March 22, 2019
We know it’s a cliché, but it’s true: The best time to go fishing is when you can go. Fortunately, in South Carolina, excellent opportunities exist 12 months a year. In truth, the toughest part is choosing the best angling option. So we’re highlighting three excellent fishing spots per month, all year.
Images by Vic Dunaway
Lake Keowee Spotted Bass
Cold weather commonly brings the hottest spotted bass action of the year to 18,500-acre Lake Keowee. Fed by a mix of threadfin shad, blueback herring and crawfish, Keowee spots are plump and plentiful. Deep, clear and barren of structure, Keowee can be a difficult lake to fish. Many spotted bass roam, following schools of baitfish, while others relate to brush, which is planted all over the lake.
A good bass strategy on Keowee is to watch for birds. Diving birds mean plentiful, nervous baitfish, and often the bait has spots beneath it. Alternatively, use side scanning electronics to find bait and bass and throw soft-plastic swimbaits or Alabama rigs. If you don’t want to chase roving fish, focus on brush and work brushpiles meticulously with a small plastic worm on a dropshot, ideally in a transparent green color.
Other Options: On Lake Wylie if you find the right brushpile depth, you’re on the way to fast crappie action. For Lake Moultrie blue catfish, think drift fishing with big with heavy-duty rigs.
Lake Wateree Crappie
Lake Wateree draws fewer headlines than Wylie above or the Santee Cooper lakes, but this very fertile impoundment supports an excellent population of quality crappie. February warm snaps can start the crappie moving into the mouths of creeks, but don’t wait for the warm days. Wateree crappie are there all winter, and February offers predictable action because many fish will be near the mouths of creeks, whether just outside of them in the main river or just inside them.
Unless you know the locations of specific productive brushpiles, it’s tough to beat “pushing” single- or double-hook minnow rigs, using vertical lines and very slow movement to work the cover. Depending on how complex you want to make things, you can push with one or two lines per angler or spread a full spider rig across the front of the boat.
Other Options: Lake Greenwood yields a few giant bass to anglers in February. At Lake Jocassee, rainbows and browns cruise shallower than at other times and feed well during February.
Santee Cooper Largemouth Bass
Lake Marion and Moultrie still rank among the nation’s finest bass lakes, with excellent quality and numbers and an ever-present opportunity to land a legitimate trophy. Extensive shallow backwaters around both lakes warm early in the year, and by March, the ponds and the back halves of the creeks tend to be full of bass using visible cover and feeding well.
Excellent spring areas are widespread around this huge lake system, and folks at fish camps or local stores can direct you to traditional spring bass hotspots. If the weather has been spring-like, concentrate on visible natural shallow cover like cypress knees and vegetation with weedless plastics, spinnerbait and square-bill crankbaits. During cold snaps, work ditches and creek channels that are near the shallow cover with jigs or by slowing down with a spinnerbait.
Other Options: At Lake Tugalo spring sends a strong population of walleyes up both arms of this spectacular mountain lake. At Lake Wateree the spring striper run can produce fast action from brutally strong fish.
Tidal Creek Redfish
As shrimp and baitfish become plentiful throughout the marsh every spring, the inshore redfish bite turns on all along the coast. April tends to bring more stable weather than March, creating better water conditions and better weather for handling a boat and fishing. April also tends to produce better than average chances for large redfish in the marsh.
Fresh bait is tough to beat during the spring. Productive approaches include fishing live shrimp or baitfish beneath popping corks and putting crab baits on the bottom. The cork allows you to cover water and find active fish, but if you understand likely travel routes and can put a crab bait where redfish will be passing, this approach keeps you from spooking the fish, and most redfish have a very hard time saying no to a fresh chunk of crab. With any approach, watch constantly for swells pushed up by cruising redfish.
Other Options: At Santee Cooper, bream — Shellcrackers, bluegills, redbreast and more — produce fun spring action. Lake Murray April options for largemouth include sight fishing and fun shallow fishing with floating worms.
Myrtle Beach Piers’ Mixed Species
It would be tough to pick a single species to highlight for the piers in the Myrtle Beach area. Redfish, black drum, speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, whiting and croaker are just some of the fine opportunities. Carry a couple of rods of different sizes, ask questions in bait shops and on the pier, and be willing to tailor your approach based on what is biting best.
An almost certain way to tap into action is to use a two-hook bottom rig and bait the hooks with shrimp or squid. If you don’t get any action for about 20 minutes, move to another spot. Often switching sides of the pier or moving a little farther out or nearer to the shore will make a big difference.
Other Options: On the Congaree River, cool water and shoals hold some “spring run” Santee Cooper stripers all summer. Lake Thurmond largemouths readily blast topwater lures, especially herring imitations.
State Fishing Lakes Bluegills
More than 15 small lakes are managed primarily for fishing by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, with optimal fishing and access in mind. Bluegills are easy to manage and easy to catch for most anglers, and so play a critical part in the management for these lakes. Management steps include fertilizing, sampling, stocking and bag limits.
The most reliable way to find and catch bluegills is with crickets or redworms presented with simple float rigs. That said, bluegills provide big fun on light tackle when you throw small spinners, jigs or even small crankbaits or topwater lures. The SCDNR website provides good information about these lakes, most of which are in the Piedmont, including details about access and regulations.
Other Options: Jumbo Lake Monticello blue catfish are famous for biting well during early summer. Chattooga River native redeye bass provide fun action in a beautiful setting along the Georgia/South Carolina border.
Piers And Bridges Sheepshead
Sheepshead are generally easy to locate because they hold close to bridge and pier supports and jetties and often are visible in the water. Coaxing sheepshead into biting can be more of a challenge, although if you can present the right bait at eye level they’ll usually bite eventually. The real trick is hooking them.
A tight-line rig with just enough weight to keep the line vertical works best if you can set up with your rod tip directly over the fish. Alternatively, a slip float can be used to suspend the bait at the proper depth. Live shrimp is the most popular sheepshead bait and works well. That said, fiddler crabs are the real sheepshead candy if you can get hold of some.
Other Options: For Lake Russell crappie, grab a floating light and go out at night to catch big slabs. Also in July, summer brings hot topwater action from the Broad River’s chunky smallmouths.
Wateree River Flathead Catfish
Flathead catfish grow big in the Wateree River from just below Lake Wateree to the river’s juncture with the Congaree. In fact, a couple of former state record flatheads came from this section. Big flatheads are largely nocturnal during the summer, so the best time to fish is after the sun goes down. That said, it’s helpful to identify a spot and set up while it’s still light.
Flatheads are predators, not scavengers. They hunt live prey and are best targeted with live bait. Good options include bluegills, white perch, gizzard shad and bullheads. The best areas to set up offer deep water with shallow water nearby, current broken by eddies, and plenty of wood cover. The most recognizable flathead spots are the upper and lower ends of sharp river bends that scour out big holes.
Other Options: For something different, try Waccamaw River Bowfins — though seldom targeted, bowfins put up brutal battles and are fun to catch. Fast action can be had on tidal creek bonnetheads: These downsized hammerhead cousins aggressively feed in shallow water during the summer.
Pee Dee River Largemouth Bass
From the North Carolina border to the head of Winyah Bay, more than 100 miles downstream, the great Pee Dee River offers a tremendous amount of habitat for bass. The flowing water and shaded edges provide good fishing late in the summer and toward the beginning of fall, when reservoir fishing can get difficult.
Most bass habitat along the Great Pee Dee is near the river’s banks and in backwaters. Fish holding positions vary with water levels as the entire South Carolina portion of the river is free-flowing. Through the river’s lower reaches, the tidal stage dictates bass holding positions and affects their willingness to bite. Fish mostly relate to visible cover, and the best offerings, generally speaking, can be worked through wood cover and vegetation. Frog fishing can be especially good during September and into October.
Other Options: Beaufort area tarpon deliver an exciting bite at the end of summer down to South Carolina’s lower coast. Plentiful Savannah River channel catfish provide predictable action from Thurmond Dam all the way to the coast.
Sometimes overlooked for redfish and trout, flounder provide great opportunities along all parts of the South Carolina coast, and the bite tends to pick up when the water begins cooling during the fall. Tidal creeks, flats along the edges of big coastal rivers and flats within bays all offer good flounder prospects.
Jigs, saltwater spinnerbaits and mudminnows or other fresh bait all can produce flounder. The most important thing is to present baits on or near the bottom because flounder feed by ambushing pray that passes too close over them. Casting jigs or spinnerbaits works well when you know specific flounder-holding spots. For finding fish, a better approach is to start on the upwind end of a big flat and drift, dragging baits along the bottom to search out active fish.
Other Options: Santee Cooper Crappie move up into creeks and congregate on brush during October. Lake Russell spots and largemouths together provide great fall bass opportunities.
Chattooga River Brown Trout
Brown trout abound in the deep pools of the Chattooga National Wild & Scenic River and are well distributed through about 10 miles of river from the North Carolina border. Wild and semi-wild (fingerling stocked fish that grow up in the river) browns both grow large on crawfish, sculpins and plentiful aquatic insects.
Big browns can be tough to fool, and at times the Chattooga seems fishless. During late fall, though, when the brown trout spawn, the biggest fish abandon just a bit of caution and become more catchable. By November, many sportsmen have turned their attention to hunting, meaning you’re apt to have the upper river to yourself. For fly-fishermen, streamers provide the best opportunity for catching big brown trout. For spin-fishermen, it’s tough to beat a minnow- or crawfish imitating hard bait.
Other Options: to catch Lake Moultrie Striped Bass, watch for birds, bait and breaking fish in the open water and be ready for big fun. Tidal creek specks put on the feed bag and serve up fun coastal action during late autumn.
Lake Thurmond Striped Bass
Stripers, which are stocked annually by Georgia and South Carolina and sometimes grow big in Lake Thurmond, find comfortable water conditions in December. They’ll often be shallow because the baitfish are shallow, especially on sunny days. Stripers and hybrids often run together during December, so fishing for one often also produces the other.
Slow trolling with live bait is the most effective way to find and catch these stripers. Live blueback herring work best if you can get them and have the right kind of bait tank to keep them alive. Shiners are next best. Flats lines generally produce best during December, and if the fish are close to the bank, a planer or two help you present baits in that zone.
Other Options: Winter is prime time to target Saluda River trout in the Lake Murray tailwater. Cooper River Largemouth grow big and feed well during December.
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