Smallmouth bass aren't the most populous fish in South Carolina, but on the Broad River, the fish is king. Smallmouth have thrived on this river from Columbia upstream since initial stockings decades ago, and they have become the No. 1 target of Broad River anglers.

With July's sweltering temperatures, the fishing on many lakes and slower-moving rivers gets tough, making the Broad River and its refreshingly cool waters a nice respite for fishermen. More important, the river's turbulent water, caused by water rushing over exposed rocks and boulders, keeps oxygen levels high, a must to keep smallmouth bass active.

Mike McSwain of Summerville got so hooked on fishing for smallmouth bass that, as close as he lives to the coast, he hasn't fished the saltwater in years. He operates Broad River Smallmouth Guide Service, guiding clients for smallmouth from an Old Town canoe.

McSwain said it's no secret why the fishing is so good.

"This river isn't for the fair-weather fisherman," he said. "Access is limited, and this river doesn't play host to outboard motors well."

Anglers can find a few spots to fish from the shoreline along different sections of the river, but the best fishing requires a small boat like a fishing kayak or a canoe, and even access with these takes some initiative.

"You're not going to find a nice boat ramp to back your truck down to and simply unload your gear," McSwain said. "You're going to have to drag your gear at least a short distance to reach the river from most access points."

But for anglers who are willing to go through the trouble, this is good news, because it leaves the good fish, and fishing spots for them.

That's what keeps anglers like McSwain coming back. The smallmouth here are plentiful, but it's not just the numbers that attract anglers.

"Trophy-sized smallmouth are in this river," said McSwain.

McSwain focuses on shoals, a fancy term for groups of rocks that cause water to roil or make rapids. In some areas, large groups of rocks dominate the width of the river, with open water between them. These spots are fertile smallmouth grounds, and McSwain urges clients to spend a lot of time working them. Large rocks exposed above the surface deserve special attention.

"These rocks cause breaks in the current and will have a pocket of slack water behind them. Smallmouth love to hang out in these spots to get a break from the current and to ambush prey that is being washed downriver," he said.

When pockets of sand or submerged grass are present around shoals, McSwain said these areas can be especially productive.

"Basically, the more stuff that is going on at the same spot, the more the smallmouth like it," he said.

And don't ignore the shoreline; it counts too. The shoreline, current, eddies, downed trees, rocks or natural cuts in the bank that cause breaks in the current can be just as productive, especially when more than one are present.

Anglers really can't go wrong when fishing around these spots, but some tips make success more likely. McSwain suggests casting upriver at about a 45-degree angle, then retrieving in a fashion that puts your lure as close to all the different types of structure as possible. The current will sweep the lure downriver during the retrieve, so anglers need to adjust their casting angle depending on how quickly the current is carrying their lure. This will vary depending on lure weights and current speed, which can change daily.

McSwain spends more time fishing lures past the backside, or slack-water side, of rocks, but he doesn't ignore the front side.

"Sometimes I'll cast in the heavy current upriver of a big rock, and I'll just get nailed. I'm not sure if they hang out there in that roiling water or if they just patrol those areas, but I always make a few casts in those spots," he said.

When it comes to lure choices, McSwain has his favorites. Mepps Aglia and Black Fury spinners in Nos. 3 and 4 get their share of action on his trips. Three-inch Zoom soft-plastic crawdads are also a staple; he fishes them on a 3/0 hook and a 1/4-ounce bullet weight, but he fishes them on top as often as he does on the bottom. In-line buzzbaits like those from Nemire Lures are good ones, too, and many anglers are surprised at how often smallmouth will hit these lures buzzing over some of the most turbulent water on the river.

Even with his favorites, McSwain said many different lure choices work just fine.

"Some days, we catch a dozen smallmouth on 10 different lures," he said, describing Rat-L-Traps, Pop-Rs, and Bang-o-Lures as other productive lures.

Columbia's Harbison State Forest has a canoe/kayak throw-in that is open to the public. The parking area is about 50 yards from the throw-in, meaning anglers must haul their gear down a trail, then lower it down an embankment. That puts them into a small ditch that leads to the river. The work is well worth it though, according to McSwain.

"It really only takes five to 10 minutes to get on the water, but that's enough to keep many anglers away. These fish see very little pressure, and feed readily throughout the day," he said, "and 4- and 5-pounders are not at all uncommon here."

Heading upriver, the good fishing starts almost immediately. The water level changes with rainfall, but usually exposed rocks are apparent immediately, causing current to meet slack water. The spinning lures and soft-plastic crawdads get a workout here, and McSwain said anglers should focus on riffles, the slack water behind rocks, the turbulent water in front of and beside rocks, and any eddies. And if it looks like a full-blown rapid, McSwain works it extra hard.

"Most people see casting into that as a sure way to lose lures, but that rarely happens, and I catch a lot of fish in that turbulent water," he said.

Another launching point is the thrown-in at Peak, upstream from Columbia off of I-26 and just a few miles below the Parr Reservoir Dam. Anglers go through a similar launching routine here, finding themselves at the base of an old railroad trestle. The pilings are good hangouts for smallmouth, so a few casts here will pay off. Upriver, anglers will find good shoals, then the dam, which is a good spot for smallmouth, too. Water churns out of the dam, trapping baitfish and crustaceans in a swirl of confusion, and smallmouth take advantage. The usual lures work well here, but allowing them to free-fall and tumble a little bit before reeling helps to mimic the natural bait being tumbled around.

Anglers heading downriver of this throw-in should focus on two sets of shoals, both a fair distance away. While smallmouth will bite all along this stretch of river, the shoals have the highest concentrations of fish. The first set is a few hundred yards downriver. The next set is the most diverse, but considerably farther. McSwain suggests using a trolling motor to reach them, and for getting back to the throw-in. These shoals form a huge playground for smallmouth and anglers who seek them. The concentration of boulders is enormous, and anglers would do well to spend all day here, something McSwain does many times a year.

"If I had to pick one spot to call the best fishing spot on this river," said McSwain, "this would be it."

But, McSwain said, other identical areas are present in the Broad River. It takes some work and scouting to find these areas, but anglers who have felt the tug of a 5-pound smallie know it's worth it.

 

DESTINATION INFORMATION

HOW TO GET THERE/WHEN TO GO - Fishing on the Broad River is especially good during the summer because the rushing water stays relatively cool and well-oxygenated. Access points on the Broad River are limited, but well worth the trouble.

• Alston Landing, aka the "Peak Throw-in": Take I-26 west from Columbia, then take Exit 97 and US 176 west for 11 miles. Turn right onto SC 213 and go 3.1 miles, then take a right on Alston Rd., taking the right-hand fork to the throw-in. From Spartanburg, take I-26 east to Exit 82. Take SC 773 to Pomaria and go east on US 176 to SC 213 and go from there.

• Columbia Riverfront Park: From Spartanburg, take I-26 East, turn right onto Huger Street, then right onto Laurel Street; parking is at the end. From Charleston, take I-26 West, then turn right onto SC 12. Turn left onto Williams Street, then left onto Laurel Street.

• Harbison State Forest: From Spartanburg, take I-26 East, then left onto Harbison Road. Turn right onto Broad River Road and drive about one mile. Harbison State Forest is on the left. From Charleston, take I-26 West, then right onto Piney Grove Road. Turn left onto Broad River Road and go from there.

• Woods Ferry Boat Ramp (Sumter NF): From Spartanburg, take SC 9 south 5.6 miles. Turn right onto Park Road at Woods Ferry Recreation Area sign. Drive 3.6 miles to end of paved road to access on right.

• Strother Boat Ramp (Sumter NF): From Newberry, Take SC 34 about 14 miles and pass over the bridge. The next road to the right leads to boat ramp.

GUIDES/FISHING INFO - Mike McSwain, Broad River Smallmouth Guide Service, 843-763-3805. Dooley's Sport Shop, 168 US 378, Lexington, 803-359-6084; Sportsman's Warehouse, 476 Piney Grove Rd., Columbia, 803-731-3000; Crenshaw's Bait and Tackle, 6532 US 221, Laurens, 864-682-2541; Barron's Outfitters, 1725 Harden St., Columbia. 803-254-5537. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.

ACCOMMODATIONS - Comfort Suites, 325 W Main St., Lexington, 803-996-2000; Econo Lodge, 1147 Wilson Rd., Newberry, 803-276-1600; Comfort Inn, 436 McNulty Ave., Blythewood, 803-754-1441; Inn at Merridun, 100 Merridun Pl., Union, 864-427-7052; Hampton Inn, 1624 S Carolina 72, Greenwood, 864-388-9595.

MAPS - Delorme South Carolina Atlas and Gazetteer, 800-581-5105 or www.delorme.com.