The hottest biting fish on Lake Wateree right now is the striped bass, and anglers are catching them while drifting or slow-trolling. Anglers like Capt. Chris Nichols are experiencing 50+ fish on recent striper trips, and have caught as many as 75 on some days.
“The key to catching them while drifting or slow-trolling is to get fresh, live bait, which is easy to do with a cast net if you can get on the water before daylight. It’s easy to see the bait on the surface, and just a couple of throws with the net will get ten to fifteen dozen baitfish,” said Nichols.
Nichols drifts or trolls with about six fishing rods. He keeps four of the rods free lining out the back of the boat. These lines have little or no weight added to them, and are fished from the surface down to about 6-feet deep. Another couple of rods are in rod holders on the sides of the boat, and they are rigged with 1- or 2-ounce egg sinkers to get them down to the desired depth, which is usually in the 10- to 20-foot range.
“You’ve just got to look at your depth finder and see where the fish are holding. You want your baits to be a few feet above the greatest concentration of fish, so if you are seeing them at 20-feet deep, you want your baits to be 16- or 17-feet deep. These fish like looking up for bait much more than they like looking down. They’ll find it and come up to it,” he said.
Nichols (704-860-7952) trolls through areas at between .5- and .7-miles per hour.
“I know a lot of anglers just fish whenever they have the time, but if they can pick their days, they’ll have more success if they can go on a day that is cloudy, somewhat warm, and not windy. You really want to avoid those blue sky days and windy days,” said Nichols.
Nichols also said if you can get on the water before first light, you’re helping your chances tremendously.
“The first couple of hours of daylight have been the best by far. It will slow down a bit after that, but you can still catch them. That early morning bite though, you just can’t beat it,” he said.
Nichols does a lot of trolling through areas he’s had success in the past, but he also keeps a close watch on diving birds, even if stripers aren’t breaking the surface.
“Those birds are diving at the schools of shad, and the stripers also follow those schools. Just because the stripers aren’t hitting the surface doesn’t mean they aren’t there. They are just not coming all the way up. But they are definitely lurking under those schools. Trolling through those areas is always a good bet,” said Nichols.
When he does follow the birds, Nichols said he will usually boat a handful of fish, then troll right back through the same area. Meanwhile, the birds have moved on, and once they start diving on another school of baitfish, he reels his lines in, motors to where the birds are, sets his lines back out, and trolls through that area. He repeats this process throughout the day.
Nichols said the majority of these fish aren’t wall-hangers by any means, but he said they are great eating size, and unlike many South Carolina lakes, Lake Wateree does not have a size limit on stripers. Anglers are allowed to keep 10 stripers each per day.
“The majority of these fish are between 3- and 6-pounds, and that is a fun fish to catch and gives off great filets,” he said.