Lake Jocassee Fishing: Complete Angler’s Guide

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Lake Jocassee is unique among South Carolina lakes. Multiple rivers and streams tumble down from the Blue Ridge Escarpment in neighboring North Carolina, keeping Lake Jocassee clear and cold year-round.

This 7,565-acre reservoir in South Carolina’s northwesternmost corner is easily the best smallmouth bass lake in the state and also one of its top trout fisheries. 

Those species thrive in the lake’s cool water, rocky habitat and impressive depth. Lake Jocassee has a maximum depth of 326 feet, and its rugged, cliff-like banks are so steep in many places that 75-foot depths are within casting distance of shore.

Lake Jocassee is an impoundment of the Keowee River, formed by the confluence of the Whitewater and Toxaway rivers beneath its surface. Other tributaries, including the Thompson River, Horsepasture River, and Laurel Fork, also feed the reservoir.

Lake Jocassee currently holds state records for two species of trout and three species of black bass. Despite its remote location, it is one of the most popular fishing destinations in South Carolina.

Surrounded by densely forested mountains and far from the nearest town, Lake Jocassee is not only one of the best fishing lakes in South Carolina but also one of the most beautiful.

Lake Jocassee Trout Fishing

Rainbow trout and brown trout are stocked in Lake Jocassee on a regular basis, and the long-standing state records of both species came from here.

Average fish weigh about 3 pounds, and there’s no other lake in South Carolina where you’re more likely to catch trophy trout.

Anglers can use a wide range of tactics to catch them, but most anglers catch most of their trout by trolling. That tends to be the case year-round. 

Trout in Lake Jocassee often seem to inhabit featureless open water, but in actuality, they’re structure-oriented more often than not. The drop-offs to the main river channel are some of the most consistent places to find trout and catch them by trolling parallel to the channel edge. 

The convergence of the Whitewater and Toxaway river channels is a particularly good area. Trout often suspend above the rims of the channel, where the bottom swiftly plummets to 300-plus feet. 

Other key areas to look for trout include river and creek mouths, as well as areas of standing timber. The mouth of the Horsepasture River is an often-productive area.

Lake Jocassee’s trout typically suspend between 30 and 50 feet below the surface. They may be considerably shallower at times (particularly during the colder months), but that range should be productive most of the time. 

Spoons are the most widely used lures for trolling, with Sutton Spoons and Doctor Spoons being local favorites. Classic crankbaits like Rapalas and Rebel lures also produce at times. Anglers often employ downriggers to get lures down to the right depth.

In springtime, trout will spread out and follow schools of baitfish, and looking for bait on your electronics is a good first step.

In summer, when Lake Jocassee stratifies, trout often stick to right around the thermocline.

Fall brings about another opportunity. Trout aren’t known to reproduce successfully here—the population is maintained entirely through stocking— but in fall, brown trout attempt a spawning run up Lake Jocassee’s tributaries. 

That makes late fall through winter the best time to catch the biggest trout of the year at the upper end of the lake. Big browns are hungry and aggressive when they return, and the bite can be phenomenal on the Laurel Fork, Horsepasture and Toxaway River arms.

One last spot is the area around the dam, which can hold trout year-round. The large hump near the water intakes and the deep, timber-filled flat adjacent to the spillway are key spots.

Catch More Trout

Find South Carolina’s best trout fishing, including Lake Jocassee, as well as excellent rivers and creeks nearby.

Catch more with the top trout fishing techniques and tips for all waters. We also have a more specific guide for brown trout fishing.

Smallmouth Bass

Lake Jocassee is unquestionably South Carolina’s best smallmouth lake. The state record, weighing 9 pounds, 7 ounces, was caught here in 2001, and no lake in the state kicks out more 4-pound-plus smallmouths. 

More modest-sized smallies weighing 1 to 3 pounds are quite abundant around the lake’s ample rocky structure. But in general, Lake Jocassee is better known as a trophy smallmouth fishery than a numbers lake. That makes finding the right spot especially important here.

A good depth map is a crucial tool for finding smallmouths. The key features to look for are rocks in relatively shallow water. Because most of Lake Jocassee’s banks are precipitously steep, such spots aren’t common, but identifying them is relatively easy.

The lake’s longer, sloping points are good places to start, as are open water humps that come within 20 feet of the surface. Rocky and riprap-lined banks are also good targets, especially when smallmouths are spawning in springtime. 

Several rocky points and riprap shorelines are near the dam and spillway, making that a good area to check out. There are also some excellent riprap banks near the Bad Creek generating station on the Whitewater River arm.

Smallmouths dine on threadfin shad and blueback herring in Lake Jocassee, but crayfish are their preferred forage. Jigs and tubes are excellent lures for imitating craws. 

Drop-shot rigs have also become very popular here. Anglers can fish just about any finesse-style soft plastic bait on a drop-shot rig, which is a great tool for meticulously working rocky cover at a range of depths. Float-and-fly rigs are also locally popular.

Crankbaits and jigging spoons can also do the trick when smallies key in on baitfish.

As a general rule, the water here is so clear that slow, methodical fishing with light lines and natural-looking bait works best.

Largemouth Bass

Though it’s better known for smallmouths, Lake Jocassee is no slouch for largemouth bass, either. The lake supports a healthy largemouth bass population, and anglers land fish over 10 pounds here every year. 

Largemouth fishing can be tricky on Lake Jocassee. It’s not a typical South Carolina bass lake, with its crystal-clear water, abundant rocks, and minimal vegetation. It looks more like a California bass lake, and at times, it fishes like one. 

Key areas for largemouths in Lake Jocassee are cuts and coves along the shoreline, especially those that have less extreme bottom gradients and offer some timber.

In addition to having quite a bit of submerged standing timber, laydowns line many of the lake’s largely undeveloped banks. Places where woody cover intersects with rocky ledges are especially likely to harbor largemouths. 

Depths ranging from 2 to 25 feet are typically productive, though largemouths may go deeper in summer and winter.

Carolina-rigged worms and lizards are popular, and topwaters can score early and late in the day. Finesse techniques like drop-shot rigs and shaky-head worms are also commonly employed.

That being said, trophy largemouths often respond to big lures here, too. As in many Western bass lakes, Lake Jocassee’s biggest largemouths often dine on smaller, freshly stocked trout, making trout-patterned swimbaits effective.

Largemouth bass typically start to spawn in mid-April, and some are likely to be on beds until late May. Sight-fishing in the clear water can be exciting this time of year, but stealth is required to avoid spooking these wary fish.

Catch More Bass

While Lake Jocassee is undeniably the best trophy smallmouth spot in SC, be sure to check out our picks for the best overall bass fishing lakes and rivers in the state.

Read our complete guide to catching black bass, including largemouths, smallmouths and other species found at Lake Jocassee.

Other Fish Species

Redeye Bass

With a limited range that includes mountain regions of North and South Carolina, redeye bass are native to the Keowee River watershed and have made themselves at home in Lake Jocassee. The 5-pound, 2.5-ounce state record was caught here in 2001. 

Redeye bass are similar in behavior and appearance to smallmouth bass. They favor rocky habitat and are well-adapted to current, making Lake Jocassee’s river arms and creeks the best places to catch them. 

Look for redeyes around shallow rocky areas and target them with downsized crankbaits, jigs, tubes and finesse worms.

Fly fishing for redeye bass is also popular using streamers and craw patterns. 

Redeye bass are identifiable by their vibrant red eyes, more distinct spots near the belly compared to smallmouth bass, and reddish tails with a bit of white at the upper and lower corners. Most redeye bass weigh a pound or less.

Spotted Bass

Spotted bass are not native to Lake Jocassee, but they have spread across South Carolina and become established in many lakes where they are considered invasive. Lake Jocassee is one of them.

Few anglers target spotted bass specifically, but anyone fishing for bass will likely catch one or two incidentally. Some have expressed concern that spotted bass are hybridizing with local redeye bass, potentially threatening the native species.

Even so, they present an additional angling opportunity. The 8-pound, 5-ounce state record spotted bass was caught here in 2001, and “spots” weighing a pound or two are common. Tactics used to catch them are similar to those used to tempt smallmouths. 

Spotted bass are more likely to inhabit open water than other black bass species. They commonly school together and chase blueback herring out in the middle of the river channels.

Spots often respond to herring-imitating jerkbaits and jigging spoons.


Lake Jocassee isn’t really known for catfish, but anglers have pulled some serious giants from its depths. It’s a real sleeper catfish lake, though most catfish anglers ignore it in favor of Lake Keowee, another Keowee River impoundment that begins below the Jocassee dam.

Most catfish caught here are channel cats, though a few big blue catfish have also been reported. Typical channel catfish here weigh under 5 pounds, but fish over 10 pounds are always possible. 

The most popular area to catch them is near the dam.

Catfish often inhabit the same areas where trout are found at the lower end of Lake Jocassee, though cats typically stay close to the bottom while trout suspend above. 

Ledges alongside the river channel near the dam are good places to fish live or cut bait made from blueback herring or shad. Chicken livers are also effective. The best bite is usually after dark.


Lake Jocassee is an often-overlooked bream lake, producing some of the biggest bluegill in the northwestern part of South Carolina. Lots of fish weigh 10 ounces or more, and occasional giants tip the scales at a full pound. 

This lake also fishes a lot differently than the shallow, fertile waters that bream typically call home. Looking a little deeper is usually necessary, and a light line is a must to avoid turning off the fish.

The best time to fish for bream on Lake Jocassee is during their spawning period from May through June. Bream bed down in fairly shallow water in the lake’s coves, with peak activity taking place around the full moon each month. 

Classic offerings like red worms and crickets beneath a float will do the trick for bluegill and other sunfish.

Another method popular among local anglers is to cast small topwater popper flies near the bank on spring and summer mornings. You can fish poppers can on fly gear or ultralight spinning tackle.

Planning Your Trip

Among South Carolina’s major fishing lakes, Lake Jocassee is one of the most remote. Mountains surround its almost completely undeveloped shoreline.

Accommodations are mostly limited to a handful of nearby campgrounds and RV parks, and options for shopping and dining are very limited. The small cities of Walhalla and Pickens, each about 30 minutes from the lake, are the closest places to find supermarkets and chain stores. 

That being said, the lake’s untouched nature is a big part of its appeal. Outdoor recreation is the top attraction at Lake Jocassee, and although there’s a fair amount of fishing pressure, anglers don’t typically have a lot of competition on the water.

Getting to Lake Jocassee

Lake Jocassee is a little over an hour west of Greenville, South Carolina, via SC-183. The lower end of the lake near the dam is the most easily accessible, whereas much of the lake’s upper end can be reached only via unimproved backcountry roads.

Bank & Boat Access

Access to Lake Jocassee is limited to a handful of locations around the lake. 

Bank fishing access is available, but having a boat is necessary to unlock much of the lake’s potential. Kayak fishing is popular here, and there are quite a few places to put a kayak in the water.

Here are some important spots to know when fishing Lake Jocassee:

Devils Fork State Park

Devils Fork State Park, located at the lower end of Lake Jocassee west of the dam, is the best and most popular place to get on the water.

The state park includes multiple boat ramps, a designated kayak launch, a fishing pier, ample bank access, campgrounds, and a swimming beach. Canoe and kayak rentals are also available during the warmer months. 

Jocassee Gorges Wilderness Area

A large portion of Lake Jocassee—most of its eastern half, including the Toxaway and Horsepasture River arms—is encompassed by the Jocassee Gorges Wilderness Area.

The wilderness area offers few developed amenities but does provide a handful of sites where one can get to the water, fish from the bank, or launch a kayak. The site at the end of Bootleg Road is a particularly good spot.

The Jocassee Gorges Wilderness Area also includes backcountry campsites and many miles of hiking trails. Several of the best trout streams in South Carolina flow through Jocassee Gorges as well, making it a popular destination for fly anglers.

Bad Creek Hydro Station

Duke Energy owns and operates Lake Jocassee and maintains the Bad Creek Hydroelectric Station on the Whitewater River arm of the lake.

The land surrounding the Bad Creek Hydro Station is open to the public and includes access to the Whitewater River arm of the lake.

Ample parking is available, and hiking trails also lead farther up the Whitewater River past Whitewater Falls, which is known for being a great trout fishing area.

Know Before You Go

The overwhelming majority of Lake Jocassee lies within South Carolina, but a small portion of the lake’s upper end extends into North Carolina. The two states do not have a reciprocal license agreement, so be sure to have a license from the appropriate state.

Anglers may not use (or even possess) corn, cheese, fish eggs, or imitations of them, as bait on Lake Jocassee.