Top Places for Bass Fishing in South Carolina
April 04, 2014
For bass fishing fans across the state of South Carolina, 2013 was both a curse and a blessing. For several years prior, the majority of the state was held tight in the grip of yet another drought and anglers saw record low water levels until spring and summer patterns rolled in, dumping unheard of amounts of rainfall that lasted from June until September
The hope of most fisheries biologists across the state is that 2014 will see a return to "normal," though many are left scratching their heads to define exactly what "normal" is these days. To assist those bass fans as the cold temperatures of February begin to give way to March, South Carolina Game & Fishpicked the brains of fisheries experts across the state to let anglers know what they can expect on the water this year.
Here's what to expect for bass fishing in South Carolina this year.
Heading up the Piedmont Region from his office in Clemson, Regional Fisheries Coordinator Dan Rankin supervises a large number of great bass waters. The Savannah chain lakes of Hartwell, Russell, and Thurmond, the mountain lakes of Keowee and Jocassee, Lake Greenwood on the Saluda, a number of high usage water district lakes in Greenville and Spartanburg, and a big portion of the Broad River are all under his leadership. The question Rankin gets the most is which one of these great fisheries is the best.
"I guess that depends on what kind of bass you're after," said Rankin. "Region 1 has several good fisheries for largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass, so depending on what you're after, there are a number of good choices to pick from."
For largemouth bass, Rankin believes that to two of his lakes are the best bets, but even then, it's a question of whether you're after numbers of fish or size of fish. For the best numbers of decent sized largemouth, Rankin suggests fishing Lake Greenwood.
"Our recent surveys on Greenwood have shown that the lake has a good population of largemouth bass, and some very plump fish," he said. "Greenwood has always been a fertile lake, with an abundance of forage, which may account for why some anglers struggle there. Most of what we have found for good fish was located around deep water structure out away from the banks where not as many anglers look for them."
For trophy anglers looking to get a handful of bites but more than handful sized largemouth, Rankin would point you to Lake Jocassee on the Oconee/Pickens County border.
"Jocassee has always produced big fish even though it's one of the most infertile lakes in our system," said Rankin. "We anticipated the recent creel limit changes of a 14-inch minimum and a 5-fish limit would benefit places like Greenwood more, but it's also helping Jocassee."
Depending on how you view the fish, Rankin points to the appearance of spotted bass in several of the impoundments that he oversees to be one of his biggest fisheries challenges.
"Keowee was taken over by spotted bass nearly 20 years ago. Today the spotted bass population is near 70 percent and that has been to the detriment of the largemouth population there," he said. "But a lot of anglers have learned how to catch spotted bass now and say they are easier to catch than largemouth and there certainly are more of them."
"The same could be said for Lake Russell and to a lesser degree Hartwell: Spotted bass are taking over Russell, not by anything we've done at DNR, but by what I believe to be a coordinated effort, though illegal, by anglers to move them from other lakes to this lake. Our surveys show Russell is climbing with 40, maybe 50 percent of the bass population being spotted bass."
As for smallmouths, Rankin said the research study that took place several years ago on the Broad River shows a fishery that has really taken off. He said that DNR used to annually stock smallmouth in the Broad up until about 2 years ago when it became clear that the fishery is now self-sustaining.
"Access to the Broad is still a little challenging, because of the number of shoals in the river, but it's become a small boat and kayaking mecca and has really boomed," he said. "My understanding from the creel surveys is that the numbers of fish are in the upper reaches below Gaffney, while the bigger fish are found further south as far as Columbia on the Broad."
Region 2 includes such lakes as Wylie, Wateree, Fishing Creek, Monticello and a number of smaller impoundments throughout the Pee Dee area. Region 2 Fisheries Coordinator Robert Stroud shared some of his region's findings from surveys conducted recently.
"This past year we sampled Lake Wylie, Wateree, and Fishing Creek, using electro-fishing efforts to determine where each fishery stood in terms of catch rates, age distribution, and relative body weights," said Stroud.
Lake Wylie showed higher catch rates, based on hours of electrofishing, than Wateree. Biologists caught 95 bass per hour of effort on Wylie compared to almost 61 bass per hour on Wateree. Perhaps due to the higher numbers of bass, overall weights were fair on Wylie, with an average rating of fair while Wateree was rated as good with respect to body weight.
"We use a system where a rating of 100, based on where an individual fish should be with respect to age, length, and weight. Our average rating for Wylie was 92.5 while the rating was 95.3 for Wateree."
Fishing Creek, the smallest of the three reservoirs sampled, outpaced both Wylie and Wateree for both catch rates and overall sizes of bass caught there, based on electrofishing results.
"Fishing Creek bass were in better shape and more plentiful than the other two bigger reservoirs," said Stroud. "That makes it, along with Cedar Creek, which we sampled two years ago with similar results, to be the two sleeper lakes in Region 2 where anglers can go and catch both size and numbers of largemouth bass."
Stroud said what did not show up in the 2013 surveys, but he felt would have a bearing on the future of bass fishing for several years in all of the waters in Region 2 was the effects of the high water throughout the past summer.
"I expect to see an uptick in the recruitment of all species, with the possible exception of striped bass, in all of our lakes based on the higher water we had in 2013. That higher water makes for more shoreline cover, better recruitment and protection of young and better reproduction of forage fish. All of that will combine as a positive for largemouth bass over the next few years."
The forecast for Lake Murray, the only major impoundment in Region 3, shows that bass fishing — which was already good on Murray — to be getting even better, according to Regional Biologist Ron Ahle, who manages the lake. Ahle states that creel and electro surveys have remained consistent on Murray, with a good number of average sized fish in the mix. Last summer' electrofishing results showed even better results than the previous three years.
"Last year was the first full year after implementing the new creel and size limits on Lake Murray," said Ahle. "We expected to see a lot of fish that were in that just over the 14-inch range and we saw that and better. Murray is not a big-fish lake. It's not the place to go if you want to catch 8- to 10-pound largemouth bass, but we have a lot of 3- to 5-pound quality fish."
Ahle was unsure how the higher-than-average rainfall and high water levels would affect the bass fishery on Murray. The Lake Murray shoreline is highly developed, so gaining access to vegetation around the banks wasn't an option. Overall the water levels on Murray are managed differently than some of the other major impoundments in the state that are operated for flood control.
"SCE&G maintains a full pool for 6 months out of the year on Lake Murray," he said. "That's different than a Corps lake which operates on a rule curve designed to slowly move from a winter pool to summer pool and then back again the next year.
The Coastal Region includes two very famous bass fisheries and one locally famous fishery that are all known as better-than-average largemouth bass factories. Regional Coordinator Scott Lamprecht provided the details on Lakes Marion, Moultrie and the Cooper River from his office in Bonneau.
"For so long, we suffered under low water conditions that hurt all of our fisheries in the Santee-Cooper impoundments," said Lamprecht. "That rebounded last year and then we had exceptionally good water conditions this year due to all of the rain. The more rainfall we get, the more nutrients that come into our system and the better our fish grow."
Due to the more temperate climate and longer growing season, the Santee-Cooper chain already has an advanced growing season and good growth rates regardless of water conditions, but Lamprecht said he would not be surprised to see the growth rates of largemouth bass double in the coming year.
"The 14-inch size and 5-fish creel limits are just starting to kick in on the lakes and then we got lots of rain that has recharged all of our coastal rivers and swamps," he said. "Any location in Region 4 that holds largemouth bass should be having a banner year this year. That includes the Santee River, the Edisto, the Ashepoo, Combahee, Black, and all of the coastal swamps and oxbows that feed into those rivers."
Lamprecht said that due to some changing dynamics, Lakes Marion and Moultrie may catch some bass anglers off guard who only fish the lakes a couple of times a year. Changing conditions may be having an effect on where anglers might find trophy bass.
"We are experiencing a decline in our catfish population and our striped bass population is coming back," said Lamprecht. "Anglers have reported catching some big bass off of open waters flats around stumps that aren't readily visible from the surface, those places that were traditionally thought to be catfish waters or striper waters are holding big bass at times too."
Lamprecht also had high marks for what he describes as the most bulletproof bass fishery in the state, the Cooper River. He said the Cooper River is seemingly impervious to all of the ills that have plagued Santee-Cooper over the years and keeps coming back for more.
"The Cooper River has steady vegetation and a steady supply of water," he said. "It's full of hydrilla and is about the only place in the state where hydrilla isn't a problem because the tidal flow flushes it every day to keep it oxygenated. The Pinopolis dam also runs a regular schedule of water releases so water levels are not a concern either. It does get a good bit of fishing pressure but I think most of those guys are catch-and-release friendly so the population isn't taking a beating by the pressure."
Editor's Note: Author Phillip Gentry is the host of "Upstate Outdoors" a weekend radio program heard on News radio WORD 106.3 FM and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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