It appears that the long autumn on Lake Murray is finally over, and veteran tournament angler Captain Doug Lown says that a couple of factors are combining to move bass out of their fall habitats and into a winter pattern. First, water temperatures are finally dropping, and in one week official water temperatures at the dam have dropped from over 62 degrees down to approximately 57 degrees. Subtracting a few degrees for an approximate mid-lake estimate, mid-lake temperatures have gone from the high to the lower 50s.
During roughly the same period that water temperatures have nose-dived water levels have dropped even faster, and in the last 6 or 7 days the lake has dropped an incredible 4 feet as SCE&G has been pulling water hard. In a very short period the lake has dropped from over 359 and nearly 360 – the highest that Doug has seen it at this time of year – down to a much more normal 355.96 at the last reading.
Mild water temperatures and stable water levels have combined to keep fish on shallow rock for the last few months, but bass are now starting to move onto more traditional winter structure. This means that fish can be found on steeper structure such as 45 degree banks, sharp drops and channel swings. These are typical colder water locations, but accelerating the trend is that they are also the places that bass (and bait) like to be when water levels are dropping. Fish position themselves close to deep water when water levels are dropping, an instinct which ensures that they will not be left high and dry. In stable period they are more more willing to hold on flatter structure.
Stained water conditions are creating an interesting paradox, however, as the mid-lake area has more channels and drop-offs than the lower lake. The problem is that water further up the lake is much dirtier than water in the flatter lower lake. It can be tough to get bit in muddy water on Lake Murray at this time of year.
While shakey head worms have been catching fish for months, water temperatures are finally dropping into the range where Doug says that it is the right time to fish crankbaits. Before long Alabama rigs should come into play as water temperatures fall into their ideal 45-55 degree range. To read more about Captain Doug Lown’s bait preferences in early winter conditions on Lake Murray visit here. Just how low Lake Murray water temperatures will get this winter is anyone’s guess, but with warmer than typical weather so far it may take snow or some other very significant event to get them close to as cold as last year.
Lake World (803-957-6548) is on vacation in January and so striper, crappie and perch reports will have to wait, but Captain Chris Simpson (864-992-2352) reports that in dirty water conditions catfish can still be caught but usually not in large numbers. Even though water levels are dropping Chris doesn’t usually expect that to push catfish deeper when mud is present, and he finds that mud will often cause fish to move up the water column. Drifting will still work, but anchoring on humps and points that top out at the level where catfish and bait are holding and waiting for them to move through is often more effective in these circumstances. Cut herring and white perch are good bait options.
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