Lake Russell.

The name conjures up the image of a pristine area far off the beaten path. This middle impoundment of the Savannah River was created last in the chain, long after Lakes Hartwell and Clarks Hill were up and running. Because of the timing of its creation, federal regulations prevented private development of the lake's shoreline.

That and the lake's rural location have resulted in a destination where anglers can truly feel like they have the lake all to themselves.

Fishermen have described Russell as one of the toughest lakes in the Southeast to master, not because of the fishery, but because the natural setting and abundant standing timber make every foot of the lake's 540 miles of shoreline appear to be prime fishing habitat.

Unraveling the mystery of Lake Russell has been the vocation of guide Wendell Wilson for the past 22 years. Wilson, who lives on the Georgia side of the lake near Elberton, fishes the lake more than any other local guide - of which there aren't a large number.

Wilson was more than happy to share is vast knowledge of the lake, providing the following 10 hotspots, and one bonus spot, to help piece together the puzzle that is Lake Russell.

 

1 Vans Creek Bridge

34 09 085 N/82 44 486 W

This bridge crosses Van's Creek off the Savannah River arm, and in September, as temperatures are finally beginning to moderate, baitfish begin to migrate toward the backs of the creeks, so Wilson makes sure he matches the hatch.

"Your best bet for this location is fishing minnows for crappie." Wilson said. "Fish anywhere from 10 to 20 feet deep. The bottom is 30 to 40 feet deep. People have thrown brush around the bridge pilings, and it will hold crappie year round, but it is especially good in September."

Wilson suggests using a trolling motor to slowly bump around the pilings while suspending small shiner minnows or small threadfin shad on multiple rods straight down on light-action rods held in rod holders. Space the baits between the 10- and 20-foot depths.

"Just depends on that day what depth they're biting the best," he said. "The two pilings in the middle are the best, but it's not out of the question to catch some on the outside ones, too. Also, don't be surprised if you catch just as many spotted bass as you do crappie while fishing here."

 

2 Oxygen Line

34 01 786 N/82 35 889 W

Moving down lake toward the dam, Wilson keys on another man-made feature, the air line placed on the lake floor to help oxygenate the deep water during the hottest times of the year.

"The line was built to put oxygen in the water when they released water into Clark Hill," Wilson said. "Right off the bat, it was found to be a good place to catch bass in the dead of summer, especially August or September.

"The fish suspend in the bubbles and hold about 15 to 25 feet down, even though the bottom is around 130 feet. It's also a good place to catch stripers on down-lined live herring, fishing at the same depth."

Wilson estimated that the oxygen line, which actually pumps air rather than straight oxygen, is between a quarter to a half mile long. While some anglers like to troll the length of the line, he has found that most boats fish stationary on the line, making it difficult to troll.

"For bass, hang back and throw a Fluke on a jighead, and let it sink down to 15 to 20 feet and bring it through the bubbles," he said. "Not all the bubbles are the same; some spots along the line will produce small bubbles, but I've done much better fishing the big bubbles - the places where you can see the water boiling from a distance."

 

3 Point No. 6

34 02 258 N/82 36 133 W

This is Wilson's go-to spot when he's after largemouth bass, a feat made more difficult over the past few years when spotted bass became more prevalent.

His go-to bait is a Carolina-rigged lizard or a Spot Remover with a finesse worm in cotton candy or any shade of green.

"I've caught some really nice largemouth here in September - 5- or 6-pounders - by fishing around that pole there," he said. "I think bass like it because the point comes out a long ways, and it's on the main channel and has deep water on three sides. It also gets a lot of current."

When approaching the point, Wilson uses a systematic approach to determine exactly where bass are holding.

"The marker pole sits in about 15 feet of water," Wilson said. "Keep your boat out about a cast away from the pole and fish that area first, and then if you don't find fish just fish farther out and farther out until you do find them. The water depth will taper off between the pole and the bank, so don't forget to check on top, especially early in the morning."

 

4 SC 72 Bridge

34 04 151 N/82 38 411 W

A mile downstream from the confluence of the Rocky River arm and the main Savannah River channel is a long bridge crossing where SC 72 spans the lake between Calhoun Falls and Middleton, Ga. The pilings draw bass of all species.

"You can down-line live herring 20 to 40 feet deep around these bridge pilings to catch striped bass in September, or you can throw a Fluke on a jighead and let it swim about 15 to 20 feet deep expect to catch spotted bass and largemouth bass," Wilson said.

He indicated that black bass tend to favor the last three pilings on either end of the bridge due to their proximity to the riprapped banks, but that striped bass can be found on any of the pilings in between, especially those nearest the main Savannah River channel where water depths fall off from 80 to 100 feet.

 

5 Calhoun Falls SP Ramp

34 05 997 N/82 37 123 W

Calhoun Falls State Park on SC 28 is a centralized location that makes for an ideal launch site to reach most of Wendell Wilson's favorite spots.

The park offers several amenities for anglers, including a boat launch, a marina with gas docks and overnight camping with electrical and water hookups, as well as primitive tent camping. Also located on-site are a general variety and tackle store.

Although there is a fee to launch from the state park, the secure location (compared to some of the more-remote and less-secure locations around the lake) makes it worth the nominal fee.

 

6 Railroad Trestle

34 04 835 N/82 38 697 W

Straight out in front of Calhoun Falls State Park is one of the most overlooked fish-attracting structures on Lake Russell. Most boats don't even slow down when headed down the lake; they just zip right past the railroad trestle.

"I catch most of my stripers down-lining live herring 20 to 40 feet deep around the pilings," Wilson said, "and there are a lot of pilings here. You can fish every single one of them. Some of them cross very deep water. If you're going to fish for stripers, you need to fish all of them."

The big difference between the railroad trestle pilings and just about everywhere else on the lake is water current. Three types of current affect the fishing in this area - wind current, back current and pumping current.

"Here, there is always a little current; it's just not as strong sometimes," Wilson said. "Even in the morning, you'll have a back current going back up the lake. It won't be as strong, but it does affect the fish because you need some kind of current or they're just not going to bite. When the current is stronger, just look for the seam in the current where it comes around the pilings. That's where the fish will be."

 

7 Cherokee Shoals Pier

34 08 400 N/82 40 042 W

Heading back up the Savannah River arm, McCalla State Park - an undeveloped natural area - makes up the entire right shoreline. Just past Marker 42 is another undeveloped area, with a pier that leads to nowhere.

"This was a proposed South Carolina State Park," Wilson said. "The (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers went ahead and built this pier and the boat ramp around in the next cove when they built the lake. They're waiting on South Carolina to build the state park, which so far hasn't happened," said Wilson.

Wilson said he catches some very large crappie in this remote location.

"I never catch a whole lot of them at one time under here," he said, "but it's a great place for just a few quality crappie and a few spotted bass, even on the worst day."

When fishing the concrete pier, Wilson prefers to stay back and to throw a slip float under the structure first. He'll have his float set to about 10 to 12 feet and work the area thoroughly, picking fish off the edges and front. Once he's done with the cork, he'll move in and tight-line either minnows or jigs, both of which he claims work equally well closer to the pier.

 

8 No-Name Creek

34 07 490 N/82 41 869 W

This creek has a slightly indented channel, and the spot is midway toward the back of the creek, between two piles of underwater structure: one natural and one man-made. It's loaded with white perch.

"You might find a few crappie in here, a few spotted bass from time to time, but white perch are pretty consistent in here in September," Wilson said. "They love the relatively bare bottom for chasing threadfin shad."

"We're using 6-pound test on ultralight spinning tackle, and we're using a drop-shot rig where the weight is below the hook," Wilson said. "We're using a No. 4 gold Eagle Claw hook with either a medium shiner or a small threadfin.

"The numbers of white perch are not as good in Russell as you can expect at somewhere like Clark Hill but the size seems to be better here, especially in this cove, than other places. The average size is around 3/4 of a pound."

 

9 Allen Creek, Marker 15

34 10 740 N/82 42 416 W

This area is up the Savannah River in Allen Creek between Marker 15 and the red channel marker on the other side of the creek.

"It's just a good, clean flat that the shad like when migrating up and down the creek," Wilson said. "Look for bait on the graph before you start fishing, and then drop down to the bottom with minnows or threadfins."

Standing timber is a common feature in Allen Creek; Wilson often ignores the forest and pays close attention to the trees.

"If I'm after crappie, I fish the cedar trees," he said. "Otherwise, I only fish the edges of the standing timber, I don't get in there and fish every one; there's too many of them. Fish tend to use the edge of the timber where it meets flat bottom as a travel route, but if you do get into the timber, then concentrate on the cedars and fish them for crappie."

 

10 Harper's Ferry

34 09 665 N/82 42 757 W

This brush pile is approximately 80 yards from the Harper's Ferry boat landing. Wilson said that, during September, this is often one of his best-producing crappie holes.

"In September, pull up here first thing. Stay off the brush a little ways and throw a slip cork over there with a shiner or a shad on the hook," he said. "Have your float set about 12 feet deep and try to catch a crappie or two off of it. If that doesn't work or you stop getting bites, tight-line in the brush.

"When that bite shuts down, don't leave the area; start fishing the bottom around the brush. You're going to be in about 20 to 22 feet of water, and fish just off the bottom with a shiner or a shad on a drop-shot rig. You can round out the trip by catching both kinds of perch and a few spotted bass."

Guide Wendell Wilson can be contacted at 706-283-3336. His son, Luke, operates Wilson's Bait Shop near Elberton, Ga., (34 14 443 N/82 47 899 W) to provide striper fishermen with live blueback herring.