As the dog days of August arrive, the hot, summer sun will continue to bake the Carolinas and take a toll on anglers.
But if they’re still pumped up about catching a limit of largemouth bass, they can feel assured that August is a great time to target bass in the black water rivers in the coastal plains of the two states. Ground zero for the action are the Waccamaw and Little Pee Dee rivers, where topwater lures are the weapons of choice.
The flatlands are bisected by blackwater swamps and river systems with ancient cypress and tupelo trees towering above their banks. The typical blackwater river is the central run of a much larger swamp system with hundreds of acres of shallow wetlands that can be home to a rich community of organisms at the bottom end of the food pyramid. These systems are loaded with every type of slimy creature that slithers or hop, and bass make a living off them, which plays right into fishermen’s wheelhouses. Plus, the towering trees dangling on the river’s banks provide shade that helps keep the river water manageable and ideal for feeding bass.
And when summer’s heat and the lack of rainfall coincide, the water recedes and every living creature gets confined to the main channels, where they become easy pickings for bass and other fish at the top of the food chain.
Tory McCallum of Dillon, S.C., spends the spring fishing bass tournaments on bigger reservoirs, but when June arrives, he trades his big, fiberglass bass boat for a creek boat and fishes the Little Pee Dee River just outside his back door.
“The river fishing starts getting good in June and will peak during August,” he said. “The fish get concentrated in the main channel of the river around stumps and logs in the deep water. But you can catch them anywhere in the channel this time of year when the water is low.”
Near Dillon, where the Little Pee Dee’s headwaters are located, the actual channel may only be 40 feet wide, with some tight spots constricted even further, with blowdowns narrowing the path even more. As the river moves south, it widens significantly and picks up water from other parts of its watershed. During the summer, McCallum will fish both the narrow sections with his one-man boat and then the wider sections further down the watershed in Marion County.
“The fish are eating real well this time of year in the river. They are eating crawfish and small fish, but they are eating a lot of frogs and even a few snakes. We have cleaned many fish with frogs in their belly,” he said.
While these bass can be caught on a variety of lures, McCallum prefers to fish topwaters.
“I only bring three types of lures this time of year…a Whopper Plopper, a buzz bait, and a Zoom frog,” he said.
Fish in these river systems and adjoining swamps expect their food to be skimming across the surface, and topwater lures are ideal to drag a bass from under a submerged log or treetop, especially in the narrow sections.
On the other hand, guide Todd Vick of Fishin’ Freshwater Charters in Socastee, S.C., prefers fishing the lower end of the Waccamaw River, just minutes from the bustling white sands of Myrtle Beach.
“I know the river well from Conway to Georgetown, and we catch a ton of fish this time of year, but there is a key to making the summertime work for you,” Vick said. “With it being so hot, you have to get their early, right when the sun begins to crack. Fish will eat the best early in the morning this time of year.”
In the lower part of the rivers, fish have a much larger field of play, with a much wider and deeper channel. There’s more water to negotiate, but just like McCallum, Vick targets bass on topwater offerings near the bank.
“I really beat the bushes hard in the shallow water looking for big fish early in the morning,” Vick said. “I use a stick-propeller lure, a buzz bait or some type of topwater frog imitation. Fish are looking to eat early, and topwater is usually what they want.”
Vick will target shallow banks up and down the Waccamaw, banks with a variety of habitat types. One of his favorite places to throw a topwater lure is around the mouth of a creek or old rice-field ditch lined with vegetation.
“When it gets hot, the fish will pull out of the small creeks and be concentrated at the mouth or at the mouth of larger creeks along a current rip,” he said. “The food source can be coming out of the creeks, and fish aren’t going to waste energy in the heavy current. They will sit in the current eddy and ambush bait as it comes by.”
The Waccamaw is unlike many blackwater rivers. From the mouth near Georgetown all the way through Georgetown and Horry counties it is considered tidal all the way up above the US 501 bridge in Conway. While fishermen won’t have to deal with a typical 4-foot tide that saltwater anglers do, a 1- to 3-foot move can make a major impact on his fishing day.
“One of the perfect conditions for me is to fish a topwater lures at daylight at the mouth of a creek when the tide is falling. You will have vegetation on the left and right side. Fish will set up on that race trying to catch fish coming out of those creeks,” he said.
Bass are accustomed to water moving throughout the day, and while the falling tide is obviously preferred, bass can still fall for the sweet action of topwater lures on rising tides. Basically, baitfish are moving to places away from the wrath of bigger creatures that want to convert them into a meal. When the tide is rising and forcing water back into the swamps or into one of the creek or ditches, they can also be good ambush spots for bass. For best results, moving water is key and finding ambush spots sets the stage for a good topwater bite.
Even though the water temperatures can reach their peaks from late July through early September, it can be the best time of the year to bust a heavy stringer of bass on topwater lures in one of the gorgeous blackwater rivers.
HOW TO GET THERE — The Waccamaw River is accessible between Conway and Georgetown, S.C., with nearly a dozen public landings along its length. The Little Pee Dee is served by several landings and road crossings from I-95 to the Horry County line near Nichols. See www2.dnr.sc.gov/ManagedLands/boatramp/boatrampsearch. Try the Waccamaw from Conway and Wacca Wache Marina in Murrells Inlet, and the Little Pee Dee from its confluence with the Pee Dee to the Georgetown County line.
WHEN TO GO — The summer topwater bite heats up in June and lasts until the water cools in the fall, with July, August and September being peak times.
BEST TECHNIQUES — The most-productive topwater baits are Whopper Ploppers, buzzbaits, prop baits and surface frogs. Fish with a steady or stop-and-go retrieve. Best topwater action is early and late. When the sun gets up, throw topwaters into shady areas, then turn to large, soft-plastic baits. Fish 7 to 10 feet deep with dark-colored worms, fish Texas-rigged or on drop-shot rigs. Go with medium-heavy action baitcasting rods and reels spooled with 30- to 35-pound braid.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Todd Vick, Fishin’ Freshwater Charters, 843-333-8200. See also Guides & Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — iHampton Inn, Murrells Inlet, 843-651-6687; Best Western, Conway, 843-234-1678; Quality Inn, Dillon, 843-774-0222; Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, www.visitmyrtlebeach.com.