Few states can match the quality and diversity of South Carolina’s bass fishing. No matter the season, there are incredible opportunities to catch bass all over the Palmetto State.
That includes massive, world-class reservoirs like the Santee-Cooper Lakes and Lake Murray, but also a number of smaller, less well-known lakes that are true hidden gems. Some of South Carolina’s rivers offer great bass fishing, too.
The potential to catch trophy largemouth bass in the 10-pound class is available statewide. Still, it’s worth remembering that while largemouths are the most sought-after black bass species in South Carolina, they’re not the only game in town.
Spotted bass are also widespread, especially in the rivers and reservoirs of the Savannah River watershed. There are even a few impressive smallmouth fisheries in South Carolina and a handful of places where you can catch all three species.
No discussion of South Carolina bass fishing is complete without addressing Lake Murray, a massive 50,000-acre reservoir in the central part of the state. Although true trophy-size bass are fairly uncommon here, there may be no lake in the state that kicks out more 5-pounders.
Bassmaster Magazine placed Lake Murray at #1 on its annual ranking of the best bass lakes in the Southeast in 2023—the lake has seldom been far from the top 10—noting that it almost universally takes a 20-pound limit to win a tournament here.
Spring is the easiest season to fish Lake Murray, with largemouths heading shallow as the water warms up. Predictable places like points, cover-filled flats, rock piles, shallow humps and ditches are excellent, with depths ranging from 2 to 10 feet.
The spawn cycle starts soonest at the upper end of the lake, which is shallower and a little more stained than the lower end. Beards Creek, Bear Creek and Crystal Lake are exceptional areas in March.
Lake Murray also has numerous islands, which offer prime shallow bass fishing. Lunch Island and Shull Island are a couple of the best spots toward the lower end of the lake.
After spawning in April, bass often hang around shallow cover like logs, rocks and docks during the month of May, gradually transitioning to deeper structure by early summer. The shoreline is highly developed, and dock fishing can be especially good post-spawn.
Almost any lure can work here if you present it in the right place and time. Lizards and creature baits like Zoom Brush Hogs are excellent in early spring and when bass are bedding. Watermelon is a hot color, and blue/black Senkos are very popular.
Lake Murray has a major blueback herring spawn that overlaps with the end of largemouths’ spawning period, and herring-imitating cranks and jerkbaits can be killer in late spring. A Zoom Fluke can produce almost any time.
One half of the dynamic duo known as the Santee Cooper Lakes, Lake Moultrie and its neighbor Lake Marion offer some of the most consistently excellent bass fishing in the Southeast. Moultrie is the smaller of the two at a still-massive 60,400 acres.
This lake is simply loaded with perfect largemouth habitat.
Outside of the deep river channel that cuts through its center, Lake Moultrie is mostly a network of shallow to mid-depth flats and humps dotted with the stumps left behind when the lake was built.
In spring, visible shoreline cover like cypress trees, deadfalls and weed beds are excellent targets. Riprap is an often-overlooked option, too. Pre-spawn offers your best shot at an 8- or 10-pound largemouth.
But there’s also prime offshore fishing most of the year.
Great bass spots on Lake Moultrie may look like nothing from your boat, but there’s a whole landscape of hills, valleys, old roadbeds and stump fields beneath the surface.
Largemouths spawn a little earlier here than in most South Carolina lakes. Mid to late March is usually peak spawn, with some activity extending into April.
Post-spawn, bass will still be relatively shallow, with the best spots being creek channel edges, ditches and depressions, often as little as 3 to 5 feet deep. They’ll move a bit deeper as summer progresses, but there’s often a shallow bite in summer, too.
The area around the Hatchery Boat Ramp is a great place to start, as it offers abundant shallow cover and productive deeper channel areas, all within a fairly small space. The area around Blacks Camp is also excellent.
Bass are often willing to take a topwater, making Zara Spooks a popular choice.
By fall, lily pads and other emergent vegetation will be abundant, and largemouths are often happy to slurp up a floating frog among the pads.
The other half of the incomparable Santee Cooper Lakes, Lake Marion is every bit as good as Lake Moultrie, and some would argue even better. And at 150,000 acres, it’s a truly gargantuan lake.
If ever there was a true four-season bass lake, this is it. Winter may be the best season to catch the biggest bass of the year, some over 10 pounds.
A warming spell in January or February can trigger shad to move into Lake Marion’s creeks, and big bass invariably follow.
February into March is pre-spawn. Much like nearby Lake Moultrie, Lake Marion is an early spawning lake, with largemouths bedding down at the upper end of the lake and in the backs of creeks in late March.
By the middle of April, the spawn is winding down, but bass linger in 3- to 5-foot shallows for quite a while.
Much of the lakeshore is marshy cypress swamp, and there’s phenomenal spring fishing among the cypress trees and knees.
Lake Marion is also a great fall bass lake.
When the water cools in September, shad head back into the creeks, with gangs of largemouths chasing them. Bass are active and aggressive this time of year and are usually more than willing to pursue a jerkbait or crankbait high in the water column.
The upper half of Lake Marion offers some of the best shallow bass fishing around natural cover, including cypress and sweet gum trees, but also lily pads and all kinds of vegetation. Buzzbaits and walking topwaters excel here, but Lake Marion is also a great worm lake.
The lower end is more developed, with long swaths of riprap-lined banks, bridges, and lots of boat docks.
Lower creeks like Eutaw, Potato, Taw Caw and Wyboo are all prime largemouth areas.
A sprawling reservoir encompassing 55,900 acres on the Savannah River, Lake Hartwell forms part of the border between South Carolina and Georgia. The lake is known for the diversity of its fishing, with ample populations of both largemouths and spotted bass, as well as stripers.
It’s not generally thought of as a trophy bass lake, but Lake Hartwell consistently offers fast action.
Spotted bass often save the day when conditions are tough for largemouths, and they’re more common in the lower lake.
The best largemouth fishing is at the upper end, particularly in the Seneca and Tugaloo River arms. The water is typically quite clear throughout, and sight fishing is usually an option in spring when bass cycle through their spawning season.
Forage in Lake Hartwell is abundant and varied. Blueback herring, threadfin and gizzard shad, bluegills and crayfish are all on the menu, with bass keying in on various options throughout the year.
Herring are especially important as largemouths are leaving their beds in early May.
Spotted bass action can be outstanding in summer and early fall. Spots follow schools of shad and herring out on the main lake, often around points and timber-filled channel edges at 20 to 25 feet. Drop-shotting and Ned rigs are great ways to catch your limit.
Lake Hartwell can be great in winter, too. Bass often hold at 20-foot depths, and vertical jigging can be very effective.
Try fishing bluffs, bridges and riprap along steep banks where bass can quickly move between depths.
Sunny days quickly warm the shallows and draw bass in.
And as the calendar turns to February and early March, pre-spawn patterns take shape, with bass moving from deep ledges and humps towards points.
Carolina rigged worms are great this time of year.
Lake Wylie is a 13,440-acre impoundment of the Catawba River, right at the north-central tip of South Carolina. The upper end of the lake lies within North Carolina, but the Palmetto State lays claim to much of this long, meandering reservoir.
Ask local anglers about their favorite month to fish Lake Wylie, and more than a few will tell you it’s March. This is a month of transition, with largemouth bass leaving deep winter spots, shifting into pre-spawn patterns as they head shallow, and ultimately beginning to bed down.
Early spring is the time to focus on shallow cover, and Lake Wylie has a lot of it. Logs, stumps, and especially boat docks play key roles in springtime, and various bottom-bumping techniques like Carolina- and Texas-rigged worms are likely to pay off.
In spring, the best action tends to be in Lake Wylie’s major creeks. Big Allison Creek is an early-season staple because of the warm water discharge from the Catawba Nuclear Station. But other creeks like Steele, Crowders and Little Sugar are all worth probing from March through May.
Late spring and summer are great times to fish, too. After largemouths spawn, look for bass on the countless points that line the edges of Lake Wylie like sawteeth and in the little pockets in between.
Deep bass fishing can also be excellent, and relatively few anglers take advantage of it. In late winter and early spring, schools of shad often draw bass to deep water, and summer often finds them hanging out on the deep brush piles placed by crappie anglers. (This lake also rated an honorable mention on our list of South Carolina’s best crappie fishing lakes.)
Wylie is a lake where you’re more likely to catch your fill of fat, healthy 3- to 5-pound largemouths than a trophy. And although it’s not a small lake by any means, it’s not as massive as some of South Carolina’s other major bass lakes, making it a little easier to find a productive pattern.
The second major Savannah River impoundment along the Georgia state line—Lake Hartwell is right above it, Lake Thurmond right below—Lake Russell is an outstanding bass lake.
Typical of Savannah River reservoirs, both largemouth and spotted bass are well-represented.
Properly known as Richard B. Russell Lake, this reservoir encompasses 26,650 acres and offers a different experience from its neighbors. It was the last lake created on the Savannah River, and unlike the others, its shores are almost entirely undeveloped.
That removes dock-skipping from your list of tactics. Instead, anglers focus on laydowns and standing timber. In March, look for pre-spawn largemouths as they inch toward all the little pockets in shorelines.
Lake Russell is a typical largemouths/spotted bass lake in that largemouths are more often caught in creeks, coves and on nearshore cover, while spots favor main lake points and deeper stands of timber.
May is a great month, no matter which species you’re targeting.
Bass come off their beds ready to gorge themselves on blueback herring, providing explosive topwater opportunities. Nothing looks more like an injured herring than a weightless Zoom Fluke just under the surface.
Take advantage of the herring bite on flat points and riprap areas. Although the shore is mostly undeveloped, save for a handful of parks and boat launch sites, it does have multiple bridge crossings, all of which are great late-spring fishing spots.
Lake Russell also has a reputation as a great winter lake. Bass suspend anywhere from 35 to as much as 60 feet down during the coldest part of the year, often right below pods of shad around standing timber.
Jigging spoons, drop-shots and Ned rigs are great for deep winter bass.
Expect to catch mostly spotted bass, with the occasional largemouth, crappie or white bass thrown in.
Spanning about 7,500 acres in South Carolina’s mountainous northwest corner, Lake Jocassee has the distinction of being the best smallmouth bass lake in the state.
In fact, it’s one of very few SC lakes where you can catch smallmouths, period.
Not native to the Palmetto State, smallmouths were first stocked in Lake Jocassee in the 1980s. They immediately took to its deep, cool, clear waters and abundant rocky habitat. An angler caught the state record smallmouth weighing an impressive 9 pounds 8 ounces here in 2001.
Smallmouths often relate to Lake Jocassee’s steep, cliff-like banks. The lake also has numerous rocky points that stair-step down into deep water, perfect places for smallmouths to ambush herring and alewives or to snatch crayfish from among the rocks and gravel.
Jigs and finesse worms are great for picking through the rocks, but smallies commonly suspend as well and will readily attach a jerkbait or blow up on a topwater stickbait.
Lake Jocassee supports some hefty largemouths, too, and spotted bass have also been introduced.
And thanks to its cool waters, Lake Jocassee is also South Carolina’s best trout fishing lake.
The largest of the Catawba River reservoirs in South Carolina, Lake Wateree offers just shy of 14,000 acres and produces some impressive largemouths. The fishing has a reputation for being feast-or-famine, but anglers who can identify the right pattern often do well here.
Lake Wateree is a highly fertile lake with a tremendous forage base that keeps bass fat and happy.
There’s ample weed growth here too, and working buzzbaits through vegetation is a tried-and-true method in April and May.
You’ll also find countless boat docks along the lake’s highly-developed shorelines, and dock fishing can be successful in almost any season. Skipping jigs and soft plastics under docks is a good tactic, with docks that reach into deep water usually being best.
Starting in May, look for bream beds where big bass come to pick up an easy meal.
A distinct thermocline sets up in midsummer, concentrating fish at depths right around 16 feet. Mouths of mid-lake creeks like Rochelle Creek and Martins Branch are summer hotspots.
Summer nights are also a great time to score some big catfish at Lake Wateree.
Fishing Creek Lake
Located just a few miles upriver from Lake Wateree (and downriver from Lake Wylie) on the Catawba River, Fishing Creek is a much smaller impoundment at 3,431 acres, but one that offers some truly excellent fishing opportunities.
Fishing Creek Lake is often overlooked because of its more famous neighbors, and it’s arguably better known for crappie than for bass. But this long, narrow impoundment has yielded largemouths over 10 pounds.
This is an old lake, and as such it has fairly gentle bottom contours. There is a main river channel with expansive stump fields on either side.
Plastic worms and spinnerbaits are great tools for probing stumpy areas.
Check out the mouths of tributaries like Cane Creek, too, especially after a rain.
Stump-covered points toward the lower end of the lake can be productive in summer, and notches in the steeply sloping banks often harbor bass.
A short drive from Columbia and just 20 miles from Lake Murray, Lake Monticello is another lake that would be easy to pass over in favor of the more famous water nearby, if not for one important detail. Lake Monticello supports both smallmouth and largemouth bass.
Largemouths are more common, and you have an honest shot at a 7- or 8-pounder on any given day. But this 6,700-acre impoundment on the Broad River has given up plenty of 5-pound bronze bass as well.
Smallmouth fishing tends to be best here during the cooler months, with the warm water discharge toward the lower end of the lake being a regular winter hotspot.
Riprap and rocky banks are key areas in spring, while offshore structure produces batter in summer.
Lake Monticello has crystal-clear water.
Extreme finesse isn’t always necessary, but stealth and the ability to make long casts will improve your chances of success.
Topwaters often work well in the morning and evening.
Lake Greenwood is a long reservoir on the Saluda River in western South Carolina. In addition to its main Saluda River arm, the reservoir has a second arm fed by the Reedy River. Both harbor abundant largemouths, as do the many smaller creeks that empty into the lake.
Lots of healthy 5- to 7-pound largemouths are caught here, as well as spotted bass, which run smaller.
There’s good fishing from spring right through fall, and following largemouths’ seasonal movements is the key to success.
Bass start the year in deep water but gradually head toward shallows as February turns to March.
After spawning in creeks and coves about a month later, they’ll return to deep points, ledges and humps, where much of the best summer action takes place.
Lake Greenwood is also known as one of the better striped bass lakes in South Carolina, but striper anglers are accustomed to hooking a few chunky largemouths while trolling Alabama rigs on the lower end of the lake. There are some monster catfish here, too.
Lake Thurmond (Clarks Hill Lake)
Comprising nearly 71,100 acres of water along the South Carolina/Georgia state line, Lake Thurmond—officially designated J. Strom Thurmond Reservoir and more commonly called Clarks Hill Lake on the Georgia side—is a true fishing powerhouse.
In addition to offering an excellent striper fishery, Thurmond Lake also supports largemouth and spotted bass populations that seem only to be getting more abundant as years go by. For that reason, it’s also among the best bass lakes in Georgia.
As a general rule, you’ll catch more largemouths close to cover, while spots are more comfortable in open water. Both species feed on threadfin shad and blueback herring, especially from April into May, as bass finish spawning and shad and herring start their own spawn.
Zara Spooks and soft jerkbaits are great lure choices, and there’s often a great topwater bite off main lake points in summer.
Gordon Shoals, a collection of sunken islands in the Little Georgia River arm, is a perennial bass hotspot.
Best Bass Rivers in SC
Emerging from the base of the Pinopolis Dam at the lower end of Lake Moultrie, the Cooper River meanders southward until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean in Charleston. The dam ensures that some current is always present, a major benefit when it comes to bass fishing.
The Cooper is also a tidal river, and the combined effects of the tides and the current from below the dam create a complex set of variables.
Falling tides, which drag bait out of cover, provide some of the best fishing opportunities, moving largemouths from the edges of flats to breaks in the bank.
As a rule, largemouth bass aren’t fans of strong current, so they’ll usually gravitate to some kind of current break in the Cooper River, particularly trees, logs, docks and woody debris. The more water is flowing from the dam, the more bass will try to avoid it.
The old flooded rice fields along parts of the Cooper River are some of the most reliable places to find largemouths, especially during high water.
The Cooper has trophy bass, and anglers catch them using oversized Texas-rigged worms, buzzbaits and soft jerkbaits.
South Carolina has relatively few smallmouth bass fishing opportunities, but the upper Broad River is one of the best around.
Crossing the North Carolina state line just north of Gaffney, the Broad actually starts as a narrow whitewater river before gradually becoming wider and more ambling.
It also evolves into more of a largemouth river as it approaches Columbia and ultimately flows into the Congaree River, so you can use different approaches to target both species if you so desire. But the novelty of catching river smallies makes the upper Broad the go-to area.
Summer into early fall is the best time to fish it. Lower flows make the river easy to wade or float and expose many of the rocky shoals that smallmouths gather around. Shoals with some grass or sand nearby are often best.
A wide range of lures is effective here, from jigs and tubes to jerkbaits and walking topwaters. Mepps spinners are favored by many who fish the Broad River regularly, particularly the Mepps Aglia and Black Fury models.
Pee Dee River
Beginning in North Carolina before swinging through eastern South Carolina, the Pee Dee River is best known for its exceptional panfish populations, particularly trophy redbreast sunfish. But it also offers an excellent and underutilized largemouth bass fishery.
Locals often refer to this stream as the Great Pee Dee River to differentiate it from the Little Pee Dee River, which is also an excellent fishing stream. The larger Pee Dee is big enough to accommodate bass boats in places, but smaller flat-bottomed craft will better navigate its snaggy shallows.
The Pee Dee River offers abundant creeks, coves and backwaters, as well as ample stretches of cypress swamp-lined banks.
Water level affects the fishing in a big way, as the Pee Dee is entirely free-flowing in South Carolina. Tides are also a factor in the lower part of the river.
Creek mouths are some of the most consistent places to find bass; cast close to stumps, cypress trees, and around the edges of pads and grass beds.
Many anglers favor fishing with live minnows or white/chartreuse spinnerbaits in these tannin-stained waters.
The Waccamaw River has a lot in common with the Great Pee Dee. The two rivers meander through eastern South Carolina’s Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge before merging and emptying into the Atlantic through Winyah Bay.
And both offer similar bass fishing opportunities, especially in their lower tidal reaches.
The Waccamaw features miles of cypress trees and stumps, and the fishing is especially good during the spring spawn. Expect a lot of healthy 3- and 4-pound largemouths.
A wide range of lures will do the trick, but topwaters are especially effective. Buzzbaits and floating frogs have their devotees, and Whopper Plopper lures are a local favorite. Color patterns with some red in them do especially well here.
Creeks and backwaters off the main river are often best, but use caution (and a tide chart) when entering them. Many have deep water but shallow entrances that may be impassable at low tide.
These backwater areas often fish best at high tide, while falling tides are better on the main river.
One of the two rivers that give the Santee-Cooper Lakes their name, the Santee River emerges at the base of Lake Marion’s Wilson Dam, much like the nearby Cooper River originates at Lake Moultrie. The Santee is a smaller river but in many ways, an easier one to fish.
Compared to the Cooper River, the dam releases that feed the Santee River are less consistent, so the fishing has its peaks and valleys. High water in winter and spring can make fishing impossible, but it also washes bass out of the lake and into the river.
Fishing the Santee is usually best in summer. Anglers catch lots of 3- to 5-pound largemouths here, and some even bigger. Target schooling bass with topwaters on summer mornings, not just around nearshore cover but out in the middle of the river as well.
Other times, fish the eddy side of any current break.
Farther down on the tidal portion of the river, expect incoming tides to push bass deep into impenetrable shoreline cover, but be ready for them to reemerge as soon as the tide heads back out.
Flowing through portions of both Carolinas, multiple dams impound the Catawba River so that relatively little of it looks like a true river anymore.
But the 30-mile stretch below Lake Wylie and above Fishing Creek Lake is a beautiful section that offers great bass fishing.
This north-central South Carolina river is known for producing big largemouth bass, including ample fish in the 5- to 7-pound range. It’s not always a big numbers river, so expect to put in your time to catch a handful of hefty largemouths.
The fishing is often best when the water is low, as it usually is in summer, because the pockets, eddies and shoals are more exposed and easier to fish.
Shoreline cover can be great, too, and the ability to skip a lure under overhanging limbs will serve you well here.
Work the banks thoroughly when the water rises and inundates brush and trees that aren’t usually accessible.
June is probably the best month to be on the Catawba River, thanks to stable water levels.
Zoom Flukes, crayfish-pattern crankbaits and white spinnerbaits are all essentials.
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