With few exceptions, Keowee's shoreline is as well-manicured below the surface as the properties that surround the lake. Add in the degree of difficulty of fishing gin-clear water, and Keowee can be an intimidating lake.
Anglers who go to the lake with only one game plan typically never figure Keowee out, but those who can adjust will find that, hey, it isn't such a bad place after all. The lake holds ample bass to go around, and some of them reach bragging size.
Keowee is the adopted home of the spotted bass, which are losely related to largemouth bass but have a bit more aggressive disposition, presumably because they don't grow as large. For all of Keowee's beauty above the surface, the landscape below the water line is pretty much devoid of cover. A lot of rocks, a couple of stumps, and the footings of man-made structures pretty well sum it up.
The lack of places to hide has created nomadic tendencies among the lake's bass. Hungry packs of spotted bass roam the open waters in search of baitfish to ambush, which makes these bass a prime target for topwater fishing.
A three-pronged approach is usually necessary at Keowee in the spring. Early and late in the day, bass will use long points and humps to feed at the surface; this is primarily a spotted bass bite, but largemouths can't be ruled out. As the day progresses, those bass will move off into deeper water and suspend, just hanging out like birds flying high in the sky, choosing not to relate to anything in particular. At the same time, what relatively little fish-holding structure in Keowee - mostly in the form of boat docks and other man-made structure - will also draw a few fish looking for relief from the sun or holding around spawning beds in the backs of coves.
Guide Brad Fowler of Pendleton has been fishing Keowee since the days of his youth. He recalls when the fishery changed to predominantly spotted bass after their introduction in the 1980s.
"Spotted bass found Keowee to their liking, but because there wasn't a lot of structure in the lake, spots tend to swim together in packs and move vertically in the water column," said Fowler.
Beginning at first light and lasting for only an hour or so, spotted bass will move up on long points, humps and other terrain located close to deep water to corral and feed on baitfish. A hard bait like a Heddon Spook Jr., Lucky Craft Sammy or any number of noisy topwater plugs can create a fury of action that comes and goes all too quickly.
"You can generally count on some type of topwater bite year-round but especially during the spring and summer," said Fowler. "From late April through the end of summer, that bite may only last for an hour first thing in the morning and again the last hour or so before dark, but it's a great time to catch fish."
Fowler has learned to concentrate his topwater efforts around long, shallow points, mid-lake humps, and any other area that pairs shallower structure with nearby deep-water access. Keowee bass will use vertical drop-offs to their advantage to corral baitfish. When those baitfish decide to flee by swimming away just under the surface, bass are quick to react.
"You can often see fish schooling on the surface," Fowler said. "What is happening is baitfish are trying to escape by swimming up and away. That leaves them vulnerable to attack from below, and what you see are fish erupting on the surface as they feed."
To mimic this situation, Fowler uses topwater baits designed to create a splashy commotion while retrieved across the surface. Most fish tend to feed looking up, so a lure clumsily splashing across the surface appears to be an easy meal.
"It's addictive fishing," he said. "Sometimes the fish might take a little time to locate, but everybody on the boat perks up in a hurry when retrieving lures across the surface and the fish suddenly start blowing up everywhere."
Keeping one eye on the water and one on the sonar is almost required after the early morning or late afternoon bite has subsided. Knowing how to read and interpret your electronics is a must; even the slightest indication of a mark out in open water could give away the location of a pelagic school of spots.
"The remainder of the day those fish just roam," said Fowler (864-934-5813). "It's like there's no rhyme or reason. They might hold 40 feet deep over 100 feet of water or they may hold 20 feet deep over 60 feet of water. Your best bet is to just bump around using a drop-shot rig or a shaky head worm."
The final phase of summer Keowee bassin' is fishing soft plastics around man-made structure. Though the vast majority of homes that line Keowee's shoreline are pretty sterile as far as cover, some docks will hold bass simply due to their preferred location over a natural drop-off or other terrain feature. Some may be dotted with old stumps or even a few pieces of woody cover.
"Most bass look to boat docks for shade," said Fowler. "A docked boat that hasn't moved in a while may collect algae and some baitfish or bream, but for the most part, it's relief from the sun that draws bass under docks. Also because of the number of bass and so little structure, it's not unusual to find a few bass still in a post-spawn pattern, sticking close to their old bedding sites."
Fowler said that depending on the weather and water temperature, he may find a few bass still on the beds or in a post-spawn mode that simply have not left the bedding areas yet.
"It's easy to find depressions in the bottom where these bass have bedded," said Fowler. "There are so many bass and so little cover that the spawn tends to drag on into May. It never hurts to throw a trick worm or a worm on a shaky head into those beds and see if there isn't still a fish or two that are holding there."
Another option is finding shade and vertical structure around one of several bridge crossings over the lake. The combination of shade, cover and moving water created by wind or current moving through the bottleneck makes bridge crossings and other concrete cover a potential holding spot. Fowler sticks to the a drop-shot or shaky head when he's fishing around bridges.
"I like to cast around the docks, but sometimes you'll have to just pitch the baits in there and work them out. In a location where I can easily put the boat over the fish, then it's a vertical presentation - shaking the baits and looking for that reaction bite."
HOW TO GET THERE: Ample public boat ramps are located all over Lake Keowee. On the Oconee County side, Stamp Creek Landing is northeast of Walhalla at the end of County Road 92, off of SC 183. The Cane Creek ramp is located north of Seneca, just above SC 188. In Pickens County, access to Crowe Creek is just west of the town of Pickens, off of SC 133, at the intersection of County Road 172. Additional public launch areas can be found on the internet at http://www.duke-energy.com/lakes/facts-and-maps/lake-keowee.asp.
TECHNIQUES/TACTICS: Bass will hit in three major patterns on Keowee in May: a topwater bite off the ends of long points or humps early or late; deep humps or rocks in the middle of the lake; and fishing soft-plastics around shallow docks or bridge pilings.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES: Brad Fowler, 864-934-5813 or www.fowlerfishing.com; Lake Keowee Marina, 150 Keowee Marina Dr. Seneca, 29672, 864-882-2047,
ACCCOMMODATIONS: Mountain Lakes Convention and Visitor's Bureau, 1-877-MT-LAKES, www.scmountainlakes.com.
MAPS: Kingfisher Maps, 800-326-0257 or www.kfmaps.com; Delorme South Carolina Atlas & Gazetteer, 800-561-5105 www.delorme.com; SCDNR, 864-654-1671, www.dnr.sc.gov; Duke Power, www.duke-energy.com/pdfs/keowee.pdf