Fresh off a fourth place finish in the qualifiers-only 179-boat, 3-day Walmart BFL Regional on Lake Wateree, it’s fair to say that Dearal Rodgers has a better handle on the Lake Wateree bass than most anglers right now. Despite persistent boat troubles that more than halved his fishing time on both days 2 and 3, Dearal managed to finish with a three-day weight of 32-6 anchored by his strongest bag of the tournament, a 16-2 ounce day one sack. Fishing was tough but Dearal did enough to finish in the top-6 and move onto the next event.
Dearal reports that despite the massive flooding a week and half before the tournament water quality appeared to be okay afterwards, but then the second round of heavy rain the Saturday before the tournament really adversely affected water quality and created a mud line that moved progressively down the lake. While some fish were caught in the muddier water up the lake Dearal had to scrap his up-river pattern as well as the creek fish he located in practice as the mudline moved down the lake to the mid-lake area during the event.
Up the lake he heard that fish were suspended because of the muddy conditions, but down the lake he found them holding right on the bottom. Most of Dearal’s weight was caught around docks, but ironically the fish didn’t actually seem to be related to the docks themselves but rather to the bottom cover (brush, rocks) around the dock. With 179 boats beating the banks fish along the shore were very heavily pressured, and with so many anglers flipping docks they also received a beating. However, Dearal discovered that docks created sections of shoreline that anglers couldn’t reach except by skipping a jig way up under the docks, and he caught most of his weight using this pattern.
Dearal found that most if not all of his fish were in 3-8 feet of water, and overall fish seemed to “moving out.” Professional angler Jay Yelas once told Dearal that fish are either relating to points or pockets, effectively going out or coming in, and this tournament Dearal believed they were in a defensive mode and moving out. Perhaps that was because of the fishing pressure, or a reaction to the mudline, but instead of relating to the middle and backs of creeks Dearal found that they were holding in the mainlake or at the mouths of creeks. And whereas the grass is usually a big deal at this time of year, Dearal did not catch a single fish in the grass – although some anglers reportedly did.
As far as baits Dearal believed that throwing bigger baits than many anglers who moved to more of a finesse pattern helped him get some higher quality bites, and he caught many of his fish on a Shooter Jig in crawdad color (which he skipped under docks). He also caught fish on big Zoom Mag 2 and Ole Monster worms in junebug color, chiefly fishing it between docks, and he weighed his last fish of the tournament off a green pumpkin Senko. Dearal believed that these mostly bigger, heavily weighted baits would get to the bottom quickly and create a reaction bite on the fall, but he also reasoned that there were suspended fish in the areas and so followed up with a shakey head worm. He had some fish that way. Dearal notes that he had to slow way down and crawl the bait along the bottom as he worked the same areas repeatedly.
Congratulations to Dearal for qualifying for the All-American on a lake to be announced this spring.
Overall, Lake Wateree water levels have dropped from their peaks back to 97.3% of full pool, and pretty much the whole lake is now muddy. Despite conditions there are some hot bites going.
Crappie: Good. Veteran tournament angler Will Hinson reports that crappie are still biting pretty well – after all, if Lake Wateree crappie weren’t willing to feed in muddy water they would often starve! This is a transition period and so a couple of patterns are available to anglers, and on the main lake crappie can still be caught on the lower end fishing brush in 16-21 feet of water. Single-rod fishing with a Fish Stalker jig last weekend Will and his son caught 60-plus fish in several hours, and they found that the fish were holding only 8-10 inches off the bottom. On the other end of the lake/ seasonal pattern fish can also be found along the river run and anglers can catch fish following the ledge of the river channel and tight-lining minnows in 16-18 feet of water. Again, fish are just off the bottom and Will reports that the winter feed is on! As the water temperatures drop, and the upper end likely clears up faster than the lower lake, expect fish to continue to move up the lake.
Finally, while Will has not fished for them himself he reports seeing huge schools of striper feeding on the surface around Clearwater Cove.
Stayed tuned for a catfish report.
DHEC Fish Advisories: Due to PCB advisories visit http://www.scdhec.gov/environment/water/fish/Advisories/lakeWateree.htm before consuming any Lake Wateree fish.