This month brings hordes of anglers to lakes throughout South Carolina, and as far as shallow-water fishing, Lake Wateree ranks very high.
Wateree is considered by many to be an ideal spring reservoir. There's an abundance of shallow cover to congregate bass: weeds, brush, stumps, logs, docks and rocky shorelines. There's also an abundance of shallow flats, drops, ledges, humps and points at a wide variety of depths that hold fish. Whatever migration stage the bass are in, there is ample identifiable structure to fish.
Dearal Rodgers, a tournament fishermen who grew up fishing Lake Wateree, said the abundance and variety of shallow cover is a key to what makes Lake Wateree so productive in April.
"You can do well on Lake Wateree solely fishing the identifiable cover combinations in shallow water," Rodgers said. "However, there are also lots of shallow-water flats covered with stumps and other woody debris that offer excellent fishing, as well. April truly is a month when just about any bass fisherman can find the cover and structure they prefer to fish, and, more important, succeed.
"Weather is a factor where I fish, especially in early April," Rodgers said. "The overall trend is warming weather and water temperatures, so generally, the bass will be fairly active in shallow water. I generally fish about five feet deep or less, but if a hard front blows through, I'll probe a bit deeper sometimes, especially early in the month. But as the water temperature warms, there are certain places I begin to key on.
"One is the grass beds; as these begin to emerge, the fishing can be excellent, especially when in combination with woody cover," Rodgers said. "Also, I'll work shallow points where fish will be feeding. This is a time of year when I use a wide variety of lures; I'll use jerkbaits, Shad Raps because of their tight wobble, Rat-L-Traps and other crankbaits in craw or chrome/blue patterns. Of course, spinnerbaits are good around the grass. and as the water continues to warm, buzzbaits are very good."
"Another (thing) I look for are private launching ramps," Rodgers said. "I especially like the old ones that have big cracks and are even broken up a bit. They have a combination of both the shallow-water to deeper-water impact, plus, they present well-defined cover. This can be a dynamite place for a big shallow-water bass in April."
Rodgers primarily fishes the lower end of the lake during the spawn and the winter, but he may be fishing anywhere before and after the spawn.
"I'm a tournament fishermen, so I think in terms of having a lot of places to fish close together," he said. "Wateree is a lake where you can get to most areas quickly if you need to find different water conditions. The reality is, the entire lake can be good in April, but sometimes the upper end can get very dingy or even muddy. During April, I can usually find about every type of water color and pattern I want to fish.
"I think it is important to move around and check different places and structure at this time of year," he said. "As the sun gets higher and the temperature warms, bass will often move up on points or shorelines. Also as the month progresses, we'll usually see better topwater activity as well on the points, grass, woody cover and really just about everywhere."
Rodgers will use RPM Custom Rods, both baitcasting and spinning, and high-speed reels spooled with 10- to 15-pound P-Line fluorocarbon throughout April.
"One thing I've found is that Lake Wateree is known for producing a lot of quality fish in the 4- and 5-pound class, (and) it does produce some real hawgs in the 8-pound class as well. I caught two 8-pound bass in one morning last spring, so don't overlook Lake Wateree in terms of trophy bass potential."
Guide Chris Heinning of Sumter focuses a lot of time and effort Lake Wateree in April. The 46-year-old Air Force retiree said April is a month to take quality and quantity of fish.
"A lot of the early April fishing will depend on the winter weather we've had and where the fish are in the spawning process," said Heinning (803-236-1257). "Often, in mid-to late March, bass will be staging on secondary points about midway back in the creeks," he said. "But with a warm winter like in 2012, fishing can get ahead of schedule. Typically by April, there will be multiple types of cover that will be producing excellent fishing."
Among Heinning's favorite types of cover include bank grass, docks and rocky points; however, he will fish whatever is in front of him, including laydowns, stump flats, riprap, boat ramps and seawalls. He likes cover that has relatively deep water close by and also keeps an eye on his Lowrance HDS marine electronics to find these subtle changes in depth.
"That's a key on this lake, knowing there's a lot of great cover and structure that anglers can identify and effectively fish," Heinning said. "Are all potentially productive during April, but as the water warms, the productive patterns are likely to change. The shallow-water factor will be a constant, but fishermen will need to continually check different types of places as the water warms."
Heinning said Wateree bass will spawn in March and April, so he will spend a reasonable amount of fishing time in 4 to 8 feet of water. But as the water warms, he'll fish very shallow water most of the time.
"Bedding fish will be in shallow water, and they like a hard bottom, "he said. "One good target area for these big fish will be short pockets about midway back in the creeks. The bedding fish will not necessarily be all the way back in the creeks where you have that muddy bottom. Once the water temperature begins to get into the 60s, a lot of fish will be orienting to the shallows.
"When looking for bedding fish, I prefer a creature bait such as a lizard, craw or a jig. I will constantly try different lures. If the water clarity is good, as it often is during April, I'll spend a good bit of time working a big bedding fish. But bass can be caught off the beds without seeing the beds or the fish if the water is dingy. If the water is dingy, it sometime makes fishing for non-bedding fish better. Both patterns will be productive during April."
Heinning focuses a lot of time on non-bedding fish this month, and if there is a water-color change because rain, he'll gravitate to the cleaner water.
"The forage will work toward the cleaner water, so that's where I'll focus my efforts," he said. "Another thing about Lake Wateree that requires perseverance from fishermen is patterns will often change quickly at this time of year.
"Sometimes the lake will be red-hot on a specific pattern, and the next day you can't find fish in the same places," he said. "Typically, that means something has likely backed the fish off, such as a cold front. But when the action slows, you may have to downsize your lure and fish deeper and slower. Jigs or grubs, or even a 4- to 6-inch plastic worm, worked deeper and slower will usually put you back in the fish-catching business. Patience then becomes a key element to success."
He also said that when this occurs and you locate an area where you're getting some bites and hooking bass consistently, stick with it.
"Fish a place like this hard before leaving," Heinning said. "Sometimes these are the days when you have to work a bit harder, but (you) may catch some quality fish. I'll fish the entire lake during April and will move around to find the water color patterns I like. On Lake Wateree, you can usually find dingy water in Wateree Creek but often find somewhat clearer water in the lower end where there are a lot of large coves that are prime April bass habitat. Plus, there's a lot of creeks - Wateree, Taylor, Beaver, Dutchman's, Singleton, June, Rochelle and Colonels - that provide a real diversity of water color, water temperature and cover."
Heinning said that staying flexible in the cover you fish, the lures you use and presentation of lures are essential to success in late March and throughout April.
"I'll use the Buckeye shakey head and straight-tail worm a lot at this time of the year and into the summer," Heinning said. "But also in April, Texas-rigged worms, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, crankbaits in shad or crawdad patterns as well as a jig and trailer are all potentially good. I mix it up a lot and work on discovering a good pattern.
"I've also found that some very good days are defined by fishing a lot of cover throughout the day and you'll end up with a good catch of fish," he said. "At other times of the year, success on this lake can be found at very specific depths and patterns, but April is when most all shallow water options are viable."
Rodgers and Heinning agree that shallow cover is the key to April success on Wateree, but both said quick reactions to constantly changing water temperatures, clarity and weather patterns significantly influence the catch rates of fishermen on shallow-water patterns.
Adaptability is the key to fishing Lake Wateree in April, Rodgers said.
"There will be periods during the day where I'll try some different that works, and I can take advantage of certain situations with a quick reaction to a successful pattern change," he said.
HOW TO GET THERE: Lake Wateree is located in Kershaw, Fairfield and Lancaster counties and can be accessed from many directions. From Camden, take SC 97 up the east side of the lake to numerous access points. From Lugoff, take SSR 5 (Longtown Road), turn right on SSR 151to SSR 101 (River Road). To the right is Colonel's Creek Landing; to the left are several landings, including Lake Wateree State Park. Access is easy via I-77. At Exit 41, take SSR 41 east to its junction with SSR 101 (River Road). Follow SSR 101 to Lake Wateree State Park and several other landings. From Camden, the other side of the lake is accessible by taking US 521 north of Camden to SSR 97. This road will lead to Clearwater and Beaver Creek landings.
WHEN TO GO: April is the prime shallow-water fishing month, with fish bedding as well as post-spawn fish in the shallows. It is an excellent month to target big largemouth bass congregated in shallow water. The fishing is good all day, but early in the month, some points and pockets get better when the sun gets higher and warms the water.
ACCOMMODATIONS: Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce, Camden, 800-968-4037; Quality Inn, US 1 South, Lugoff, 803-438-9441; Travel Inn, US 1 South, Lugoff, 803-438-4961. Lake Wateree State Park has camping available, 803-482-6401.
BEST TECHNIQUES: Fish all forms of shallow cover, natural or man-made. Early in the month, a lot of bottom-bumping lures will work, especially on bedding fish, but spinnerbaits, crankbaits and later in the month topwaters will produce excellent action around shoreline cover as well as on stump flats.
GUIDES/FISHING INFO: Capt. Chris Heinning, 803-236-1257 or www.captchrisfishing.com; Colonels Creek Market, Ridgeway, 803-337-2100; Lake Wateree State Park, 803-482-6401. See also Guides & Charters in Classifieds.
MAPS: Duke Energy, www.duke-energy.com; Navionics Electronic Charts, 6 Thatcher Lane, Wareham MA 02571; Delorme's South Carolina Atlas & Gazetteer, 800-561-5105 or www.delorme.com; Kingfisher Map, 800-326-0257 or www.kfmaps.com.