And matching Jocassee in terms of trophy bass fishing is another task not many lakes in the state are successful in doing, especially when anglers take into account how many different species of black bass reside in the deep, crystal-clear waters of the 7,500-acre reservoir deep in the mountains of Pickens and Oconee counties at the Sumter National Forest.
Jocassee can brag about being the home of state records for spotted bass (8 pounds, 2 ounces, 1996), smallmouth bass (9 pounds, 7 ounces, 2001) and "redeye" or Coosa bass (5 pounds, 2 1/2 ounces, 2001), not to mention the huge rainbow and brown trout that attract anglers to the high country.
Clearly, this is a place where anglers can get a string stretched, and the fall fishing is as good a time as any to get connected with a chunky bass - or even catch the "grand slam" of bass fishing in one day: largemouth, smallmouth, spot and redeye.
"If you're around one of the tributaries, and you aren't over more than 100 feet of water, there's a good chance you can be looking at largemouth, smallmouths, spots and redeyes, and you could catch all of 'em," said guide Marty McGuffin of Westminster, who is the host of the Carolina Outdoorsman television show. "There are so many different species up there, and they're big ones.
"There's a lot of dead water in the lake, but if you catch it right, you can show out pretty good, and October and yield some pretty good fishing - some pretty good topwater fishing."
McGuffin and Jay Dodd of nearby Alexander, N.C., guide for bass at Jocassee, which gets a good percentage of its total fishing pressure from trout fishermen. Both men agreed topwater baits and drop-shot rigs are big fish producers, and McGuffin said he normally covers a lot of the deeper structure in the lake with a jigging spoon.
Whatever the fish bites, there's a pretty good chance it's a good one.
Biologist Dan Rankin of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said Jocassee's reputation as a top-drawer trophy fishery is well deserved, even if fishing can be frustrating at times.
"Jocassee is the most infertile of the bigger reservoirs in the state - and it's not that big," he said. "It's just mountain watersheds without a lot of nutrients. The numbers seem low, but there are nice-sized bass in there, and it's consistent through all the species. The numbers are low, but they're really chunky, healthy bass, fairly long-lived because there's not a lot of pressure on the lake for bass."
The DNR stocks between 60,000 and 70,000 rainbow and brown trout annually in Jocassee, but Rankin doesn't believe all that trout flesh is the reason for the trophy largemouths, smallmouths, spots and redeyes.
"The trout is one theory, but we've never examined a bass stomach that contained a trout," he said. "The forage base in threadfin shad and blueback herring is in the millions, so the notion that the trout are feeding the bass probably doesn't fly.
"We have the perfect-sized forage for big bass, those 7- to 9-inch bluebacks, and there're lots of them."
Bluebacks generally inhabit deeper areas of reservoirs, and with Jocassee holding a lot of water that's in excess of 100-feet deep, it's only natural that a lot of bass hang out in extremely deep water.
McGuffin (864-647-9967) said he's caught bass as deep as 110 feet, but when the fall approaches, he doesn't have to look in those areas. He keeps an eye on the shoreline, and an eye on the surface for feeding activity that keeps things stirred up.
"Jocassee is a highlands lake with banks that are straight up and water that's gin clear, and it can be intimidating for a lot of people," he said. "I've told people time and time again that it's a different lake than you've ever fished.
"I would tell people to get a good map, and when they put their boat in, to good up and look at the four main tributaries (Whitewater River, Horsepasture River, Toxaway River and Thompson River) and start cruising around, looking at your (depth-finder) for bait. You won't see a lot of fish schooling on top like you do at some place like Hartwell, but they do it, and if you see one break the top, you'd better check that area out."
McGuffin remembers one fall trip when he and his guide party were busy fishing deeper, offshore structure with jigging spoons when the surface of the water erupted with acres and acres of bass feeding. He handed his guest a rod with a Chug Bug tied on and watched him catch 3- and 4-pound fish until he was tired.
"I've always got a topwater rigged on one rod, a jigging spoon on one, and my third choice would be a drop-shot rig," said McGuffin. "But if they move up and start busting on top, they're ready to do business, and it can be some pretty awesome fishing."
McGuffin likes a Chug Bug, Zara Spook, Sammy or Devil's Horse for topwater lures. His favorite jigging spoon is a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce Berry's Flex-It spoon. When he drop shots, he likes to fish a small worm in watermelon seed, cherry-seed or sour-grape colors.
Dodd (828-281-1538 or 828-318-7911) fishes a Sammy topwater plug early every morning, especially at the Toxaway River - his favorite tributary - and he fishes it "blind" a lot of the time, trying to draw strikes from fish that haven't shown themselves.
"I will do a lot of topwater fishing, even with a buzzbait, and I like to fish humps that are off the ends of points - there are a lot of them - where there are a lot of big, boulder-sized rocks, and they're not that deep," Dodd said. "In the middle of the day, my favorite thing to do is fish a drop-shot rig with a 4-inch Zoom Meathead worm with spinning tackle and 6- to 8-pound-test line. You need to find a rocky, bluff bank and just 'stair step' it down the bank."
But far and away, his favorite way to catch bass in the fall is after dark with a Jitterbug, a classic old topwater plug that gurgles its way across the surface. The only difference is, he fishes the muskie-sized Jitterbug, and he likes to use a solid-black bait.
"I like to fish around downed trees, and fish will be up in coves and around the points," Dodd said. "You use a big casting reel with 20-pound P-Line, and you wind it back real slow, just barely retrieving it along. I really prefer to fish dark nights.
"Moonlight is good for you as far as seeing, but I don't believe in using any kind of lights. I like there to be just enough light to where I can see a little bit and make out the shoreline, but real bright nights aren't the time to go. I'd rather fish several days before and after the full moon than right during it.
"One thing about fishing at night is you have to wait until you feel the fish to set the hook. A lot of people will set it when they hear the fish strike, and they'll miss a lot of fish."
Anytime he's topwater fishing, Dodd likes to have a rod rigged with a huge plastic worm - a Zoom Big Dead Ringer is a favorite - to use as a follow-up bait in case a fish blows up and misses a topwater plug.
"I fish it with a Texas-rig and use black or watermelon seed (colors)," he said. "It's handy to have around to throw back if you get a big fish that blows up on a jitterbug and misses it. If you can follow up your first cast with a worm, they'll come along and eat it."
When it comes to fishing a drop-shot rig, McGuffin and Dodd set up their terminal tackle slightly different. McGuffin likes to fish a 3/8-ounce bell sinker at the end of the rig, then come up about 18 inches and tie in a dropper loop. Dodd uses the same size bell sinker, but he only has the hook 6 or 7 inches above the weight.
"Most people fish a drop shot straight down, but I like to throw it up on ledges and places where if you're 10 feet off the bank, you're 30-feet deep," McGuffin said. "You just pitch it up there and twitch it and let that sinker bump down the slope, then it comes off the ledge. If it's really deep water - 50 or 60 feet - I'll go to a 7/16- or half-ounce weight so I can get it down faster and feel it better."
Now about the lake. Jocassee was impounded in 1963 by Duke Power Co. It has 75 miles of shoreline and a full-pool elevation of 1,100 feet above sea level.
The lake is fed mostly by trout streams that pour out of the North Carolina and South Carolina mountains, and by four rivers - each of which has different characteristics. The bowl-shaped lower end holds the deepest water, but much of it is what McGuffin refers to as "dead water."
McGuffin and Dodd are more likely to be found fishing the tributaries.
"Fish that live on the main lake aren't gonna travel far, but the fish that are in the tributaries will move back in October," McGuffin said. "If there's bait near any of the waterfalls, the bass will move back in there for the bait. And as long as the baitfish stay up in the river or the creeks, the bass will be up there near points or rock cliffs."
The Whitewater River is the "shortest" tributary, with the Bad Creek Hydro dam less than a mile or so from the river's junction with the main lake. Duke Power can create some interesting current patterns in that area because a pumping station that returns water from Lake Keowee downstream into Jocassee dumps out at the west bank of the Whitewater, not far from the dam. When Duke Power flushes water through Bad Creek and pumps water back out of Keowee, currents run nearby in different directions.
Thompson and Whitewater creeks join just upstream from the main body of the lake.
"The Thompson has a more-defined channel, and it's got a little more Hartwell-type territory, more red-clay banks," McGuffin said. "Laurel Creek is at the opposite end of the lake; you can get back in there - it's a good creek. There are a few little remote (underwater) islands in 70 or 80 feet of water, and a lot of times, fish will get on top of those places.
"The Toxaway River is the biggest. It's the narrowest, and it's got big rocks and little rocks, plus a lot of sandy areas and some little red-clay spots. A lot of the banks come off real quick, but it's got a lot of inside and outside bends. There's more current, and there are some good stretches of water up there. You don't get the real trophy-class fish in there, but you'll get a lot of 3- and 4-pound fish.
"The Horsepasture, it's not as deep when you get away from the highlands. It gets shallower, and there are a lot of little flat places in it."
Most of the creeks that feed Jocassee, Dodd said, are really shallow, clear trout streams that don't merit a second look from bass fishermen - except during the fall.
"I love the Toxaway, the Horsepasture and the Whitewater, especially when they're pumping water back in from Keowee," Dodd said. "A lot of the time, shad will move up in the rivers in the fall, and when they start pumping water back in, the bass will move up and school."
Most of the schooling fish will be largemouths, Dodd said, with some spotted bass mixed in.
"I think there are getting to be more and more spots in Jocassee," Dodd said. "I think you catch the Coosas more accidentally, but you'll catch quite a few of them, and they fight really well."
Rankin said the redeye, or Coosa bass - natives to the Savannah River watershed - tend to be found more in the deeper waters of the open, lower lake.
"When the lake was impounded, not a lot of people thought that what was basically a stream fish would adapt to reservoir habitat," Rankin said. "Down the lake, in open water, it will be predominantly redeyes, with some smallmouths and an occasional spotted bass.
"The spotted bass showed up in the 1980s - they were introduced by anglers. We're doing some work with the University of South Carolina's genetics people on Keowee, and we've suspected all along that redeyes will hybridize with spotted bass, but in Jocassee, the redeyes still look like redeyes.
"There are some spots in Jocassee; numbers are low, but there are some really big ones. And we stock about 4,000 or 5,000 smallmouth bass a year.
"The smallmouth fishery isn't a numbers fishery. We have had some really big smallmouth caught, and we felt like, through the 1980s, we had a sustainable population, so we stopped stocking them. Then, in the 1990s, we started collecting fewer and fewer of them in samples, but the ones we did get were really, really big. We realize the fishery was somewhat dependent on some supplemental stocking."
And the largemouths? It's another low-numbers, big-fish deal.
McGuffin said most fish are chunky and shaped like footballs.
"The bait is coming back from the drought we had from 1998 through 2003 when the lake got down 28 feet," he said. "There are more bluebacks than threadfins, and the bass get real fat on 'em. You take a 24-inch largemouth at Jocassee, and it will nearly always be close to 10 pounds. Some other lakes, that same fish might weigh 6 or 7 (pounds).
"In the fall you'll primarily catch largemouths or redeyes. If you get a mixed bag, it'll usually be more of one species, then a few of something else.
"Jocassee is the only place in South Carolina where you have the opportunity for a grand slam."