Lake Marion is not only the largest lake in South Carolina, but its 110,000 acres are undoubtedly some of the most unique along the eastern seaboard due to their complexity and abundance of varied habitat. And the early spring offers prime conditions for some of the year’s best bass-fishing in the cypress- and tupelo-covered wilds of the lake’s upper end.
The area between the Rimini-Lone Star railroad trestle and the confluence of the Wateree and Congaree rivers — where the Santee River is born — are considered Lake Marion’s headwaters, home to more than 2,000 acres of flooded tupelo and cypress tress known as Sparkleberry Swamp. Additionally, the timber-lined swamps along its feeder tributaries offer similar domiciles for heavy spring bucket mouths.
Marc Deschenes, a tournament angler who owns V.I.P. Adventures in Summerville, S.C., has been fishing the Santee Cooper lakes for 35 years, and finding big bass is what he does. When spring conditions are right, Deschenes heads for the live timber in shallow water that makes the upper extremities of Lake Marion a prime destination.
“When the moon and water temperature are right, (bass) move shallow to spawn,” he said. “I love fishing the trees for big fish when they move shallow in the spring.”
Deschenes really starts looking when the surface water temperature reaches 56 degrees; that’s when the majority of bass head to the shallow. If the water gets warm enough in conjunction with a full moon in early March, it’s on. But the weeks leading up to and afterwards offer a chance at plenty of big fish.
Anglers will have no problem finding live, flooded timber in the swamp. Some areas will hold more bass than others, and all timber is not created equal. Deschenes looks for unique clusters of trees close to small channels or depressions, and it helps if those trees have a component normally frowned up by many anglers with pricey tackle.
“I like trees with tons of branches and limbs in the water,” he said. “The limbs provide cover and shade.”
The deeper water offers places where bass can head during a disturbance and a place for big females to stage between spawning intervals. They’ll stay in deeper water right up until the day the begin to spawn, making depressions great places to catch a heavyweight. And after the females deposit their eggs and leave the males shallow to guard them, they’ll retreat to the same deeper places they staged on the way in.
With bass less interested in food and concentrating more on reproduction, it takes a little effort to draw strikes. Deschenes will use Texas-rigged soft plastics, but with less vegetation in the water in March, he’d rather go with a worm rigged wacky style on a drop-shot rig.
He’ll use a Big Bite Baits’ Trick Stick rigged wacky style on a 2/0 Gamakatzu hook about 6 inches above a 3/8-ounce casting sinker. While the trick stick is his preferred lure, he will also use tubes, lizards, and creature baits in reds and browns.
“In spring, crawdads are red and burgundy, and I like to use red shad, watermelon red and anything that resembles a crawdad’s spring colors,” he said.
While the drop-shot produces plenty of bass, Deschenes will switch to a Texas rig when he’s around submerged aquatic vegetation or unusually heavy structure. He will also fan-cast around cypress and gum trees when fishing a new area, and the Texas rig is more forgiving due to its weedless construction.
WHERE TO GO/HOW TO GET THERE — Sparkleberry Swamp is in the upper end of Lake Marion, best accessed from Packs or Sparkleberry Landing near Rimini, off SC 26 west of Summerton.
WHEN TO GO — Bass can spawn anywhere from late February through May, with March and April the peak season, when water temperatures rise above 56 degrees. The period three days before and after the full moon is a time to look for spawners.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Look for cypress and gum trees close to depressions or ditches. as well as vegetation; all three areas will hold bedding bass. To sight-fish for spawners, tie on soft-plastic baits (lizards, crawfish, worms, stick baits), fished Texas-style with or without weights. Use visible colors: white, pink, merthiolate. For prespawn bass staging in the shallows, go with jerkbaits, spinnerbaits an crankbaits. Go with medium-heavy to heavy baitcasting tackle and 30- to 65-pound braid to get fish out of cover.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Marc Deschenes, VIP Adventures, 843-708-5473, www.vipadventures.net; Packs Landing, 803-452-5514. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.