Winter bass fishing on Lake Wateree can present some of the toughest fishing conditions of the year, and with water temperatures hovering just above 40 degrees and fairly stained water this year is no exception. Carolinas Bass Challenge tournament director Brett Collins – who will be hosting a tournament on Lake Wateree on February 20 – gives the blunt assessment that catching fish lately has been hard. But while cold temperatures might make anglers think about fishing deep, based on history as well as recent reports that would be a mistake. Brett says the deep bass bite has been next to non-existent, while the fish that have been caught have come up shallower in 3-6 feet of water. The best option has been fishing Shad Raps, Speed Traps, Rattle Traps and square-billed crankbaits slowly around rocky, main lake points. If it’s possible to find some wind protection by fishing the insides of the points that has been best. With temperatures so cold and dropping anglers shouldn’t expect a lot of bites, and Brett says catching 2-3 good fish on crankbaits is a respectable outing.
FLW angler Dearal Rodgers agrees with Brett’s frank assessment of current fishing conditions on Lake Wateree, and he also points another factor besides cold and mud that could affect the fishing. Lake Wateree water levels are fairly low at 94.9% of full pool, which marks a drop of more than ten feet from earlier this winter. While cold, stained conditions are working against anglers, low water levels could actually be a good thing by concentrating the fish and allowing some anglers to find a big bag.
Dearal advises heading for the clearest water anglers can find right now, and he suggests sticking to the main lake or the first section of creeks just off the main lake. One option is to throw a crankbait up shallow and reel it very slowly, although Dearal notes that the shallow places where fish have moved up to feed will usually be proximate to deep water such as a shelf or rock outcropping. Crankbait choice can be a little tricky right now, as at this time of year a finesse-type crankbait on light line such as a Number 5 Shad Rap will often outfish a bulkier bait in the cold. However, in stained conditions a bigger bait such as a Number 7 or Number 8 Shad Rap can be better as it provides a bigger target for the fish. In the stained water Dearal would certainly go with brighter colors such as Fire Tiger or Chartreuse.
In addition to the shallow cranking pattern, the other main pattern for Dearal is fishing a big, slow bait such as a Mop Jig in the 8-15 foot range. Both ½ and 5/8 ounce sizes will be good right now, and the best colors are green pumpkin, black and blue, PB&J and Texas Craw. Dearal advises fishing the jig around brush, channel swings, or rocks (including points, ledges, bluff banks, etc.). Docks are always a factor on Wateree, and Dearal would advise hitting docks in 8-15 foot depth range that have some good brush. While for fun fishing on days when you can hop from rocky point to rocky point a crankbait might produce, Dearal points out that with a ton of boats on tournament day anglers may need to really slow down and fish the jig.
Crappie: Slow to fair. Veteran tournament anglers Will Hinson reports that crappie fishing has been kind of slow lately on Lake Wateree, and in the extreme South Carolina cold fishing activity has been limited. The fish that are being caught are holding tight to the bottom way up the river channel around Wateree Creek and above. They are in 24-30 feet of water feeding on shad schools, and they are hugging the river ledge. To catch these fish anglers need to fish very, very slowly and hold a live minnow right on top of them in the strike zone. While very cold conditions should keep the fish pinned in this area for the next week or two, as soon as temperatures start to rise look for fish to start to make a move behind the bridge in Beaver Creek and then into the creek channels generally. As soon as the water begins to warm fish are going to want to begin moving towards their spawning areas.
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