Guide Wendell Wilson said the fishing at Lake Russell is excellent this month for a variety of fish, including crappie, white perch, spotted bass, largemouth bass and catfish. On daily fishing trips, he'll often have most or all of those species in his boat.
"It's surprising how few boats are on the lake, especially on weekdays during July," Wilson said. "The fishing is excellent, and unless there's a bass tournament, the crowd is not large - even on weekends. We'll see a few boats on the weekends, but overall, the excellent fishing must be some kind of a secret.
"On a typical day, we'll catch numerous crappie, lots of big white perch, several spotted bass and an occasional largemouth bass. Plus, we'll almost always pick up a few catfish as well without specifically targeting them when using live bait.
"The key to catching these fish is to fish about 20 to 30 feet deep along the main river channel or in coves right off the main channel," Wilson said. "They'll be locked into this pattern through the summer and into the fall. One key to remember is that the fish are following the shad. Find the shad, and you'll find good fishing."
Wilson (706-283-3336) said crappie fishing is usually best early and late in the day for shallow-water action, but slabs can be caught throughout the day.
"We use a slip-float rig early in the morning and in the evening, during low-light conditions, to catch crappie shallower," Wilson said. "I'll target brush, stumps or trees in about 20 to 25 feet of water, but where the tops of the trees rise up to about 10 to 12 feet deep. I also look for forage such as shad nearby, and you've got the right combination for good crappie fishing.
"I stay off the target and cast a slip-float rig that will get down to eight to 10 feet, just above the top of the brush or trees. I'll use small, live threadfin shad or tuffy minnows as bait. Later in the day, we'll catch the fish deeper alongside the brush or trees near the bottom using a tight-line rig. We'll catch some crappie up to two pounds, but the average size of the crappie will be about a pound."
Wilson said that trolling is another good method to catch crappie, and that using small jigs trolled over the tops of the submerged brush and wooden cover can be very effective.
"When I troll and use jigs, I use a 1/16-ounce head with a curlytail grub," Wilson said. "I honestly don't pay too much attention to the color of the grub. I put out all different colors, and one color doesn't seem to work better than any other on a consistent basis. It's more of a day-to-day decision based on what they bite best."
"I generally prefer to target my fishing more in terms of presenting the bait right by a specific pile of brush or submerged tree where I spot both cover and forage instead of trolling during July," he said. "Trolling will produce summertime crappie, but you often have to cover a lot of water before finding a hotspot. But when you do, a lot of fish can be caught in a small area.
"Another effective method is to fish at night under the lights. I seldom do that anymore, and only a few people I know of do, but it does remain an effective summertime fishing alternative for crappie. Most nocturnal anglers will anchor in 40 to 50 feet of water, but the fish will typically be caught 15 to 20 feet deep."
But summertime fishing at Russell is not all about crappie. A lot of spotted bass, as well as huge white perch, are also consistently taken. Plus, the catfishing can be spectacular if you target that species.
Guide Jerry Kotal specializes in catfishing during the summer, and he literally catches dozens of catfish on almost every trip.
"It's often a matter of how long you want to stay out in the heat," he said. "Typically, I'll catch 30 to 40 catfish a day. I only use four rods because the action can get so fast you can't keep up. Cut blueblack herring is my bait of choice, and I simply work the underwater structure, such as points, humps and channel ledges.
Kotal (706-213-8745) will also use catalpa worms, as well as blood-based stink baits.
"There's a lot for baits that will catch the channel catfish, but the key is to fish the identifiable structures in 25 to 30 feet of water," he said. "The channel catfish are found in Lake Russell in big numbers and good sizes, and the summer seems to bring out some of the best fishing of the year for these great eating fish."
Wilson usually catches a few catfish on every trip, but generally, he's after the crappie, perch and black bass. While he is very adept at finding the clusters of gamefish around the cover and shad, he can't always tell you what's there before he drops the bait down.
"It's almost impossible to identify which species is being marked on the graph when I pull up on a pile of baitfish around sunken debris," Wilson said. "But I can see big fish surrounding the baitfish. It's often crappie, but sometimes big white perch as well as spotted bass. When you drop a small shad minnow, or even a shiner minnow, down in a situation like that, all I know is that we're likely to get several bites, really quick. It's not unusual to catch any or all of the three species at any given place.
"After shallower crappie fishing in the early morning, from the mid-morning to late afternoon, we'll catch these fish tight-lining minnows on 6-pound-test line on light spinning rigs along the ledges in the that same 20- to 25-foot depth," Wilson said. "We often hook multiple fish when working a ledge under schools of shad, and it will be any combination of these three species."
Wilson said a key is to keep moving when the action slows.
"Generally, we'll catch several good fish from a spot, then the action slows," he said. "When it slows, it's time to move to another spot rather than wait for the occasional bite. Usually, we'll catch the bigger, more-aggressive fish first. By lingering, we'll often end up with slower fishing and smaller fish."
If Wilson wants to target black bass, he'll often fish shaded banks early and late in the day.
"We'll often use crankbaits along steep, rock banks adjacent to trees that have fallen into the water, " Wilson said. "I'll also used live blueback herring as we work along the bank to hook spotted bass as well."
The final species Wilson specializes on is the big white perch that are often caught along with the crappie and spotted bass.
"The white perch is a vastly under-appreciated fish," he said. "These are good fighting fish and can be caught in big numbers. As table fare, they are excellent. Lake Russell is full of big white perch, and most anglers are very pleasantly surprised when they catch and then later eat these fish. Plus, in South Carolina, there's no limit on how many you can catch and keep."
A final bonus, Wilson said, is late-afternoon bream fishing. He uses crickets or worms - or a fly rod and popping bug - and said, a fishermen can get all the bites he or she can handle.
"July is a hot month, but it's also hot for quality fishing at Lake Russell for a variety of species," he said.
WHEN TO GO/HOW TO GET THERE - A variety of fish are caught in big sizes and good numbers during July, but some deep (water) thinking is required to be successful. Crappie, spotted bass, catfish, and huge white perch are all readily caught this month on Lake Richard B. Russell, which is on the Savannah River downstream from Lake Hartwell and upstream from Lake Thurmond. Plenty of public ramps are on the South Carolina portion of the lake, with Calhoun State Park being an excellent choice. Other public access areas include: Felker Creek, Wilson Creek, Allen Creek, Beer Garden Creek and Latimer. For a complete list, visit https://www.dnr.sc.gov/mlands/boatramp/?p_type=325846
TECHNIQUES - A variety of live bait and artificial lures will work on various species, but look for the fish in deeper water in coves or creeks adjacent to the main channel. Crappie are primarily caught on live bait, particular minnows, fished deep near brush in coves near the main channel. They are also caught in the standing-timber areas, and these areas can also be productive at night for fishing under the lights. Spotted bass are sometimes caught on live bait, but also caught on crankbaits on steep banks, especially when these banks are shaded either early or late in the day. The white perch are taken on live bait as well as jigging spoons on the same type cover as the crappie as well as humps and ledges here spotted bass are also taken.
GUIDES/FISHING INFO - Wendell Wilson, Wilson's Guide Service, 760-283-3336 or www.wilsonsguideservice.com; Jerry Kotal (706-213-8745; http://www.jerrykotalsfishingguideservice.com/index.html). See also Guides & Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS - Calhoun Falls Chamber of Commerce, Calhoun Falls, 864-418-8672.