The Broad River enters the state of South Carolina as a narrow, rapidly flowing, whitewater stream just north of Gaffney and merges with the Saluda River within casting distance of the I-126 Bridge in downtown Columbia, where it flows into the historic Congaree River.
While it retains some of its piedmont-quality rocky nature as it squeaks past the Capitol, the majority of the Broad is wide, slow and relatively deep as it makes its way across the Upstate. One of its unique qualities is that it’s home to very respectable populations of largemouth, smallmouth, and striped bass along portions of its run, and some areas boast an overlap of all three species. Rest assured that we’ll explore these areas in future columns, but this month the focus is on the smallmouth bass that reside in the upper Broad River in Cherokee County.
King’s Creek, a tributary of the Broad River was where smallmouth were originally introduced back in the early 1980s by the state fisheries agency. Since then, and with continued stocking, their range has expanded to include the entire stretch of the Broad and beyond. Guide Inky Davis said he’s caught smallies in the upper reaches of the Santee Cooper lakes.
The foothills section of the Broad is inhospitable for most motorboats due to the number of rocks, which makes it prime water for kayaks and canoes. Brandon Barber, the owner of River Blade Knife & Fly Shop in Spartanburg (www.riverbladeknifeandfly.com) couldn’t agree more.
Barber is a specialty-fishing kind of guy who loves to fly fish, is a veteran kayaker. The latter days of June will find Barber checking the USGS water-data website (www.waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis) to determine stream flows for the upper Broad. While the summer is his favorite time to fish the area, his reasoning has more to do with water clarity and stream flow than weather.
“I’m looking for water flows between 500 and 1000 cfs on the real-time website,” he said. “Up around Gaffney where I fish, if the water is too high, it’s really hard to catch fish. The Broad is almost always dingy, but I like to be able to see at least eight to 10 inches into the water to know that fish can see my baits.”
Barber said the upper Broad contains a mixture of slow- and fast-moving water and holds some largemouth bass in addition to the smallmouth. Since he’s after smallmouth, he’ll skip the slow, deep pools and concentrate his efforts on moving water that has at least three to four feet of depth. Smallmouth can be holding anywhere in these stretches, so he likes to cover a lot of water. Subsequently, his baits and tackle match his presentation.
“When I’m in the kayak, I’m paddling and covering water,” he said. “I’ll use spinning or baitcasting tackle to throw anything with a lot of movement, maybe a white Fluke that resembles a baitfish or a 4-inch dark grub on an eighth-ounce jighead to resembles a crawfish. Topwater baits work too, but you need to bring it back with a steady retrieve like a buzzbait to get the fish’s attention.”
When he finds a fast run that’s holding several fish, Barber will often leave his boat and fly-cast a surface fly or streamer. Because he likes to fish the area thoroughly, he recommends that paddlers keep their floats on the Broad to a 2-mile stretch for half-day trips or a 4-mile stretch for a full day. He’ll often drop a vehicle downstream when fishing with a buddy so he doesn’t have to paddle back upstream when he’s ready to quit.
“I fish out of the the perfect go-anywhere boat. I love the versatility of these Emotion kayaks,” he said. “I own the Mojo Angler model. I like that it’s long enough to track well and wide enough to be stable even in moving water so it handles great, plus it has a well-thought out design that makes it perfect for fishing.”
Hot summer weather doesn’t bother Barber and certainly doesn’t deter the fish from biting. He said there is no better place to be when it comes to beating the heat, catching plenty of smallmouth bass, and Paddling Palmetto.
Some suggested launch sites for the upper stretch of the Broad include:
• Paved day-use access located on Drano Rd., .3 miles north of the intersection with Shelby Hwy. (Above 99 Islands Dam);
• Dirt-road access a quarter-mile east of 1402 Ford Rd near Gaffney. (Also above dam);
• The dirt ramp at the far east end of Ninety Nine Ferry Rd. below Gaffney. (Just below the dam)
• SC 211 bridge crossing 1.5 miles NE of the intersection with SC 105 (Irene Bridge).