A favorite lake targeted by many bass fishermen during April is Lake Wateree. It's is an old lake, impounded in 1920. But anglers who let the age of this lake influence their assessment of the bass fishery are missing some fantastic fishing action.
Lake Wateree is a red-hot largemouth bass-producing lake during the spring. The lake has ample fishing area with 13,864 surface acres of water and 242 miles of shoreline.
A key to the productivity of this lake is the diversity of shallow-water structures that offer outstanding fishing opportunities during the spring.
Veteran bass tournament angler Travis Jackson frequently travels from his home in Spartanburg to fish Lake Wateree.
"I do love to bass fish Lake Wateree in April," he said. "I think it offers some of the very best shallow-water fishing in the state, and I'm quite content to fish this lake. I like fishing Lake Wateree throughout the spring, right on through the month of May.
"If I'm fishing tournaments, I'll be fishing other lakes as needed. When I'm fishing for my own enjoyment, it's hard to get me off this lake."
"There are several reasons why this lake is so good during April and May. First, we catch a lot of bass in the four-to-six-pound class and that's always a good start. There's much larger fish available, but it seems the lake is loaded with fish in this size class."
"But I also like the physical layout of the lake for my style of fishing. This lake has a main river channel that flows through the main lake body. For much of the lake, the depths along this channel are quite fishable. There are numerous feeder creeks that intersect with the main river and this sets up some prime underwater structures for largemouth bass.
"Many ditches and other small streams intersect with these tributaries. These away-from-the-shoreline places are where a fisherman will find some awesome spring fishing. Even though it may be well away from the shoreline, it can still be very shallow water."
Jackson is quick to point out he'll also focus a lot of fishing effort at points and pockets during the spring. He said he believes versatility at structures fished and lures used are keys to success at Lake Wateree during April.
"It's like any lake bass fishing situation, patterns will change from day to day during the early spring," Jackson said. "A fisherman has to adapt. But there are some basic patterns that I've learned through the years that typically work well here.
"At any given time during April and into most of May, there are a number of different shallow-water patterns that will produce excellent fishing. But one of the keys to success that I've found is to focus on a couple of techniques which best suit my style of fishing.
"Of course, if that doesn't work, I certainly won't hesitate too long to switch to something else. During this time of the year, a fisherman should be able to get a good pattern going in shallow water quickly."
Jackson said his favorite patterns for April begin with the topwater buzzbait pattern. Topwater fishing gets even better during the latter portion of the month.
He also relies on a ¼- and 3/8-ounce black/blue jig and grub or the jig and pork chunk during early April. By mid-month he'll also be using the Carolina worm rig with a green or chartreuse finesse worm and crankbaits.
Jackson said some of the shallow, offshore structures begin to produce during this time period. Most of the spots he prefers are located at creeks and coves.
He said fishermen don't always have to cast toward the shoreline during April to catch bass.
Jackson recalled a perfect example during a day when the topwater bite slowed. He said he eased the boat into a large cove near Colonel's Creek and worked an underwater point in 4 to 6 feet of water. He described the point as one that sloped down into a channel right on the outside of a creek channel bend. The point was not visible based on the gently curving shoreline.
"I found this place while I was motoring through the area and paying attention to my graph," Jackson said. "When I saw the underwater bottom change, I took a closer look.
"I didn't waste any time fishing it either. I caught seven fish the fist time I fished it. This lake is loaded with places like this."
Jackson said that type offshore underwater structure presents a perfect predator-and-prey opportunity.
He said those conditions create an ideal underwater scenario for shad to congregate. It's also a prime place for largemouth bass to move in, feed and move back out with quick deepwater access.
Jackson said he'll check such places frequently during the course of a day's fishing. Occasionally they'll produce red-hot largemouth action. But the next time, bass won't be home.
"This is a pattern where patience and timing are the keys to success," Jackson said. "I believe if I keep working these areas, my opportunity to catch several fish quickly will occur.
"I consider this pattern a spring precursor to the deep-water drop fishing that produces a lot of fish during the really hot weather at Lake Wateree. That's my pattern on this lake during the summer, but it's a deeper pattern on the main lake.
"But these shallow points, humps and ditch and creek junctions will hold fish during this time of the year. These places are often overlooked by fishermen who fish only the shoreline during the spring.
"Sometimes I have to turn my back to the bank for success."
Jackson said he sometimes uses crankbaits and spinnerbaits during April.
"The crankbaits work really well when the fish are active and foraging on shad," he said. "An excellent place to work a crankbait is the same points where I find good action on the topwater lures early in the day.
"Often these fish just move back a little deeper and will take spells during the day when they'll feed actively. I've fished a place two or three times during a day with little action, knowing it was potentially a good place. But by continuing to check it out I finally time it right and find the fish feeding aggressively. A fisherman can put a bunch of bass in the boat in a hurry then.
"Sometimes, the fish may be holding on the structure I'm fishing but not actively feeding and won't bite the crankbait. That's when a spinnerbait will often entice a fish to strike when other lures won't produce.
"I like to slow roll the blade and keep it in front of the fish longer. The flash and slower movement are what I think triggers the fish to bite.
"When learning the lake, I suggest moving around and trying different structures. Fish points at the mouth of the primary creeks as well as the shallow coves and secondary creeks. Work the stumpy pockets in the back of the creeks.
"Sometimes I even motor far up a creek during the spring, back to the place where the creek narrows back into the old creek run. Not a lot of other fishermen take the time to do this, and it can be a great early season hot spot.
"Once fishermen begin to learn the lake, they can mentally file away a number of places that tend to produce consistently. It's matter of checking them occasionally for active fish. If fishing with a partner, I'd advise using different lures until a good pattern is determined."
Al Odom is another long-time Lake Wateree angler who fishes the lake during spring. While Jackson primarily works the mid-lake sector from Colonel's Creek to the Taylor Creek area just above the Lake Wateree State Park, Odom often begins at the lower end of the lake. He'll typically work the area from Colonel's Creek down the lake to the dam.
Odom said one of the reasons he enjoys fishing here is spectacular topwater fishing.
"Lake Wateree is known for outstanding spring bass fishing and the action really gets rolling in April," Odom said. "May is also a prime month for topwater bass fishing.
"Simply put, this lake is just a great topwater lake. A lot of fishermen will run topwaters such as buzzbaits and Pop Rs all summer long with excellent results."
Like any veteran bass fisherman, Odom emphasizes diversity in his arsenal of tactics. He also uses crankbaits, spinnerbaits as well as bottom bumpers when fishing Lake Wateree.
"A typical pattern is to work the topwater lures around any type of cover near the shoreline as well as over sloping, rocky points," Odom said. "During this time of the year, there's often a lot of shad in the shallow water; if I see a lot of shad activity, then I figure some aggressive bass are in the vicinity as well.
"Often there'll be bass schooling on shad back in the coves and at the points. Usually it's an individual fish or perhaps a couple of fish working on the forage.
"But during the course of a day of fishing, it's common to encounter several surface feeding fish situations. If I'm ready to cast to these feeding fish immediately, typically I'll be a few fish ahead at the end of the day. A swimming minnow lure is also a good bait to have ready for schooling fish."
Odom also keeps a couple of topwater lures loaded on his rods and is quick to change when one of the topwater lures isn't producing good action and hookups. He said he prefers a buzzbait and a popping-style topwater lure. He varies specific versions of these lures until he fine tunes his presentation to exactly what's required the day he fishes.
"Sometimes the difference is very subtle in terms of what makes a fish bite a given lure," Odom said. "I recall a perfect example occurred a few years ago while fishing with a friend.
"We used almost identical popping-type topwater lures. Simply put, he was wearing me out as we topwater fished the points right at dawn. I switched to the specific lure, including size and color, my buddy was using. The catch rate immediately evened out for us.
"I couldn't see the difference in the lure that day, but the bass apparently did. But on other days, it's not always as critical. This point is to be aware that a subtle change can make all the difference in success on this lake."
Odom said he prefers to fish points that lead to deeper water. That's a primary reason he said he prefers to fish the lower end of the lake where there are a lot of deepwater coves and pockets.
Odom said another productive pattern is to work spinnerbaits at stump flats off points or along shallow flats adjacent to deeper water. Many of these places will have to be learned though trial and error fishing.
"I learned some of these areas while fishing shallow-water shoreline cover," Odom said. "But sometimes I'd watch my graph mark flats that seemed loaded with stumps as I motored into a potentially good-looking shoreline area.
"If a fisherman locates these type areas during April, they're worth the time and effort to fish."
Odom said long-term fishing advantages exist after finding such places.
"Areas with a lot of cover underwater near a drop can be prime places not only during this spring time period, but through the summer," he said. "Also, during the fall when the shad move back into the shallower water, the largemouth will move with them."
For Lake Wateree spring bass fishing, it's all about the shallow water. However as noted by Jackson and Odom, anglers shouldn't pass up opportunities to fish shallow-water opportunities well away from the shoreline.
There are plenty of public boat ramps at the lake, so access to any area should be easy - which makes Lake Wateree a good target for any bass fisherman, regardless of the size of his boat and motor. Some of the commercial marinas also have launching facilities available for a small fee.
There's excellent spring bass fishing throughout the lake, so big rigs aren't essential.
As Travis Jackson pointed out, with a big, fast bass rig, the entire lake is available for shallow-water action.