Freshwater Fishing Trends - March 15, 2017

Information on fishing trends provided courtesy of, South Carolina's premier fishing report source. Customers of the Angler's Headquarters online tackle store have access to daily updates and full-length reports on its site.

Piedmont Area

Lake Russell (Updated March 14)

Lake Russell water levels are at 473.91 (full pool is 475.00), and after reaching the low and even mid-60s water temperatures are back to the mid-50s and dropping. Clarity is still very high, and in fact rain is needed to give the creeks a healthy amount of stained water for fishing.

Before the cold period that started recently Guide Jerry Kotal (706-988-0860) reports that bass were all over the backs of creeks. He hadn't actually seen any fish spawning, but that may have been a function more of spawning patterns on Lake Russell than the fact that fish weren't on beds. In the very backs of Russell creeks where largemouth like to spawn the water is frequently dingy, and crappie have already started to spawn. Both spinnerbaits and Chatterbaits were catching fish.

However, Jerry advises that this cold front seems to have pushed the bass back out towards deeper water and more fish seem to be back in the 15-25 foot range. A lot of fish are hanging off points, and it's time to break out the Carolina rigs, drop shots and heavier jigs again.

Weather forecasts indicate that temperatures won't rebound for a little while, and with some very cold nights predicted for the next few days Jerry expects it to be some time before fish come to the bank again.

On the crappie front, it started off as a very good, early spring on Lake Russell, and Guide Wendell Wilson (706-283-3336) says that his boat has had some very good trips in the last week. One day they caught about 50 big fish, with some fish caught casting a jig or minnow under a cork towards the bank and others caught trolling jigs tipped with minnows in 12-14 feet of water. While a few fish have spawned and males were building nests around the bank, Wendell believes that the bulk of the females were holding out in the creek channel. Unfortunately, the cold weather has essentially killed the bite and Wendell believes it will be several days before the fish start feeding again. He expects to find them in the creek channels before they return to the banks.

Jerry was also catching a lot of fish throwing a minnow or jig against the banks, and he points out that the cold will move a lot of fish out to the closest brush off the banks – while another group of fish will suspend out in the channel where they can only be caught trolling. 10-20 feet is the basic depth range he advises right now. While one wave of crappie has already spawned, another wave will come up as soon as temperatures settle down again.

While crappie and bass were practically jumping in the boat earlier this spring, Lake Russell striped bass have been hard to come by. On one striper trip Jerry caught about 35 bass but no striper. This is a time of year where the fish can be hard to target, either because they are so scattered or because they are hunkered down in the timber. Wendell points out that the herring spawn shouldn't be far off once temperatures get back to where they were before, and once the herring move up striper could show up anywhere in the shallows.

Neither guide has been targeting catfish but they have caught a few on minnows fished around the bank.

Lake Thurmond (Updated March 13)

Lake Thurmond water levels are at 319.81 (full pool is 330.00), and water temperatures are in the high 50s but dropping. Clarity is good. As recently as this Saturday bass were up shallow spawning on Clarks Hill, although Buckeye Lures in Augusta reports that it was mainly smaller fish. Nearly every piece of shallow wood seemed to have a little fish around it, and there were also some nice bass up shallow in the 2-5 foot range. There was nothing specific needed to catch fish, and by fishing in pockets with lures as varied as a jerkbait, The Sled, or a Spot Remover fish could be caught.

This cold weather is going to set the bite back a little, and Buckeye anticipates that fish will pull out a little to the points. Heavier Spot Removers, deeper diving crankbaits, and jigs should all work. However, they don't anticipate that it will be a huge setback because fish seem so ready to go shallow and spawn. As soon as temperatures get back into the high 60s and 70s fish should start to move to the banks again.

In striped and hybrid bass news Captain William Sasser (864-333-2000) reports that numbers of fish are getting even better right out in front of the dam, and particularly after dark they have been catching good ones fishing vertically about 20-40 feet down. In the morning they are also catching fish on the bottom in 40-50 feet of water off main lake points on the lower end. There are also some fish in about 35 feet on the bottom. By now most of the striper seem to have made their way to the lower lake. Before the cold front William's boat was finding crappie against the banks spawning, and they were also catching pre-spawn fish 10 feet down over brush in 15-20 feet of water. It is expected that the cold should set things back and keep more fish around the brush until the next period of warm weather brings in another wave of fish.

Lake Wylie (Updated March 15)

Lake Wylie is at 98 percent of full pool, and water temperatures have dropped at least 4 or 5 degrees into the low 50s. Overall the lake is pretty clear, but there is some stained water on the main lake with more in the creeks.

Before the cold front blew through Guide and FLW Angler Bryan New (704-421-5868) reports that there were a very few bass on beds on Lake Wylie, but most of the fish were still holding deeper. Now there are at least three patterns going on at Lake Wylie. First, the shallow crankbait bite is improving. Anywhere that you can find some stained water there can be pretty good action in 4-8 feet of water. Second, especially with the cold there are still a lot of fish on bait. The bite was starting to die off some, but the drop in water temperatures has picked it up again. The spots fluctuate from day to day depending on bait movements, but creeks channels, main lake points and basically anywhere with schools of shad you can catch fish. Jerkbaits and Alabama rigs will both work.

The third pattern is looking for staging fish. While the water temperatures will hold the fish back some, it's still the middle of March and bass have one main thing on their minds in spring. Bryan believes that day length is more important that water temperature to the spawn, and fish will be found staging off secondary points close to spawning areas. The biggest fish can probably be caught that way right now. Any kind of craw bait will work for these fish, and Bryan likes a Charlie's Worms Brush Buster on a Greenfish Tackle Creeper head. He suggests reeling it slowly across the bottom and keeping contact with the bottom. This is still faster than just dragging, and more subtle than pulling a crankbait. Bryan expects a big wave of fish to hit the beds at the end of this month.

On the catfish front, Captain Rodger Taylor (803-517-7828) reports that the bite has been pretty good on Lake Wylie recently. On recent trips he has started out exploring along the river channel on the northern end of the lake in 20-40 feet of water, and he has found fish biting on the deeper side of the ledge since it started to get cold. Even on warm days Rodger still advises looking deep first this time of year, and particularly when there is some current this bite can get hot. The beginning of a period of current is usually best – that is, when they first start running water the bite is strongest.

After anchoring up in deep water he has been moving into the backs of big coves and putting out lines in 6-10 feet of water. You never know where the big fish are going to be, and some of his biggest fish have come this way recently. On sunny afternoons bait can move into very shallow water, and when cold temperatures hit it can pull out deep. The bait is very responsive to even small temperature changes and can go deeper or shallower in only a matter of hours.

Right now gizzard shad and herring have been hard to track down, and so most fishermen are using large threadfin shad.

Midlands Area

Lake Greenwood (Updated March 12)

Lake Greenwood water levels are at 435.88 (full pool is 440.0), and prior to the snow water temperatures were around 60 degrees and clarity was very good. Bass fishing on Lake Greenwood jumped from winter to summer patterns very quickly, and up until this cold snap Stan was already finding fish on the beds. While the calendar said it was very early, considering the February temperatures it makes sense. Prior to the snow Stan believed that most of the fish were already in shallow water, and he was doing all of his fishing from the bank out to 5 or 6 feet. That's not to say that there weren't some bass out deeper, but it seemed as though most of the fish were thinking about the spawn. The prespawn bass Stan has been targeting have been staging in about 5-6 feet of water, and on a spinnerbait and Chatterbait Stan has been finding some pretty good fish at that depth. There have also been some bigger females pulling up around docks where you can flip for them. Fish that are actively spawning or very close have been in main lake pockets, the backs of creeks and other traditional spawning areas. They have been very willing to eat topwater lures, and throwing a Bang-O-Lure or a floating worm around beds has been productive. With the cold it's anyone's guess how fish will respond, but it seems likely that some fish will back off. Stan suggests fishing a shakey head worm around rocky points and other staging areas for fish that have not come up. Of course, once weather stabilizes again the spawn should be in full force.

Even though air temperatures have been unseasonably warm, Captain Chris Simpson reports that the baitfish continue to hold in 15-35 feet of water. This is ideal for the vertical jigging bite, and you can still catch a mixed bag of species and particularly white perch in 20-35 feet of around large schools of baitfish in 20-30 feet. Striped bass are also in the same areas.

As far as the catfish Chris says that they are still pretty scattered, but the majority are around the main river channel or deep flats in 15-30 feet of water. A few fish were moving shallow before the snow, but this weather should pull those out deeper. Drifting with cut herring or white perch has been working productive.

Lake Monticello (Updated March 9)

Lake Monticello water temperatures still range from the mid-50s to mid-60s depending on area of the lake, with the lower end warmer because of proximity to the cooling station. Lake levels always fluctuate daily.

Considering the temperatures it's not surprising that Lake Monticello bass are moving shallow, and Andy Wicker of Pomaria reports that there are a lot of buck bass around the banks. Some of these fish are already making beds and some are just thinking about it, but soft plastics are a good way to catch them. Fishing a Texas-rigged worm, a shakey head or a floating worm in spawning pockets should generate lots of bites from fish up to 3 pounds or so. Another group of fish is staging for the spawn, and this group should include more of the big female bass. They will be off points leading into spawning pockets, and could be out to about 15 feet of water. Andy wouldn't advise fishing deeper than about 15 feet right now. Alabama rigs and Carolina rigs are a good way to target these fish.

On the catfish front Captain Chris Simpson (864-992-2352) reports that there is not a whole lot of change in the last few weeks, and many catfish remain scattered out in 45-70 feet of water. However, with continued warm temperatures more and more fish are moving into the shallows. Fishing around mussel beds will become a stronger and stronger pattern as temperatures rise. Cut gizzard shad and white perch continue to be the best big fish baits.

Lake Murray (Updated March 7)

Lake Murray water levels are at 356.83 (full pool is 360.00) and “core” surface water temperatures – morning temperatures – still range from about 57 at the dam to 58 or 59 up the lake. The lake remains atypically clear.

Striped bass are grouped up in the middle part of the lake according to Captain Brad Taylor (803-331-1354), who reports that the best fish are being caught pulling free lines and planer boards off the channels over 15-30 feet of water. Brad suggests that anglers zig-zag to find the right depth. Fish have been on the main lake but they are starting to move into the main creeks including Bear Creek, Beards Creek and Crystal Lake. They are setting up near areas where they know the herring will be spawning before too long.

Warm weather has decreased schooling activity, but there are starting to be a good number of fish caught down-lining with herring. Forty to 60 feet of water has been a good depth, and fish have been found at the mouth of Bear Creek and out from Putnam's Landing. Generally down-line fish have been smaller.

The cold front over the weekend backed a lot of the crappie off, and for now Brad says that the fish have been in deeper water than one would think. They were shallow, but right now he is finding them in 20-30 feet. It has been so windy that a lot of the time he has been back trolling with the big motor. Fish were deep and very close to the bottom this past weekend, but he expects them to move up again pretty quickly with this warmer weather. Within 10 days the spawn should be on.

On the catfish front, Captain Chris Simpson (864-992-2352) reports that anchoring is a little more consistent than drifting, but there have also been some good days for drifting. The best depth for drifting has been 20-45 feet. Anchoring around humps that top out around 15-20 feet of water is still a strong pattern. Cut herring is hard to beat and will pick up stripers too.

Lake Wateree (Updated March 8)

Lake Wateree is at 98.3 percent of full pool, and water temperatures range between 55 and 58 degrees. Up the lake and creeks are fairly stained.

Largemouth bass are ahead of schedule this spring on Lake Wateree, and CATT tournament director Brett Collins reports that as warm as temperatures have been fish are already starting to get back into coves. While he hasn't seen any fish on beds yet, considering that they are already bedding on Murray and Santee he wouldn't be surprised if a few very early fish are spawning. Not all the fish move into the backs at the same time, and so there are a lot of fish still grouped up on secondary points and points at the entrance to spawning areas. However, most of the fishing is in 5 feet of water or less. Recently rock has been holding a lot of bass, but wood and docks should get stronger as the spawn approaches. Spinnerbaits have been producing a little better than jigs, but that may change soon. As fish get into spawning mode 3/8 ounce jigs and Senkos should produce well, and Brett says that a bedding bass on Wateree can't stand a topwater frog. Anglers are already catching bass on buzzbaits and frogs.

Lake Wateree crappie continue to move shallower, and veteran tournament angler Will Hinson of Cassatt reports that the fish are moving into the creeks and thinking about spawning. It's still prespawn, but the spawn is getting close. Fish have left the brush and they can be found in 7-15 feet of water, and Beaver Creek, Taylors Creek and Dutchman Creek are all good places to start. Tight-lining or trolling with baits close to the bottom is the best bet, and on warmer days the fish may get a little higher in the water column. Colder, windier days they may hold very close to the bottom. This is a time of year when jigs, jigs tipped with minnows and plain minnows will all catch fish.

Santee Cooper System (Updated February 20)

Santee Cooper water levels are at 74.9 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 74.9 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Surface temperatures range from the mid-50s on the main lake to the upper 50s in the shallows.

Warm water temperatures have crappie moving shallow already on the Santee Cooper lakes, and Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) says that may not be a good thing. It's only February, and if there is another blast of cold air and water temperatures drop then the eggs could die. Still, there's nothing we can do it about it! For now fish are scattered between deep and shallow water, and Steve has caught some fish full of eggs around brush in about 20 feet of water that are staging and waiting to go up. There are also some fish up super shallow, which are either males or females that have already spawned.

Steve is also catching some bream, but they are deeper in about the 28-35 foot range around brush.

Tournament angler Steve Harmon reports that bass are also starting to make their way shallower with the water warming up. They can be caught in ditches and depressions in front of spawning areas in about 4-6 feet of water in both lakes. Worms and spinnerbaits are working well.

On the catfish front, Captain Jim Glenn (843-825-4239) reports that warming water is also pushing everything shallower. Anchoring in 4-10 feet of water during the day and at night will produce, and drifting in water in the teens and twenties is also a good pattern. With the herring and shad run these are the preferred baits right now.

Mountains Area

Lake Jocassee (Updated March 15)

Lake Jocassee is at 87.4 percent of full pool, and water temperatures remain around 56 degrees. Clarity remains above average for Jocassee (very clear). There's not much change in the trout bite on Lake Jocassee, and Guide Sam Jones (864-280-9056) reports that fish remain pretty scattered up the creeks and rivers. You have to do a lot of looking to locate fish, but once you find them they will bite. Decent numbers of 4- and 5-pound fish are being caught on Sam's boat, and in the tournament recently there was a 6 ½ pound fish landed. Plenty of small fish are also being caught. The best depth range for trolling spoons and large minnows has moved a bit shallower to 20-50 feet, and fish have not started to move into the bigger water yet.

Lake Keowee (Updated March 8)

Lake Keowee is at 97.0 percent of full pool. Surface temperatures range from the upper 50s to the mid-60s depending on area of the lake. Clarity is very good. It's an in-between time for Lake Keowee bass according to Guide Brad Fowler, who reports that some of the fish are starting to move up – and some are not. Of course, in the very warm “hot hole” area there are fish that are spawning, but outside the area of the lake most directly influenced by the warm-water discharge fish are mixed between late winter and pre-spawn patterns. Partly owing to the frosty mornings a few days ago, and partly to the time of year, there is still a big group of fish out in deep winter haunts that hasn't moved.

There is also another group of fish that is staging on points, secondary points, and creek channel swings. Keowee fishes differently from a lot of other South Carolina lakes and so these fish are generally in the 10-30 foot range. They will eat Blade Runners but this is basically a soft plastic bite, and Carolina rigs with lizards, drop shot rigs, and shakey head worms with finesse or Trick worms will all work.

Lake Hartwell (Updated March 8)

Lake Hartwell water levels are at 650.23 (full pool is 660.00), and water temperatures range from the mid to upper-50s. Clarity is good. After the winter doldrums Lake Hartwell striped bass are starting to “move around” again, and Captain Bill Plumley (864-287-2120) reports that fish are starting to scatter out and move up the rivers and into the backs of creeks. He has caught fish on recent trips pulling free-lines over shallow water in the 6 foot range, and he has also caught fish on down-lines in about 20 feet of water. Coves have been productive. While there are tons of birds on the lake 9 ½ times out of 10 Bill says they are feeding over loons, and even though it's worth checking them out he says not to expect feeding striper every time you see gulls. With temperatures still on the cool side Bill has not seen schooling activity.

Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) concurs with this assessment of the fishing, and even though the bite isn't “dynamic” yet he believes it's starting to heat up. Most years this would be very early for the Hartwell striper to turn on, but it's been so warm that they are getting close earlier. In the morning he is also having some luck pulling free-lines, and later on he has found fish in the slightly deeper 25-35 foot range on down-lines. Late in the day Chip reports that striper can be caught up shallow near the banks around windblown, red clay points. The shallows warm and bait moves up into these areas, and casting swimbaits can be a productive way to target the fish.

On some of the lakes in South Carolina Guide Brad Fowler reports bass went basically straight from deep to the bank, but on Lake Hartwell the fish are in more of a staging pattern. A few fish are still out deep but more of them are on points, secondary points or in ditches that lead back into coves. There are certainly some fish on the banks already but nowhere near as many as on Murray or Clarks Hill.

Captain Bill Plumley (864-287-2120) reports that crappie fishing on Lake Hartwell has been fairly good, with fish scattered from 2 feet out to 20. He has even picked up some big two-pound crappie while trolling baits for striper and catfish! Crappie are pre-spawn right now, and they have moved solidly into the creeks. In the morning they are holding around brush in 15-20 feet of water, but on warm afternoons they will move up to rocky points with as little as a couple of feet of water. Minnows are working well.

The catfish bite has also been pretty good, and Captain Bill reports that they are catching blue catfish from 6-8 feet all the way out to about 30 feet. Fish are scattered all over from the creeks to main lake flats to points, and he is also picking up striper (and crappie) as a by-catch. Cut herring has been the best bait. Water temperatures are too cold for Hartwell channels to be very aggressive and he has not picked up a single one recently.

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