“Do you see that line between here and the bank where the eddy meets the current? Cast upriver at about a 45-degree angle to the other side of that line and reel in quickly,” guide Mike McSwain said on a hot June day while fishing on the Broad River.
McSwain’s client did as instructed, and as the Mepps spinner got to where it was supposed to, something slammed the lure, the rod bent over, and the spinning reel’s drag sang out.
A few minutes later, McSwain was lipping a hefty smallmouth bass out of the cool river. After a few photos, he released the bronze-colored fish, which kicked away, back into the Broad, none the worse for wear from the spirited fight.
“That’s a good line. You’ve got the bank with some downed timber in the shallow water, an eddy, the current, then a little deeper water, these big, half-submerged boulders with an eddy pool behind them, and these weeds on the bottom of the river. With all that going one in such a small space, this is an ideal spot for smallmouth,” McSwain said. “They like to stay within range off all those different things so they move in between them throughout the day.”
In a nutshell, that’s what fishing for smallmouth on the Broad River is all about — looking for changes, whether it’s eddies near current, boulders dispersed across a flat bottom, rapids near slack water, wooden cover, weeds along the bottom — any place where one meets another is an ideal spot to fish.
When it comes to lures, McSwain said it’s tough to go wrong no matter what you’re throwing, but he does have a few favorites he’s come to rely on over the past several years.
“In-line spinners like the Mepps Aglia and Mepps Black Fury make up a large portion of smallmouth my clients and I catch on the Broad. Those lures work so well in so many different situations; you can’t beat them,” said McSwain, who prefers Nos. 4 and 5 sizes.
“A No. 4 or No. 5 is big enough to keep too many small bream from biting, and it has got enough weight that you can really cast it out there good. The longer you can cast, the more ground you can cover,” he said.
“Mepps spinners are good for pretty much any part of this river: in the current, in eddies, along the banks, near wooden cover. The only time I hesitate to use these lures is when weeds are present.”
Zoom Speed Craws are another of McSwain’s favorite lures. He likes them Texas-rigged and said one thing he likes is that anyone can fish them no matter their skill level.
“You can reel them in fast or slow. It’s not possible to reel them in too fast. Smallmouth will chase them down if they want them. Rig them weedless, and you can throw them anywhere in this river,” he said.
Even though he rigs them with a weight, McSwain doesn’t fish them only on the bottom. He uses them as topwater baits almost as much as on the bottom. It takes a little practice, but anyone can learn it in a few minutes, and it’s very effective.
First, McSwain casts, and before the lure hits the water, he raises the rod over his head. Once the lure touches down, he immediately closes the bail of his spinning reel and starts reeling, fast, with the rod above his head, bringing the lure to the surface quickly. He continues reeling fast, lowering his arms so that he’s in a good position for setting the hook while the lure stays on top of the water.
“A lot of people are surprised at how many bites you’ll get doing that,” he said. “Unlike traditional topwater lures, when a fish takes a swipe at this but misses, you can stop reeling and let it sink. That results in a hookup quite often.”
If that doesn’t work, McSwain will cast back to the spot the fish missed, letting it sink right away and work it on the bottom like normal.
“The hookup ratio when I do that is often enough that I fully expect to get hit when I let it sink on that cast. I’m surprised when I don’t,” he said.
Small boats like canoes, kayaks and sneak boats are the norm on the river. Its rocky makeup isn’t kind to outboard motors or fiberglass hulls. McSwain use a canoe with an electric trolling motor and a paddle. He uses the motor in open water, switches to the paddle in the shallower, rocky areas, and even pulls the canoe while wading when the river calls for it. It’s not a lazy man’s trip but well worth the work in what you can catch.
McSwain is still surprised by how few people know just how far south they can catch smallmouth on the Broad.
“You can catch them in downtown Columbia; when most people hear me talk about smallmouth fishing on the Broad, they assume I’m only fishing in the Upstate,” said McSwain, who fishes the whole length of the Broad but focuses on the area between the Alston Landing, commonly referred to as the “Peak Throw-in” down to Harbison State Forest. This area is as fertile as any other on the Broad, and Alston and Harbison both offer launch sites, although they are quite primitive.
The lack of boat ramps that offer easy access is what keeps many anglers off the river, but that’s their loss. While the publicly-accessible launches don’t feature paved boat ramps that let you back right up to the river, it takes McSwain only 10 minutes to launch a canoe, sometimes down a steep bank depending on the water level. Fishermen who don’t let that stop them are rewarded with trophy smallmouth fishing.
Richie Boykin of Bishopville finds fishing the Broad in June to be refreshing and productive.
“In some areas, you really have no choice but to get out and wade to pull your canoe or kayak over the shoals,” he said. “This is the perfect time of year to do that. It cools you down to wade a little bit, feels good to stretch your legs, and it lets you fish spots more slowly than you would if floating past them. You can anchor your boat in a shallow area, but you’ll have deep pockets of water, eddies, rapids, plenty of boulders, and other cover all around to cast to.”
McSwain said if anglers are pressed for time, they should focus on the shoals.
“There is a lot of productive water in this river, but if the bite is tough, or if you are limited in time, spending it around the shoals is your best move. Fish above them, below them and right in the thick of them,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to cast right into the rocks and let your lure tumble around with the current. You will rarely get hung up, and sometimes that is the only way to get your lure directly in front of the fish. You can’t go wrong with the Zoom Speed Craw here, but the Mepps spinners can be just as deadly.”
HOW TO GET THERE — The Broad River is fishable from the North Carolina line north of Gaffney all the way to Columbia. Good access, however, is limited. These put-in areas for small vessels will make the stretch from Newberry to Columbia accessible::
• Alston Landing is on Alston Road, off SC 213 just east of the river, about 15 miles upstream from Columbia;
• Columbia Riverfront Park, Laurel Street off Huger Street in Columbia, just east of the river;
• Harbison State Forest, off Broad River Road north of Columbia, best accessed from Harbison Road and Piney Grove Road exists off I-26 a few miles north of the I-26/I-20 interchange;
• Woods Ferry, in the Sumter National Forest, south of Lockhart, off Woods Ferry Road and Park Road in the Woods Ferry Recreational Area;
• Strother Road Boat Ramp, is in the Sumter National Forest just south of the SC 34 bridge about 14 miles east of Newberry.
WHEN TO GO — Fishing on the Broad River is especially good during the summer because the rushing water stays relatively cool and well-oxygenated.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Locate areas where different currents meet, deeper holes, cover including laydown trees and boulders, and even grass beds, and fish them with a variety of in-line spinners, lipless crankbaits and topwaters including hollow-body frogs and hollow-body mice.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Mike McSwain, Broad River Smallmouth Guide Service, 843-763-3805; Dooley’s Sport Shop, Lexington, 803-359-6084; Sportsman’s Warehouse, Columbia, 803-731-3000; Crenshaw’s Bait and Tackle, Laurens, 864-682-2541; Barron’s Outfitters, Columbia. 803-254-5537. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Comfort Suites, Lexington, 803-996-2000; Econo Lodge, Newberry, 803-276-1600; Inn at Merridun, , Union, 864-427-7052; Hampton Inn, Greenwood, 864-388-9595.
MAPS — Delorme South Carolina Atlas and Gazetteer, 800-581-5105, www.delorme.com.