10 Best Striper Fishing Lakes and Rivers in South Carolina

Sharing is caring!

Few states along the Eastern Seaboard offer more striped bass fishing opportunities from coastal rivers to large inland reservoirs than South Carolina.

And nothing fights quite like a big striped bass.

They may not be known for acrobatics, but when a hefty striper takes the bait and starts peeling drag as it bulldozes into deep water, there’s no mistaking it for anything else. 

Even smaller stripers can give you a run for your money on light tackle. That’s why most anglers who target stripers in South Carolina—where tangling with a 30-pound fish is always a possibility—prefer stout rods and heavy line.

Though these fish are native to the state’s coastal areas, officials have also widely introduced stripers to inland lakes and rivers.

Lake Murray

Spanning about 50,000 acres in the heart of the state, Lake Murray is South Carolina’s striper central. The South Carolina DNR stocks the lake abundantly every year, often with more than a million striper fingerlings. 

That persistence has paid off, as Lake Murray is probably the best place in South Carolina to battle a 30-pound striper. Fish of that stature aren’t common, but 5- to 10-pound stripers are, and they’re a lot of fun to catch. 

This deep, cool lake offers prime habitat and a lot of water to cover. Following their seasonal movements is essential to connecting with Lake Murray stripers, though it’s also important to remember that they don’t all do the same things at the same time. 

As a general rule, most stripers head up toward the upper end of the lake in winter, following schools of threadfin shad. Stripers then head back down the lake in spring, dining on the blueback herring that are more common in the main lake.

Mouths of major creeks like Buffalo and Rocky Creek are key areas, along with nearby main lake points. Stripers also chase balls of baitfish into the backs of creeks. This pattern can happen almost any time, but especially in April and May when herring spawn.

By summer, the mid-lake area is best. The stretch known as “The Gap” is often productive, and stripers follow herring and shad into deep, open water. By August, they may suspend over 200-foot depths near the dam. 

Trolling is the best bet. Use your electronics to mark bait and stripers, which will help you pinpoint the right depth. Night fishing is often most effective in summer, and many anglers use lights to attract baitfish close to the boat. 

Live shad are popular for drift-fishing after dark. Lake Murray has several excellent launch ramps, including a public ramp near the dam and another farther up the lake at Dreher Island State Park.

More: Complete Guide to Lake Murray Fishing

Santee Cooper Lakes

Landlocked striper populations have been deliberately established in many lakes, but they found their way into the Santee Cooper Lakes (60,400-acre Lake Moultrie and 110,000-acre Lake Marion) by accident when the reservoirs were created in 1942. 

Both lakes now support a thriving striped bass population, which has been supplemented through stocking in the many decades since. These fish migrate between Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion annually via a diversion canal connecting them.

They also spawn every spring in the rivers above the Santee Cooper Lakes. From the upper end of Lake Marion, stripers migrate up the upper Santee River and into the Wateree and Congaree Rivers. Many continue up even farther into the Broad and Saluda rivers.

Prime fishing in the rivers takes place from March through May. By the end of May, most stripers will have returned to the lakes. Each of the two lakes offers unique striper fishing opportunities in different seasons. 

Keep in mind that striper regulations in the Santee Cooper Lakes are different from elsewhere in the state.

Limits here vary by season, and at the time of publication, it is unlawful to harvest or target striped bass in Lakes Moultrie and Marion between June 15 and September 30. Always consult the latest regulations before you fish.

Lake Moultrie

Winter is one of the best striper seasons on both of the Santee Cooper Lakes, but especially on Lake Moultrie, which is downcurrent from Lake Marion. Stripers often stack up at the lower end of Lake Moultrie near the Pinopolis Dam.

There’s great fishing in this area from December to February. Stripers are drawn to the dam area partly because of its deep water but also the abundance of forage. It’s common to find winter stripers suspended in open water or schooling around shad on the surface. 

In late winter, stripers make their way up the lake, and there’s great action in the Blacks Camp area as striped bass funnel into the diversion canal that connects to Lake Marion.

After that, you’re better off looking elsewhere until the spawning fish return. With the closed season in summer, your next best bet is in fall, when striper fishing once again is concentrated near the Pinopolis Dam. 

Look for surface commotion and gulls that indicate stripers feeding at the surface, and be ready with bucktails, Zoom Flukes and walk-the-dog style topwaters. The best surface action near the dam is usually early and late in the day.

At midday, stripers are more likely to be deeper, often around 50 feet down. Lake Moultrie’s bottom is a complex network of underwater hills and valleys, and if you can mark fish on your electronics, you can usually catch them by fishing vertically with live bait rigs.

Live bait rigs are also likely to result in a mixed bag, as Lake Moultrie as well as Lake Marion are top multi-species lakes. For example, the lakes are known for big catfish that will be more than happy to inhale your fresh baits.

Lake Marion

Not all stripers go to the lower end of Lake Moultrie in winter. Many stay in Lake Marion, but like their Moultrie counterparts, they gravitate to the dam where shad, menhaden, and other forage species congregate during the colder months.

Fishing near Lake Marion’s Wilson Dam can be truly excellent, especially during January, when anglers catch some of the biggest stripers of the year.

This lake can be more difficult to fish than Moultrie because stripers often gather among its dense swaths of standing timber.

Fishing vertically with heavy lines and sturdy tackle is the best bet in this underwater forest. As winter comes to an end, many more stripers will funnel into the lower end of Lake Marion and make their way up the lake toward the Santee River.

Lake Marion’s striper fishing can also be phenomenal when the post-spawn stripers return. From May until the season closes in mid-June, focus on areas with some current near the mouth of the diversion canal at the lower end of the lake. 

The canal often produces great catches. Narrower cuts between nearby islands like Bass Island and Pine Island act as funnels that draw stripers in. Rat-L-Traps, large Roadrunner jigs and bucktails are good baits here. 

Fall, after striper fishing reopens in October, is the best season to watch the surface of Lake Marion for schools of stripers busting shad on the surface.

Fishing deeper for schooling stripers using jigging spoons and bucktails is effective until you spot surface commotion, at which point topwaters are unbeatable.

Lake Marion’s abundant bait fish and standing timber also appeal to several other popular game fish species. For instance, the lake is among the top crappie producers in South Carolina.

More: Complete Guide to Fishing the Santee Cooper Lakes

Savannah River Lakes

The Savannah River forms most of the state line between South Carolina and Georgia.

Though the Savannah River itself supports an annual run of coastal stripers—we’ll circle back to that in a bit—it’s probably better known for the large impoundments created along its length.

The three main lakes along the Savannah River are Clarks Hill Lake, Lake Russell and Lake Hartwell. The states have stocked striped bass in each of them. 

Clarks Hill Lake

Also known as Thurmond Reservoir, Clarks Hill Lake is the oldest and largest of the Savannah River Lakes. It’s the first impoundment you’ll encounter heading up the river from the coast. This massive 71,170-acre lake offers some of the best fishing in both states that it touches.

Wildlife agencies in Georgia and South Carolina have been stocking striped bass here for decades, and the lake has produced previous state records for both states. More recently, agencies have added hybrid stripers to the mix. 

Stripers and hybrids are often caught in the same general areas, though it’s worth keeping in mind that these fish move around a lot. On such a massive lake, no single spot is a sure bet.

That being said, two of the most likely areas to find stripers are near the Thurmond Dam at the lower end of the lake and near the Russell Dam at its upper end. These two general areas can be productive in virtually any season. 

The upper third of the reservoir attracts stripers in summer due to its relatively cool, oxygenated water. During the colder months, stripers often follow schools of baitfish up this way too.

But the deep bottom end of Clarks Hill Lake also provides a haven for stripers. In spring, the stretch from the dam up to around Parksville is productive, with stripers commonly suspending 20 to 40 feet below the surface.

Trolling Alabama rigs with multiple swimbaits and drifting live bait are a couple of the most productive tactics. Stripers feed on threadfin and gizzard shad as well as blueback herring in Clarks Hill Lake.

And they’re always on the move. Watch for gulls feeding on baitfish on the surface, which often means stripers are nearby.

The series of humps at the mouth of the Howell Branch is an excellent area to look for baitfish, as is the Little River arm on the Georgia side.

Lake Russell

The middle pool of the Savannah River system, 26,650-acre Lake Russell wasn’t originally managed as a striper lake. But stripers found their way into the reservoir anyway, probably through the Hartwell Dam above it and during pump-back operations of the Russell Dam below.

After Lake Russell spent years developing its own under-the-radar striper fishery mainly known to locals, state officials on both sides eventually started stocking stripers, too. The current South Carolina state record striper weighing 63 pounds was caught here in 2009.

The ideal approach depends on the season. Winter offers some of the best striper fishing on Lake Russell, and putting in at the lower end of the reservoir is usually a good call this time of year. 

Large creek arms like Beaverdam Creek attract huge schools of bait fish in winter, and stripers follow. A good search tactic is to start at the mouth of a creek and work your way up, watching your graph for suspending fish and the surface for activity that indicates topwater feeding.

Lake Russell also has quite a bit of timber, which tends to attract striped bass. You’ll often find stripers hanging out among the tops of the submerged trees near the dam.

Some fish stay in the open lake basin all year, and those that do will hang out right around the thermocline in summer. Try vertical fishing (also known as downlining) live shad right around 30 feet near the dam.

Many stripers also head to the upper end of Lake Russell during the dog days of summer, just like they do in Clarks Hill Lake.

From July through September, trolling and drifting live bait with the current along the ledge of the river channel at the upper end of the lake is a great tactic.

Lake Hartwell

Third in line on the Savannah River chain is Lake Hartwell, a 56,000-acre reservoir that is also fed by the Tugaloo and Seneca rivers. Pure stripers and hybrids are both stocked here every year in large numbers.

Hybrids typically max out at about 10 pounds, but fish weighing around 3 pounds are very common.

In general, Lake Hartwell isn’t quite as well-known for trophy stripers as Clarks Hill or Lake Russell, but anglers have boated 40-pounders here, and lots of 15-pound pure stripers are available.

Most local anglers favor blueback herring as bait, though shad and other baitfish will also work. Live bait is used more often than not, but bucktails, spoons and Alabama rigs also catch some nice stripers.

If you’re fishing Lake Hartwell in summer, try focusing on the deep main lake. Fish right around the thermocline from the dam up to the confluence of the Tugaloo and Seneca arms.

Areas right around the mouths of major creeks are some of the best places to look for deep summer stripers. You’ll often find them by fishing vertically at about 40 feet, but sometimes they’ll be much deeper. 

Lake Hartwell also has a lot of timber. Some of the best fishing is at night during the summer months. Locals use lights to attract bait fish in areas of the lake where timber was left standing. 

As Lake Hartwell cools in fall, stripers spread out and are more likely to gang up on schools of bait fish in the creek arms. Trolling the creeks is effective this time of year, particularly around channel bends and steep ledges.

Like several other reservoirs on this list, Lake Hartwell is also among the best largemouth bass spots in the Palmetto State.

Coastal Striper Rivers

South Carolina is home to a substantial coastal striper population, but it’s a population separate from the striped bass that inhabit the Atlantic coast farther north.

Most Atlantic stripers migrate back and forth along the Eastern Seaboard, going as far north as Maine in summer and as far south as North Carolina in winter. But South Carolina’s population doesn’t stray nearly as far. 

These coastal stripers, also commonly referred to as rockfish, spend most of their lives in South Carolina’s tidal rivers and in the network of estuaries connected by the Intracoastal Waterway along the coast from Myrtle Beach to Savannah.

Rather than migrating far up the Atlantic coast, South Carolina’s anadromous stripers migrate up coastal rivers to spawn in early spring. This is the most popular and reliable time to catch them.

Early season action in January is mostly centered around the mouths of rivers and the Intracoastal Waterway, with the best fishing usually taking place around dawn and dusk.

As winter turns to spring, stripers head upriver, with the run reaching its peak in early March.

Savannah River

Habitat alteration on the Savannah River caused a massive crash in striped bass populations during the 20th century. But thanks to ongoing stocking and habitat recovery work, the fishery has bounced back to a significant degree. 

As in other coastal rivers in the region, stripers migrate up the Savannah River to spawn in late winter and early spring. The Little Black River, a tributary that branches off from and later rejoins the Savannah, is a major spawning ground. 

Sections of both rivers that flow through Savannah National Wildlife Refuge offer great fishing in spring. Numerous islands and several major bridge crossings in this stretch are key spots. 

Farther down around the mouth of the Savannah River, anglers catch stripers along the edges of the river channel virtually year-round. Current breaks of any kind will attract stripers, with bridge pilings being especially productive. 

The US-17 bridge is a favorite spot. The Georgia side of the river is often best, thanks to the numerous oilers, pilings, docks and bulkheads in the port of Savannah that provide current breaks for stripers. South Carolina’s shoreline is less heavily developed.

Fishing the Savannah can be challenging due to the strong tidal currents. Incoming and outgoing tides stir things up and prompt feeding activity but also make boat control tricky. A strong trolling motor is essential.

Cooper River

The Cooper River has some of South Carolina’s best coastal striper fishing and might just be the river where you’re most likely to hook into a striper weighing 20 pounds or more. Smaller “schoolies” in the 5-pound class are also abundant.

Part of the reason why the fishing is so good here is that the Cooper River has a large and consistent flow volume compared to most other coastal rivers. The nearby Ashley and Wando Rivers are also quite good.

All three of these rivers converge around the city of Charleston before opening up into the ocean.

Striper anglers catch fish in Charleston’s harbor in both winter and summer, while the brackish portion of the Cooper River is reliable throughout most of the year. 

Aside from the spawning period in March, fall is arguably the best time to target stripers on the Cooper River. Packs of marauding striped bass roam the river following baitfish this time of year, and there is often explosive topwater action.

Have a Zoom Fluke, Zara Spook or topwater swimbait ready, and cast around visible structure like piers and pilings.

Fly fishing can also be a lot of fun on the Cooper River, with large streamers like Clouser Minnows working best on 8- or 9-weight rods.

Santee River

The lower Santee River (below Lake Marion) also supports a significant striped bass population. Giants are uncommon, but some solid 10- and 15-pound stripers are caught here, with occasional larger fish. 

Unlike the previously mentioned Cooper and Savannah rivers, the lowest stretch of the Santee River is mostly undeveloped, flowing through protected marshes and wetlands as it approaches the coast and splits into the North Santee and South Santee Rivers.

This whole region of the Lowcountry is sparsely populated and relatively remote, and as a result, fishing pressure is low. Stripers reside year-round in the brackish waters of the Santee River’s tidal portion, mixing with some of South Carolina’s best redfish fishing.

As in other rivers, they head upriver to spawn around the beginning of March, during which time anglers catch them around sandbars, bridge pilings and along bends in the river.

Santee Coastal Reserve provides an excellent fishing pier and boat launch.

Waccamaw River

Home to a stable year-round striper population, the Waccamaw River begins in North Carolina before swinging across South Carolina’s eastern corner.

Anglers often catch stripers in the section of the Intracoastal Waterway that connects the Waccamaw River to Myrtle Beach.

The river opens up into Winyah Bay near Georgetown, and the river’s lower reaches offer some of the best striper fishing.

Catch rates are especially good in winter when comfortable temperatures and abundant forage concentrate stripers here.

Rat-L-Traps, bucktails and curlytail grubs are popular baits for the local stripers in the Georgetown area, which commonly weigh 5 to 8 pounds. Live eels are especially effective at targeting larger stripers. 

Creek mouths are usually among the best places to find stripers on the Waccamaw River, along with any deep ledge or structure that provides a current break.

The Pee Dee River, a major tributary of the Waccamaw, also offers good striper fishing, particularly during the spawn.

Catch More Stripers

Be sure to read our full how-to guide to fishing for striped bass in lakes and rivers.