It is also among the best places for Palmetto State bass fishermen to enjoy their sport. As summer's heat transitions into a pleasant Autumn, Wateree also transitions to excellent bass fishing.
Banks Miller, a veteran Lake Wateree fisherman with a home a couple hundred yards off the water, said, "September at Wateree is a transition time. Fish are moving from summer patterns to fall ones."
Miller expects bass to be on the move this month.
"I start early in the morning at the backs of major creeks and coves and work my way out," he said. "If I'm successful in the back of a creek, I go to another one. If I don't catch any in the back, I keep moving toward the channel until I do.
"What's happening," he explained, "is they're moving, migrating along the deepwater ledges to the back of the creeks. And I know that somewhere along the way, I'll find them."
During Autumn, as main-lake areas cool, threadfin shad seek warmer water in the shallower backs of the creeks. Largemouth bass follow. Miller wants to intercept the predators as they chase their prey.
In shallow water, Miller uses topwater lures. He said, "I start out with a buzzbait, probably a Lunker Lure.... Probably anyone's favorite topwater will work."
Many years ago, I got my introduction to buzzbait fishing from the back of Miller's boat. There are good reasons why he fishes them.
Kennon Brown, a guide who often fishes Wateree, agreed with Miller. Brown said, "I've had extremely good luck at Wateree with buzzbaits. In September, largemouth are on the shallow flats where the weeds drop off. On days when there is a little breeze and there are shad around, the buzzbait will work right up in the middle of the day."
Miller said, "As the sun gets up, I switch to one of the 4-inch worms. Senko works. And Bass Pro Shops also sells them, a little cheaper than the Senko, so I use those." Another good choice for this application, he said, is the Yum Dinger, which comes in several lengths.
"It's amazing," Miller said, "the size of the bass that will hit this. I use a 4/0 hook, and the hook has to be rigged straight or this outfit will twist your line."
An alternative, to reduce line twist is tying in a top-quality swivel a foot or so above the hook. According to Miller, this is a clear-water application.
"I rig the little worm weedless, with the hook buried in the worm - no weight. I want the worm to fall slowly. That's when they grab it, as it falls," he said.. "I know lots of guys have hits all the way back to the boat, but the fish I catch are all in the first few feet."
As September progresses, Miller said, "We begin to see schooling largemouth - bass chasing shad and busting into the bait. That's a good time for the 4-inch worm. Usually you don't need a weight, because even though it looks pretty light, it casts like a son-of-a-gun. Maybe if the schooling bass are coming up too far away, I add a little weight - an eighth- or quarter-ounce bullet sinker, pegged with a toothpick a foot or so above the worm."
"If the water is discolored, a little muddy perhaps, I switch to a tandem spinnerbait with a copper blade. I fish it in the same places I fish the topwater and 4-inch worm. Of course, I'm never without a Texas-rigged electric grape Mann's Jelly Worm."
Miller fishes his Texas rig with a small bullet weight. A couple of times when I have fished with him, Miller has used a 1/16-ounce weight, and I've never seen him use more than a quarter-ounce weight.
Clyde Osborne, whose house on Wateree is less than 100 yards from Miller's, fishes somewhat different patterns.
His first option is to hit the beds of water willow which extend up and down the lake's shoreline.
"If the water is still in the grass beds, I'll throw a Senko. Green pumpkin is the best color," Miller said. "All year long, when the weeds are green, there are bass hanging around. Throw the Senko up into the grass and pull it along slowly. Let it drop when it comes to the edge of the weeds."
If a bass strikes at a Senko without a hookup, according to Osborne, a good "throw-back" lure is a topwater.
"I throw a topwater, something like the Puppy Spook or the Pop' N Image, back where I missed the hit," he said. "I know the fish is still sitting there, and it is an active fish.
"With the Pop' N Image, over the course of the day, you have to let the fish tell you how they want it worked. Vary the speed - how long the pauses should be. Sometimes they'll hit on the pop, sometimes on the pause."
A second option for fishing the weed beds, according to Osborne, is a Texas-rigged lizard. "At the edge of the weed beds, a Yum lizard, green pumpkin with a chartreuse tail works pretty well," he said.
No one who fishes with Osborne very often will be surprised; he carries a little bottle to dye the tails of his lizards in case he can't find the ones he wants at the tackle shop.
Osborne said, "Another good fall option at Wateree is to hit the long points, especially the rocky points. Topwaters on the points. Best topwaters are the Spook Jr. and the Pop' N Image. Any color topwater works - as long as it has a white belly."
Early morning, according to Osborne, is the best time of day to fish topwaters on points.
Several autumns ago, Dale Hester and I caught a nice bunch of Wateree largemouth, anchored by several 4-pounders and Dale's 5-pound fish, fishing the same points that Osborne hits. Hester and I were fishing silver-and-black No. 7 Shad Raps.
Piers and docks, according to Osborne, are prime largemouth spots at Wateree.
"If they are not in the weeds or points, piers and docks have been very good to me," he said. "The best approach is to fish the Texas-rigged lizard near the piers and docks. Be sure to hit the shady side once the sun gets up."
Lake Wateree is heavily developed along the shoreline. Consequently, the number of piers and docks is substantial.
While Osborne did not mention it, I can attest that he has taken some monster largemouth near piers with Rogues. He casts toward the bank, as close to the pier as possible. Osborne's retrieve has enough jerks and twitches to make a hoochie-koochie dancer jealous.
Neither Miller nor Osborne mentioned two of my favorite patterns and approaches for autumn Wateree largemouth.
At selected spots, stumps are situated away from the bank. I first discovered one of those locations casting a spinnerbait toward the bank. A fish broke behind the boat just as I lifted the lure from the water, so I whipped my spinnerbait toward the resulting swirl. Two cranks later, I had a 3-pound largemouth. With a better eye on the depth finder, I discovered a long row of stumps about 90 feet from the bank. In subsequent years, I have found a number of stumps in comparable locations. Stump fields on clay banks seem particularly productive. Spinnerbaits or Carolina-rig worms in the stump fields are well worth exploring.
Another of my favorite approaches is to fish brushpiles sunk by local anglers. By September, the best brushpiles are in 5 or 6 feet of water. Often, the productive brushpiles are adjacent to piers or docks, sunk within reach of crappie fishermen on the piers or docks. Sometimes, a twig sticks above the water, revealing the location of the brush. Rod holders on the pier or dock or a chair bolted to the surface will give away the site.
Jerry Irvin first introduced me to Wateree brushpiles. We fished topwaters over the brush and Texas-rigged worms along the edges. Don't overlook the brush.
Locations and Cover
Miller named several creeks as good Autumn prospects at Wateree.
"One of the best spots is Dutchman's Creek above the bridge," he said. "There are usually largemouth there."
In my experience, the piers along the west bank beyond the place where the creek narrows and then opens are prime fall locations. A number of these piers have brushpiles, and there are some productive weed beds.
Wateree Creek is another of Miller's favorite spots. His place is on Wateree Creek, so it is readily available to his launch site.
Beaver Creek is another of Miller's prime locations. "I go under the bridge and start fishing, working toward the back," he said. "If the water level is down, it gets pretty shallow. But there are often largemouth back there."
Beaver Creek has also been kind to me in the fall. Hit the piers on the east side of the creek from the bridge toward the main channel. Bill Matthews will recall the monster I had on a jig-and-pig off one of those piers.
Osborne also suggested hitting the upper end of Lake Wateree. "Don't overlook the upper end of the lake, in particular, where the river narrows," he said. "Look for the deep spots, and there are some."
Lots of fallen timber is present in that portion of Lake Wateree. Bass hide under the branches and dart out for whatever the current brings.
Dick Christie, a regional fisheries biologist for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said that studies of Lake Wateree suggest that the largemouth population is as good as any in the state. Largemouth are abundant, healthy and may grow to trophy size.
Miller said, "In September, the smaller fish move to the shallows first. As the water cools, larger fish follow."
When asked what a visiting angler could expect at Lake Wateree, Osborne said, "Lake Wateree can be fickle. No fish one day and fill the boat the next.
"One day, after a previous poor day, I caught 4 largemouth off a single point, and then a short distance away I caught another. The 5 fish would have (weighed) over 20 pounds."