Frost is on the ground, waiting for the sunlight to warm it away; it’s a brisk 42 degrees, and the wind is whipping. Who wants to hit Lake Wateree for some bass fishing? Camden’s Dearal Rodgers does, and while he’s not alone, the number of anglers out in February is small compared to warmer times — a big reason but not the only one that he’s fond of fishing this month.
“February has some brutal days, but the fishing can be great, too,” said Rodgers, who focuses on rock piles during warming trends. “A lot of people think the water temperature has to be 52, 53 degrees or better for the bass to bite, but it isn’t temperature alone that turns them on. It is much more about the water being warmer than it has been in recent days.
“I’ve seen the bass bite like crazy when the water temperature is 48, because three days earlier, it was 45. And I’ve had some terrible fishing days when the water temperature was 54 degrees, because it had been 58 two days before,” said Rodgers, a seasoned Wateree guide and tournament angler.
Plenty of great fishermen spend time on Wateree, and they catch fish using all sorts of lures and different techniques, even in February; Rodgers sticks with four lures for late-winter bass: the ChatterBait, Rat-L-Trap, Shad Rap and spinner bait.
“If I’m fishing an area with any grass, I’m throwing a ChatterBait or spinner bait because they can go through weeds much easier,” Rodgers said. “Some parts of this lake have a good bit of grass year-round, and the bass love hanging around it, especially if there are submerged rocks and deep water nearby.”
When not around grass, Rodgers opts for a Rat-L-Trap or Shad Rap.
“If conditions are really extreme, like especially cold, I will throw the Shad Rap. Fish just seem to react to it better when it’s really cold than they do to the Rat-L-Trap,” said Rodgers, who will pick up a Rat-L-Trap on a day that promises good weather.
“A lot of people can hook big bass on a Rat-L-Trap, but bass have a knack for throwing them,” said Rodgers, who uses a high-speed reel. “That helps you stay ahead of them once they’re hooked. On that lure, a lot of times the fish will hit it and swim toward the boat, and some people don’t even know the fish is still there. By the time they figure it out, they can’t reel fast enough to catch up to it, and the fish figures out its hooked and shakes free. A high-speed reel helps with that.”
The most-unpredictable thing about fishing here this month is the weather, according to Rodgers. The most predictable thing? Submerged rocks.
“I will spend the majority of my time this month fishing submerged rock piles, most of which are a little ways off the bank,” he said. “The bass like to hang out there where they can cruise into shallow water on warm days to get that sunlight.”
Rodgers likes those areas to be near deep water, mainly because that’s where the baitfish are usually found throughout February.
“Shad are the main forage for largemouth this month. This lake is full of shad, and some die off during winter,” he said. “They usually stay in deep water, so this month, bass like to inhabit areas that offer them easy access to shallow water and deep water. That provides them with food, cover, and the ability to sunbathe in shallow water.”
Most of Rodgers’ favorite February fishing spots are on the lower part of the lake, between Beaver Creek and the dam, and a good many of them are in the small area between Clearwater Cove and the dam.
“Even this small area right here,” Rodgers said pointing to the left and directly across from the Clearwater Cove boat ramp, “is a great spot for quality bass. A lot of tournaments start from this ramp, and anglers go all over the lake from here, but anglers who stay behind and fish here usually catch good bass, and some tournaments have been won by anglers who stay all day right here within casting distance of the boat ramp.”
This particular spot, Rodgers said, has everything he looks for when choosing a fishing spot this month: a rock wall, surface grass, docks, and deep holes with submerged rocks nearby.
“There’s a deep hole right here,” Rodgers said, pointing to a spot, “and you can see how close it is to all this other stuff. You can’t beat spots like this, especially this time of year.”
One tip Rodgers has for Wateree anglers is to go big when choosing lures this month.
“These bass might feed for just a few minutes a day during these cold months. They don’t want to use up energy chasing small baits, so make them a big offer that is worth them chasing,” said Rodgers, who isn’t shy about using spinner baits as big as an ounce.
Another promising tactic Rodgers uses is targeting submerged rock piles near banks that receive the most sunlight.
“The water temperature along those banks can be a degree or two warmer, and that can make a huge difference to bass,” he said. “If a rock pile is 10 or even 30 feet off a bank that stays in the sun all day, I’m going to target that rock pile, that bank and the water between the two. Bass are going to move throughout each area searching for food, warmth, and cover.”
Depending on the weather, Rogers said, the second half of February is often very different from the first.
“If it’s warming up enough, some largemouth will move shallow to spawn as early as late February,” he said.
Andy Owens, another Lake Wateree guide from Camden, agrees, and he said the action late in the month makes February his favorite month on the lake. He has a knack for finding bedding bass early in the year.
“This is the best month of the year to catch big bass shallow. They haven’t had much, if any, pressure from anglers yet, and they are less cautious than they will be in a few weeks,” he said. “Find them shallow and either spawning or preparing to spawn, and you’ve got an excellent chance at getting them to bite.”
When he finds them shallow, his lure of choice is a jig. this month, Owens’ lure of choice is a jig. Rogers also said he’ll turn to a jig once he’s found a productive area.
“Usually in cold water, it’s best to cover a lot of water as quickly as possible until you find where the fish are,” he said. “That’s why I stick with lures like spinner baits and crankbaits, but once you’ve got them located, jigs are great lures that can be fished slowly in specific areas.
Rodgers and Owens agree that anglers should expect fewer bites on jigs, but they both say those few bites will almost always come from big bass.
“You might fish all day and get four good bites on a jig this month,” he said, “but those four fish are going to be worth any 10 you’ll catch on another lure.”
HOW TO GET THERE —Lake Wateree is easily accessed from I-20 and I-77. Take I-20 to US 521 and SC 97 for access to numerous landings on the Camden side of the lake. Lake Road leads to many landings on the Lugoff side. To get there, take I-20 to US 1 and Longtown Road to Wateree Dam Road, then left onto Lake Road.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Baitcasting or spinning outfits featuring medium-heavy rods with fast tips are standard for fishing with jigs and spinner baits. Medium-action rods work well with crankbaits. When using Rat-L-Traps, fishing with a high-speed reel is best. Standard line includes 10- to 20-pound test..
FISHING INFO/GUIDES —Dearal Rodgers, 803-223-1117; Andy Owens, 803-669-2624; Rob Thames, Thames Bass Fishing Adventures, 803-359-9515; Chris Heinning, Captain Chris Fishing Guide Service, 803-236-1257. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Lake Wateree State Park, Winnsboro, 803-482-6401; Ramada Limited, Ridgeway, 803-337-7575; Wateree Lake Campground, Liberty Hill, 803-273-3013; Lake Wateree Properties, Ridgeway, 803-337-5253, Holiday Inn Express, Camden, 803-424-5000.
MAPS — Lake Maps, www.lake-maps.com; Duke Energy, 800-777-9898, www.duke-energy.com/residential.asp; Kingfisher Maps, 800-326-0257, www.kfmaps.com; Delorme Atlas and Gazetteer, 800-561-5105, www.delorme.com.