On Nov. 22, 1860, a meeting was held near the town of Abbeville — at a site since dubbed “Secession Hill” — to launch South Carolina’s secession from the Union, which took place a month later.
In 1938, a developer began construction of the Rocky River Dam to generate and sell power, but the project went bankrupt and was purchased by the city of Abbeville. The 1,425-acre lake, hydro project and surrounding area still stand as a testament to that 1860 meeting, bearing the name of the historic event.
Much has changed around the small impoundment on the Rocky River. What was once a small community of summer cottages on the shores of a quiet lake has evolved into a thriving, year-round community. One constant that has stood the test of time is the great fishing found in Lake Secession. Although it’s better known for its largemouth bass, catfish and bream, many fishermen would argue the biggest attraction, especially during the spring, would be the great crappie fishing.
Bill Brookshire of Taylors has been fishing the small reservoir for crappie for nearly 40 years. Each winter, he pours over stacks of log books that record his past trips in preparation for the spring run of crappie fishing.
“Most people don’t realize how many trees and stumps were left in the lake back when it was built,” Brookshire said. “Back during the mid-1980s, they dropped the water way down — I think they were working on the dam — and it was almost impossible to get a boat across the lake for all the trees. We took all kind of pictures; a lot of those old stumps are still there, and I still catch crappie around some of them.”
Brookshire is a wizard with a single pole; his tried-and-true tactic once February turns into March is to jig around brush and boat docks to catch crappie. His equipment consists of a 9-foot fly rod outfitted with an ultralight spinning reel and 6-pound monofilament. Tied to the end of the line is a single, 1/16th-ounce jighead that 99 times out of 100 will be adorned with a simple pearl umbrella tube jig.
“That’s what looks most like a minnow to me, and I catch about all of my fish with it,” he said.
Lake Secession is roughly eight miles long from its headwaters, which flow under SC 28 in Anderson County to the Rocky River hydro plant in Abbeville County. For Brookshire, that trip is made much simpler, as the vast majority of his fishing takes place within a mile or two of the public boat ramp at SC 184.
“The upper part of the lake above the bridge seems to warm up a lot quicker than the lower lake, and there usually better-colored water up there,” he said. “Just about everybody who has a boat dock puts brush out around their docks, so finding places to catch crappie in the spring isn’t a problem.”
Brookshire’s fishing pattern is simple. He starts his milk run of boat docks and brushpiles, dipping a jig around each one with his fly rod before moving on to the next. He rarely has to pull off more line than the length of the rod to reach crappie that are holding in or suspended above the brush. The presentation is either vertically to the brush or swinging the jig up under likely cover, such as a boat dock, and letting the jig swing back to him as a pendulum. Occasionally, he will spy brush that has been freshly placed during the winter drawdown, and he said these locations will almost always hold crappie.
“You have to look real close; all you might see is just a twig sticking up out of the water,” Brookshire said. “It may look like a twig, but if it’s in six or eight feet of water, you can bet it’s just the tip-top of a brushpile.”
Taking a more-systematic approach to crappie fishing at Secession is Jay Bruce of Greer, a crappie tournament pro who is a frequent visitor to the lake because of the size and health of its crappie population.
“This time of year, the average size crappie I catch will be a pound-and-three-quarters,” he said. “That’s the average; it’s not at all unusual to catch fish that will go up to 2½ pounds. It’s just a really fertile lake, and late February and March is the best time to catch the big ones.”
Bruce fishes with his tournament partner, Carolyn Reeves. They excel at long-line trolling, which is their staple when fishing tournaments across the country. Bruce said the key to long-line trolling becoming effective is rising water temperatures.
“By late February, I start looking for the water to get to 50 degrees before we start long-lining,” he said. “The crappie will still be holding in the main-river channel. Then, they will start making their way into the creeks and coves. Between 50 and 55 degrees, I look for crappie to be relating to some deep flat next to the creek channel — something in the 20- to 25-foot range. Crappie will suspend, and you can see them on the depthfinder, usually between eight and 12 feet over those deep flats.”
A riverine lake by nature, Secession does not have the long, winding creeks of the type found in nearby impoundments such as Russell, Greenwood or Clarks Hill. What the lake does have is plenty of open bays, short creeks, and wide-mouthed coves whose bottoms are lined with stump fields. This topography creates nearly ideal prespawn staging areas for crappie.
To target suspended fish, Bruce matches the weight of the jig he’s using to the depth he’s fishing. He said that the jig weight is the major variable, while boat speed is the next most-important. The amount of line out is a constant; he uses 40 feet as his base — what he considers an average cast behind the boat. Bruce uses 4-pound Stren Magnathin, because the smaller the diameter of the line, the deeper and truer the jigs will sink. Using heavier or thicker line, such as 6- or 8-pound test, will decrease the precision of his depths.
“When the fish are deep, say around 12 feet, I start out with a 1/16th-ounce jighead and run from .5 to .8 miles per hour with the trolling motor,” he said. “If they are higher than that, then I’ll drop down to a 1/32nd-ounce or even to a 1/48th-ounce if they are real close to the surface.
“As the water warms up, fish will get shallower, and my trolling speed will get faster, up to 1.1 or 1.5 mph,” said Bruce. “Above 55 degrees, look for them to be in the backs of creeks or up against the bank and ready to spawn.”