But once traditional school chores are done, it's time to go to school for South Carolina's state fish - the striped bass.
Two lakes that stand out for early fall schooling action are Murray and Greenwood, impoundments of the Saluda River. Each lake has its own "school of thought" when it comes to early fall striper fishing.
Fish Stalker University: Lake Greenwood
Lake Greenwood is a few miles northwest of the town from which it gets its name. It is a generally shallow impoundment which is stocked with stripers on a bi-annual basis.
Because water temperatures may be higher than the preferred range of striped bass, the majority of activity takes place in the lower lake, within sight of the dam.
Tom Mundy, the owner of Fish Stalker Baits, is a Laurens County resident who frequently fishes Greenwood for schooling stripers during the early fall.
According to Mundy, the key to catching schooling fish is to be in the vicinity when the fish surface to feed on shad.
"Threadfin and gizzard shad are the primary baitfish in Greenwood," Mundy said. "Stripers will usually try to corral baitfish in deep water and push them to the surface over humps or long points to feed."
Locating fish in deep water helps put the angler in the right vicinity. Of course, if you find stripers hanging out in or on the edge of deep water, why not try to catch a few before the schooling activity begins?
To target deep fish, Mundy relies on heavy lead baits such as bucktail jigs, jigging spoons, or his own Pro Shad spin baits.
Mundy starts his search for deepwater stripers around humps and points across from Lake Greenwood State Park. He said a quality depthfinder is essential to locating suspended bait - as is the ability to read the graph well enough to determine if there are gamefish mixed in.
Mud Island is one of his favorites areas, especially when low-water conditions turn the island into an extended long point.
"There may be a few birds working the area, even this late in the year, and that's a sure sign that stripers are getting ready to come up," Mundy said.
The best time to find schooling fish near the dam is from about 6 p.m. until dark. When the fish do surface, Mundy reaches for a separate rod to which he has already tied on a noisy surface bait.
While most fishermen simply start slinging long casts into the surfacing fish, successful anglers first determine which direction the stripers are moving, then cast baits ahead and diagonally to the feeding fish. This gives a more natural presentation and appears to the marauding stripers to be a spooked bait breaking away from the school - a sure target to get nailed.
Mundy admits that Green-wood stripers may not run as large as stripers from other lakes, and he compensates by downsizing his tackle to match the fish.
"Most stripers that come out of Greenwood will be in the 3- to 5-pound range," he said. "For these fish, I like to use 10- to 12-pound test line spooled on either an Abu Garcia 5500 baitcast reel or a medium-action spinning rod combo."
This typical largemouth bass tackle makes great sport of the average-sized Greenwood fish, but it still has enough backbone to handle the occasional 12- to 15-pound striper that shows up.
If fish around the dam won't cooperate, Mundy advises moving up the lake and targeting long stretches of the main-river channel, particularly the area between the HWY 221/72 bridge and the upper railroad trestle. Fish often suspend over the main channel and are quick to nail a big topwater bait or a heavy jig or Pro Shad Spin fished vertically along the channel edge.
Striper Delight College: Lake Murray
For striped bass fans in the mid-state area, Richard Hall, the owner of Lake World Bait Shop in Lexington, has a few tips for back-to-school anglers. While Hall sells a great deal of live bait to Lake Murray anglers, he's also a fan of the topwater bite, and he looks forward each year to catching schooling stripers on Lake Murray.
Hall said that Lake Murray has undergone some dramatic changes over the past 10 to 15 years, starting with the introduction and eradication of hydrilla and the fluctuation of water levels necessary to make changes to the dam structure.
The fishing has remained good, but patterns have changed.
"I see the lake returning to the way it used to be before we had the hydrilla," Hall said. "The old timers who remember what the striper fishing was like back in the mid- to late-1980s understand that the stripers school pretty well up the lake once the temperature begin to drop."
Hall said that while many anglers target and catch stripers year-round near the dam, the schooling action in the upper end of the lake is a good indication that fish are back on the move up the lake.
Hall concentrates most of his topwater/schooling efforts on the upper two-thirds of the lake. Some of his prime locations include the mouths of Bear Creek, Beaverdam Creek and major points and shoals in the vicinity of Crystal Lake and Buffalo Creek.
"The best action up the lake starts around mid-August," Hall said, "We'll start getting reports in the shop that anglers are seeing fish schooling. Most of the reports indicate that the fish are coming up sometime during the late evening. The good thing is, once the stripers start schooling and set up a pattern, after a few days of cooling water temps, they become extremely predictable and will come up in just about the same location at just about the same time for several weeks - so long as the weather and fishing pressure are favorable."
Armed with a couple of reliable location reports, Hall will idle around the suspected area and scope it with binoculars.
"This early in the season, there aren't many birds up from the coast yet," Hall said, "but once the birds come in, finding schooling fish from a great distance is pretty easy."
Birds such as loons, terns and especially gulls target baitfish that stripers have pushed to the surface. Another sign to look for is water splashing, caused by rapidly breaching fish. Water will often geyser several feet into the air.
A number of topwater baits work well on schooling stripers, but Hall's hands-down favorite is a local bait made down the street from his shop. The "Striper Delight" is an effective bait that has been bringing Lake Murray stripers to the net for years. The company is owned by Delorme Arant who in his own right is a self-professed "topwater-aholic."
Some days, Arant said, "Stripers will nail the plug just as it hits the water, and other days you need to cast the Striper Delight to the schooling fish and twitch it back with an erratic retrieve."
When the fish seem to ignore the bait or just swirl at it, Arant will twitch the bait and just let it sit. The reward is often a violent strike that will pull the rod from the angler's grasp if he's not holding on.
Fall Semester Opens
Chasing schooling fish is one of the most exciting ways to catch stripers. Since a school of hungry fish feeding at the surface tends to draw attention, the chances of multiple boats looking to get in on the action is good.
Always approach a school on your trolling motor, cutting your outboard at least 100 yards away from the active fish. A common misconception is that fish come up randomly when in fact, stripers are attempting to "herd" baitfish against the surface or onto a shallow point or shoal.
Watch for the direction the bait is moving rather than chasing the school from behind. This allows you to offer a more natural-looking presentation, while giving plenty of room to other anglers who may be pursuing the school as well.
Another tip is that a school that sounds has not left the area and surfaced across the lake. Be patient while other anglers zoom off chasing the school across the way; you'll often be rewarded when the school comes back up in your area after it's been vacated, - you'll have the action all to yourself.
Regardless of which 'university" you pull for, the time to get in on schooling action for the Palmetto State fish is now.