The recent cool weather has begun to push Lake Murray's shellcrackers into shallow water, and the fish are feeding heartily.
These panfish seek out two types of bottom this time of year, according to former guide Doug Lown. "Some are looking for clean sandy bottoms, and others prefer to gather around rocky bottoms, especially those made up of large boulders that are often used along shorelines," Lown said.
Both bottoms warm quickly and retain heat well, as long as the sun is shining. Lown prefers to let the sun rise – which will warm the shallow waters, triggering the shellcracker to bite – before he goes fishing. The rest, said Lown, is definitely not rocket science.
"This is fishing at its most basic," Lown said as he hooked a nightcrawler onto a No. 4 bream hook about 12 inches below a Styrofoam bobber. Lown uses pretty simple gear for this type fishing. Spincast reels like Zebco 33s as well as ultralight spinning gear like Pflueger Patriarch 9525X reels are perfect for reeling in slab shellcrackers. Rods range from ultralight to medium, depending on how quickly the angler wants to end the fight, and line strength ranges from 4- to 10-pound test.
Lown suggests starting off at one spot, then moving to the next until you find the fish. The rocky areas around the Dreher Island State Park boat ramp are good places to begin the day. The rock walls that line the banks of homeowner's yards are often good spots. In these areas, those large rocks cover the shallow floor up to 40 feet from shore.
Lown adjusts the cork to keep the hook just above of the rocks. When fishing sandy bottoms, some anglers remove the cork and fish right on the bottom. Both methods work, but the cork is essential in the rocks to avoid getting hung up.
Lown's final tip is to not be stingy with bait. He likes to use a whole nightcrawler rather than breaking it into pieces. He threads the hook through the worm's body several times, making what looks like a big gob of worm. This deters most of the smaller shellcrackers, and attracts the bigger ones.