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Spring Bass Fishing on Lake Jocassee with Captain Pat Bennett

  • by Jay

With its crystal clear blue waters Lake Jocassee may be the easiest lake in South Carolina in which to see bass, but the catching is more difficult. The first time Captain Pat Bennett fished Lake Jocassee a ten pound bass stared back at him and he saw several more fish approaching the same size, but none of them would bite. In spite of this (or maybe because of the challenge) he has been hooked on Lake Jocassee bass fishing ever since.

Captain Pat (“cbpcop” on here) did not grow up fishing in the mountains of South Carolina. He was born and raised in Charleston and eventually moved to the Panhandle region of Florida where he was a Marine flight instructor in Pensacola. Here he fished tournaments on the lakes of Northern Florida, Georgia and Alabama before moving to South Florida to take a pilot job as a deputy sheriff with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office for 12 years after he retired from the military. While living in South Florida he had the opportunity to fish Okeechobee and the Everglades extensively. After retiring from the police department and moving to the Upstate of South Carolina, and still captivated by bass fishing, he turned his attention to the mountain lakes. While rightly known in some circles as a trophy bass fishery, Lake Jocassee is more widely renowned for its trout fishery. There is not an abundance of information written about Jocassee bass fishing, Captain Pat did not inherit an abundance of lake knowledge from his father or another family member, and he has never been out with a guide on the lake. Captain Pat has learned the lake the old fashioned way – by spending countless hours on the water, and he considers himself lucky to have enjoyed so much time on such a beautiful lake. He is good enough to share his experiences and the lessons he has drawn from that time with us.

While a good bass angler can often come to a new lake and apply the same techniques he uses on his home lakes to the new waters successfully, that is often not the case on Lake Jocassee, especially for anglers used to fishing in South Carolina. Because of the unique topography of the lake it is important not just to understand bass behavior in general, but specifically on the Jocassee. Adding to the challenge Lake Jocassee does not have one type of bass, largemouths only, or even two with largemouth and spotted bass. Instead, Lake Jocassee has native largemouth bass, native redeye bass, non-native smallmouth bass, and non-native spotted bass, as well as hybrids of many of these. Prominent hybrids include a cross between spotted and redeye bass and between smallmouth and spotted bass. Since hybridization is occurring not just between pure species but also between hybrids and pure species or even hybrids and other hybrids it is not uncommon to catch a species that cannot be easily identified.

General characteristics of redeye bass include its namesake feature as well as black spots around the stomach, spotted bass are distinguishable from largemouth by their namesake mottled backs and because of a jaw that does not extend beyond their eye, and smallmouths are usually very dark green. The first fish I caught with Captain Pat appeared to have smallmouth bass and redeye bass characteristics. To further complicate identification I noticed that after spending a little time in the live well the black spots and red eyes on the red eye bass became much less pronounced. Most readers are familiar with the proclivities of largemouth bass, and many will know that spotted bass tend to favor clear waters (making them an “ideal” invasive species on Jocassee). Native redeye bass seem to exhibit a willingness to inhabit very deep water, particularly in the summer when they may be found in 80 or 100 feet, and smallmouth bass favor cool water and rocky points. Nonetheless, and especially with hybridization in the mix, they are all treated together in this article.

In the winter (and summer) Lake Jocassee bass spend most of their time offshore and Captain Pat believes from his experiences, and those of trolling trout fishermen, that they are often suspended. When water temperatures warm to about 50 degrees in late winter or early spring, though, they will start to move shallower. The usual progression is that bass will move from deep water to points, and then into coves and bays, and finally into the very backs of those bays. While bass typically spawn at 63 to 68 degrees on most lakes, Captain Pat has seen males fanning beds much earlier than that on Lake Jocassee. Several weeks ago, when daytime surface temperatures were only in the 56 to 58 degree range, he saw spawning activity in the backs of coves, and he has concluded that at least some fish must start to enter spawning mode earlier on Lake Jocassee than is typical on other lakes. Fish will spawn in the same types of places where they would spawn on other lakes when these areas are available, and they usually look for some type of cover (be it a tree, a rock or vegetation) to protect at least one side of the bed. Unlike bream bass do not bed out in the open but instead try to use their spawning location to reduce the number of angles from which they need worry about attack. After the spawn and as temperatures start to get hotter they will reverse course and move back out to deeper water the same way they came in.

The best spots for spring bass fishing are determined by spawning preferences, as previously discussed, and the location of forage. The forage base on Lake Jocassee consists primarily of blueback herring, threadfin shad, and crayfish, and Captain Pat believes that for much of the spring crayfish are the most important prey for bass. The shad and herring schools do not move into shallow water to spawn until later in the spring, and when bass regurgitate in Captain Pat’s live well they are usually throwing up pieces of crayfish, not baitfish. Because crayfish prefer banks that have a mix of clay and rock Captain Pat heads for these areas instead of sheer rock shorelines. In one bay we fished together we spent perhaps an hour, and caught two nice fish, on the shore composed of clay and rock, but then only make a few casts on the rocky side. Further, Captain Pat finds that long stretches of blank banks, which might be attractive on another lake for targeting roaming fish, are not prime locations on Lake Jocassee, and he focuses on coves. Finally, he does not spend much time fishing isolated cover, such as standing timber in the middle of a bay, but instead focuses on cover that is located on or near the kind of structure, or topographical features, he seeks (discussed below). Lake Jocassee is filled with good looking cover (trees, brush, stick-ups, etc) that often do not hold fish – the key to catching Jocassee bass is following the bait or structure.

Captain Pat fishes the same lure more than 90% of the time in the spring, and this is a shaky head worm. He prefers the jig head made by Arkie which allows you to Texas Rig the worm and then clip the weight on; it is less trouble to rig and the weight makes a clicking sound which may attract fish. Captain Pat usually fishes a 1/4 – 3/8 ounce jig head and usually pairs it with a 6 inch finesse worm in green pumpkinseed or beige and brown (crawfish) color.

When the fish have moved back into the coves and there is a tree extending perpendicular to shore the obvious cast on most lakes is not the best cast on Jocassee. Instead of orienting to the cover, or tree, the fish are first and foremost oriented to structure, and at this time of year the prime structure is often the first ledge where the water may drop from 5 to 15 feet almost vertically. The best cast, then, is parallel to shore along this ledge instead of perpendicular to the bank alongside the tree. Bringing the bait along the length of the ledge allows an angler hold it in the strike zone longer and gives the bass more chances to take it.

Captain Pat has found that the most important key to fishing the shaky head worm is to fish it slowly. When he first casts he lets it drop all the way to the bottom, where fish will be oriented, and allows the worm’s tail to float up while the jig head stays down. On the retrieve he shakes the jighead frequently and with pauses, giving the worm time to float vertically, and retrieves it back to the boat with short tugs mixed in with the shakes. Bass usually do not take the bait while it is being pulled but instead take it on the drop, and for this reason after reeling up any slack or letting the bait fall Captain Pat always lifts the rod tip slowly in case a fish has mouthed it. The bite, particularly early in the season, is frequently almost imperceptible, and at the first sign that anything is unusual he usually sets the hook. After all, hook sets are free. I am used to having bream play with a plastic worm but numerous times I felt a tick tick bite and set the hook and felt nothing, only to reel in my worm and discover small cuts in the tail or body of the worm. Captain Pat says that is a telltale sign of mouthing by a trout with its tiny teeth. One trick that Captain Pat swears by is that he applies Carolina Lunker Sauce regularly to his worms. While he doesn’t think that the smell generates any extra hits he believes that the fish hold onto a worm coated with the scent longer.

In addition to a shaky head worm Captain Pat will also use a Carolina rig, and his soft plastic of choice on this rig is a 7 inch Zoom lizard with a chartreuse tail. He does not fish a crankbait or spinnerbait (except for the occasional lipless crankbait). The only other type of lure he turns to regularly are topwaters, and early in the morning in the spring and summer before the sun is really up he likes to fish a Swim’n Image by Bill Dance or walk the dog with a Zara Spook, taking lots of long pauses.

Late in the spring after the bass have completed their spawn baitfish will move out of the main lake and up the river arms like the Toxaway or Horse Pasture to do their own business. The bass will migrate after them because the spawning herring and shad provide convenient prey to physically exhausted fish in need of easy pickings. After the baitfish complete their spawn bass will return to main lake points and then suspend in deeper water until fall.

The best part about fishing on Lake Jocassee is the beauty of the natural environment around you, and there is no other major lake in South Carolina where you can catch bass in crystal clear water beneath a waterfall (Bearcamp Creek is pictured below) surrounded by mountains and lush greenery. While Lake Jocassee is a challenging lake to fish, and can at first be daunting to someone used to fishing more typical South Carolina reservoirs, the chance to catch a trophy bass and enjoy the scenery is worth it. Lake Jocassee’s beauty makes it a pleasure to fish and the catching is simply a bonus, but going out with an experienced guide like Captain Pat Bennett greatly increases your chances of getting it right on the first trip and being able to enjoy the bonus. You will not find a friendlier, easier going guide more willing to teach and share his spots than Captain Pat, and at $150.00 for a four trip and $275.00 for an eight hour trip going out with him is a great deal; he also guides for the same rates on Lake Keowee. Now is a prime time to book a trip to explore Lake Jocassee and get in on the hot spring bite.

Captain Pat can be reached by calling 864-384-5922, emailing captnpat@bellsouth.net, or private messaging to “cpbcop” on here. Check out his website,http://www.fishkeoweejocassee.com, for more information.

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