According to some very knowledgeable bass fishermen, that's a big mistake. July and the rest of the summer can provide some of the hottest bass fishing of the entire year on Wateree if you do some "deep thinking" - as in "deep-water thinking."
Dearal Rodgers, a 36-year-old bass pro from Camden fishes all over the country but calls Wateree his home lake. It's where he grew up fishing and where he fished his first tournament, at age 10 with an uncle.
"That's when I got the tournament-fishing bug, and it's stayed with me," Rodgers said. "But I enjoy year-round fishing on Lake Wateree, partly because I've fished it my entire life. The summertime fishing can actually be some of the most-productive and consistent fishing of the entire year, but you've got to know some basic factors that control the summertime patterns."
Rodgers said the first key to success is to basically turn your back to the banks and think in terms of deeper, open-water structure.
"While there are always some fish in the shallows, most of the big fish and the schools of big fish that I love to locate are found on the drops, humps and ridges in the open-water areas of the lake," he said. "To be consistently successful, I work these type areas in the 12- to 20-foot depth range for most of the day, and sometimes it takes considerable patience to be successful. But when you're in the right spot when the bite turns on, you can catch a bunch of quality fish in short order. When fishing Wateree in July, my keys are patience and timing."
Rodgers said that sometimes he'll begin fishing at dawn in shallow water because there will often be a brief flurry of activity there.
"Generally, on the early morning shallow-water fishing, I'll focus on the shallow water on points where I usually expect to find fish deeper during the day," he said. "After the brief feeding period, they move back to deeper water for most of the day. That deep water is my primary target, and I specifically use my electronics to search for a combination of a drop, hump or other bottom-contour change that depicts both fish and forage in the same area. However, I will also fish specific deep-water targets such as bridge abutments when water depth and forage conditions are right."
Another angler who focuses on Wateree largemouth is Chris Heinning, 45, a full-time guide who retired from military service at Shaw AFB and lives in Sumter; he relies on deeper areas for the majority of his fish through the summer.
"My primary targets include points that drop into deep water, humps near channels and deep water and ledges that drop off into the main river channel," Heinning said. "I've also found that if there is good cover such as stumps and rocks on these type areas, it improves the potential to attract and hold largemouth. Plus, once I learn a specific area, an object such as a stump row or rock pile on a ledge or hump gives me a specific target when fishing that area. Often, they are a long distance from the shoreline, and I've found the use of graphs and good electronics essential to consistent fishing."
Heinning said he generally focuses his fishing efforts at a depth zoon of 12 to 18 feet of water during the summer.
"The key to this depth is that Lake Wateree will stratify during the summer, and the thermocline will set up in the 16- to 20-foot depth range," he said. "Below that, the oxygen content is lower. Most of the time, the majority of the bass will be in that depth zone. They'll migrate a little from that in either direction, but by focusing on those depths, I can rely on consistent results."
Heinning said he prefers several lures for summer fishing, and most of them are traditional deep-water lures.
"The shaky head worm rig is one that has been very productive for me during the past couple of years during the summer," he said. "The way this worm rig sets up, the bait is more visible to bass, and often that's been the difference between using a regular Carolina or Texas rig," Heining said. "I do use both of those (and) overall, the shaky head has produced better, but it's not the only lure I use. I also like deep-diving crankbaits that will work a specific water depth. I make long casts and work the lure back to effectively cover a specific depth. Then, I may use another crankbait to work a different depth. I think it is important to use a variety of lures to effectively cover the water depths and give the bass an option of lures to bite."
Rodgers fishes many of the same lures but said it's even better when you can give your presentation some sort of personal twist.
"Lake Wateree is a good tournament lake, and a lot of quality fishermen know and fish a lot of the same spots," he said. "These spots will still produce fish, but I try to get an edge by doing something just a little different with the lure or my rig. For example, if I know other fishermen are using heavy line, I will go to smaller diameter line, maybe down to 8- or 10-pound test. Sometimes, I'll use a smaller lure or a different type of worm on a Texas rig such as trick worm. I want my presentation to be a little different from everything else they see.
"Of course, I'll use the standard lures as well, and one of my favorites this time of yeqr is the Norman DD 22 crankbait. I can cover a lot of water very quickly, and when I find a school of fish, I can hook up on repeated casts with quality fish."
Rodgers also uses a ¾-ounce Buckeye football jig with a brown/purple Strike King Rage Tail trailer; a ¾-ounce Buckeye DR Edition spinnerbait and a ½-ounce Shooter Flippin' Jig with a Casper Zoom Super Chunk trailer. His primary line is 15-pound P-Line Fluorocarbon, although he will use other line sizes at times.
Rodgers also varies his technique when working the offshore structure. Often, he will begin on the top of the ledge or hump and cast to deeper water. He'll do this with worms, jigs and deep-running crankbaits. If that doesn't produce, he'll move his boat over the drop and work more parallel and then from deep toward shallow.
"Working from the top of the drop casting to the deeper water and working the lure back in is typically my starting point," he said. "But to be thorough, I'll fish it from every angle before I leave an area."
According to Heinning, excellent structure is found all over the lake, he'll fish the entire lake in July, and he has no specific area he prefers.
"It depends on where I find the bass and forage combination I am looking for, and I've found good fishing throughout the lake in July," he said. "However, there are times when one area of the lake does seem to produce better, and I'll work that area until the pattern changes.
"There are changes in patterns and preferred humps and ledges from one year to the next to some extent," Henning said. "Part of that can be traced back to weather and water conditions. A good example is the winter of 2012 that was much milder than normal and changed the patterns considerably for early spring fishing from what they normally are. The same can hold true for summertime fishing - specific areas and timing changes - so being adaptive is a good quality for fishing this lake. However, the need to fish that deeper depth range still holds true."
Heinning and Rodgers both said the quality of fish along the deep drops is excellent, and a lot of 3- to 5-pound fish are caught, with some much larger fish hooked during July as well.
"It sometimes takes a little patience and perseverance, but the rewards of working these deeper areas can be awesome," Rodgers said. "If I'm not off fishing a tournament, probing the drops on Lake Wateree is where I want to be in July."
HOW TO GET THERE - Lake Wateree is located in Kershaw, Fairfield and Lancaster counties and can be accessed from many directions. From the south, access to either side of the lake is simple. From Camden, take SC 97 up the east side of the lake. There are numerous access points along the way. From Lugoff, take SSR 5 (Longtown Road). Go to Longtown, turn right on SSR 151 and that will intersect with SSR 101 (River Road). To the right is Colonel's Creek Landing. To the left are several landings up the lake, including the Lake Wateree State Park. Access from the north and west is easy via I-77. At Exit 41 go east on SSR 41 to the junction with SSR 101 (River Road). Follow SSR 101 to Lake Wateree State Park and several other landings. From Camden, Clearwater and Beaver Creek landings on the east side of the lake are accessible via US 521 north to SSR 97.
WHEN TO GO - July is an excellent month to target largemouth bass congregated on specific offshore structures. The key will be get on the lake early and work shallow areas for a brief period, then work deeper areas as the day progresses. Late evening again may produce some shallow water fishing action.
BEST TECHNIQUES - Fish deep ledges, humps, points and creek and river junctions along the main lake. Use bottom-bumping lures as well as deep-diving crankbaits to cover water in the 12- to 20-foot depth range. The lake will stratify during the summer, and this is the primary depth zone fish will be found.
GUIDES/FISHING INFO: Chris Heinning, Capt. Chris Fishing, 803-905-1991 or www.captchrisfishing.com; Colonels Creek Market, Ridgeway, 803-337-2100; Lake Wateree State Park, 803-482-6401. See also Guides & Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS - Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce, 607 South Broad St., Camden, 29020, 800-968-4037; Quality Inn, 850 Highway 1 South, Lugoff, 803-438-9441 or Travel Inn, 928 Highway 1 South, Lugoff, 803-438-4961. Camping is available at Lake Wateree State Park, 803-482-6401.
MAPS - Duke Energy, www.duke-energy.com for information on lake-access points and on-line map; Delorme's South Carolina Atlas & Gazetteer, 800-561-5105 or www.delorme.com; Kingfisher Maps, 800-326-0257, www.kfmaps.com.