limits are having. We're looking at data from crappie fishing tournaments and aging crappie relative to size and we're learning a lot."
Self said the data collected so far reveals that crappies in South Carolina live longer than previously believed, and fish are showing up that are in excess of seven years old.
He said 2-year old crappies are usually meeting the 8-inch size limit requirement.
"Older fish were not represented as much in our previous data," Self said. "It will take time to get the necessary scientific data to determine how this could impact management but it looks like our size and creel limits may have been conservative, but that's better for the resource than overly liberal. We hope to generate better options for management in the future once we compile adequate data."
Self said that the only concern he has for crappie fishing in South Carolina at present is at Lake Keowee.
"We are seeing some negative impacts on the crappie fishery at Lake Keowee right now and it appears to be from expansion of the spotted bass population in the lake," he said. "As the spotted bass population becomes the dominant black bass species in Lake Keowee, we're seeing decline in the crappie population. With the increase in spotted bass in several lakes in South Carolina we're monitoring those other lakes as well."
But for now, the fishery as a whole is in good health and hopes are to solidify that for the future.
We'll take a more detailed look at several lakes throughout the state in terms of crappie fishing potential for 2018.
In-Fisherman: Southern Reservoir Bass & Crappie
Santee Cooper Lakes
Strong year classes of crappie in recent years have now reached the age and size where the lake system is producing a lot of hefty crappies. SCDNR fisheries biologist Scott Lamprecht says good recruitment from 2014 and 2015 year classes have helped the numbers and sizes of the crappie.
The two lakes are connected but are quite different in nature. Lake Marion, the upper of the two lakes, has a lot more shallow water and offers plenty of shallow-water fishing opportunities during the spring.
Fishing guide Andy Pack at Pack's Landing (803-452-5514) says the crappie fishing has been very good in recent years and at times the fishing is excellent early.
"Of course it depends on the weather and water conditions but usually by late February and into early March, we're catching a lot of big crappies in shallow water," he said. "If we get a big push of high water, that will delay the crappie action but often fishermen get here in late-March or early April only to find the fishing has been excellent for a few weeks. The action is usually still good, but the early fishing is sometimes overlooked."
Pack said several techniques work. One proven tactic is to fish with a simple float-and-minnow rig fished around the base of cypress or gum trees as well as around downed logs and sunken brush.
"Depending on water level, I'll use an ultra-light rig to cast to my target or a long pole to flip the bait around targets," he said. "A slip float is a good idea and it enables me to change the depth quickly when needed. If I don't find fish quickly in the shallows, I'll go to slightly deeper water and work deeper woody cover and brush. A small jig will also produce great results at this time of the year."
The crappie action also is good in the lower end of Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie.
Guide Joe Dennis from Bonneau works both lakes and said the early spring fishing is excellent from February through March in the shallow water around Lake Moultrie.
"I'll fish with 4-pound test and 1/32-ounce jigs because of the shallow, and often clear, water," Dennis said. "Crappie are spooky during this early season but can be caught in limit numbers, often a few weeks before most fishermen start fishing shallow. I use slip floats with the small jigs but minnows work well too, fished around shallow woody cover, weeds and stumps. The 4- to 8-foot range is best, but it can be deeper or shallower depending on water and weather conditions Cloudy days are best for fish getting real shallow."
Dennis (843-245-3762) said from April through June he'll longline troll multiple rods in the Wyboo, Potato and Taw Caw creeks area of lower Lake Marion.
"I'll fish up to 10 rigs with each with a 1/16- and a 1/32-ounce jig," he said. "I'll use a wide assortment of colors until I get a pattern and go all in on that color until action slows and then I'll experiment again. Lots of quality fish are caught trolling in the 10- to 14-foot depth range."
COOPER RIVER CRAPPIE — A SLEEPER HOTSPOT
During flood conditions, crappie are sometimes spilled into the Santee and/or Cooper rivers below the Santee Cooper lakes, and this can create excellent fishing the following spring. But guide Joe Dennis said that's really a bit unreliable on an annual basis.
"For the Cooper River it's not necessary to have flood water spilled because an excellent crappie population already exists," he said. "The crappies have plenty of area to spawn and maintain a good fishery in the Cooper River and this can be one of my more productive spots. I'll use slip cork rigs so I can change depth quickly and I like to fish a 1/32-ounce jig, with color combinations such as black and chartreuse, pink and white or red and chartreuse all producing well as well as live minnows."
Dennis says he fishes woody cover including downed trees, brush, old docks and the grass lines along the river channel and the slightly deeper inundations leading to rice fields.
"The water gates used to control the water level, when opened, released water and has scoured deeper water holes that are ideal for crappie. It gives fish an eddy with slightly deeper water and a definable target I can fish."
MIDLANDS AND PIEDMONT
Perhaps the most amazing quality of Lake Murray is the consistent crappie fishing produced by this lake. Lake Murray receives crappie fishing pressure year around, but fisheries Chief Ross Self says the crappie fishery is doing well.
Guide Brad Taylor has fished the lake for years and said that the lake does produce some slab crappie, but the key to this lake is the high level of consistency.
"If we have decent weather and water conditions, from March right on through much of the summer we consistently catch limits of good-sized crappies," Taylor said. "The patterns change from spring to summer but if anglers adapt to fish and forage movements the crappie-catching continues."
Taylor (803-331-1354) says during March most of the crappies are in the major creeks preparing to spawn and are caught along the ledges until the move to the shallows to spawn. Then they retreat again to the ledges and drops and as the water warms, they slowly migrate back to the main lake portion of Lake Murray.
"The entire lake is productive, but I typically like the upper half because the clear water in the lower end usually means fish are deeper," he said. "They'll bite, but it's more productive to find them shallower in the mid-lake area."
Taylor said he will often long-line troll during the early season when fish are scattered on creek ledges and points. As crappies make their way to the main lake and deeper water he'll often tightline small jigs or live minnows over brush.
"I fish a lot of brush piles but plenty of natural cover holds crappie," he said. "The key is to stay on the move and I fish different areas and depths until I find the pattern for the day, then work that pattern hard."
Lake Thurmond on the Savannah River is a huge lake with a vast diversity of water conditions, making it an ideal crappie lake. The lake is fed by numerous large feeder creeks and rivers from both the Georgia and South Carolina sides, creating plenty of fishing opportunities.
Guide Wendell Wilson says the key to Lake Thurmond is to stay on the move during the spring until you zero in on the right spot.
"During March it's common for the water temperatures to be considerably different from one major tributary to another, so I'll keep checking areas until I find the right water temperature conditions and water color." Wilson said. "The fishing has been excellent the past few years here for both quality and quantity of fish. Combine that with the size of the lake and with a little effort odds are good we'll find fish on any given day.
"If we have a somewhat mild winter, beginning in mid-February I often use ultra-light spinning rigs with jigs to target shoreline cover," he said. "A period of time exists when the water temperature gets into the mid-50's when fish hold along the shoreline, but early in the year they may be deeper."
Wilson (706-283-3336) says he primarily long-line trolls with multiple rigs after crappies leave the shallows, but when the fish move deeper and relate to deep water brush by early summer he'll fish tight-lines in a spider rig setup.
He said the lake produces quite a few fish in the 1 1/2 -to-2-pound class but the overall quality of a limit of crappie is excellent if anglers are willing to cull.
Dan Rankin, Regional Coordinator for Region 1 for the SCDNR, says that Lake Hartwell is a good crappie fishery and the lake is a stable fishery and is seasonally excellent.
According to many anglers, the winter and spring months right through the spring spawn are outstanding.
Multi-species guide Steve Pietrykowski spends much of his winter catching crappie from Lake Hartwell.
"I think a lot of fishermen are surprised at the quality of crappie fishing we enjoy here at Lake Hartwell," Pietrykowski said. "From cold weather right through spring the crappie fishing is on fire and they are consistently caught in limit numbers, with quite a few slabs mixed in as well."
Pietrykowski (864-353-3438) has been guiding over 10 years on Lake Hartwell and has learned that patterns will change from the early to late spring. He said except for the period when the fish move shallow to spawn, most of the best fishing is deep and he focuses on brushpiles, submerged trees and other woody features in 10 to 30 feet of water.
"The depths vary depending on time of year and whether I'm fishing the main lake where the water is usually clear or in creeks," he said. "Sometimes we'll get some good water color in the creeks enabling me to fish shallower water, thus enabling me to target fish at easier to fish depths."
He uses two primary techniques, one is long-line trolling in the creeks and the other is tightlines over sunken brush or woody cover in the creeks or main lake.
"Trolling enables me to cover plenty of water if the fish are scattered and typically I'll troll with jigs, with different color and size combinations to determine a pattern for the day," he said. "Usually my speed range will be from 0.7 to 1.2 miles per hour and I will vary that until I determine the speed for a given day. As the water warms in the spring, the best speeds get progressively faster."
When crappies bunch up on brush or other woody cover he'll employ a tightline system involving multiple rods fished at specific depths, based on the depth of the target he graphed. He'll use his electric motor to work around the brush or sunken tree until he limits or action slows and he'll move to another target with a similar depth.
Alost everyone is close to some excellent crappie fishing in South Carolina, so get your crappie fishing gear and go now. Odds are the crappie bite is already on.