Lake Richard B. Russell has changed dramatically in terms of black bass fishing since its impoundment in 1984. When it first filled up, the lake was great for largemouth bass and had the shallow-water cover for largemouth bass fishing to explode, as well as deep cover to perpetuate the fishery.
Over the years the black bass fishery morphed into one that’s now quite spotty; as in spotted bass. According to guide Wendell Wilson, the bass fishing is as good as ever and excellent if anglers target spotted bass.
“I started fishing Lake Russell in 1987, and frankly, I’ve embraced the black bass fishery change over the years,” Wilson said. “In reality, the fishing is excellent in terms of action and quality spotted bass, and I’ll still try to anchor a catch with a hefty largemouth because we do have some big largemouth in the lake. But the lake is full of healthy spotted bass that provide great action on a variety of lures. During May, there’s a wide range of options available for catching lots of spotted bass.”
Wilson estimates that spotted bass comprise about 70 percent of the black bass in the lake.
“It’s hard to ignore the dominant species if you’re bass fishing,” he said. “I believe May is the best spotted bass fishing time of the year. The spotted bass will be orienting to the main-river portion of the lake and usually found schooled up off main river points and on humps, ledges and on flats with cover and forage. Much of the best fishing will be in the lower end, specifically, the lower two-thirds of the lake.”
Wilson said one of the advantages of fishing for spotted bass is that he frequently encounters schools of fish.
“It’s not unusual to catch several good-sized spotted bass from a single spot, and that is exciting,” he said. “One of my favorite and most-reliable pattern is fishing main-lake points very early in the morning. The major points near the mouths of larger creeks can also be good if fished early.”
Wilson keeps his boat in slightly deeper water and targets fish in 5 to 10 feet using soft-plastic Sebile, Fluke-style baits for topwater and shallow-water action.
“Another excellent pattern is to cast a topwater popper such as a Pop-R with a 1/16-ounce white hair-jig trailing on a short leader,” he said. “Often, it will be the small jig that actually hooks the fish because it imitates the size of forage the fish are eating. But they’ll also blow up on the Pop-R as well. Reasonably often, a client will double up and get two at a time. That’s good action.
“I’ve found the hair jig works much better than a curlytail in this particular instance,” Wilson said. “The bite will come on either lure, but I rig this way because some days the spots are finicky about what they eat, and they’ll tear the trailing jig up but not hit the attention-getting popper. Other days, they eat the popper best but typically there’s a mix, and plenty of bigger fish will bite the jig.”
Wilson said the action will remain good throughout the day this month. He will to switch targets and tactics to stay on the action as the day progresses.
“The trees that are visible above the surface are good targets, and shady rock bluffs in mid-day are productive with crankbaits,” he said. “Cloudy days extend the early morning shallow water bite. If there’s wind, I’ll use crankbaits, with the No. 5 and No. 7 Shad Raps in a shad-color pattern being my favorite. I’ll often use that before leaving the shallow water, windy or not, but the choppy water will usually enable us to catch fish a bit longer using these lures.
“Once the sun starts beating down on the water, the bass retreat to deeper water,” Wilson said. “I’ll still use Flukes fishing over treetops in 15 to 20 feet of water. This is also the time of day I’ll start using drop-shot worm rigs on underwater points, flats with cover or near a drop and on humps. As the day goes on, I’ll be fishing 20 to 25 feet of water. For the worm part of the rig, I’ll stick with a green color; really any shade of green works well.”
Another key, Wilson said, is the presence of baitfish in the vicinity.
“Spotted bass are drawn to baitfish, and bait is a key when I’ll look for places to fish,” he said. “Bait is crucial anywhere, but if I find isolated brush or underwater wood on a flat that has baitfish around it, you can bet that during May there’s going to be some spots around it — and often some large ones.”
Wilson said schooling fish are also found around baitfish, and while the best action is often early or late, it can happen throughout the day.
“I keep a No. 5 Shad Rap in shad color and a ¼-ounce Rat-L-Trap in blue and silver ready for schooling fish,” he said. “I can cast these lures long distances and react quickly to topwater fish. It’s essential to get a lure on these fish quickly, even in early morning, but especially later in the day.”
Spotted bass don’t get as big as the largemouth, Wilson said, but they average very good size, with a lot of 2- and 3-pound fish and quite a few over 4 pounds are caught.
“On a normal day in May, it’s reasonable to expect to catch 30 keeper-sized spots if we’re targeting numbers,” he said. “We can target big spots, fish in the 4-pound and larger class, and still hook up with 15 to 20 bass per day. They’re not all big, but we can target larger fish without sacrificing a lot in productivity.”
Wilson believes his basic tackle choices are important to his success. His rods are light-action, yellow Eagle Claw spinning rods paired with a Sabalos spinning reel that’s spooled with 6-pound P-Line.
“The light line in this clear water gives us an advantage,” he said. “We have to be a bit more cautious working a large bass, but it will get the job done, and we’ll get noticeably more bites during the day. Keep it light for heavy spotted bass.”
Wilson said the spotted bass in May on Lake Russell is as sure a bet as an angler can have on black bass.
“The patterns are consistent at this time of year, and using both artificial and live bait typically will produce plenty of action,” he said. No sure thing exists in black bass fishing, but this comes pretty close.”
HOW TO GET THERE — Lake Richard B. Russell is a Savannah River reservoir that forms the South Carolina-Georgia border along Abbeville County. The closest town is Calhoun Falls. Best access to the lake is provided by SC 72 and SC 81. A number of public boat ramps are on the South Carolina side of the lake, with Calhoun Falls State Park being an excellent choice. Other public access areas include: Felker Creek, Wilson Creek, Allen Creek, Beer Garden Creek and Latimer.
WHEN TO GO — May is a prime month for spotted bass at Lake Russell in terms of quantity and quality.
BEST TECHNIQUES — A variety of artificial lures such as Flukes, Pop-Rs and drop-shot rigs will produce plenty of hefty spotted bass, as will live baits like shiners and herring. Look for bass near the main channel in the lower two-thirds of the lake. Also, spotted bass will hit crankbaits in standing timber and along steep banks that get a lot of shade.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Wendell Wilson, Wilson’s Guide Service, 760-283-3336, www.wilsonsguideservice.com. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Calhoun Falls Chamber of Commerce, Calhoun Fall, 864-418-8672. Camping is available at Calhoun Falls State Park, 864-447-8267.