More than 30 years ago, Davy Hite and I crossed paths for the first time. It wasn’t on Lake Murray or any other lake for that matter; it was on a basketball court in middle school. The success he has enjoyed as a professional bass fishermen over the past 20 years has been well documented, and I can attest that, from early on, he had the drive to be the best he could be — on the football field, basketball court or the water.
So when looking for an edge on catching bass at Lake Murray, I knew there was no better source. When I needed some tips on fishing for bass at night, we met a few hundred yards from where he grew up so I could pick his brain.
Just as the sun was setting, I stepped into his boat, and we began a journey through time, trying to keep the focus on catching bass after dark. Hite is well known around the world as an excellent bass angler, but around Prosperity, where he grew up, he’s a legend. He began fishing these waters before he reached his teens and learned how to catch bass, a lot of bass, almost in his back yard.
“I would just get into my grandfather’s johnboat and paddle all through this cove and that one fishing every chance I could,” he said. “I learned what worked and what didn’t. I would say that those days were the best as far as learning goes.”
Lake Murray is a huge reservoir located in South Carolina’s Midlands; roughly 2 million people are within an hour’s drive of this very popular lake. While many visitors enjoy water sports, recreation and other leisure activities during the summer, many prefer to enjoy the abundant angling opportunities. While many consider Murray more of a crappie and striper lake, there are still many who are dedicated to largemouth bass.
While Murray is unique in many aspects, it is also similar to many lakes in the south; as the summer peaks and water temperatures rise, the fishing gets more difficult. For many anglers, the thrill of fishing is overridden by the sweltering summer heat, and this drives many to choose short outings early in the morning or at dusk — or simply turn to the cool of the night.
Catfish and crappie are common targets for after-dark fishing excursions, but a few fishermen know that if you want to catch the biggest bass of the summer, you want until darkness settles sin, and you’ll find yourself on a relatively empty lake with willing fish.
Such is the case in many reaches of Lake Murray. The lake gets very little activity at night, which is interesting since very few places along its populous shores are absent of homes. For many anglers, this is prime time. And for me personally, it settles the soul to have a quiet evening along the pristine waters of Lake Murray and having it virtually to oneself.
As the sun slipped out of sight, Hite began reflecting. First, it was “Caught a 7-pounder here one night, got him on a 10-inch black worm. Over there I got another 7 on a crankbait brought along that dock.” Every cove and every dock, shoal, island held a story of a fish that didn’t get away.
While many fisherman’s attentions turn to other species or activities after dark, Hite knows that when the mercury spikesduring the summer, night is usually the best time to catch a limit of bass.
“Big bass often only feed at night, especially during the dog days of the summer” Hite said. “The darker the night, the better I like it. I like to fish when there is no moon; it seems to turn on the bite a lot better, and the darker the night, the bigger and darker the bait.”
Hite likes to fish big, dark baits at night, baits that will have a bigger silhouette that bass lurking below can see against the sky, however dark.
“Big baits (have) a larger profile for bass to key on,” he said. “Ten-inch, 12- and even 14-inch worms have caught a lot of fish around here at night.
“As the moon beings to rise, or if the moon is already out, you can change up your colors a bit more, but still stick with those on the dark side.”
Hite said the summer pattern at Murray is very similar to the winter pattern. Fish will hold on the edge of deeper water because it’s too warm in the shallows. He likes to fish in water 10 to 20 feet deep around docks with brush.
“The closer the docks are to deep water, the better the bass like it,” he said, explaining that bass are controlled by the water temperature. As it heats up in the summer, bass will move to deeper and cooler water, but they still like cover and structure. Find those two things in 20 feet of water, and you can put plenty of bass in the boat. “It seems the fish will hang out along these structures in the middle of the summer.”
Hite’s favorite after-dark summer bait is a 10-inch, Trigger-X Hammer worm rigged Texas-style, but he’ll also fish a crankbait.
“Murray is full of docks, and some have lights that stay on all the time,” he said. “I like to get near them and throw a crankbait past the light and run it through the lit-up area. Often this will produce a good bite, especially if the water is 10 feet or deeper.”
To prove his point, Hite worked his way into a deeper cove, and when he found an illuminated dock, he picked up a rod rigged with a Storm Square 3 Arashi crankbait and cast past the light. Three or four turns of the handle, and he was hooked up to a good fish. It produced one of his trademark smiles as he released it back into the lake.
Fishing out of Spinners Marina, we concentrated on the area around the confluence of the Saluda and Little Saluda river but fished all the way to Dreher Island, hitting coves, points, islands, riprapped banks, ledges and shoals.
“One of the great things about Murray is that there are fish virtually everywhere in this lake,” he said. “I don’t have to make a long run to get into fish. For summer nighttime bass fishing, you will be better off looking for structure in the 10- to 20-foot range.”
Hite said that finding the thermocline — the invisible line that separates warmer water toward the surface with cooler water toward the bottom.
Hite loves to fish ledges over deeper water with the same big, dark Texas-rigged Hammer worm on a 7-foot, heavy action All-Star baitcasting rod. He said bass will hold just over the ledge, waiting for the water temperature to cool after dark before moving closer to the shallows.
“These fish will stage right here; they are close to deep water and there is abundant food. There really is no reason for them to move.” Hite said.
By focusing on points, islands and deep-water humps, anglers increase their opportunity to for good catches. Larger feeder creeks with steep channel drops also offer great fishing opportunities.
“Many of the fish in the dog days will be in the same places they are in mid-winter — only for different reasons,” Hite said.
One of the challenges of fishing Murray in the middle of the summer is dealing with the changing water temperature. During dry years, fish will be a lot deeper relative to the time of year. Conversely, during normal or wet summers, the water temperature will stay lower for longer periods of time. In this case, look for fish to be shallower.
“If you’ve had a wet summer, fish shallower. All of the rain keeps the water temperature lower and makes the fish respond differently,” Hite said.
HOW TO GET THERE/WHEN TO GO — Lake Murray is west of Columbia on the Broad river, south of I-77 and north of I-26. Both interstates provide plenty of access to the lake. Public boat ramps are numerous; visit www.dnr.sc.gov/mlands/boatramp/?p_type=1224900. Night fishing for bass usually cranks up around July 1 and lasts into September.
TACKLE/TECHNIQUES — Fish any kind of cover or structure you can find in areas that are close to both deep and shallow water. Docks, creek-channel ledges, points and humps are prominent places where bass will hold at night during the summer. Pay special attention to lighted docks. Fish big, Texas-rigged worms like the Trigger-X Hammer worm in dark colors to provide bass with a big silhouette to strike. Crankbaits can also be very productive.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Sportsman’s Warehouse, Columbia, 803-731-3000; Lake World, Lexington, 803-957-6548. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Motels are abundant in Columbia, Newberry, Prosperity, Chapin, Lexington and other surrounding areas. Visit Lake Murray, www.lakemurraycountry.com. Camping is available at Dreher Island State Park, www.southcarolinaparks.com/dreherisland/introduction.aspx.