Then he pointed a difference direction.
"And the dam right over there," he said.
Caulder's was a pretty bold statement but also encouraging because we were close enough to the dam to tell the make and models of cars crossing the Highway 6 Bridge and the area known to the locals as the "Big Pool." Our fishing trip wasn't going to be shooting fish in a barrel, but it should be a lot better than the early and late parts of the year when striped bass travel several miles in a single day.
It was mid June, and Lake Murray's bruiser striped bass were returning to the Big Pool to search out cooler waters that would be their safe harbor through the hottest part of the year. They also follow enormous schools of blueback herring that gather near the dam.
Long gone are the days of tracking sea gulls to find surfacing baitfish and stripers, but here's something almost as easy.
Looking at the Lowrance color graph mounted to the center console of Caulder's 23-foot Sea Pro bay boat, the screen was nearly full. The old "they- blacked-out-the-screen" comment didn't apply, but vivid red, yellow and orange swirls completely colored this graph's screen.
Caulder said he usually targeted "humps" for striped bass this time of year. He also said he considers any change in bottom contour of at least 10 feet to be a "hump." Based on his description, the big basin area of Lake Murray has lots of "humps. "
To narrow the search, Caulder suggested looking for humps in water depths of 40 to 80 feet. Earlier in the year, from the first of June to the middle of the month, he said he looks for humps in the 40-foot range. Later in the season, as the water temperature begins to climb into the 80s and beyond, he looks at deeper humps.
What happens is by June stripers have completed their annual spawning runs - when food wasn't their top priority - but now have made their way back across the expansive 50,000 acres of the lake and it's time to restock the fat and energy reserves used during the spawn. They have to do this before the dog days of summer force them into a tightly packed layer of cool water with comfortable temperatures and dissolved-oxygen levels.
At this point, surface water temps may not be to the stripers' liking, but the water column from 10- to 15-feet below the surface and down to the lake bottom is still prime. And forage (eating ) has become the stripers' top priority.
During the summer, as surface temps rise and bottom oxygen levels drop, this pattern continues until the stratification period when a thermocline is established in the lower lake and concludes when the lake de-stratifies in early fall.
Once anglers target a likely area, they should watch their graph recorders and make sure they're "marking" (seeing fish on the graph) before setting up to drop baits or troll at a hump.
Once his recorder indicates a striper school at a hump, Caulder deploys one anchor from the bow of his boat. In order to keep from spooking fish that are holding on the hump and to allow the anchor line enough scope to hold, he'll drop a plastic marker buoy over the side or electronically enter the location with his GPS unit.
Once he marks the location, Caulder will ease the boat forward into the wind and drop anchor approximately 150 feet upwind of the mark and drift back above the hump.
"Sometimes you'll pull back at a mark only to find the school is no longer there," he said. "When this happens, try tapping on the bottom of the boat with a solid object."
The object can be a boat paddle, spare rod or most favorably, a pool cue stored on board for this purpose.
"The tapping puts vibrations in the water, and vibrations can draw fish that probably aren't far away back onto the hump and under the boat," he said.
However, if this trick is unsuccessful and the stripers don't return, it's time to move. Caulder doesn't waste time trying to vertically jig for stripers he can't see on his graph.
If the fish are visible, the anchor has caught, and the boat is properly positioned above a hump (using one anchor will allow the boat some leeway to swing back and forth over the area like a pendulum - and that's good), Caulder vertically lowers live blueback herring to the fish, using a Carolina live-bait rig. The technique commonly is called a "down-rod setup" - a medium-action bait-casting rod spooled with 20-pound-test monofilament, tied to a barrel swivel, with a 2-ounce egg sinker and plastic bead tied on above the swivel (the bead, between the sinker and swivel, protects the knot from abrasion). A 3-foot length of 15-pound-test flourocarbon leader is tied to the other end of the swivel with a No. 1 hook at the end.
The type of hook is a matter of personal preference and intention. Circle hooks, which have become popular in recent years, reduce fish mortality, if the intention is to release alive the fish. The drawback of circle hooks is anglers must resist the temptation to rear back and try to "jerk his jaws" in eyeball-crossing fashion when a striper taps a bait. A quick jerk often yanks a circle hook out of a striper's mouth. Steady upward pressure is all that's needed to pull the eye of the hook into position so the point and barb catch in the lip of the fish.
A more common type of hook, the "J" hook, causes a greater percentage of throat and gut snags in fish, severely reducing catch-and-release opportunities. A Kahle or octopus hook is a compromise that allows mostly lip hooks but also offers the satisfaction of setting a hook, one of the appeals of down-rod fishing.
Once the boat is in position and down rods are spaced around the boat, anglers should focus on the graph. Caulder uses a Lowrance 111C model sensitive enough to track baits as they descend beneath the boat.
While he usually instructs clients to lower lines to the bottom, then crank the reel handle three turns (if fish are suspending above a hump), Caulder will either track the baits with his graph and engage the reel when they've reached the level the fish are using or he'll have his clients count down to the fish by pulling off line from the reel to the first guide.
The distance between the reel and the first guide of the Shakespeare Ugly Stik rod is approximately 2 feet. With the weight just below the surface and the rod in the rod-holder, 12 pulls of the line to the first guide will put the bait approximately 24-feet deep.
The final trick Caulder uses to maintain a school of hungry striped bass in close proximity to his clients is keeping a hooked fish in the water. The competitive instincts of striped bass cause them to chase a fish that's been hooked and reeled to the surface.
Caulder said it's not unusual to see 10 or 12 striped bass following a schoolmate to the top. With one rod occupied, fishless anglers should move the other five rods to bring live baits up to or just below the level of the hooked fish.
When this tactic is used successfully, Caulder said it's not unusual to land a limit of stripers in a few minutes.
During the same time Caulder takes anglers striper fishing at Lake Murray, Santee Cooper Guide Spencer Edmonds tries to do the same with Moultrie stripers near that lake's dam. The underwater topography of the two lakes is different, but the fishing techniques are surprisingly similar.
Warmer water also forces Santee stripers to migrate out of the rivers and into the deeper impounded waters of Lake Moultrie in front of the Pinopolis dam.
Murray may have humps, but Moultie, often called "The Big Bowl," has myriad creek channels and ditches that meander across its bottom. These ditches and channels are used as travel corridors and reference points by forage fish and stripers.
The thermal refuge and higher dissolved-oxygen levels offered by deeper water also tend to group stripers at Moultrie much the same as at Lake Murray.
"The towers at the dam are a good starting point" said Edmunds, who has been fishing Moultrie since he was a child more than 50 years ago. "Once you find the bait, the stripers will be below them, usually right above the thermocline."
If it's too hot during daylight hours or anglers prefer a different approach - or the fish are biting late - Edmonds will fish after dark.
The technique he uses then is to drift across the lower reaches of Lake Moultrie at night. With several floating 12-volt lights spread around his boat to attract baitfish, Spencer will lower baits using eight to 10 down-rods at varying depths until a particular depth consistently begins to produce fish. Then he positions the other rods at the depth the fish prefer that night.
"Of course, those big Santee blue catfish are sometimes hanging out with the stripers down there and we might catch a few of them too," the Eutawville native said with a smile. "Most people don't seem to mind that too much."
Some nights Spencer said he doesn't have to bother with drifting but ties a line to one of the towers, lets out some rope and catches stripers that seem to be drawn to the man-made structure.
Not particularly fond of losing sleep by fishing at night, Caulder has a favorite pre-dawn tactic for drifting at Lake Murray.
"About two hours before daylight, I'll start a drift on the upwind side of the lake on a course that will take me across several productive humps," he said. "I'll run two free lines out the back of the boat with no weight on them - just a line and a hook.
"I'll also fish four down rods, two on either side of the boat, and stagger them. I've found if the fish are going to come shallow, it will be right before daylight, until the sun hits the water."
Striped bass anglers need to be mindful the limit for fish at Lake Murray and the Santee chain is five fish per person per day, with a 21-inch minimum-size limit that applies to both lakes.
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources regulations allow an exception for two of the five keeper fish during the hot months of July and August. That's when anglers can keep two striped bass less than 21 inches in length.